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Dramatis person

Excavation Team Alpha 6 (ExTA-6) Alandres Cal Vancara Olrever Wagshi Tary-secc Nep Calidem XR-4 Cybex Corporation Pratec Pelen Ecab Other(s) RaeSha Niscou female, Captain (Fire Phantom) Unknown Allegiance Cafidon male, Overseer of Rackoyd Station Suneg male, Protocol Officer Human male, Captain and Commanding Officer Aster male, Commander and Executive Officer Tacrusian male, Lt. Commander Kelitac female, Lieutenant Ortep male, Warrant Officer Raumader male, Lieutenant Sculpian female, Medical Officer Autonomous Robot

Index: Prologue: Chapter 1: Chapter 2: Chapter 3: Chapter 4: Chapter 5: Chapter 6: Chapter 7: Chapter 8: Chapter 9: Chapter 10: Chapter 11: Chapter 12: Chapter 13: Chapter 14: Chapter 15: Chapter 16: Chapter 17: Chapter 18: Chapter 19: Chapter 20: Prologue: Some scene out of a bad science fiction movie Tell the story again In this business, time is money Afraid of little sub-particle dematerialization? Bringing crewmembers on board without knowing who they are. I am not here to question your authority No one knew we were headed this way Our initial evaluation has identified a planet We are under attack The closer we get, the more everyone is trying to kill us Yes The Crystal Cave They are deadall dead Your reputation is well deserved That will take us to our next stop... This is all your fault Do you feel lucky? And things were going so well too. I think we hit the motherload I think Im really dying this time Nobody is ever going to believe this story It would make a great book Wheres the fun in that?

Prologue: Some scene out of a bad science fiction movie. - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.950 Earth Date: Sometime in the year 3528 Inside Verjace Firja Cantina, within lower docks of the Naxfor System Guild Transitionary Spaceport
Hey Hey you. Over here Look this way No, not at that little green guy with the spiky head and pink eyes No, not at the bald, topless female Karratak either Well, you can look at her for a little while. She is pretty easy on the senses. But dont stare too long or else shes liable to pluck out your eyes No, really. Ive seen it happen Anyway, look towards the long table along the back wall. Im the one with the unusual anatomy and the speech pattern with a peculiar accent not often heard on this part of the galaxy Yes, the human. The only one here The only one anywhere near here Near or far for that matter. Luckily, the internal atmosphere inside here is close enough to Earths that I dont need a breather-mask. You wouldnt believe the stuff that is in the air in some planets around here. Some atmospheres would turn your lungs into mush before you even had a chance to scream What am I doing here? Well, if you mean right here in this drinking establishment of ill repute, I am waiting for that two-tone gray guy that just came in through the front entrance... The Oreeg... But if you mean what am I doing in some scene out of a bad science fiction movie, countless millions upon millions of miles from Earth that is a much longer story, preferably for another time. Now why dont you order a drink and check back with me in a little while. I have some business to attend to first Just dont order the chilled cidaric, as it will go right through you. And yes, I mean that literally

Chapter 1: Tell the story again - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.950 Inside Verjace Firja Cantina
Earth? All right Reetli, Whats that? The hundredth time in a row you asked me that? Coupled of course every time with that youve got to be kidding me look Lord, if he wasnt such a good informant Yes, Earth, For what seems to be the hundredth time Are you sure, Alandres? No, Reetli, I made it up just for kicks... Of course I'm sure. But that's so boring. I wasnt the one who named it. You asked, that's it, And considering some of the other terrible names used around the Quadrant, I cant believe Earth is bugging you so much Xyxxxon-Soo, now thats a crappy name for a planet Particularly when its interpretation in generic PlanCo speech it comes so close to cesspool Well Alandres, if you are going with the whole elements direction, why not Planet Air, Orb of Fire or maybe Waterworld? You need something a bit more catchy than plain, boring Earth. Waterworld Yeah, as if the movie hadnt been bad enough Not that hed know Interestingly enough Reetli, at the rate the polar ice was melting last time I was there, three quarters of the planet's surface should be covered with water by now. What? Water? Then why would anybody call it ? Forget it, forget it... Theres Losorea now. Its about time Now lets see if I can pick out his informant. There seem to be two figures headed in our general direction. One is that female Sentes, of the reptilian-like species well renowned for their extensive knowledge of forbidden sexual secrets. So of course it cant be her, because Im not that lucky. So it must then be Is he the one with the big teeth and glowing ball in front of his face, Reetli? Yes, although I would not have stated is so crudely. Losorea is a Black Dezduvel, and that filament holds an orb that provides a source of biolumination to allow them to see in the sub-photic regions of their planet. I would have thought after all this time, you would be more tolerant of other species. I am quite tolerant of other species, particularly with me being amongst the rarest that you are bound to encounter on this side of the galaxy. I just wanted to know which one he was Besides, isnt an orb that provides biolumination the same thing as a glowing ball? It is and I know I was just giving a hard time about it. Ha, ha Did I ever tell you what the word jerk means on Earth? No, but no doubt it is something flattering. Guess again But Ill tell you later as your pal seems to be headed back out the door. Thanks for distracting me Hey Losorea, over here! Ay ay ay That ear-piercing scream is loud enough to both start giving me a headache and be heard over the sounds of the cantina So at least now his friend knows he has been spotted and his presence is still required There you are, Reetli. I was starting to think you had forgotten about our meeting How are you doing? Quite freaky seeing Losorea look towards and talk with Reetli, while at the same time turning one of his independently moving eyes towards me Hey, I havent been here that long so that things cease to amaze me I could not be better This here is my friend Alandres Cal, who soon enough will be one of yours. Reetli sounds so jovial saying it that I could almost be convinced he is a social networking specialist and not a dealer of hard to obtain information But Losorea seems ready to play along

Nice to meet you, Alandres... Say, what system are you from? You don not look like any other biped I have ever seen around these parts. I hate to sound rude and not answer him, but Reetli already has that stupid grin on his face that lets me know he has decided to answer for me He is not from around here, Losorea. He hails from a planet called Dirt. Earth! I should have seen that one coming I wonder whether Losorea would still go through with our transaction even if I hit Reetli with a chair and knock him unconscious first Come on now, do not be so touchy, Alandres Earth, dirt, it is all the same. Now let me buy you a drink and get you in a better mood, Good to see my feign irritation is believable enough. So Ill give Reetli a no-harm-done wave, and let the dealings continue... Actually, before we get down to business, let me get us all some more drinks and you can tell the story again, Alandres. I still cannot believe it. Losorea, get comfortable because this story is going to blow your antennas away... Go on Alandres. Fine, anything for my best informant, I may have just finished telling Reetli that story a few demics ago, but if this keeps him happy and flowing all that good intel to me, so be it. Granted, it is one hell of a tale if I do say so myself. Now it all really started about eight dodecs ago. My team and I had just completed a stint at Quartis and were making our approach run on

Chapter 2: In this business, time is money - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.283 On board Cybex Corp Cargo Ship Deep Haul 7, in route to Rackoyd Station in orbit around Monravia

APPROACHES ITS DESIGNATED HANGAR SPACE ON RACKOYD STATION, BRINGING YET ANOTHER VAST LOAD OF INDISPENSABLE MINERALS TO BE USED FOR MASS CONSUMPTION BY THE MYRIAD OF MAINTENANCE, OVERHAUL AND CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITIES THAT TAKE PLACE NON-STOP WITHIN THE STATION. ITS HULL SCARRING SHOWS THE RECOGNIZABLE PATTERN OF WEAR AND TEAR THAT COMES TO BE EXPECTED FROM ANY SHIP IN SERVICE FOR OVER 40 TRICENTS; METEORITE STRIKES, ATMOSPHERIC ENTRY BURNS, DENTS FROM MACHINERY MISUSE BY OVERZEALOUS MINERS, AND EVEN THE OCCASIONAL PLASMA FIRE CHARRING.

THE SPACE TRAVEL-WORN FREIGHTER DEEP HAUL 7

AND CURRENTLY OPERATING THE OPERATIONS WITHIN IT ARE THE MEMBERS OF CYBER EXCAVATION (CYBEX) CORPORATIONS EXCAVATION TEAM ALPHA SIX, KNOWN AS EXTA-6 FOR SHORT. NOW NEARING THE COMPLETION OF THE LONG FLIGHT HOME, THEY ARE MAKING THE FINAL PREPARATIONS PRIOR TO DOCKING WHILE THEIR CAPTAIN ATTEMPTS TO GUIDE THE SHIP INTO ITS BERTH Please be careful pulling into the hangar, Captain, The voice tells me again and I have to fight the urge to kick him out of the bridge once and for all, neurotic friend or not Now try and respond as calm as you can Then again I dont expect it to help I got it, Tary. Ive performed this entry procedure so many times I can probably do it with my eyes closed. Captain, please do not even joke about trying that! We are nearly fifteen percent over maximum capacity and the ship is handling significantly more sluggish than normal. Especially when you continue to insist on using only the maneuvering thrusters. See Dont worry, slug. I promise you that I wont slam us into the bay. I want to make sure we get paid as much as you everyone else on board, remember? Sorry, Captain. It is just that it has been so difficult transporting back this particular payload that I would hate to lose it now when we are so close. Plus, even after all this time, I still do not understand how you can maneuver effectively with controls that were clearly not designed for your species... And I asked you to please stop calling me slug. What is a slug anyway? A small, snaillike, chiefly terrestrial gastropod mollusk, having a slow-moving elongated body with no shell or, only a flat rudimentary shell on or under the skin. ORTEPS ARE FOUND ON MOST PERSONNEL ROSTERS OF PLANETARY COALITION (PLANCO) CLASS-C AND LARGER STARSHIPS. RENOWNED FOR THEIR EXTREME ATTENTION TO DETAIL AND METICULOUS WAYS, THEY EXCEL AT THE MYRIAD OF COMPLEX LOGISTICAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE TASKS THAT ARE CONSTANTLY REQUIRED TO BE PERFORMED ON SHIPS OF THAT SIZE. THEY ARE RECOGNIZABLE BY THEIR THICK AND SLIMY, STREAMLINED BODIES, WHICH ON AVERAGE REACH A MAXIMUM HEIGHT OF FOUR MICRO MILECS (MICROMS), AND ARE A VARIETY OF GRAY AND BEIGE COLORS. ORTEP FACIAL STRUCTURE CONSISTS OF ONE LARGE VISUAL ORGAN WITH AN OVAL SHAPE, AND STRETCHING ALMOST THE ENTIRE WIDTH OF THEIR HEADS. THEY HAVE NO DISCERNIBLE LEGS AND HAVE FIVE ELONGATED APPENDAGES THAT SERVE AS ARMS. HAILING FROM THE SYSTEM ORLON RI TENDRAL EPILSON PRIMUS, A NAME COMPILING THE DESIGNATION OF THE FIVE PLANETS THAT COMPOSE IT. THE ORTEP SPECIES THEMSELVES ARE THE DOMINANT LAND-BASED OCCUPANTS OF ORLON, THE PLANET FURTHEST FROM THEIR SUN. ALL TOLD, THERE ARE TEN DIFFERENT SUBSPECIES OF ORTEPS, POPULATING ALL LANDMASSES ON ORLON. THEY HAVE ALSO ESTABLISHED LIVING COLONIES ON THE OTHER FOUR PLANETS OF THEIR SYSTEM. IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THEIR AFOREMENTIONED PLANETARY DOMINANCE, AS THE DESCRIPTION IMPLIES, DOES NOT EXTEND TO THE AQUATIC ECOSYSTEM OF THE PLANET Oh, that is all right then. All this time I thought it was an insult Please slow down. The stations landing crew has barely finished opening the bay doors.

For crying out loud Tary-secc! A self-induced heart attack will kill you faster that if I did crash the ship. Then again, why should I expect anything different I see it and we will clear them with room to spare... And my two ill-fitting arms can fly us just fine, seeing as how theyre not covered in slime like other beings currently onboard this ship, Aaaand nothing Sarcasm is just wasted on him. Besides, Tary, this is what our tenth or eleventh run together on this ship? And by my count, we have yet to perish in a fiery crash. Perhaps, Captain But recall No, no I said we have yet to perish. I did not said anything about near-death incidents, I know he is just going to bring up the landing on Tylos 3 when our landing thrusters cut out, so I might as well cut him off because it took forever to get him to shut up about my flying afterwards. Besides, we did not die then either But I see he is finally cracking a somewhat mild, half smile Its a start Sorry Captain, but you know how I worry. I have been at this too long and it is just my nature. But rest assured that I do trust us to deliver the cargo and us safely as always I will head down to the loading deck and prep for landing and unloading. Orteps. If there were such a thing as one that was not a worrywart, I probably would end up crashing the ship as the shock of meeting one would send me into seizures. Then again, if I were an overgrown worm coming out off a planet with the Sectors biggest carnivorous sea creatures, Id probably be a worrier too. Especially when said sea creatures have a ritual of coming on land every two tricents for their cyclical feasting. I would have hated to be there for the almost-mythical first Surfacing Of course if I was in Orlon, I would have been bludgeoned unconscious by now for even bringing it up... And on that note, how a species with such clumsy limbs ever became space faring is beyond me. I guess they had a lot motivation to get off planet And I bet thats him on the comm now. Lets see what he wants now Yes, Tary What can I help you with? Captain, you are bringing the ship in too fast! You are going to overload the stabilizers again! Oh brother. Well, since neither sarcasm nor calm persuasion seem to work, lets have a little fun with him instead Yeah, that will sure soothe him What was that about not coming in fast enough? All right, Ill speed up but itll make it more difficult to stabilize once were inside the bay. No, no, no! I said we need slow down! Slow down! Ha, ha Slow down? Why didnt you say so Tary? I hope its not too late now. Its tough to understand you sometimes with my What is it that you call them? Sound flaps? Engaging reverse thrusters nowSwitching to primary landing engines Synch up with docking clamps Aaaaaahhh! Poor guy I should ease his suffering a bit Nah Hold on tight buddy! You might feel a slight bump as we touch down. aaaaaahhh! Sorry Tary, I like you, I really do. Just trying to make these long voyages to edge of nowhere a bit more enjoyable at the cruel expense of others... Damn, Quartis is way the hell out there. Wasnt there another planet a bit more out of the way of the rest of the civilized galaxy? Then again, when someone finds an immense fortune just floating about in space, which will also make everyone involved with it instantly rich, youll gladly make that trip every septecs and twice on Sunday. Thats of course, if anyone kept track of days out here septecs Whoever came up with these names for times and dates anyway? Although they would probably say the same about weeks and months... But now that were are docked, safe and sound, lets see how the old slug is doing... Can you believe it Tary? Another three-point landing Now please get the transfer duct connected while I finish the Docking Authoritys checklist before they go on and accuse of loitering again. I know what you are trying to do and it will not work, Captain! I will not let you kill me out of fright so you can take my share of the profits... And rest assured that I have already started the engagement

procedure. The duct will be secured in 2.9 demics... I also have been meaning to ask, Captain What makes our landing three-points, as you like to say so often? Nothing, just another one of those earthling sayings Good work and Ill meet you over in the cargo hold in ten. Over and out. Worrisome and obsessive compulsive behavior aside, if there is one thing you can count on is an Ortep to be punctual and organized. I guess when it takes you so long to move, or slide is more like it, from place to place, you have extra time to think things over. Anyway, better wrap up the checklist and get over to the hold or Ill never hear the end of that either... Whats the Control Station frequency again? Cybex Control, this is Deep Haul 7 checking in. Transfer procedure initiated, stand by for incoming checklist and cargo load summary, over. Deep Haul 7, Cybex Control here. Acknowledge receipt of checklist and summary. Transfer of cargo initiated... Another great job by you and your team, Alandres. You beat your best turn around time by a full heptec. Thanks, Rima. You know we cant keep the folks with the money waiting. Deep Haul 7 signing off. Good thing it wasnt Kemos who was on-duty at the checkpoint or Id be listening to him flapping his beak all night Now up and at em. But a little stretch first. These seats werent made with humans in mind, as everyone always likes to remind me... Now to take the lift to Level 8 and catch up with the gang... Man, even after all this time, I still find it hard to believe Im piloting an actual spaceship through the nether regions of space. When I used to fantasize about things like this as a kid, I never had any illusions that something like this would ever happen. It was always that, just a silly fantasy I have to write this all down some time because if I ever end up back on Earth, no ones ever going to believe it And here we are now And look, theres Vancara Looking at him from the back, he could almost pass for a human. That is until he turns around. Something about that rough blue skin gives him away all the time. Although my wife would have said he was more royal blue colored than true blue. That and those three eyes of his, of course. I hate how he moves around the one on his forehead when Im talking to him. It keeps making me feel like there someone is sneaking up behind me... There you are, Van! Long time no see. I was beginning to think we had left you planetside. Who are you kidding, Alandres? You forget me and you would end up having to pick up rocks with a sac and your bare hands on your next run. Dont flatter yourself, buddy. All I need is a good seismic motivator and a Damn it, there he goes again, Stop it! Stop what? You know what! Stop looking behind me! You know very well you just do it to piss me off! Whatever do you mean? This is the normal behavior performed by any average Aster in order to be fully aware of his or her surroundings. As I constantly remind you, you need to be more open-minded and tolerant when dealing with species that are different than your own. ASTERS CALL THE PLANET ASTERIA THEIR BIRTH HOME, AND ARE ONE OF THE MANY BIPEDAL SPECIES THAT ARE SO PREVALENT IN THE GALAXYS V-I SECTOR. ON AVERAGE STANDING SIX AND A HALF MICROMS ON A SLIM FRAME, BUT VARYING SIGNIFICANTLY ACROSS THEIR PLANET, THEIR GENERAL PHYSIOLOGY IS COMPOSED OF TWO LEGS, TWO ARMS, WITH NO NOTICEABLE HAIR GROWTH AND A HEAD HIGHLIGHTED BY THREE BLACK EYES. THEIR SKIN IS COMPLETELY BLUE, DEVELOPED FROM A TRACE ELEMENT IN THEIR WATER SYSTEM SIMILAR TO THE EARTH ELEMENT SILVER. EQUIPPED AS WELL WITH UNCANNY WIT AND OF SHARP MIND, ASTERS LOVE TO SHOW OFF BOTH, MORE SO IF AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHER UNSUSPECTING SPECIES. ONE OF THE EARLIER SPECIES IN PLANCO REGIONS TO DEVELOP SAFE AND EFFICIENT INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL, THE ANCIENT ASTERS CAPITALIZED ON THEIR ADVANCE BY INCORPORATING SECURE TRAVEL ROUTES ALONG WITH BUILDING WHAT IS BELIEVED TO BE THE SECTORS FIRST INTERSTELLAR TOLL BOOTH. ALTHOUGH NOT REALLY BEING A BOOTH BUT MORE OF A SECURED PASSAGE THROUGH A TRANSIT REGION, THE ASTERS MANAGED TO SECURE A
CONSTANT STREAM OF REVENUE TO FUND THEIR FURTHER SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES WHILE INCONVENIENCING THE WEARY TRAVELERS THEY LURED DOWN THE TRAVEL PATHS THEY THEMSELVES HAD BUILT.

ABOUT THE ONLY THING THAN IS MORE RENOWNED THAN THEIR COMBINATION OF HUMOR AND TECHNOLOGY IS THEIR NEARLY INSATIABLE SEXUAL DRIVE TO THE DISMAY OF MOST OF THE INTENDED RECIPIENTS OF THEIR AFFECTION. BECAUSE AS THE OLD SAYING GOES, THE FASTEST WAY TO COMMIT SUICIDE IS BY STANDING IN FRONT OF A MALE ASTER DURING MATING SEASON OR ANY OTHER TIME THERE IS A FEMALE PRESENCE NEARBY OR ANYWHERE IN THE PLANET FOR THAT MATTER Yeah, average behavior. Like eating raw kinter moths as an appetizer? Is that part of it too, Van? Yuck The mere thought of all those legs and wings going down my throat gives me the shivers Alandres, you uncultured slob. Those are considered a delicacy in my planet. And a disgusting habit in every other corner of the known galaxy. Plus it takes septecs to get rid of the smell Yeesh, that ear-splitting Aster laugh. I think I hear glass shattering somewhere At least he gets my sense of humor...But in all seriousness Van, how did our cargo hold up? Better than expected, as we only experienced a 2.11% loss of mass integrity... For a change, it was as you thought, Har, har I see that sarcasm continues to be a universal trait The hold can indeed withstand more than the spec max as long as we divert some of the ships secondary power sources to structural stability. This will be the biggest single haul to come from the Run in tricents. Excellent. We should get a nice bonus out of this... Now Im on my way to see Tary, and then Im planning on heading to the Diabolacerta for a celebratory drink. Actually, quite a few of them Want to join me? I would not miss for anything... Maybe the Tun sisters will be there. That would definitely make my septec complete Or more like it, what I would do to them afterwards. Well dont let me stop you then. Swing by my quarters when you are finished and well head out... By the way, have you seen Exar? He is over in Engineering By the way, when are you going to give that thing a memory defrag? He is getting more insufferable by the demic And he is always trying to make me mad or get me in trouble. Ive never seen him do that, Hopefully I can keep from laughing or cracking a smile as I say this That is because he waits until you are not around to start up with me. Come on you big baby, hes not that bad. Besides, Ive been through too much with him to just wipe his slate clean. Not that bad? He is always mouthing off to me. He is even worse than you are, as unfeasible as that sounds. That is not how a bot should act. Dont be so sensitive. You just need to be more open-minded when dealing with other species or beings that are different than yours. Fine, go on and have your fun. You will realize later how much better off you are by picking up the subtle nuggets of wisdom I constantly pass along to you... Now go wrap up this delivery so we can head to the cantina. I am dying for a drink. All right, Im going. Ill see you in a while. Van does have a bit of point. Exar definitely acts more independently and is more self-aware than most bots around, autonomous or otherwise. I dont even have an idea when his last memory wipe was or if hes ever had one for that matter. But I couldnt bear losing all the personality traits hes developed over our time together. Itd be like getting a new bot or worse, like losing an old friend. If it werent for him, I wouldnt have made it when I arrived here. Id probably be dead, locked up in some god-forsaken dungeon or floating around aimlessly in space somewhere... So now that on the subject, lets give him a call Exar, come in. XR-4 reporting in, Master. Exar, once you are finished doing the systems check please head over to the cargo hold. I need you to monitor the content offload and regulate the internal heat generation. Needless to say, make sure the load transfer is maximized. I will proceed at once. Is there anything else that needs my attention?'

No, just that. Please contact me once the transfer is finished. Of course. One question though Has Commander Vancara paid his debt to you yet? Debt? What debt? Regarding your wager when we left Quartis. You estimated that the modifications you implemented on the cargo hold would allow for no more than a 2% loss in mass integrity, while Commander Vancaras response in turn was that it will never be that low. Hey, I forgot about that! And Van just told me that we lost 2.11%! That would have been a purposely incorrect statement, as the actual reading was 1.89%. It appears he is trying to cheat you. If you would like, I can point out this transgression to him with some choice Aster lingo, then forcibly remove the necessary PlanCo creds from him. Tempting, but Ill handle it. I dont want to pass on any opportunity to have some fun at his expense... Thanks anyway And you sounded just like him back then. As it comes from you, Master, I will take it as a compliment. XR-4 out. AUTONOMOUS ROBOTS, ALSO KNOWN AS AUTONOBOTS OR BOTS FOR SHORT, ARE A COMMON SIGHT ACROSS THE ENTIRE SPAN OF THE PLANETARY COALITION. ALTHOUGH SIMILAR IN APPEARANCE AND FUNCTION TO STANDARD-ORDER ROBOTS, AUTONOBOTS ARE ABLE TO GATHER AND EVALUATE INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR ENVIRONMENT THEN ADAPT ACCORDINGLY. THEY CAN ALSO FUNCTION FOR EXTENDED PERIODS WITHOUT INTERVENTION AND ARE OUTFITTED FOR SELF-DIAGNOSIS AND MAINTENANCE. SUCH SELF-SUFFICIENT PROGRAMMING LED TO BOTS BECOMING AN INTEGRAL COMPONENT OF THE COALITIONS CONTINUED EXPANSION OF ITS BOUNDARIES. GONE WERE THE TIMES WHEN AN ENTIRE STRONGHOLD OF PERSONNEL HAD TO BE DISPATCHED TO SECURE THE VARIOUS NEW OUTPOSTS, REPLACED BY A MINIMAL COMMAND STRUCTURE SUPPLEMENTED WITH A FRESHLY BUILT WORKFORCE OF AUTONOBOTS. PROGRAMMED TO FOLLOW THE STANDARD LAWS OF ROBOTICS, THEY WILLINGLY AND EFFICIENTLY PERFORMED ANY AND ALL TASKS SET OUT BEFORE THEM. AS TIME WENT ON, MORE ADVANCED MODELS WERE BUILT INTEGRATING THE MOST ADVANCED LEVELS OF ADAPTIVE PROGRAMMING, LEADING TO THE IMPRESSION THAT AUTONOBOTS WERE CAPABLE OF DEVELOPING FEELINGS AND PERSONALITY TRAITS. AND AS WITH ALL INTELLIGENT BEINGS, SOME BOTS BEGAN THEIR OWN UNIQUE PROCESS OF EVOLUTION AND STARTED TO BECOME EVEN MORE THAN WHAT THEY WERE INITIALLY INTENDED TO BE AMONG THE LEADERS IN THE FIELD DURING THE ROBOTICS BOOM HAD BEEN XELONAR RESEARCH AND THEIR GROUNDBREAKING XR MODELS All right, so he is a robotic smart-ass and has it in for Van. But Im still not reprogramming him. Think of all the entertainment Id be missing Anyway, here we are at the hold and Tarys still milling about I hope hes in a better mood Tary, we made it! And by the skin of our teeth! Hhmph Guess notCome now, I was just fooling around. Hows the transfer coming along? Captain, you will be pleased to know that it is proceeding at a rate of one hundred ten kils per demic. We will be fully unloaded within three delmics. Tary Oh, all right. I guess I should lighten up a bit. We have been partners for quite a while and you have yet to lose any of our cargo or lives. But I really believe you need to start being more careful. One misstep could take out half the station. Suggestion noted, buddy. I promise I will keep both hands on the controls and stop trying to make you go into cardiac arrest less often. Anyway, Van and I are headed to the Diabolacerta once we wrap things up. Would you like to come along? No thank you. Once I am finished here, I think I will go straight to my habitat and spend some time in the regeneration basin. These extended trips leave me dry and worn. Suit yourself. If you change your mind, you know where to find us. Ill be in my quarters for a bit longer if you need to reach me.

Ive got to get Tary to loosen up some. After these trips he always ends up looking as if somebody poured salt all over him. Imagine what hed look like if we actually did screw up big. Well, Ill let him be for now because I need a real drink real bad...So into the slider I go and off to my room I dont care what anybody says, that that replicahol crap they make us take on these company-sponsored trips tastes like stale fureg-hound urine. Not that Ive ever tasted any on purpose at leastyuck! But here it is at last, my stop And few steps to the right, my beloved quarters Home-away-from-home sweet home-away-from-home. The only place around here I can get some What happened here?! What a mess! Didnt I pick up this place before we left Quartis? Thyka better not have let that pet of hers run loose around the ship again or I am going to be really pissed off. That little treat it left in one of my boots last time was not very pleasant. Now off with this miners suit Ugh, when was the last time I took it off? Feels like its glued on ... Thats better Lets see now, the black and green outfit looks pretty clean. And maybe if I go with th Oh, thats the front buzzer Come in Hey, Van. Ready to ro? Guess not Still sitting around in your underwear, Alandres? Did I catch you playing with yourself? If I was, the company was a lot better Now hold your horses, Ill be ready in a mic. And if you dont mind, Now back to the business of looking presentable You never know who youre going to meet at the crossroads of galactic travel lanes A little anti-perspirant, make sure my hair doesnt look like a napraps nest Yes, thats bad Zip up, grab my equipment and am good to go Are you finally ready, miss? After hearing pace back and forth all this time, I was wondering how long he would be able to keep his mouth shut Especially considering how long it usually takes him to get ready You better believe it, Van... and shut up. Theres some Skeb with my name all over it, just sitting in the cooler and waiting to be drank. Skeb? Why are you still drinking that rank vile? You do know it is made out of fossilized Acanta remains, right? That is going to kill you faster than the flying you insist on doing through the starship graveyard. Hey, thats my trademark shortcut... As for the Skeb, youre just jealous that I can consume such a succulent drink and my inferior human physiology can process it while generating all the popular results and none of the unsightly side effects of your run-of-the mill inebriant And its still better than that Sinbash crap you like so much. Surely you jest. That stuff will increase your sexual drive to supernatural levels. Just like mine. Appealing thought. Vamonos, But first, let me engage the alarm before we get too far Some of the maintenance personnel around here have sticky fingers and tentacles Then a quick stroll down the hall around the corner and out we go I knew there was a good reason I moved my quarters to this level. Location, location, location Now into the airlock and make sure we dont pollute the pristine station air with our foul presence Locking internal hatch doors starting chemical air scrubbers Damn thats cold. Van, remind me to tweak the inlet temperature control when we return. Im freezing. I have told you many times that smooth soft skin of yours is not suitable for extended space travel. Oh, be quiet... There, scrub finished... Engaging computer sync with bay atmospheric regulator adjusting local artificial gravity to station levels, Uughh Uh-oh, you are turning green again, Alandres. Are you sure you are full human and not part Plonkat? Last time I checked, I still hadnt grown a tail. So yes, Im sure. And Im okay, in case you were wondering... I just didnt have anything to eat before I took over the helm and the gravity change always makes me a bit light-headed. Now lets get moving before the Stations next shift change. If the personnel from the Entertainment Promenade get to the bar before we do, therell barely be any space left inside. At least hook up your breath-mask before we step out or your chances of getting there will be quite limited, Good point, especially now as the engagement lights on the airlock turn green and wait for us to open them... Gee, how can I forget a simple thing like breathing? Everything in the Stations common areas being unbreathable at least for me Darn inert gases Just because the Haulers internal

atmosphere is oxygen-primary, that doesnt mean anything else is Thanks Van Thats yet another reason I have you as my XO. Looking out for the minor details I might otherwise overlook. If suffocation through incompetence is what you consider minor, I would be curious to see what makes your serious list Now hook up so we can get out of here, Van tells me, so I slip the mask over my nose and mouth, extended the visor over my eyes, and turn on the elemental binder and wa-la Perfectly breathable air at least for me Now just undo the safety lock and were out RACKOYD STATION IS THE CENTRAL PROCESSING CENTER FOR MOST OF THE RAW MATERIALS NEEDED BY EVERY COLONIZED PLANET IN THE ADJOINING SECTORS, THE HOME AND ENTERTAINMENT CENTER FOR OVER 1 MILLION BEINGS OF ALL SHAPES, SIZES AND COLORS. BUILT BY THE MONRAVIANS, THE PREDOMINANT SENTIENT SPECIES POPULATING THE PLANET AROUND WHICH IT ORBITS, RACKOYD STATION TOOK NEARLY THIRTY TRICENTS TO BUILD AND BRING TO SELF-SUSTAINED OPERATION. KNOWN FOR THEIR FANATICAL DEDICATION TO THE COMPLETION OF WHATEVER TASK THEY SET FOR THEMSELVES, AND COMBINED WITH THEIR LIMITED REST REQUIREMENTS AND MINIMAL FOOD INTAKE, THE MONRAVIANS INVESTED THE BULK OF THEIR PLANETARY SURPLUSES TO ITS CONSTRUCTION. AND IN THE END, THE STATION HAS BECOMEW THE CROWNING TECHNOLOGICAL ACHIEVEMENT OF THEIR SPECIES AND THE PRIMARY COMMERCIAL VENTURE OF THE ENTIRE SYSTEM HUNDREDS OF LEVELS DIVIDED INTO THOUSANDS OF SUB-SECTIONS, EACH SPECIFICALLY TAILORED FOR THE NEEDS OF EVERY SPECIES THAT INHIBITS IT, PROVIDING EVERYTHING FROM FOOD AND AIR QUALITY, TO GAMES AND AMUSEMENT. AND OF SPECIAL RENOWN IS THE INCLUSION OF AN INDOOR MACTOCK RACING RING, BUILDING PERMITS FOR WHICH ARE LEGENDARY DIFFICULT TO OBTAIN, WHICH HAS DEVELOPED INTO ONE OF THE BIGGEST CRED-GENERATING VENTURES ON THE STATION. BUT EVEN MORE IMPRESSIVE, TO THOSE THAT HAVE ACTUALLY WITNESSED IT, IS THE MACHINERY THAT POWERS THE MASSIVE STATION. PRESENTLY, THERE ARE HUNDREDS OF IMMENSE FOUNDRIES WORKING NON-STOP IN THE LOWER LEVELS, PROCESSING ALL INCOMING RESOURCES THEN CHURNING OUT BOTH POWER AND INFRASTRUCTURE MATERIALS. BUT MOST RESIDENTS REMAIN COMPLETELY UNAWARE, THE ADVANCED DAMPENING STRUCTURES BEING SO EFFICIENT, THAT NOT A SOUND IS HEARD NOR ANY OF THE VIBRATION FELT BY THE OUTSIDE AREAS GOVERNANCE OF THE STATION IS CONDUCTED BY THE BOARD OF EXECUTIVES OF THE LOCAL BRANCH OF THE CYBEX CORPORATION, AND WHICH IS LED BY THE STATION OVERSEER. THE BOARD IS IN CHARGE OF PERFORMING AND UPHOLDING ALL EXECUTIVE, LEGISLATIVE AND JUDICIAL ASPECTS OF LIFE ON THE STATION. INTERFACING WITH THEM ARE THE VARIOUS PLANETARY AMBASSADORS AND OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF THE VARIOUS SPECIES THAT INHABIT RACKOYD. I have to adjust the Haulers gravity control once and for all, and make it a bit closer to what the Stations level is. Thats something they never showed in science fiction movies back on Earth. Everyone went from planet to planet, ship to ship, and they always made it seem like all species lived in the same comfort levels and atmospheric conditions. I imagine it would be easier to produce a show or movie that way. But boy, was that ever off the mark. No matter how many places I go to, the different gravity pulls always get to me the most. Especially on that trip to Axit 4 It was quite amazing seeing the impact that such high gravity can have evolution. Probably why the inhabitants have so many thick, stubby legs. Good thing we were sent along with those strength enhancement suits or we would have been crawling on our stomachs the whole time... Hey, watch it! Whoa! Thanks Van, time to snap out of my daydreaming And with good reason too. Theres tons of traffic out here today and Im liable to get run over if I dont watch out. Wish they would finally enforce that new ground speed limit law... Yeah, right. Good luck Im telling you Alandres, Ropicons should not be allowed to operate those transports. Anything without eyes, antennas or telepathy was not meant to operate any sort of vehicle or heavy machinery. Tell me about it. In fact, right before we left on our last Say, is that guy in the hoverspeeder trying to flag us down? It looks that way, seeing as how he is coming this way pretty fast and not caring how close he is to crashing into something. I know I did say that you never know who you are going to meet in places like this, but a man well, male that is in uniform right as I get off-ship is not what I meant Excuse me, Captain Cal. Im Associate Bantac, And as he introduces himself with a crisp salute, I can now clearly see his Cybex uniform So I have a feeling this will be business and not pleasure Overseer Pratec wants to see you.

Pratec? What for? Now yes, I am sounding a bit purposely oblivious, as I know there are several reasons the head of the local Cybex branch could be looking for me this quick after arriving But as none of them are my current wish or to do lists He did not say, Captain. The only specific was that he wants you to come right away, Thanks for the expected, uninformative answer, pal I should tell him that after completing the Run in two heptecs, the last thing I want to do is talk business. Then again, thats usually what Van if good for You can tell your boss that we have completed delivering on our contract and that he can keep his clutches to himself for the time being! Right on cue So go away now! Lets go Alandres. But sirs, Overseer Prat Poor Bantac Dont bother, because youre not going to get very far What part of go away now did you not understand, dimwit?! Tell him how you really feel, Van Well, I do want that drink, but maybe itll be best if I heed my own advice from earlier and not keep the folks with the creds waiting Its okay Van. Ill go see what he wants. Think about it, we just delivered the motherload of all quirillium shipments. Maybe Pratec wants to tell me in person about the extra large bonus were going to get. Yeah, and he will surely raise our pay rate while he is at as well. Keep dreaming, Alandres So go on and make it quick. I will meet you at the cantina and have your repulsive drink waiting I will also try to keep the females at bay until you get there But I cannot promise I will be successful. Im sure youll try real hard. See you in a bit I respond, then turn towards Bantac who is looking quite relieved now, Lead the way, Associate. Thank you, Captain Please step inside. I will transport you to the Overseers office at once. And with that, into the speeder and off we go Now what could he possibly want that couldnt wait until tomorrow? And if he wants to talk to me so urgently, why didnt he just call me on my Comm frequency? Well, Ill find out soon enough because Bantac has been cruising pretty fast and we are here already And there he is waiting by the door This guy gives me the creeps. All Cafidons do. Something about those big horns makes them look too devilish for my taste... And did I forget to say hes over seven micros tall not counting the horns? I barely reach past his shoulders I should read Dantes Inferno again. I think I read about him somewhere in the seventh level As if I could even get a copy around here anyway OF MASSIVE SIZE AND SURLY DEMEANOR, CAFIDONS INSPIRE A COMBINATION OF RESPECT AND FEAR. A TWO-ARM TORSO THAT SITS ON TOP A PAIR OF THICK LEGS DEFINES THEIR ANATOMY. ADULTS STAND BETWEEN SEVEN AND EIGHT MICROS TALL, WITH DARK RED SKIN AND TWO LARGE HORNS THAT EXTEND FROM THEIR SKULLS, WHICH SERVE TO RADIATE THEIR BODY HEAT. THEIR MUSCLES ARE EXTREMELY STRONG, HARD AND DENSE, LIMITING THEIR NEED OF CLOTHING FOR PROTECTIVE REASONS. CAFIDONS WEAR NOMINAL ATTIRE STRICTLY FOR CULTURAL AND SOCIAL MEANING, AS WELL AS FOR MINIMAL CONSIDERATION TO THE SENSITIVITIES OF OTHER SPECIES. ONE OF THE VARIOUS,
DIVERSE SPECIES THAT INHABIT THE PLANET GENAM 4, CAFIDONS WERE THE ONLY GROUP WHO DESIRED TO VENTURE OUTSIDE THE BOUNDARIES OF THEIR PLANET AND FIND OUT WHAT ELSE THE GALAXY HAD TO OFFER. AGGRESSIVE BY NATURE AND WITH A THIRST OF POWER AND FINANCIAL ADVANCEMENT, THESE EXPLORATORY EXCURSIONS INEVITABLY LED TO VIOLENT CONFLICTS WITH A NUMBER OF THE SPECIES THEY ENCOUNTERED. FEW WERE ABLE TO STAND IN THEIR WAY, LEADING TO THE BRIEF ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CAFIDON DOMINION. RECOGNIZING THE FINANCIAL TOLL CONSTANT CONFLICT WAS HAVING ON THEIR PRECIOUS NATURAL AND ECONOMIC RESOURCES, THE CAFIDONS SEIZED THEIR EXPANSIONARY CAMPAIGNS AND INSTEAD REACHED OUT TO THE FLEDGLING PLANETARY COALITION FOR MEMBERSHIP. THIS DECISION WAS DRIVEN BY THEIR REALIZATION THAT THE QUEST FOR RICHES WAS A MORE IMPORTANT ONE THAN THAT FOR OVERT POWER, AS WHOMEVER HAD THE MOST CREDS WOULD

EVENTUALLY THOUGH,

EVENTUALLY END UP WITH THE MOST POWER ANYWAY. EVER SINCE, YOU WOULD BE HARD PRESSED TO FIND A POSITION OF BUSINESS AUTHORITY WITHIN THE PLANETARY COALITION WITHOUT FINDING A CAFIDON NEARBY

And now that Im here, might as well cut to the chase, You wanted to see me, Overseer? Yes Captain, come in, Ah, that big, booming Cafidon voice. Yet another aspect of the species that creeps me out, And my congratulations on the massive payload you just delivered. As I am sure you

know, it is the largest quirillium recovery we have seen in quite some time. You have truly earned your moniker as the King of the Run. Thanks, but folks exaggerate. Im more of a handsome Count than a King. I take it that is some more of the human sense of humor that I have heard so much about but that you mostly refrain from in my presence And I am glad for it, as it is as highly overrated as I have been led to believe. Well, I get that a lot... Now what did you want to see me about? I have always liked that about you Captain. You are quick to get to the point. So please sit and allow me to do the same... I am interested in having you take on a new mission. A mission of discovery, Okay, seems like thats it for now and he is just going to sit there while looking at me silently Definitely trying to be mysterious and draw me in Good call, because its working too Discovery? What exactly do you have in mind? Some time ago, Cybex was doing deep core evaluations in search of tibesean deposits in the third moon on Quartis, when our team came across evidence of civilization that had previously inhabited it. I will not bore you with the details of everything we found, but among the remains were what appeared to be coordinates to a planet beyond the Coalitions Outer Sector. Since then, we have sent out deep-space probes to scan the general region where we believe the coordinates point to. We have met with limited success, but are certain the information is accurate... That is where you come in. Youve got my attention so far. Keep going. I would like you to undertake the mission to find this planet and claim it for Cybex. We are preparing a ship and would like you to depart at once. All the relevant information has loaded into the ships computer, and we have a minimal crew already in place that is more than Did he just say? Just a moment, Overseer The in-place crew? I would not be particularly comfortable undertaking a mission like this with a crew I am not familiar with. I prefer to only take my own personnel. As do all ship commanders. But this is a special situation that requires special actions. And although I am sure you and the other members of ExTA-6 are more than capable of learning the nuances of this ship, you might not be suited to rapidly perform adjustments or repairs on the fly if any were to become unexpectedly necessary. So in the interest of time and efficiency, I require that you take the add-on crew assigned. They are highly skilled in the workings of the ships unique propulsion system and have been instructed to follow your every command. Plus I always assumed you would bring in your own staff on board to round the total crew out... Now, will this pose a problem for you? And there is the impudent sneer Cafidons are known to flash when they ask you a question they already know the answer to or before they are about to knock you unconscious by bludgeoning you over the head Jerk Not at all, Overseer Assuming I accept your offer of course... Also because it seems to be the only choice you have left me. I am glad we are in agreement there, Captain. I have always known you to be a sentient of reason Now I have taken the liberty of advancing 839,830 PlanCo creds to your Cybex account to make up for potential lost revenue from any mining runs you might have otherwise taken during your the time away. You will also receive 0.5% of any future profits that such a discovery might generate for Cybex. Do I still have your attention? You certainly do... But first, a question first, particularly as this just sounds all too simple and straightforward to be just that Why me? Surely you have many others at your immediate disposal and direct command that could do the job as well. I do. But for this type of mission I want someone who has shown a knack for this sort of work in the past. I read all the Station reports and am well aware of your exploits through and beyond the Run. You may like to keep a low profile, but your successes are well documented. The discoveries of Yawbus 1 and the moons of Lovanoc for instance have led to significant profits for Cybex. You may be comfortable piloting our freighters to and from the Miners Run, but I imagine you would not pass on the thrill of new adventure. You surely are an explorer at heart. What makes you say that?

Come now, there is no need to play games. You are always trying new or inventive things, either at the mines or throughout the Run. For example, you dont need to fly across the graveyard to meet schedule, yet you do anyway. I am sure there is more to it than just trying to be punctual But I digress. I have made my pitch. What do you say? And hes flashing that that sneer once more Then again, I cant argue with it if its right So big smile now and What ship will we be taking? I hope my reply sounded non-chalant enough And as he is still sneering, his answer is probably going to be good You will be taking the Lumenictus, Ooooh. And as his wicked smile just grew, I think my surprise must be showing more than I thought The Lumenictus? Are you in that a big hurry? Captain, in this business time is money. You know that better than most. And although we have no reason to believe that anyone else knows of this potential find, we cannot take any chances of a competitor beating us to a claim. That could pose potential disruption to the Run trade routes, which would be unacceptable. Therefore, you get to take the fastest ship in our fleet. Sounds like fun. Ive heard a lot about it and have always wanted the chance to take it for a spin. Anything of interest that I need to know besides how fast it can go? The ship has been outfitted with an enhanced radar system with a resolution over a degree of magnitude higher than what you have on your current mining transport... Of course, to fit all the additional equipment necessary to make it functional, we had to make some alterations elsewhere, As casual as he sounded, I think I just heard another shoe drop Such as? Oh, extended life support, environmental controls minor details The missile banks were removed and the radar equipment put in their place. Most of the detection antennas are now located inside the torpedo tubes, And Pratec didnt even break stride when he side that Not as bad as life support, but not far down the list either I wonder when was the last time he was under fire from an unsympathetic ship That is quite an alteration Will I be wishing I had them back at some point? You know as well as I do that travel through any uncharted region of space is potentially fraught with peril. But do I think you will need them? No. There have not been any unprovoked hostile encounters in the Outer Sector in over three tricents. But that does not mean you will not be prepared should such an encounter happen. The ship still has its compliment of high-energy particle beam batteries, so you will be more than capable of defending yourself. Although with this ship, your best bet is still to run and live to fight another septec. I was going to say run away before you are fired upon, but I like your ending better, Captain... Now, do we have a deal? The ship is being fueled as we speak. You didnt give me much of a chance to say no, did you? But Id be lying if I say I wasnt intrigued by this opportunity. I should at least play a little hard to get Yes Overseer, we have a deal. But you can tell your personnel at the fuel station to take it easy. We wont be departing until two septecs from now, And no sooner do I finish speaking that Pratec is getting another look that can be interpreted as one preceding the aforementioned head bludgeoning I thought I made it very clear that time was of the essence. You did and it is. But so is efficiency. And we did just arrive after an overtime stay at Quartis. Well relax, rest up, and start getting ready to go tomorrow morning... Hey, you wouldnt want me to get tired and drowsy, and end up flying the Ictus into a nebula or something, would you? And now I hope that my own insolent smirk doesnt aggravate him too much Well, maybe just a little bit Fine, Captain. Two septecs it is. Make sure the names of everyone you are bringing on board are entered into the departure manifest and have it submitted directly to me. Will do. And on that note, could you in turn give me a copy of the personnel list of the supplemental crew? With time of the essence, I would like to begin my preparations at once.

Of course. I welcome your attention to detail And here you are, as I expected you to request it. All are saved in this disc... I assume your personal datapad has PX level decryptor software. We can never be too careful. Of course, and thank you. Now, where is the Ictus docked? It is in dock 28-54A. Your vital stats have been forwarded to the bio-evaluator safeguards at the entrance port. Once I have your crew list, I will have theirs added as well. Until then, only you have access. Go it. And if that is all, Ill be going And dont worry, if there is really a planet out there Ill find it for you, Nice wrap up, now time to leave. But Pratec is extending his arm so I guess he wants to shake hooves? What do you call those things? I better reach over though I know you will, All right, good shake and he is not letting go as I try to pull back. O-kay What now? And Captain This mission is top-secret. Do not discuss it with anyone outside of your senior crew or myself. Do you understand? Ive seen that type of look enough times to know when someone is holding something back. Or maybe those big, black horns are making me paranoid... What the hell, the Run was starting to get boring anyway What mission? Good and good luck, Yeah, thanks Man, what a grip. I think my hand is permanently deformed. Now out the door while I still can And lets slip the disc into the pads slot. Enter a couple of commands and done Lets start by finding out who this benign in-place personnel really is So a new planet beyond the Outer Sector and one that could expand the Miners Run no less When was the last time anyone even journeyed out there? Maybe five, ten tricents? Talk about boldly going where no man has gone before. I wonder if Id get sued if I make a plaque that said that and hung it on the bridge of the ship THE MINERS RUN IS WIDELY HELD AS THE MOST LUCRATIVE YET DEATHLY DANGEROUS VOYAGE IN THE ENTIRE KRESHII PERIPHERY. EIGHT PLANETS ARRANGED ROUGHLY IN A SEMI-CIRCLE SKIMMING THE OUTER EDGE OF THE EXPLORED GALAXY, THE RUN GOT ITS NAME ABOUT 500 TRICENTS AGO WHEN INEW TRADERS, AFTER HAVING GREATLY MISCALCULATED THE GRAVITATIONAL IMPACT OF THE TWIN STARS OF THEY PLANETARY SYSTEM, CAME OUT OF THEIR ULTRA-JUMP SIGNIFICANTLY OFF COURSE. HOPELESSLY STRANDED, AND SHORT OF FUEL AND FOOD FOR A RETURN JOURNEY, THEY TOUCHED DOWN ON THE NEAREST PLANET THEIR SENSORS PICKED UP, THE NOW FAMOUS GABBAN 5. A ROUGH SEARCH OF THE AREA REVEALED LARGE POCKETS OF THE ELEMENT MINIMULA NEAR THE PLANETS SURFACE, WHICH THEY WERE ABLE TO EXTRACT AND CREATE A SYNTHETIC LOW GRADE FUEL. THIS WAS IN TURN ABLE TO GIVE THEM ENOUGH OF A BOOST TO TRAVEL TO NEXT CLOSEST PLANET. THIS PROCESS WAS REPEATED THREE MORE TIMES UNTIL THE INEWANS ARRIVED ON THE CROWN JEWEL OF THE RUN, THE PLANET QUARTIS. THE INEWANS LANDED WITH SUFFICIENT FUEL FOR ONE MORE JUMP, BUT WITH NOT ENOUGH BASIC NUTRIENTS TO SUSTAIN THEM. BY THE TIME THEY LANDED ON QUARTIS, THEY HAD BEEN OUT TWICE AS LONG AS THEY HAD ORIGINALLY INTENDED AND WERE RUNNING DRASTICALLY LOW ON THE COMPONENTS THAT MADE UP THEIR FOOD SOURCE. THAT IS WHEN THEY MADE THEIR GREATEST DISCOVERY. SITTING UNDERNEATH THEIR SHIP WAS THE BIGGEST DEPOSIT OF THE ELEMENT ORNIUM THAT ANYONE HAD COME ACROSS IN MILLENNIA. IRONICALLY, THIS HAPPENED TO BE THE MAIN INGREDIENT THAT WAS NEEDED TO SUSTAIN THEIR ANEMIC SYSTEMS, AND UNBEKNOWNST TO THEM, ONE OF THE MOST VALUABLE AND SOUGHT-AFTER ELEMENTS IN THE SECTOR. NOW WITH A FULL STOMACH, OR WHAT WAS THE EQUIVALENT OF A STOMACH FOR THEIR SPECIES, AND RECHARGED FUEL CELLS, THE INEWANS FINALLY WERE ABLE TO PACK UP AND GO HOME. UPON THEIR ARRIVAL, TALES OF THEIR EXPLOITS QUICKLY SPREAD, AND THE MINERS RUN WAS BORN. EVER SINCE THEN,
THAT ONCE UN-TRAVELED SECTION OF THE GALAXY HAS BECOME THE HOT SPOT FOR OBTAINING THE RAW MATERIALS NEEDED TO BUILD STARSHIPS, LUNCH TRAYS AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. FOUR MORE PLANETS HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED SINCE, BRINGING THE TOTAL TO EIGHT. AND WHILE A LOT OF INDIVIDUALS HAVE GOTTEN RICH, WHERE SOMEONE IS MAKING MONEY, THERE IS USUALLY SOMEONE ELSE CLOSE BY TRYING TO TAKE IT AWAY. PIRATES AND RIVAL

SHIPS ACROSS THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE ARC. THOSE FLOATING METAL CASKETS ARE REMINDERS OF BATTLES FOUGHT IN THE NAME OF PROFIT, AND A CONSTANT REMINDER TO BE EVER VIGILANT. ADD THE NEARBY ASTEROID BELT, THE UNUSUAL GRAVIMETRIC ANOMALIES CREATED BY THE PROXIMITY OF THE TWO MIDDLE PLANETS, AND THAT DAMN ROVING MINI-BLACK

CONSORTIUMS CONSTANTLY ACCOSTED MINERS AND MERCHANTS IN THE EARLY AGES OF THE RUN. FOR A WHILE, YOU COULD NOT COMPLETE A TRIP AROUND THE RUN WITHOUT EITHER DODGING ENEMY FIRE OR CHUNKS FROM A SHIP BELONGING TO SOME UNFORTUNATE SOUL THAT HAD JUST GOTTEN BLOWN UP. THESE SEPTECS, ON A USUAL TRIP YOU CAN SEE WRECKED

HOLE THAT ALWAYS POPS UP WHEN LEAST EXPECTED, AND IT MAKES ONE THINK THAT THE UNDISCOVERED, AS AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS

RUN WAS NOT SO MUCH

Hey! Look where you are walking, you imbecile! Hey now! That was close. But he ... um she um it was right. Ive got to pay attention to where the heck Im going before I get run over Particularly because here is my final destination, the Diabolacerta Did I hear that translated into devilish lizard? ... But whatever the name, it is still the best drinking establishment that members of oxygen-breathing species, like myself, could ask for. Ive heard the Qualabs from Level 72 say that their bar is better, but stereotypes be damned, I find it hard to believe that anything that caters to a sentient nitrogen cloud can provide better drinks or entertainment than this place CONTRARY TO WIDELY HELD MISCONCEPTIONS, QUALABS AND THEIR NITROGEN-BASED BRETHREN ARE AMONG THE WILDEST PARTY-BEINGS WITHIN THE PLANETARY COALITION. IRONICALLY THOUGH, THEY ARE ALSO ONE OF THE WORST DRUNKS. BEING ABLE TO DIRECTLY ABSORB THE VAPORIZED REMAINS OF THEIR ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE OF CHOICE, THEY IN FACT BECOME ONE WITH THE DRINK. THIS GROSSLY AFFECTS THEIR ABILITY TO CONTROL THEIR ANATOMICAL FUNCTIONS,

LEADING FREQUENTLY TO EMBARRASSING SITUATIONS IN WHICH THEY APPEAR TO BE RAINING ON UNSUSPECTING PASSERSBY, WHO ONLY LATER REALIZED THE LIQUIDS EMANATING FROM THEM ARE SOMETHING MUCH MORE OFFENSIVE ALL TOGETHER

And look, my favorite bouncer is at the door. Guess Im not waiting in line tonight. Hi Alandres. Where have you been? Vancara has been here for quite a while running up your tab, And with that tone, it is pretty clear he is not too sorry about it either And thanks a lot for stopping him, Majji. I thought I told you that if anyone ever charged a drink to me again when I was not around that you were allowed to stuff them in the trash compactor. Are all those arms of yours for something other than stuffing live prey down your gullet? Its a good thing he is one of the few ones that gets my sense of humor and dont misread my feigned offense, or hed likely try to eat me too As Sernons have been known to do in order to both settle disputes and get their daily nourishment cravings in one fell swoop SHORT ON INTELLECT AND HIGH ON MUSCLE, SERNONS ARE A POPULAR HIRE AS SECURITY PERSONNEL THROUGHOUT THE PLANETARY COALITION, THEIR MULTIPLE ARM BODIES ALLOWING THEM TO BOTH HOLD DOWN THEIR QUARRY AND DELIVER A BEATING TO THEM AT THE SAME TIME. AT THEIR TALLEST, STANDING NO MORE THAT FIVE MICROS TALL BUT WITH A MOUTH STRETCHING ALMOST THE ENTIRE WIDTH OF THEIR SQUAT FRAMES, SERNONS WILL OFTEN CRUSH AND CRUMPLE THE BODIES OF NO-LONGER-LIVE MEALS INTO A MORE COMPACT PACKAGE BEFORE INSERTING THE ENTIRE THING IN THEIR MOUTH. Sorry, but his cred contribution upon entry was bigger than your usual fare. Now if you want to increase the size of your usual donation. Thanks for your kindness and consideration but Ill pass. See you later. See you around, Majji says with a wave of three of his four arms and I head inside Now I can finally take this mask off and breath some real air All right then, Ive got to find Van and fill him in. Hes going to be thrilled at the prospect of a short leave. Now where is he? Man, this place is packed. Its going to take forever to Must have been as big as a transport shuttle! And you should have seen the size of those teeth! It could have cut a bull Tacenru in half! Bone plates and all! Gee, whose is that a loud voice clamoring over the all the others? I should have finished that last thought by saying unless he opens his mouth As if its the first time Ive been to a bar with him. He is as subtle as a supernova and just about as loud when he has a couple of drinks in him. He does know how to tell a story though. That definitely came in handy that one time in Retip 3 when our account access was blocked and we had to convince the local authorities to let us off-planet on our good word alone.

And look, a Tun sister on each arm. Guess that third eye does come in handy. He can look at each right in the face, and still peek down their shirts at the same time. Or what passes for a shirt. Or what passes for cleavage on a female Neer. I guess thats another way to be aware of your surroundings Hey, Alandres! Over here! It is about time you showed up. You are missing all the fun. I was just filling my friends here on one of our most recent adventures. You remember Melapa and Tinax. Of course. Ladies No its okay, a kiss in the hand is a typical way to greet a lovely female in my homeworld. And you really shouldnt be seen public with such a disreputable character. It might accidentally sully your good names. By the way Van, I heard the tail end of you story and Im sorry, but I have to stop you. That is no way to talk about your mother, Hey, thats a fairly surprising amount of laughter Overrated humor indeed Plus it seems to be making that curvaceous Repptis look in my direction CARE SHOULD ALWAYS BE TAKING WHEN SEDUCING THE STRIKING FEMALE REPPTIS, PARTICULARLY BY MEMBERS OF OTHER SPECIES, AS THEY HAVE SEVERAL UNSEEN QUILLS AND SPINES IN PLACES WHERE THE AVERAGE MALE SENTIENT WOULD MOST LIKELY BE UNAWARE OF UNTIL IT WAS, VERY PAINFULLY, TOO LATE

Nice try, buddy. But if you heard anything at all, you would know very well I was telling them about one of your more recent romantic encounters, Nice one, Van and now the Repptis is definitely laughing at me and not with me Oh well, time for business
Ha, ha, ha shut up. Come on Van, I need to fill you in on my talk with Pratec. Sorry, but there is nothing he could have told you that could possibly interest me more than drinking another Sinbash and spending the rest of my near future in the company of my two beautiful friends here. Especially since you are using the tone that usually means our leave is going to get cut short and we should be heading to the ship right now. Check back with me in another septec or two. I should be more relaxed and receptive to your needs by then. I will admit that his desired course of action indeed sounds more appealing. Too bad for him... Hes going to hate me for this So I guess the prospects of vast wealth and fame no longer qualify as items of interest for you? Curse you Alandres, this better be good... Please excuse me, my lovelies. The Captain and I need to have a little chat. Go on and order another a couple of drinks for yourselves while you wait. After all, he is buying. True enough, so I dont feel too bad about having to begrudgingly drag him away to a slightly less crowded corner and out from in between the Tun Sandwich he was in, All right big shot, now that you ruined the mood What is this fantastic proposition our dear Overseer laid on you? First I have to say that I embellished what I said a little bit. Because when I said fame and fortune, I actually meant a short leave and a return to the ship right now, Hmm, doesnt seem like my innocent answer did not go over very well And I must say that on the rare time Van gets ultra-pissed off and focuses all three of his eyes on me it can be a bit unnerving or comical depending on your point of view You no good piece of! I knew it! Now you have ten mics to tell me what he wants us to do before I walk back to the bar, bury myself in those eight big, beautiful orbs and drown out the drone of your irritating voice. Eight? There are two more on their backs You are down to seven. He wants us to find a planet beyond the Outer Sector, has already advanced us over 800,000 creds, well get a share of the future profits if we find it, and well be taking the Lumenictus to get there There, I think that was six, And now to sit back and cross my arms across my chest and smile in smug satisfaction Hey, Im sure Van thought I was trying to pull a fast one... Fine, Alandres So there might be fame and fortune in this after all. And the Lumenictus? Did he say why we needed to be in such a hurry? Thats the same thing I asked him. But he just gave me some line about time being money Are you getting suspicious already?

Why would I be suspicious? It is not as if Pratec has ever used others for the purposes of his own advancement. Or mastered ways to bend Cybex regulations in order to achieve his own means. Or even taken partial credit for some of our own achievements while downplaying our involvement... Oh wait, it was him that did all that. So yes I am suspicious. Leave at once, take our fastest ship, here is a small fortune with more creds on the way, and no there is nothing to worry about. Yeah, Im sure hes on the level and we will be able to just stroll right in, plant our flag and go cash out. I know. He likely knows more than hes telling us, this supposed undiscovered planet is probably worth a lot more than hes letting on, and half the other consortiums already have a five heptec head start on us... But as I told him Van, sounds like fun. I hate it when you say that So when do we leave? I knew your were full of it. All tough talk, but youre as eager to go as I am. So I might be a bit interested even though we will probably come across more than we bargained, get shot at, left for dead or imprisoned probably before we even leave the system. Way to look on the bright side, Van. Who ever said that Asters were incurable pessimist? You, now that you bring it up... So again, when are supposed to we leave? In two septecs. The shipped is located in dock 28-54A. We still need to gather the team and brief them, meet the assigned crew, get a rundown of the ship, develop the flight plan, Hold on. Did you say assigned crew? Darn it, hes turning all three eyes on me again I was hoping he wouldnt notice that part Oh yes, a minor detail They are specifically trained in the workings of the Ictuss propulsion drive. And I know what youre thinking, but it was one of the conditions in accepting the mission. Im sure it was, Alandres. And I see the logic behind it and how such a crew would be useful, particularly if we are going to be back in space so soon. It is just that on a trip like this, with the unknowns mounting, I would feel more comfortable knowing exactly who will be responsible for making sure we make it there and back without having to get out and push. As do I. But Pratec was quite insistent that they were to come along, so we need to compromise. But dont worry. I sent a transmission to Exar after I left Pratecs office and asked him to run a discreet background check on them. That new computer interface we outfitted him with lets him hack into any system basically undetected. If there is anything unpleasant we need to know about them, hell find it. Sneaky I like it. And it sounds like you have a lot of work to do, so I will let you be and return to what I was doing before I was so rudely interrupted. I will meet you at the ship bright and early. Oh, and make sure you have some mazaka hot and ready for me. You know how cranky I get in the mornings if I do not get my full dose of sleep, which I can guarantee you I will not. Now if you will excuse me hey my lovelies And off he goes without letting me even get another word in I should have told him that getting unlimited access to the Executors harem was part of our reward and taken advantage of that wild sex drive of his It wouldve been even than easier than playing into his thrill seeking side Id hate to be stuck in front of an Aster during mating season Hes right though, I have a lot of things to get ready. Now I need to call Tary. Man, is he going to be pissed...

Chapter 3: Scared of a little sub-particle de-materialization? - Planetary Coalition Date 7269.317 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, docked in Rackoyd Station in orbit around Monravia
CYBER EXCAVATIONS CORPORATION,
OR CYBEX AS IT IS MORE COMMONLY REFERRED TO, IS AN IMMENSE MINING, TRADING, REALTY AND EXPLORATION CONSORTIUM SPANNING ACROSS ALL PLANETARY COALITION SPACE, AND SOME SAY, EVEN BEYOND IT. WITH DIRECT AND INDIRECT HOLDINGS IN THOUSANDS OF PLANETS, MOONS AND ASTEROIDS, PLUS THEIR WELLPUBLICIZED MONOPOLY ON THE MINERS RUN, CYBEX IS ONE OF THE LARGEST AND MOST POWERFUL PRIVATE ENTITIES IN THE IF NOT THE KNOWN GALAXY.

SECTOR,

OVER THE COURSE OF ITS EXISTENCE, CYBEX HAS TRANSFORMED FROM A COMMERCIAL MINING ENTERPRISE TO ONE THAT INDIRECTLY RULES OVER ALL OF ITS ACQUIRED PROPERTYS INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL GOVERNANCE FUNCTIONS. AND IN ORDER TO BOTH PROTECT AS WELL AS INCREASE THEIR VALUABLE INVESTMENTS, CYBEX OWNS AN IMPRESSIVE FLEET OF INTERSTELLAR SHIPS, RANGING FROM MINING AND CARGO FREIGHTERS TO SEVERAL FIRST-RATE CAPITAL SHIPS COMPARABLE TO THOSE OF ANY PLANETARY MILITARY UNITS. ALTHOUGH OFFICIALLY REGULATED BY THE GOVERNING BODY OF THE PLANETARY COALITION, INTERNAL MATTERS ARE USUALLY LEFT TO THEIR DISCRETION WITH SOME MINOR OVERSIGHT, AS MONITORING THE IMMEASURABLE NUMBER OF ACTIVITIES
GOING ON AT ALL TIMES ON A CORPORATION OF THAT SIZE WOULD BE A CONSIDERABLE DRAIN ON THE RESOURCES OF THE

COALITION Yuck How can anyone enjoy the taste of this awful stuff? Who in their right mind was the first to think that itd be a good idea to drink the liquefied intestines of a Tendor? I think it was somebody studying animal behavior. I can just see it now, Hey that scavenger over there looks pretty hopped up. I think Ill try whatever its eating and see what happens... MAZAKA,

ONE THE PRIMARY COMMERCIALLY AVAILABLE STIMULANTS SOLD TO WARD OFF DROWSINESS AND RESTORING ALERTNESS, TRACES ITS ORIGINS TO OVER 1000 TRICENTS AGO. THE LAGAL TRIBE FROM THE PLANET THIOPA WOULD ROAST THE INTESTINAL CASING OF A PARTICULAR GAME ANIMAL AS THEIR ONLY SOURCE OF NUTRITION WHILE ON RAIDING STRIKES, WHICH THEY NOTICED GAVE THEM A MARKED ENERGY BOOST WHEN CONSUMED. EVENTUALLY, TRADERS FROM OTHER PLANETS BROUGHT BACK WITH THEM SAMPLES OF THIS ENERGY-GIVER, OPENING THE FLOODGATES TO WHAT WOULD TRICENTS LATER BECOME ONE OF THE RICHEST INDUSTRIES IN THE HISTORY OF THE GALAXY

and if Van werent so a good at what he does, Id eject this whole batch out through the airlock. But too be fair, I have to admit it does have a one hell of a kick. Two cups and my brain is so wired I feel like I can see through time. Now were did I put the sweetener? Lets see now ship personnel listing, check medical supplies manifest, check life support system overload inspection, check Hmm, I didnt see these in the loading bay. Better call Tary down there and check Tary, come in Have the uni-molding EV suits been delivered yet? Yes, Captain. The Cybex technicians delivered them fifteen demics ago. I have completed the safety evaluation and they are ready for storage. If at any point we are forced to abandon ship, we will be more than adequately protected. Glad to hear it. Please go over to the Environmental Module and verify the filtration levels of the second batch of air scrubbers. I want to make sure that they are efficient enough to handle an increased level of emissions. I have a feeling well be out beyond the Periphery for quite a while. Will do, Captain. Over and out. All right, thats done. Now, back to the list Secondary transmission antenna, check I hope thats Van I hear coming in and not a Pandorian hitman. If they ever figure out it was me that borrowed all those creds Yaaaawn ... Out for quite a while, huh? I hope you remembered to bring some Kundren libations on board then. Just so we can make the time pass a bit easier.

Yes, thats him Commander, do I need to remind you that taking any of the 100 types of Kundren mind-altering beverages on interstellar voyages is forbidden, and would be in violation of Planetary Coalition Code 752, Section 1290, Paragraph 48? And if I found out that someone had smuggled some aboard disguised as spare landing struts and stored them in the Engineering Sub-level, I would be forced to report them to the proper authorities. As well you should, Captain. But it just so happens that was a random security observance test, seeing as one of my duties is that of the crews Compliance Focal. If you would have answered differently, it would have been me that was forced to report you to the proper authorities. Im glad to see youre so litigious, Van. Do not act so surprised or else I would almost be offended. But on that note Do you think the ship could be under surveillance? I dont think so. I had Exar run a Level 3 sweep for both listening and tracking devices, and he didnt find anything. If there is something on board, whoever placed its has earned the right to eavesdrop on us. Well if anyone is listening in, they can sit back and enjoy it for now at least. Because I have to tell you it was too bad you could not stay with me and the Tuns last night. Yes, Im sure you were devastated. For the first couple of mics at least... Anyway, you know how Neers are able to change their molecular structure for short periods of time, right? So last night, the two of them tell me of this trick they do. One of them stood in front of me and the other one behind. All of a sudden, their dorsal tentacles start to glow. And after a few moments, I could almost see through them. They then moved in closer and their tentacles started going through my skin, here and here. And I literally mean through my skin. They were not cutting or tearing anything. But once inside, I could feel part of them re-solidifying, because they started tickling my NEERS ARE ONLY ONE OF THREE CATALOGUED SPECIES THAT CAN ALTER THE STATE OF MATTER OF PART OF THEIR BODIES TO AN ALMOST PHOTONIC PHASE. HOW THIS IS PHYSICALLY ACOMPLISHED AND HOW THEY CAN MAINTAIN THEIR COMPOSITION IS STILL UNKNOWN Is that the Comm beeping? And just when the story was getting interesting Hang on, Van I think thats Tary calling Bridge here. Captain, the propulsion crew has informed me that they have finished their pre-flight check of the drive systems and are ready to give you their report. Thanks, Tary. Please tell them Van and I are reviewing the takeoff run and flight plan. We will be down to the engine room as soon as we wrap up. Will do Captain. Signing out. I swear he has a special gift, Here we go. Few things annoy an Aster more than not having the chance to brag about their latest romantic conquest Or else he would not know how to always interrupt at the worst possible time. You can fill me in on the gory details after were underway, Van. The ship is scheduled to leave in about 20 delmics and there are still plenty of things to go over. Fine, although you are the one that always says all work and no fooling around blah blah blah. Im glad to see that for once you are actually did listen to something I had to say Sort off. Now slide on over and take a look at these schematics The ship is basically one big booster rocket, with us and the rest of it attached for the ride. All this area is Engineering, this is the Engine Room, and this small area holds the fuel cells. I see I hope we do not get fired upon because we will light up brighter than a supernova if anything breaches that compartment.

No doubt. But whoever designed the ship had the same thought in mind. Look here... The entire area has a second layer of Dermasel around it, with an Epsilon Class particle shield tucked in between. It would take a direct hit from a neutron torpedo to get through all of it. And even if we werent able to dodge that slow moving party-crasher and we did get hit, check this out... The entire front section can be jettisoned from the rest of the ship right at this point. These blocks are containment shields placed right after the blast doors, and the central stabilization thrusters can be reconfigured to become sub-light mega engines. Pretty ingenious. Although it would take us quite a while to get back to Rackoyd at that pace. Then lets hope that Pratec is on the level, and it will just be one speedy joy ride there and back. So take all these data discs and look them over It has the schematics, inventory, the Cybex excavation data, travel charts the whole lot. If I get hit over the head and lose my memory, I want someone to be able to get us back in one piece. Well if that did happen, I hope you at least do not forget the time we met those exotic dancers at the Golden Beach in Nucnac. No worries there, Van. It would take a neutron torpedo hit to jar those memories loose Now let me take you through the basics of the flight plan I came up with. Once were clear of the station, well proceed on course 311.4 until we pass the outer edge of the system. And before you say anything, I know its a longer way around. But I checked the current star charts, and with the placing of the outer three planets, our route will be exposed to a 10% decrease in gravitational drag. Even at 70% sub-light, well still cut 5% from the typical exit sequence. I was not going to say anything, Alandres. And you call me paranoid. So-rry. I guess that is your new look for silent contemplation. Now, since Pratec stressed how this was a top-secret mission, I thought we should also stay clear of the regular trade routes. So once weve cleared the system, well set course 304.0915 by -44.1840 to the Periphery... And there goes Vans not-aboutto-say-something look again Yes, that way The EM discharges from the Telem Black Hole Cluster should help conceal our passage. And the best part is that even though its a longer route, at the Ictus top speed, well still get there at least a couple of septecs early. Seems goods to me. But if we are going off the trade routes, no one will be able to find us if anything happens. We need to account for that and leave some sort of mechanism in place that will alert the right personnel if we go astray. Way ahead of you, Van. See, unlike you, I spent last night diligently prepping for our fantastic voyage instead of having some sort of metaphysical encounter. And if you could have switched places with me you would have done it without thinking twice about it, so save it... Now what is your grand plan to save our hides should something go wrong? True enough NeverthelessI entered a copy of our travel route in my quarters computer here at the station. It is integrated into a repeating program that must be reset every septec by an all-clear signal that we will be emitting throughout our trip between here and the forward edge of the Run. If the signal is not received in the required amount of time, it will trigger an alarm sequence that will forward our path and destination to Colonel Yretti at the Planetary Guard. Following standard protocol, Yretti will alert the proper channels and send out a rescue party. Brilliant. After which, I we are still alive, we will be shuttled off to the nearest mind-erase facility to eliminate all knowledge of our secret mission. In all likelihood. So I guess we better not screw up, right? Once we reach the initial search coordinates, well send a signal to Pratec telling him that we are in position, then take it from there. From then on out, its anyones guess as to what happens and how long it takes... What do you think? Sounds like you have everything covered, so I will go find my quarters and get some rest. Wake me up when we get to the Periphery. Of course, your highness. And Ill delivery all your meals personally to ensure that they are to your satisfaction. Why thank you, Captain. That would be a welcomed change from the typical ghastly manner in which I am treated on most of our travels.

Well keep dreaming, because the partys just begun and I have a lot planned for you Now lets hop in the slider and head over to Engineering. Im dying to see what else this ship is capable of. THE MODEL RS-16 IS A LONG-RANGE, MAGNA-ENGINE DRIVEN, STRATEGIC RECONNAISSANCE SPACECRAFT DEVELOPED BY CYBEX CORPORATIONS ADVANCED SCIENCES DIVISION IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PROPULSION EXPERTS FROM THE PLANET GINRUN. PRIOR TO ITS MAIDEN VOYAGE, THE RS-16 WAS OFFICIALLY NAMED THE LUMENICTUS, WHICH TRANSLATES TO LIGHTNING BOLT IN PRIME PLANCO SPEECH. AND ALTHOUGH ITS ACTUAL PERFORMANCE DATA REMAINS A SUBJECT OF SPECULATION FOR THE AT-LARGE PUBLIC, THE LUMENICTUS IS WELL KNOWN TO BE THE FASTEST SHIP NOT ONLY OF CYBEXS FLEET, BUT OF THE PLANETARY COALITION. IT HOLDS BOTH THE ABSOLUTE SPEED RECORD AS WELL AS THE LONGEST RECORDED VOYAGE BY ANY KNOWN STARSHIP (RECORDS CLASSIFIED). ALL DETAILED ASPECTS OF ITS DESIGN AND UNIQUE PROPULSION SYSTEM ARE ABOVE-TOP-SECRET CLASSIFIED, AND KNOWN BY ONLY A SELECT GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS. This is one amazing ship. Every aspect of it is built for speed, inside and out. Look at the design of those panels. Perfectly situated for maximum efficiency, and no wasted motion. No wonder its Cybexs most prized possession. If it ever fell into one of their rivals hands, it would deal a serious blow to their growing monopoly on the raw materials market I should get Exar to hack into the Cybex memory vault and unlock the holologs from its never-admitted-to trip to the galactic center. That must have been one hell of a ride... if it really happened, of course I wonder how they avoided the effects of the supermassive black hole thats there And speaking of rides, I need to stop this one for a moment. I almost forgot Van, I need to quickly catch up with Exar on a couple of things. Stop the slider at the Comm Room, please. Well okay. I will tolerate the rust buckets presence this early in the morning only because you asked so nicely. It just so happens that is the easiest way to trick you and the others into doing my every whim Now this wont take long, so you and Exar try to stay civil towards each other. You just wait and see who starts it. Fine The burden of completion and filing of the departure checklists says he does not start anything if you dont. You are on I hope you brought onboard the concentrated mazaka extracts, because you are going to have a hard time staying awake with all that exciting work you just brought on yourself. Well see soon enough who is really going to need it. And as we are now at the Comm Center, lets walk on over and let the games begin. This is going to be the easiest bet I ever won Hi Exar. I hope we are not interrupting you. I just wanted to see how the Comm network and shields are looking. Not problem at all, Master, And yes, that is the typical formality he always responds with And no, I dont have a superiority complex. Thats is just his way even before we met I just completed the preliminary check of the communications system and the detection array, and all systems are functioning at optimum levels. Next I was planning on moving on to the shield generation platform and perform the pre-flight diagnostics. Thanks for the update, Exar. Once youve finished that, please head over to the cargo hold and inspect the lot of your repair kits and spare parts. I would like to be sure that the array is not the only thing that is functioning at optimum levels throughout this trip. Ive also arranged for a download of the latest revision of the universal translator. Make sure you upload it into your memory banks while we are still in system. Of course... Your concern is noted and appreciated. Okay then, carry on. Van will contact you later to collect all the diagnostic data, as he is going to be tied up for a while. Just before we came in, he volunteered to complete the departure checklists for me, Im not even looking in Vans direction, yet I can sense the obscene gestures he is likely making towards me How very kind of him. I will make sure to have them ready for him, I would almost qualify Exars as mocking glee If he was not a supposedly unfeeling bot that is

I am sure you will, Exar Lets go Commander, And I cant help but smile towards him the whole time as we turn back towards the door Lucky break, Alandres I would not be surprised to found out you called him in advanced about this, Not a bad guess on Vans part, made sweeter by the nauseating thought of filling out those mind-numbing checklist already clear on his face Maybe, maybe not. Youll never know for sure. Now lets roll, All right. One more jaunt in the slider and next stop, Engineering... ALL BETA CLASS AND LARGER STARSHIPS ARE EQUIPPED WITH A SERIES OF HIGH-SPEED LIFTS AND SLIDERS,

WHICH ARE USED TO MOVE BOTH EQUIPMENT AND PERSONNEL VERTICALLY AND HORIZONTALLY THROUGHOUT THE SPAN AND DEPTH OF THE SHIP. USING A SYSTEM OF SUPERCONDUCTING COILS AND COMPACT SOLID-FUEL ENGINES, THESE DEVICES REDUCE TRAVEL TIME BETWEEN STATIONS AND LEVELS TO A FEW MICS, MAKING FOR MORE EFFICIENT SHIP OPERATION.

Now here we are Lets see whats behind door number three Hmm, so these are the famed Ginruns... THE FOREMOST EXPERTS IN THERMODYNAMICS AND PROPULSION, AND BUILDERS OF THE MOST EFFICIENT ENGINES THE KNOWN GALAXY HAS EVER SEEN, GINRUN SCIENTISTS ARE SOUGHT AFTER BY EVERY TECHNICAL THINK-TANK, COMMERCIAL POPULATION TRANSPORTS COMPANY AND MILITARY AVIATION UNIT IN THE PLANETARY COALITION. HAILING FROM THE PLANET GINRII, LOCATED ON THE OUTER ARM OF THE GALAXY, THE GINRUNS EVOLVED IN ISOLATION FROM OTHER SPACE-FARING SPECIES, THEIR HOMEWORLD BEING EXCEEDINGLY DISTANT FROM THE EMERGING TRADE ROUTES AND OTHER POPULATED PLANETS. WITH A LARGE, TRANSLUCENT SKULL SITTING ATOP A THIN, BIPEDAL FRAME THAT REACHES, ON AVERAGE, FOUR AND A HALF MICROS, THE GINRUNS PATH OF ADVANCEMENT WAS FOCUS ON INTELLECT RATHER THAN BRAWN. AND IRONICALLY,
IT WAS THAT ISOLATION IN WHICH THEY LIVED THAT INSPIRED THE GINRUNS TO REACH FOR THE STARTS AND FOCUSED THEIR COLLECTIVE TALENTS TO DEVELOPING A TRANSPORTATION METHOD THAT WOULD ALLOW THEM TO FINALLY BRIDGE THE VAST EXPANSES OF SPACE. THE FAMED XX11 ENGINE WAS THEIR FIRST TO ACHIEVE NEAR-LIGHT SPEED AND ALLOWED THE GINRUNS THEIR FIRST EXPOSURE TO THE NEIGHBORING REGIONS. BUT IT WAS THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE XJ9 ENGINE, ALLOWING FOR FASTER-THAN-LIGHT TRAVEL, THAT REVOLUTIONIZED INTERSTELLAR FLIGHT IN THE SECTOR

ULTRA

AND FINALLY BROUGHT THE TECHNICAL BRILLIANCE OF THEIR SPECIES TO THE FOREFRONT

They have definitely put that big brain of theirs to its best use yet when it came to building this ship... And I am being literal. That is one huge brain they have. A bit gross how you can see it right through their skull though... Uh-oh, I better stop staring because they are all looking at me. At least I think they are. Those two sacs in the middle of their face are their eyes, right? That one talking to Tary must be their team leader, judging by his more elaborate clothing Yeah, thats him. I remember his features now from the personnel holos Captain Cal. I am glad to finally meet you Excuse me, that is how your preferred method to being addressed, correct? Your family name preceded by your rank? I do not mean any offense, it is just that is somewhat uncommon for officers to use their surname as part of their official title. I have to say his voice comes through the set of speakers built in to the front of his breath-mask quite clearly And I should have Tary check up on their certificate of inspection If that Argon-mix they breathe were to leak inside one of these little rooms, it would not be very pleasant being an asphyxiant and all No offense taken, Specialist Why do I always forget names?! And that huge mask doesnt help matters either. What was that name? Right Guard..? Oh, yeah! Rrivang. That is just a little tradition from my home planet. Or you can just call me Alandres if you wish. Solely by your given name without rank or insignia? Thank you for the gesture of friendship, but as the commanding officer of the ship, I would prefer to continue to extend to you the proper respect that comes with that position. As you wish, Specialist. This is my XO, Commander Vancara. He is also our Chief Science Officer.

I look forward to working with you, Commander, And I can actually see the sparks going off inside his brain as he says that, while turning partly towards me but with an eye-sac towards the group of Ginruns standing next to him Definitely gross, open-minded or not Captain, in turn please let me introduce you to my staff. Roced and Ashba are in charge of the mega engines. Ocksmi and Exob handle the maneuvering and control system. Tenita is our combustion technician, while Werek and I are on charge on the main propulsion drives. Did you say combustion, Specialist? Look at Van suddenly sporting his patented look of deep contemplation I thought your propulsion system was powered by sub-atomic reactions. You are correct, Commander, Now that I am looking right at Rrivang as he answers, I finally get it. A region of the eye-sac gets darker to show the direction in which they are looking. Cool The term is a bit antiquated and indeed more of a reminder of times gone by when our travels were limited by the burning of solid fuels. But theoretically speaking, the method in which we process the energy released by the atomic reaction could be considered a manner of combustion. If you would like, I discuss it in more detail. No, thank you. That will not be neces... Dont bother to counter, Van because I cant pass that up Actually, Specialist, I am certain my XO is looking forward to learning all the operational and performance details of your drive systems. He was just trying to be polite and not want to bombard you with too many questions this early in the morning. So please, once we finish our brief, let him hear your full report, as he will be my focal point to you and these operations... Ill just sit back and allow you two to discuss the finer points of propulsion and interstellar locomotion, I wrap up with as straight a face as I can maintain And the look hes giving me with the middle eye also confirms how full of joy he is to have to sit through a propulsion lecture so soon after waking up But hey, if I cant abuse my power as Captain to have some fun at my best friends expense, what good is it being in charge With pleasure, Captain. But I first wish to quickly say that I am very impressed that you were able to recognize who I was from among my team so quickly. Our species has been always accused of all looking alike and being difficult to distinguish. Do not allow that to bother you, Specialist They are just rumors probably spread by others that need to be more open-minded when dealing with other species. Hope Van noticed my small props to him. Yes, that smart-ass looks confirms it Yet I still better watch out, because I am certain he still will try to pull one on me in order to get even You are probably right, Captain. But now, back to matter at hand Commander, lets start from the top. Here on the screen you have the propulsion system layout. First we have the model 701J sub-light Mega engines that the Lumenictus has been outfitted with. They will power the ship to maximum velocity in 25% less time than the standard-issue D version. Stress testing of these specific units has shown them to be able to generate up to 115% max spec power. Not bad at all. To what do you accredit the performance increase? Well, at least Vans poignant tone makes him sounds as if he is interested It is mostly due to our improved test data dynamic system analyzer programs, Making Rrivang in turn go on with true excitement noticeable in his voice By incorporating a finer grid of multiple energy transducers, the system acquires more detailed dynamic data to create a full energy flow distortion model over the full operating range of the engine. This data is then compared to previous performance models and modifications are then made to maximize engine performance. MEGA
IS THE COMMON LABEL AFFIXED TO ALL SUB-LIGHT ENGINES ON PLANETARY COALITION SPACECRAFTS. THESE ENGINES ARE USED PRIMARILY FOR TRAVEL WITHIN A STAR SYSTEM, IN-TRANSIT REFUELING, AS WELL AS SHIP-TO-SHIP DOCKING AND COMBAT. MEGA ENGINES ARE NOT RECOMMENDED FOR INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL, AS THEIR TOP ACHIEVABLE SPEEDS WOULD MAKE THE TIME TO COVER THOSE VAST EXPANSES EXCEEDINGLY EXCESSIVE

You see, Alandres. It is so simple, even a being of lesser intellect like yours can comprehend it. Um, I will assume you are being sarcastic, Commander and carry on And Rrivang sounds thoroughly confused by the perceived lack of etiquette Note the changing of colors of the eye-sac Regarding the maneuvering system, it is considerably more sensitive than that of the average starship, and particularly

in comparison to a mining transport like the one you most recently have been utilizing Captain, I would recommend whomever in your staff is in charge of piloting to spend some time with the simulator as soon as time allows in order for them to become familiar with the response time. Understood, Specialist. I spent a couple of delmics last night practicing some docking and takeoff procedures. Weve also upload some training runs from the Academys server, and I plan to try them out once were in route. I am glad to hear it, Captain. Particularly as how survival and well being depends on your prowess at the helm. No need to worry, Specialist. I have not lost any crew members on a mission yet, and I dont plan to start now, Hey, its not bragging if its the truth, right I am sure you will not, Rrivang responds with what sounds like trepidation suddenly creeping into his voice Please Captain, do not assume my remark was one of doubt. I was just commenting on a fact of the mission. No offense taken. If I were in your place, I would have similar feeling on the matter... But please, proceed. I can tell that Commander Vancara is itching to go on. That is not the only thing I am itching to do Go on, Specialist, Of course what Van really meant to end that sentence with was which is hit Alandres over the head with a shovel And yes, we still have shovels I am happy to see you so enthusiastic Commander Next is a standard issue UH60N model Ultra drive. State of the art propulsion, which will accelerate a 20,000 kils ship to maximum speed in 2.5 mics. ULTRA
IS THE COMMON LABEL AFFIXED TO MOST PRODUCTION FASTER-THAN-LIGHT ENGINES ON SPACECRAFTS DESIGNED FOR INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL, FOR WHICH IT IS THE PRIMARY MEANS OF PROPULSION. INDIVIDUAL ATTACK SHIPS, LIKE THOSE CARRIED WITHIN THE ARMED COMPLIMENT OF A CAPITAL SHIP FOR EXAMPLE, ARE NOT EQUIPPED WITH THIS TYPE OF ENGINE

Excellent, she has it where it counts... Now all joking aside, I will admit I have been looking forward to finding out more about the next system, Specialist. Now thats the eagerness I knew Van was hiding See, I knew I assigned the right person And it will not disappoint you, Commander... Here we have the crown jewel of Ginrun technology, the Magna drive. On average, it is theoretically capable of achieving speeds greater 80 times the speed light, which is 155% above the average Ultra drive. We have just completed the calibration of this engine unit, and the overspeed test show it is capable of reaching 81.69 times the speed of light. As its reputation states, this is the fastest ship on the Cybex, or any other, fleet... Now in order to propel at ship at those speeds, and apparently defy the laws of astrophysics, the Magna drive performs two key functions. The first one is the generation of a particle-magnetic pulse that in essence attaches the sub-atomic mass of the ship and everything on board, to the sub-atomic mass of the universes dark matter. Once the connection is made, a chain reaction is created in which the initial set of particles, which is equivalent to the volume of the ship and its contents, connects to the next set of particle located next to them, and so on. This is known as the Yramato Phenomenon, after the Ginrun scientist that developed the theoretical model to behind it AFTER EMBRACING THE WONDERS OF THE NEIGHBORING SYSTEMS WITH THE ADVENT OF THE ULTRA ENGINE, THE GINRUNS THIRSTED TO SEE MORE IT AND TO SHARE THEIR CULTURE AND TECHNOLOGY WITH OTHER SPECIES AND PLANETS. SO THEIR HIGH COMMAND FUNDED A TEAM OF THEIR BRIGHTEST MINDS TO CONTINUE TO SEARCH FOR WAYS TO TRAVEL FASTER, FURTHER AND MORE ECONOMICALLY. IT WAS THEN THAT THE CELEBRATED SCIENTIST REEDEK YRAMATO WHO, THEORETICALLY, SOLVED THE PUZZLE AS HE POURED THROUGH THE PHYSICS OF WORMHOLES, HOPING TO ARTIFICIALLY RECREATE THEIR FUNCTIONALITY. SADLY, HE WOULD NOT SEE HIS THEORIES PUT INTO PRACTICE, AS HIS COMPLEX MODELS TOOK SEVERAL TRICENTS TO TURN INTO ACTUAL WORKING PROTOTYPES AND EVEN LONGER UNTIL THE FIRST OFFICIAL PRODUCTION ENGINE WAS BUILT.

RELATIVELY SPEAKING,

IN TERMS OF COMPARISON TO THE POPULATION OF THE PLANETARY COALITION, FEW INDIVIDUALS ARE AWARE OF THE EXISTENCE OF MAGNA DRIVES, AND EVEN FEWER THAT UNDERSTAND AND CAN REPLICATE THEIR WORKINGS

Once the attachment is made, phase two starts. In order to actually move the ship, the drives compressor section harnesses the atomic energy released from quark separation and expels it through the turbine and exit nozzle, therefore creating a significant mass shift that will in turn propel the ship. Our average engine is typically able to channel 70% of the energy released and then turn it into motion. This particular serial model has been recorded at 72.3%. Once the cycle of initial propulsion is complete, the ship will begin to travel through the universes sub-atomic space. At peak efficiency, this process alone will engage the ship in 60 times speed of light travel. But that is not all, as you will note that I did not say the full 80 times, And Im starting to get dizzy Mental note, Rrivang likes his job a lot An added pair of bonuses from this operation is that first, once engaged, we will not only be driven by the engines, but also pulled along by the chain reaction effect. This is what I meant when I said the engine creates a particle-magnetic pulse. This additional tug will allow the ship to reach ultimate velocity. And second, a ship traveling in this manner cannot be tracked. To anyone tracking it on radar, it would look as if the ship dissipated into the dark matter of the universe. It is truly an amazing piece of technology, Specialist. With sufficient mass production, your engines could significantly advance the discovery of the galaxy. Good point by Van. Think of all the places we now reach and within our lifetime Indeed they could, Commander And thank you. The potential of this propulsion system could very well impact the pace of evolution in this, and neighboring, sectors. We would be able to reach distant worlds in only a fraction of the time of normal travel. I am curious about one thing though. How does the ship revert back to normal space? Excellent question, Commander. That is a very delicate operation and one of the reasons this particular technology is still reserved for special situations. Once within at least 500 milecs of the intended destination, the drive will issue a negatively charged pulse that will sever the magnetic connection. Once severed, the sub-atomic particles are released and the ship recomposes in normal space There are some risks with this entire process though. Once the connection-generating pulse is created, the drives propulsion system has to be engaged within 10 micromics. If not, the chain reaction will continue to ripple in sub-space, and get too far ahead of the ship. If propulsion is not achieved within the max spec, there will be an additional delay as the pulse travels to the initial magnetic connection point, which is traveling ahead of the ship. This delay will mean the ship will overshoot the arrival coordinates by some amount. The longer we wait, the further off the ship will be. And at these speeds, it could be quite significant. Significant you say Excuse me, Specialist I feel the need to cut in now, as I dont want to end up like in that scene from Spaceballs Yes sir, the Lumenictus must have overshot us by a week and a half But surely there is some failsafe circuitry that will link the pulse generation and drive engagement to automate the operation. And an excellent deduction by you, Captain, as there indeed is. Some of our early test flights identified this need, which was also very sternly emphasized by our pilots upon their return from the longer than expected journeys. I am happy to report thought that we have not had an overshoot incident in over 10 tricents. I hope that we will continue to keep that streak alive, and that we did not jinx ourselves either I have no doubts that we will, Captain. Unfortunately, there is one more risk that, although rare, we must discuss. I will also deduce that the reason his eye-sacs are rippling is because he is about to drop some unpleasant realities about this fantastic and apparently benign technology Go on. Captain, if the chain reaction gets too far ahead of the ship, or if there is a misfire by the negative pulse, we will not be able to sever the link and it will continue to drag us forward. What happens then is anyones guess. In theory, the chain reaction will continue creating new connections all the way to the end of the universe. But does that really happen or is there enough energy loss that the ship will

naturally revert back to normal space? Will the expansion of the universe outrace the reaction therefore the ship will continue to travel forever? Or will the reaction catch up with it? Sadly, we lost some of our early test pilots this way. They were never seen or heard from again. Their fate? A complete mystery outside of theoretical pondering. For all we know, they could be all dead or stuck somewhere on the far side of the galaxy or beyond. Why dont I feel particularly comforted? Im hoping when you say rare you mean 1 in a billion? Not quite, Captain. In the early stages of the development program, we lost six ships in that manner. But take comfort that the technology has since been perfected and we have not had an incident in the aforementioned ten tricents. Plus we carry on board a second, stripped-down drive, which will serve as a secondary pulse generator should the first one malfunction in any way. It is programmed to fire within 0.3 mics of the first disengagement pulse if no signal is received. Well, everyone on board knows the risks of interstellar travel. But if we overshoot the Periphery, hopefully well end up near the Danlloh Pleasure Planet instead. We should all be so lucky, Captain Finally, I would like to talk about the fuel source for the ship. Since without fuel, we would not move at all. Has your crew finished the purity inspection? Yes, I just finished going over the results prior to leaving the bridge. It should be uploaded to your control station by now. Thank you. Allow me to bring it up 97.6% pure. Outstanding! Especially on a load of such considerable size. Since we are on that topic, I had some questions regarding the fuel source itself, Specialist, See, I knew deep below his uninterested attitude, Van was still paying attention Of course, Commander. What would you like to know? After reviewing the engines operational requirements, I was a bit surprised to see it specify that only trinitorian ores from Targus 8 are to be used. If the basic purpose of the ore is to provide the raw material for the quark separation, why does it matter what planet it comes from? I imagine the cost to transport from a planet not on the Run, at least to this part of the Sector, must be prohibitive. Another great question. It is also tied to the reason we have two separate main drive systems. You must have Ginrun somewhere in your bloodlines, Commander. Well I have heard stories about my great grandmother on my fathers side. That would surely explain things. First, the fuel for the Magna drive is quite expensive as you just pointed out, and takes a considerable effort to mine. So it is actually cheaper to run the Ultra drive. It works for most planetary exploration missions and can then leave the Magna drive for when covering extreme expanses of space in a shorter time is required. Or of course, to get away very, very fast. There are also some other operational reasons, but none that need concern us now. Simple enough. I hope As for the original question, I will explain but please understand that it is a Ginrun trade secret and cannot be shared with anyone outside of those cleared for the highest security level. Trade secret? This should be good Understood, Specialist. That covers my entire senior staff Please proceed. Captain, Commander It is a little known fact that the trinitorian from Targus 8 has an additional three quarks per atom, therefore generating a final energy yield 38% higher than most common sources. That way, we can minimize the inventory of the material, while maintaining increased levels of performance. Currently, Cybex is the only mining consortium that has access to this knowledge. And since we have a revenue sharing agreement with them, they give us a below-market rate for the ores. As you can both surely appreciate, if this secret got out it might cause some complications. Your secret is safe with us, And I honestly mean that Of course it never hurts to have knowledge of the secrets of the rich and powerful Just saying We would not last long in our line of work if we did not keep our partners confidence. Plus every Cybex mission comes with a full confidentiality agreement regarding what we see or find, only voided if the issuer purposely misleads any of the other signees in order to finalize the contract.

Then we have nothing to worry about, Captain. Now time to wrap things up and get back to getting ready to ship out In that case, if youll excuse us, we still have some work to do prior to takeoff. Should you need anything, please contact Commander Vancara or myself. I will also plan to hold a brief staff meeting shortly after we are underway. Ill introduce you to the rest of my senior crew at that time. I look forward to it, Captain. I will see you then. Well that was certainly something else. Those Ginruns know their stuff And now that we are out of earshot, I cant wait to hear the answer this one Reviewing the engines operational requirements you say? And when exactly did you do all this alleged reviewing, Van? Last night, after I received your message about the specs. Really? By my estimate, you should have been fairly occupied around that time. I was. But you see my smooth, pink friend, one of the galaxys true wonders of evolution is the Aster segmented brain. It allows for performance of several, completely separate tasks even though our bodies might be responding to the direction of just one of the segments. So your blatant attempt to spoil my activities was thwarted, as I was able to read up on the data and still continue to be a gracious host to the Tuns. In fact, I wanted to thank you, as it proved to be quite helpful. Engaging in the reading proved to be analogous to what you often refer to as thinking about baseball. Ha! And I thought he wasnt listening when I said that Although I must say, Alandres What running around like a fool trying to catch a small ball that was hit with a long stick has got to do with anything is beyond me. I still think you are pulling my leg though. Not even the most primitive of species would find that entertaining. I guess youre partly right. A humans increased agility and complex brain structure would find entertainment in activities which other lesser beings might be confused by. I would say it is more like simple amusement for a simple mind, but that is just me. Ha-ha-ha. That was so funny I almost forgot to laugh. Yet more proof for my theory... But in all seriousness, I have to admit this whole business of atomic magnetism and let-us-hope-we-stop-in-time-or-else-we-are-going-to-slam-into-the-edge-of-the-universe business is making me a bit unsettled. I am all for advancing the sciences, but having our life depending on a technology that I am not familiar with is not at the top of the list of my favorite things. Come on, a brave explorer like you scared of a little sub-particle de-materialization? On the flip side, I will admit that is not at the top of my list either I am not scared, just cautious Which is one of the reasons you have me on board. To watch your sorry back. It is just that is quite a story he just told us. No wonder the drive is such a tightly kept secret. It would be tough to get commercial passengers to sign on board a Magna transport if they knew their next destination could just as easily be the other side of the galaxy. I wouldnt worry too much about it. If our hunch is right, Cybex plans to make a nice tidy sum out this endeavor. And considering how much Pratec himself will probably stand to make out of this, I imagine he will outfit us with the equipment necessary to get the job done. Hey this is the ship that made it to the galactic core and back supposedly of course. I dont know about you, but Im dying to go for a ride. Sound reasonable. And what you implying to be paranoia, we Asters call heightened sense of alertness. So I think I will have XR do a second evaluation of the drive and pulse generator after we take off. I can call it a standard redundant safety appraisal so as to not offend the Ginruns. I like it. Very official-sounding Go for it. I guess you are not so nave after all, pinky. There might be hope for you yet Anyway, here is the slider. Are you going to get in or are you just admiring the view? Relax. Since when are you in such a hurry to get to work anyway? But now that we are on the subject of safety, there is something else I want to show you. What is it?

Hold on, its in my quarters. I already told you I do not think of our relationship in that way. Then youre in luck, because the thought of it is enough to make me want to jump into a shredder. Yeesh, nice mental imagine You know, I keep taking these things for granted, but sliders are such a great way to get around a ship. Kind of like those trolleys they used to have in airports to get you from terminal to terminal. With a ship this big, itd take forever to walk back and forth between sections Anyway, here we are, the oxygen-breathing crew quarters. And a bit further down the hall, suite 105. The luxurious Captains quarters... Now lets go in and head to my trusty footlocker enter the security combination and I can tell by the sounds of the keys that you are using the same password that you have been using for as long as I have known you. You really ought to change it. Why dont you tell whats on your mind, mister know-it-all As soon as you figure out what it is, I will do just that. Or is the brilliant Aster segmented brain not advanced enough to sort through a few hundred thousand possible combinations? I just do not want to embarrass you by showing you. But one septec you are going to check and all your PlanCo creds and personal belongings will be gone and I will be having the time of my life far, far away from here So anyway, what is the big secret? What have you got in there? Not much, just a few attitude adjusters, Now lets see his faces when he gets a load of these Sweet! Cinsus plasma carbines. Model Cs nonetheless. Expecting to run into any Kintar dragons while we are out on our joy ride? The largest one ever bagged was as big as a shuttlecraft. We could take out an entire herd with these. CINSUS HEW INDUSTRIES IS A MANUFACTURER OF FIREARMS BASED IN THE COACO-FLA SYSTEM. THE COMPANY STARTED WITH SMALL, AFFORDABLE SEMI-AUTOMATIC PISTOLS, BUT FOUND ITS NICHE WHEN THEY EXPANDED TO RIFLES AND VARIATIONS OF SUCH. THE BOOM IN SALES SKYROCKETED THEIR PROFITS AND THEY ARE NOW THE THIRD LARGEST MAKER OF PERSONAL DEFENSE WEAPONRY FOR BOTH MILITARY AND COMMERCIAL USE IN THE PLANETARY COALITION. No, nothing that exciting, Van. But you know my policy. As long as we carry valuables, we will carry appropriate protection. I dont know where we are going or what we are going to find once we get there, so I think taking some necessary precautions is in order. And you say I am the paranoid one. Who else knows about these? So far, just you. Ill inform a few of the others once were underway. And the Ginruns? On a need to know basis. As in they dont need to... Not now at least. Ive always been nervous about having a shoot-out next to combustible material. Yeah, I guess that might impede our progress a bit. Now with your permission, Captain, Ill head to Engineering and check in with XR. He should be completed with his diagnostics by now and I would hate for you to start on me again about welshing on bets. Please proceed, Commander. The sooner the preparations are complete, the sooner well be on our way And speaking of welshing, you still owe me for the one about the cargo hold. Oh yeah By the way, did I tell you about this great tip I picked up last night at the Cantina for next heptecs racing card? Do you want to go double or nothing for it? Oh no, Im not falling for that again Now get out of here and find Exar and consider the old bet settled if you never bring up your shady racing tips again! You are the boss Oh brother Now lets lock these bad boys back in. I wonder how mad hed be if he knew that Ive changed the password several times but reset the beeps to still sound the same as before just to annoy him. I have to tempt him to try and guess it sometime Crap, thats the time? I better head back to the

bridge. And I think I left the mazaka pot on. Wouldnt be very dignified if I burned down the ship before we even took off. I can see the headlines now Priceless ship rendered useless by bumbling alien and a household appliance

Chapter 4: Bringing crew members on board without knowing who they are. - Planetary Coalition Date 7269.350 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, docked in Rackoyd Station in orbit around Monravia

Commander, W.O. Tary-secc here The airlock pressurization and loading duct detachment has been completed. I am now initiating the hull integrity check. Very well. The positioning clamp disengagement will start in 10 demics, so lets wrap the check up in half that. Vancara out. You know, I can get used to this efficient mode Van has slipped into Particularly as we plow through the Ictuss intricate takeoff sequence So Alandres, was XR able to find anything about our esteemed new shipmates through those background checks you had him run? Nope, nothing at all, Van Initiating Mega engine start cycle. And to be honest, I was almost disappointed nothing shady came up Nothing? Well that is a bit anticlimactic Confirming local orbital charts The fourth moon is approaching perigee... No hidden criminal past or frequent conflicts with authority? Not a one. All have distinguished educational and service records, all have previous experience both working on and flying in the few ships with magna drives Which of course we need to keep secret Departure coordinates entered into the interstellar navigational solver, mega engines at full power ALL PLANETARY COALITION SPACECRAFTS ARE EQUIPPED WITH SOME TYPE OF INTERSTELLAR NAVIGATIONAL SOLVER, OR NAVISOLVER AS IT IS COMMONLY REFERRED TO. THIS EQUIPMENT IS UTILIZED TO PLOT THE SHIPS TRAJECTORY FROM THEIR POINT OF ORIGIN TO THEIR PLANNED DESTINATION, UTILIZING AN IMMENSE DATABASE OF ALL KNOWN CELESTIAL BODIES, ANOMALIES, GRAVITATIONAL DATA, AND CHARTED ROUTES OF TRAVEL. COMBINED WITH A CELESTIAL MOTION ALGORITHM, AND REAL-TIME STREAMING DATA AS THE SHIP TRAVERSES A PARTICULAR REGION OF SPACE, THE NAVISOLVER GENERATES A NUMBER OF SUGGESTED ROUTES OF PASSAGE, RANGING FROM SHORTEST DISTANCE TO HIGHEST PROBABILITY OF SUCCESSFUL NAVIGATION. WITHOUT THIS TECHNOLOGY, IT WOULD BE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE, OR AT LEAST EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT, TO PERFORM ANY SORT OF HYPER-LONG VOYAGE, AS IT WOULD REQUIRE AN OVERLY EXCESSIVE AMOUNT OF MINI-JUMPS AND STOPOVERS TO CONSTANTLY RECALIBRATE THE SHIPS POSITION AND REPLOT ITS COURSE. Rrivang even flew on the Ictuss maiden voyage. For all intents and purposes, they are nothing more than your average, run-of-the-mill nerds. Average what? And I believe the look that is following Vans question is the what-stupid-Earth-word-isthat look I get so often Never mind. In any case, there were no traces of anything that would raise any suspicion. You know, Alandres, if this whole starship captain bit does not pan out you should go work for the Academys Linguistics Department. Because you have more obscure, never-of-heard, not to mention ridiculous, phrases than anyone I have ever met. If we ever confirm the location of your mysterious home planet, you will make a fortune in vocabulator licensing fees. Thanks for the tip. Ill take it under advisement. Commander, come in, And theres Tarys voice calling from down in the Cargo Hold, so hopefully well be underway soon The hull integrity check has been completed successfully and the ship has been secured for departure. Copy that, Tary-secc. Clamp disengagement initiated. Vancara out Well Alandres, it looks like we are ready to go, so I think I will Hold that thought, Im sorry to cut Van off, but I just noticed the urgent message light came on Great timing Thats Exar on the Red line Exar come in. Master, you have an incoming priority call from Overseer Pratec.

Stay here and see what our friend needs from us now, And in case you missed it, that can be construed as Vans way of sarcastically ending a sentence Way to hang tough in difficult times, buddy Put him through to the cockpit screen, Exar, And in an instant, Pratecs mug is displayed on-screenHes even scarier in ultra high-def Captain, my apologies for a call so close to your departure. But I need to request one more task from you. And going through the emergency channel to do it as well, so this should be interesting We are due to depart momentarily, Overseer. What can I help you with? As I reviewed the personnel log you submitted, I realized that I did not assign a Cybex representative to the ship. An almost unfortunate lapse on my part. A what? Representative? I dont recall that being a requirement for company-sponsored voyages. This is a special circumstance and precaution Captain. In order to make a formal claim on an undiscovered planet, there must be an official agent for the claiming party present at the time the discovery is made so it can be formally logged in to the Planetary Coalition records. Are not the Ginrun crew Cybex employees? Technically they are sub-contractors and cannot exercise a formal claim on Cybexs behalf. With your current crew makeup, as the ranking officer on the ship, you could even claim any planet you discover on this mission for yourself, Captain. So as you see, you will need to add one more passenger. You will need to add I hate it when bureaucrats try to pull rank Of course. Therefore I will not bother to point out that all my previous discoveries were assigned to Cybex after I formally contacted the regional Sector Directorate upon completing the survey sweeps. I would not expect you to, and thanks for not pointing it out. In any case, this is not an attempt to question your integrity, but these are the regulations that are in place and a prudent precaution to cover Cybexs interests. ONCE INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL BECAME AN ESTABLISHED, AS WELL AS COMMERCIALLY VIABLE, REALITY, EXTRAPLANETARY PROPERTY CLAIMS EXPERIENCED A SHARP BOOM. IN THE ABSENCE OF DEFINED RULES AND STANDARDS ON THE MATTER, EARLY EXPLORERS AND WANNABE LAND BARONS MADE UP THEIR OWN RULES AS TO WHAT CONSTITUTED A LEGAL CLAIM, WHICH IN TURN QUITE OFTEN LED TO VIOLENT CONFLICTS. EVENTUALLY,
LED BY THE EFFORTS OF THE PLANET XECOMIS BUREAU OF TRADE, MOST EXPLORERS AGREED ON YIELDING THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY TO THE FIRST WHO BOTH DISCOVERED AND SETTLED ON AN UNCLAIMED PLANET OR CELESTIAL BODY. IN ADDITION, THE EXTENT OF THE PHYSICAL CLAIM WAS LIMITED TO THE AREA THAT COULD BE ADEQUATELY COLONIZED, MINED OR PUT TO COMMERCIAL USE BY THE INDIVIDUAL OR GROUP THAT FIRST CLAIMED IT. THIS CURTAILED EARLIER EFFORTS BY SINGLE INDIVIDUALS WHO ATTEMPTED TO CLAIM ENTIRE PLANETS FOR THEMSELVES SIMPLY BY THEIR ACT OF LANDING ON IT, EVEN THOUGH THEY DID NOT POSSESS THE PHYSICAL OR FINANCIAL MEANS TO OCCUPY OR DEVELOP IT.

AND IT WAS THIS FINAL AMENDMENT TO THE CLAIMS LAWS THAT LED TO THE DEVELOPMENT AND PROSPERITY OF LARGE COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES, LIKE CYBEX, WHO HAD THE NECESSARY FINANCIAL BACKING TO FUND THE EXPEDITIONS OF OF COURSE, THAT,

INDIVIDUALS WHO IN TURN WOULD CEDE RIGHTS TO THEIR DISCOVERIES FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF MONETARY COMPENSATION. AFTER THE FIRST FEW VOYAGES IN WHICH THE FUNDED PARTY LEFT FOR PARTS UNKNOWN, MISAPPROPRIATED FUNDS IN HAND, NEVER TO BE SEEN OR HEARD FROM AGAIN, THE NEED FOR STERNER SECURITY MEASURES BECAME APPARENT. PLUS THE NOT-SO-SECRET EVISCERATION OF SOME OF THE TRUANTS THAT WERE EVENTUALLY CAPTURED NOW MAKES THAT SORT OF BEHAVIOR TO BORDER ON LUNACY OR DESPERATION

Understood, Overseer. Is your agent on board Rackoyd? No, he is currently on his way back from an assignment, Captain. You will need to pick him up on your way to the Periphery at Opsercom Station on planet Tulop. He will be waiting for your arrival. Fine. Please transmit to us his personnel profile.

A second unfortunate lapse, Captain. As I noticed the oversight only a few mics ago, I have not yet had proper time to assemble the file. And with your departure imminent, I would hate to delay you any further.
How convenient,

True and also not low enough, Van

Would you care to repeat that, Commander?! It did not come through clearly! Geez, Pratec can make a scowl that can break glass and sterilize women I said I hope it is an attractive sentient, And without skipping a bit If I did not know better, I almost would have believed thats actually what Van said And I can tell Pratec does not buy it either, soOverseer, I do not make it a habit of bringing crew members on board without knowing who they are first. Of course not, Captain. But rest assured that Officer Ecab is an exemplary member of Cybex as well being very experienced with the codes of planetary claims. I will make sure his credentials are in place for your inspection before you reach Opsercom. Very well Overseer, as once more I see there is no choice in the matter. Please inform station officials of our planned arrival time in order to expedite matters. Will the new passenger require any particular atmospheric or nutritional accommodations? No. He is a Suneg, and therefore an oxygen breather. Your standard crew quarters and provisions will suffice. Glad to hear it. If there is nothing else, we are ready to depart. That is it for now, Captain. Have a safe journey. Thanks Lumenictus out, As well as Pratec unpleasant mug Leaving Van and I just looking at each other and shaking our headsWell Van, there go my well-laid plans to discover and colonize the future Alandres 1. That is too bad. I guess the start of your own private empire will have to be postponed once more. So if you can get your head out the clouds for a moment, the clamp removal is complete and were are clear for takeoff. We need to leave now or we will miss the moon pass window... And as for our additional passenger, Cybex officer or not, when we pick him up we need to stress that we are in charge of the mission and not Cybex. You know how ornery those Protocol Officers can be. Tell me about it. I still have nightmares from when we had to assist Officer Tutf in the Certification of the TC7-E8 engine. Ugh I thought we agreed never to talk about him or that experience ever again. He gave a new definition to what being obsessive-compulsive means. Sorry, slight slip of the tongue Anyway, we better get rolling. Let me crank on the intercom and alert everyone All crew, this is the Captain. The ship is secured and ready for launch. Prepare for takeoff. That is all for now Now Van, lets get out of here. Mega engines will engage in 3, 2, 1 now. Accelerating to 10% thrust to clear the bay. Nice and smooth. Usually you feel some additional vibration when you first get over the inertia, but not that time We have cleared the docking bay and have received clearance to proceed on our takeoff run, Alandres. Got it, Van Increasing power to 25% thrust Engaging maneuvering thrusters and moving into circumferential orbit around Monravia... Wow, they are even more responsive than the simulators. We better adjust the programming. Just as long as you do not slam us back against the station in the meantime. Ill see what I can do Confirming lunar position at perigee Looks like were clear Increasing power to 95% and were off! Quick and easy, just like I like it Once were clear of the outer moons, Ill tare back down to 75% and well cruise the rest of the way to Opsercom So Van, what does your heightened sense of awareness tells you about our last moment crew addition? You know exactly what I am thinking. So I think your feeling is right and Pratec probably knows more than he is telling us and fully expect us to find a planet or two out there. He knows the travel protocols even better than we do, so I am not buying this whole memory-lapse excuse. And the timing of waiting

until the last moment to let us know seems a bit peculiar. On the other hand, you had me convinced with your this-mission-is-too-valuable-for-him-to-screw-us-over speech. Yeah, probably worrying over nothing. Maybe if his voice wasnt so sinister all time Well, lets head over to the Command Conference Room. I told the senior staff wed meet once we were underway. Good thing the rooms right behind the bridge. Ive gone up and down the ship enough times already for my liking Man, no matter how many we all get together, I still cant believe my eyes. Ive been gone from Earth a long time and I still feel like Im living inside a sci-fi movie. All these different beings, one more different than the next. Theres Olrever having to wear his atmospheric suit while hes on the job because his outer shell cant withstand the emissions from standard lighting equipment... So you could fry him with a flashlight, but he can take a stun blaster shot in the chest and keep going like nothing happened... WIDELY CONSIDERED SOME OF THE BEST CLOSE COMBAT SPECIALISTS IN THE SECTOR, THE TACRUSIANS THRIVE ON BATTLE AND ARE HIGHLY SOUGHT AFTER AS SHIPS WEAPONS AND SECURITY OFFICERS ON ONE SIDE OF THE LAW, AND AS BOUNTY HUNTERS AND PRIVATE DEBT COLLECTORS ON THE OTHER. EVOLVING IN THE DEPTHS OF THE IMMENSE OCEANS OF THE PELAGIC PLANET OF TACRUSIA 6, THE TACRUSIANS DEVELOPED THEIR MOST RECOGNIZALBLE FEATURE A ROCK-SOLID EXOSKELETON TO ALLOW THEM TO SURVIVE UNDER THE EXTREME PRESSURES AND COLD TEMPERATURES. THIS SHELL ALSO PROVED INVALUABLE AGAINST THE VARIETY OF FIERCE MARINE WILDLIFE THAT IS ABUNDANT IN THEIR OCEANS. AND AS ANY TACRUSIAN WILL TELL YOU, ONCE YOU HAVE FOUGHT OUT OF THE GRIP OF THE RETICULATED RAZOR JAWS OF A SSNOEK, THERE IS NOTHING ON SOLID GROUND THAT WILL BE ABLE TO SLOW YOU DOWN. TACRUSIANS GROW IN HEIGHT VERY SLOWLY, YET NEVER STOP. AN AVERAGE ADULT MALE MEASURE ABOUT 5.5 MICROS. THEY POSSES TWO ARMS WITH MULTI-JOINTED CLAW-LIKE ENDS, FOUR SWIMMERETS ALONG THE SIDES OF THEIR TORSOS AND TWO LEGS. THEIR EXOSKELETON ALSO MAKES THEM VERY DENSE AND HEAVY. AN UNFORTUNATE SIDE EFFECT WAS THAT HAVING EVOLVED IN AREAS WITH VERY LITTLE SOLAR ILLUMINATION, THEY UNKNOWINGLY BECAME EXTREMELY SENSITIVE TO MOST LIGHTING SOURCES NOT NATURALLY-OCCURRING TO THEIR SURROUNDINGS. THIS WAS A HARD LESSON LEARNED BY THE FIRST GROUP OF ANCESTORS TO THE MODERN TACRUSIANS THAT VENTURED OUT OF THE WATERS, ONLY TO BE BROILED ALIVE AS THEY WITNESSED THE FIRST SUNRISE ANY OF THEM HAD EVER SEEN And Nep... If the recirculation unit on his headdress ever malfunctioned, that gas he exhales would be enough to kill everyone here if allowed to circulate... A CONTRADICTORY COMBINATION OF COOL, FOCUSED DEMEANOR ALONG WITH FIERCE BURSTS OF SAVAGE INSTINCTS, RAUMADERS CAN BE BOTH YOUR BEST FRIEND AND MOST TERRIFYING RIVAL AT THE SAME TIME. HAILING FROM WITHIN THE OPPRESSIVE TROPICAL JUNGLES OF THE PLANET RAUMEDIA,
THEY HAD TO DEVELOP INTO LOGICAL THINKERS AND EFFICIENT PROBLEM SOLVERS AS WELL AS FEROCIOUS PREDATORS IN ORDER TO SURVIVE AND FOR THEIR SOCIETY TO DEVELOP AND THRIVE. WITH THEIR PRONOUNCED SNOUT, LONG PROTRUDING TEETH COMBINED WITH SHARP CLAWED-HANDS, THE RAUMADERS ARE A SIGHT TO BEHOLD. IN ADDITION, THE RAUMADER RESPIRATORY SYSTEM GENERATES A GASEOUS CHEMICAL COMPOUND THAT, IF INHALED BY OTHER SPECIES NOT NATIVE TO TOXICITY OF THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM AND HEART.

RAUMEDIA,

CAN LEAD TO SIGNIFICANT

FOLLOWING A SKIRMISH AND EVENTUAL ERADICATION OF THE INHABITANTS OF THE NEIGHBORING PLANET KELBOU, AFTER AN UNINTENTIONAL MASS POISONING, RAUMADERS SCIENTIST HAVE TAKEN GREAT CARE IN DEVELOPING THEIR CONTAINMENT HEAD GEAR, SO AS TO AVOID THE CHANCES OF ANY FUTURE INCIDENTS And I cant forget Calidem. If there was ever a species adapt for perfuming medical procedures, its hers. All those arms and long, thin fingers sure come in handy when messing around the insides of their patients. CARING, DEDICATED, SELFLESS, COMPASSIONATE. ALL ARE WORDS TYPICALLY USED TO DESCRIBE THE AMAZING SCULPIANS. AND WHEN COMBINED WITH THEIR INQUISITIVE MINDS AND UNIQUE PHYSICAL GIFTS, AS WELL AS ALMOST SUPERNATURAL

PATIENCE AND HAND-TO-EYE COORDINATION, PLANETARY COALITION.

IT IS EASY TO SEE WHY THEY ARE THE FOREMOST SURGEONS IN WITHIN THE

WITH SIX MULTI-JOINTED ARMS CAPPED BY SEVEN,


AMOUNTS OF TIME.

EXTENDABLE, TENTACLE-LIKE FINGERS, SCULPIANS CAN PERFORM THE MOST INVOLVED SURGICAL PROCEDURES IMAGINABLE, REGARDLESS OF THEIR PATIENTS SIZE OR COMPLEXITY OF ANATOMY. USUALLY QUITE TALL AND THIN, AND WITH VERY LOW METABOLISMS, SCULPIANS CAN APPLY THEIR CRAFT FOR VERY EXTENDED

OF SPECIAL PROMINENCE WAS A NEURAL PROCEDURE LASTING 65 DELMICS STRAIGHT PERFORMED BY THEIR FAMED SURGEON VIANKOR ON CONSULAR LLYNEDON, WHEN THE LATTER HAD REQUIRED ATTACHMENT OF A CLONED SECTION OF HIS DORSAL LOBES PRIOR TO HIS INAUGURATION CEREMONIES Damn, Im staring again. I better say something All right, everyone take a seat please. I will try to be brief... And I mean that truthfully, because I need a nap real bad Sorry Tary. I tried to bring in one of the Haulers liquid sinks, but we couldnt get the maintenance staff to deliver it in time. It is all right, Captain. I have grown accustomed to the average starship not been properly equipped to accommodate an Ortep. Poor guy. He looks quite uncomfortable up there but remains resigned to his fortune As I said before, its not easy being a slug in space. Anyway Well, now that we are underway, I will find some time to rig up something more suitable for you As for the rest, I am sorry I did not have time to update you in detail prior to our departure, but we were saddled with a very tight schedule. I very much appreciate everyone coming in on such short notice and getting the ship ready to go so fast... Now, to my left is Specialist Rrivang, from the Ginrun Command Space Propulsion Syndicate Specialist, I would like to introduce to you my senior crew. You have already met Commander Vancara and Warrant Officer Tary-secc. This is Lieutenant Commander Olrever, our Weapons Officer. Next to him is Lieutenant Nep, our Lead Engineer. Him and Commander Vancara will be your primary contacts regarding the ship operations. Next in line is Medical Officer Calidem. She is our onboard physician. And last but not least is XR-4. Exar handles all of the ships communications, radar and detection equipment, as well as supporting tasks in engineering and sciences, I am pleased to meet you, Specialist Rrivang. And Exars reply is making Rrivangs eyes change colors What was so confusing about that? As am I XR-4. But you say you are pleased? Robotics are not one of my areas of expertise, so please tell me Captain, is your autonobot capable of actual emotions? Thanks for clearing that up Rrivang I hope that was only a coincidental reading of my mind Not exactly, Specialist. Exars adaptive programming enables him to build a continuously upgradeable behavioral reference library. This allows him to interact with different species in a manner closely suited to their natural behavior. Aside from that, he is governed by the standard laws of robotics. Marvelous and thank you for the introductions, Captain. Now please allow me to tell you all a little about myself. As Captain Cal stated, I am Specialist Rrivang. I have been in the employ of the Propulsion Syndicate for nearly 40 tricents, and was one of the principal designers on the Lumenictus engine systems. This my seventh trip on board, not counting the various test flights that were performed during the production phase. My crew and I are at the Captains service. Thank you, Specialist... I am sure we are all eager to see what this ship and your engines can do. As time allows, I will ensure that you get to meet the rest of our crew, which consist of twenty five more all together... And with the introductions out of the way, time to the get to the point Now, on to the reason were here. As I have hinted to most of you to one extent or another, we are our way to the Kreshii Periphery. But not to any place on the Run, but beyond it. How far beyond it and to where? We will have to get there to find out, Of course, now that I finish, I am rewarded by the should-haveexpected collection of confused stares Captain! Are you implying that you do not know where we are going?! If youve never seen an Ortep literally well almost jump out of his skin in shock, it is quite a sight I was being a tad over-dramatic, Tary. We are on a discovery mission, so our final destination might be a bit hard to find. Take a look at these holos Overseer Pratec briefed me on some findings that Cybex came across on the third moon of Quartis, which Ive uploaded all the details into your individual

workstations. You can go over them at your leisure once were finished, so I will cut to the chase now. Cybex believes there is at least one new planet beyond the Outer Sector. Deep scans have not found anything conclusive, but some of the electromagnetic interference suggests that there might be something out there. So theyve asked the infallible members of ExTA-6 to find it. Now you all have heard me use the phrase finding a needle in a haystack before, so believe me, this is it... And Olrever, l promise Ill explain to you again what that means later, And I say that because he does ask every time Hmph, And that is what he always say when I remind him Thats the spirit... Now to assist us in this difficult endeavor, the Ictus has been outfitted with a radar system that has a detection capability significantly higher than what we are used to, as well as 325% the range of the standard unit Exar, could you elaborate on its functionality and theory of operation? Of course, Master. The Lumenictus radar employs a unique mass-detection system that utilizes technology similar to the Magna drive. When scanning an area, it broadcasts a particle pulse that initiates a vibration at the sub-molecular level, which then spreads like a ripple, agitating all nearby mass particles. The type of matter does not matter, whether it is gas, star wind, light or otherwise. This ripple will continue spreading undisturbed until it contacts an object of significantly higher density like a planet or other celestial object. Because the sub-particles are not bound by traditional motion rules, like friction or drag, the ripple will continue to expand in a concentric circle for an immensely vast area. Also, since the particles involved are some of the smallest in universal matter, the fidelity of the detection signal is quite precise. Even the smallest disturbance is liable to be detected. Thanks, Exar. Now in order to get to the Periphery, we will be bypassing the trade routes and going via the Telem Cluster. And until further notice, this mission is classified above-top-secret. And as such, we will avoid broadcasting our position accordingly. And once more I am rewarded by the should-haveexpected collection of confused stares Will that not place us at some considerable risk, Captain? What if the ship were to become disabled? How will someone know where to come find us? Led by Tarys of course This is going to be a fun trip Our flight plan has been restricted to only us for now, Tary. But I left an automated mechanism at Rackoyd that will alert someone in the Planetary Guard if it is not triggered by us every septec. The beacon will transmit to them our flight plan and last known coordinates Now does anyone have any other questions on that? Very well, on to the second piece of news. We will be picking up an additional passenger on our way out to the Periphery. He is a Cybex Protocol Officer that will serve as their official representative in order to claim any and all discoveries we may happen to find. We will meet up with him at Opsercom Station. Who is he Captain? What is his name? I can almost see Olrever stiffen at the prospect of a potential security concern as he asks that too Good. That is piece of news number three, Olrever... And the answer is that we do not know yet. Pratec informed Van and I just prior to takeoff and claimed to not have been able to put together his credentials in time. Very unusual. The Overseer is not known for mental lapses, but it is a request well within his rights as mission sponsor. I assume we will do a records check on him upon our arrival at Opsercom. And all that time, Olrever is drumming the tips of his hand-claws against the hard shell of his chest A typical sign of Tacrusian edginess.. At least he doesnt scrape them anymore That used to make my ear drums want to bleed Absolutely. I asked Pratec to forward our estimate arrival time to the Station so they could have his file ready for us Now that is all I have for now. If you have any questions, you know where to find me... But a couple of requests first. Van, I want you, Wagshi and Exar to schedule some time in the flight simulator and go over the takeoff, shutdown and maneuvering drills. Just in case I bump my head, forget everything Ive learned about interstellar travel and suddenly start hurtling the ship into the nearest star. And no sooner do I finish saying that, that I know I left myself wide open If it was that easy, I would have accidentally dropped a boulder on your thin skull and promoted myself to Captain a long time ago. Hey, I would have been disappointed if Van didnt say something

Your mutinous sentiments will be noted in the ships log. Now if no one has any other bright ideas, that will be all. But Olrever, please stay a moment. One, two, three Okay, theyre all out. Olrever, prior to departure I had some plasma carbines brought on board and stored in my quarters. Van is the only other one that Ive told. Please take a pair of the units and store them in your quarters. They are inside my footlocker, so enter your identification number as a secondary password to get it to open. I will do so at once. Is there any reason to believe we will be needing them? No as of yet. It is just a precautionary measure. Heading into the big empty, you never know who or what youre going to run into. Sensible actions, Captain. Did you obtain any anatomy-correcting extensions for them? Unfortunately no. There was just not enough time. But I did have an extra Tacrusian set available, so at least youll be able to use them. Apart from that, anyone that does not have bodily extremities that easily contort or have a few digits on the tip will have a bit of problem holding and aiming. Understood. Is that all? One last thing. Have you completed your inspection of the ships defenses? Of course, I already know the answer If there is a punctual being on this ship, its Olrever Of course, Captain. It is waiting for your review and approval at your computer console, Which is why he replies with an I-am-insulted-you-even-asked look Thanks in advance then Can you give me a brief overview though? I counter back I have to get everyone in the senior staff access to the top-level file security so they file can their own sub-staff reports once and for all I cant stand all the micro-managing Cybex demands that you do We have a complement of five high-energy particle beam batteries. SECOR make, 1.5 power output rated. Not ideal if engaging in a pitched naval battle, but should be more than sufficient on a reconnaissance mission. SECOR SYSTEMS IS THE SOLE SOURCE FOR ALL MID-LEVEL WEAPONRY FOR ALL CYBEX-OWNED INTERSTELLAR SHIPS. THEY ARE FORMER CYBEX PURCHASE AND ARE NOW A FULLY OWNED SUBSIDIARY. ALTHOUGH THE QUALITY, MANUFACTURING CAPACITY AND ON-TIME SHIPMENT HISTORY ARE IMPECCABLE, SEVERAL COMPLAINTS HAVE BEEN LOGGED WITH PLANCO COMMERCE REGULATORY COMMISSIONS ON REPORTED CASES OF EMPLOYEE MISTREATMENT. What about the external shields? Fortunately, that is a better story. The ship is protected by a matrix of Raug Galaxy-Class deflectors. Power can also be redistributed to different locations based on protection needs. And since they are the updated version 56.53 model, the drain on primary power is only three percent. RAUG DEFENSE LIMITED AND HEAVY INDUSTRIES IS THE PLANETARY COALITIONS PRIMARY MANUFACTURER OF STARSHIP TH DEFLECTOR SHIELDS. THE COMPANY ROSE TO PROMINENCE WHEN THE SHIELDS THAT HAD BEEN INSTALLED IN THE 16 PLANCO GRAND COUNCILORS PRIVATE VESSEL, AS A REPLACEMENT WHEN THE ORIGINAL INSTALLATION MALFUNCTIONED, WITHSTOOD A DIRECT BLAST FROM A BOMB THAT HAD BEEN PLANTED UNDER THE SHIPS LANDING DECK, THEREFORE PREVENTING HIS ASSASSINATION. Not bad at all, Olrever. At least well be able to take a big shot, if not give one back. But lets hope we dont have to empirically find out how much they can take... That is all. I will be on my way then, Captain. Very well. Ill be on the bridge. Were quite lucky to have Olrever as part of our crew. Those Tacrusians are some of the biggest badasses in the sector. Developing in those harsh environmental conditions on their planet gives them quite an

inbred sense of protection and survival. Must be all that cold and pressure they have to put up with underwater. Grow tough or die. It is a pretty simple equation. I still havent found a defensive situation that he has not been able to handle. Heres to hoping that streak continues for as long as were out here But now that Im back at the bridge and see that Exar is here, on to the next order of business Exar, did you get a chance to verify my positioning calculations? Yes Master, and I have adjusted the ships heading accordingly. ZJ532 will be coming within engagement range in five demics. And even though he has his back turned towards me, I can sense Van brains starting to tickZJ532? Why do you want to? Oh no. Please, no, With a true look of concern in his face as he turns Sissy Dont give me that look, Van. We need to know what this ship is capable of. And I can think of a hundred different ways to find that out that do not include flying into a comet! Ah, but are any of them any more exciting? Yes, about half of them. And the other half will not lead to a fiery death. Fine. If I crash the ship, Ill listen to you next time and we wont try this ever again. Excuse me if I find little comfort in that... Now let us get this over with. What do you have in mind this time? Oh, nothing fancy, And I see Van is not buying it by nonchalant reply Hope I sound more convincing when I alert the crew We intercept and do some maneuvering exercises through the tail area. Then, assuming the nucleus has maintained a similar composition since our last visit, we take a closer inspectionary look on our way past it. Inspectionary look?, Van counters, giving me one of his one Is that what you are calling it know? Sounds less dangerous than saying taking a death-defying flight through the middle of it, dont you think? I will remember that as the shards are pummeling the hull Now turn around. There is your friend on screen. Lets go say hello and get this over with. Ah.ZJ532, the unexpected catalyst to becoming the pilot I am today. I still remember the hurried evacuation from that marooned transport. I cant believe we actually made it back home alive, flying that sluggish tub as all the debris that was being dragged by the comet was engulfing us. And even more incredible that we were able to identify its teranium content as we made our way through. Too bad the next being to reach it was an untrained fool with too many explosives at hand. Nice way to dig, moron. That hole he blew in the nucleus, not to mention himself, makes it look like a giant misshaped donut A
PRICELESS MINE STREAKING THROUGH SPACE AT MIND-BOGGLING SPEEDS, COMET ZJ532 IS A SOURCE FOR SOME OF THE PUREST CONCENTRATIONS OF TERANIUM EVER IDENTIFIED. A RARE AND VERY VALUABLE METALLOID USED IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF RADIATION SHIELDING ON INTERSTELLAR SPACECRAFT, IT IS ALSO VERY VOLATILE AND UNSTABLE IN ITS

UNTREATED, NATURAL STATE

AS MANY UNFORTUNATE,

OVERZEALOUS PROSPECTORS HAVE FOUND OUT

The trail end of the comet is now within 1200 milec. Thanks ExarTime to break out of my monologue and get ready for some funGot it... Ill take it from here... Slowing to equivalent speed, entering approach vector. I also better let everyone else know what Im up to. Wouldnt want them to look out a window and have a heart attack... Or double heart attack in Olrevers case All hands, this is the Captain. The ship is taking an unavoidable detour through Comet ZJ532, which is presently visible to our port side. We may be forced to perform some high-G maneuvering, which may in turn require decreasing the inertial dampers below recommended cruising levels. Please take appropriate safety precautions. Hey, the Comm board just lit up. And in record time too Lets patch them through so they can shower me with what I expect to be their good luck wishes

As unavoidable as the last time we happened to fly past it? Actual sarcasm from Nep? My influence is spreading Just remember Captain, we need the ship in one piece to get back, And of course Tary is going to send in a sensible reminder Captain, detour through where? Oh yes, I forgot about Rrivang and his folks Hope they are not too susceptible to motion sickness Even more so this time, Nep. I wont forget, Tary. Just a small comet, Rrivang. Nothing to worry about... Too much at least, And I hope theyre ready Exar, hows the debris drift evaluation proceeding? Completed Master. I have generated chaos probabilities for the likeliest path the meteor components will take once we enter the field and will update accordingly so as to match your navigational path. Excellent Now open the ship-wide channel one more time and Shields up! Everyone hold on. The ride is about to get a bit bumpy. I love this part. Gives me a bigger rush than a double shot of mazaka and without the unpleasant aftertaste to boot. I guess impeding death lingering all around you will do that Lets see, increase speed by 10% Seems a bit more fragmented that I remember Must have hit something last time around Okay focus now, those two big ones down there are closing in fast Bank to starboard Bring up the nose Barrel roll I bet that made a few folks queasy I wish they all could see what Im seeing. The yellow glow of the nucleus against the gases in the tail makes such a surreal visual of the stars. Although it would probably make Tary throw up again Left, right, left, upper thrusters to full, watch out below That was close Was that a bump? Okay, I guess a skimming blow still counts as close Open the channel againSorry about that everyone. No problem, Captain. We look forward to your assistance on clean up duty in the mess hall once the detour is complete. Lasla sauce stains are especially hard to remove. Olrever sounded almost humorous there So this is what it takes to get him to loosen up Sure thing, Olrever. I will be there as soon as I get a chance, At least theyre still sort of in good spirits Up speed 5% Tight squeeze in through that bunch before they smash together Made it If I hit something else they wont let me forg Damn it. Stupid debris field. Better wrap this up. The ship handles great Even better than advertised Theres the donut hole up ahead Whats Exar saying? Theres some beer on the cement? Oh, veer away from that segment, got it Engaging port thrusters Roll towards the gravity well to compensate Now on concentric path with the nucleus Time to exit 15% burst Traversing now Whoa, funky colors. I dont think Ive ever seen that shade of red before Aaaand were out Channel open All crew, stand down. We are returning to standard flight conditions... Now that wasnt so bad, was it? All primary sections report in. Engineering, all clear, Nep, check Main Cargo Hold, all clear, Tary, check Propulsion, all clear. Captain, please let us know in advance next time you plan to do something that again, Rrivang, check Medical, all clear, Calidem, check Master, I am monitoring the main ship systems and all are still operating within expected parameters, and Exar, check Thanks Exar Thanks everyone. Now engaging maximum cruise speed. Arrival in Opsercom in about 20 delmics Captain out Ill tell you Van, that was even better I you hoped it would be. The ship maneuvers great and the engine response time is incredible. Well I am glad we are all still alive to share it with you. I aim to please... Exar, how did the shields hold up to those bumps? The entire matrix functioned well within acceptable parameters, Master. The impact with the first piece generated only a 0.005% fluctuation. The effect of the debris spray was negligible.

Just what I was hoping Exar would say and I cant help but smile a bit widerNow you see, Van-cynic. We have a more thorough understanding of the workings of the vessel on which our lives depend on and that would not have been possible otherwise. Now you can rest assured that if we are ever fleeing bombardment from a violent, predatory species or hurtling towards a large, immovable object that threatens to remove us from existence, your fearless and inventive Captain will know exactly in which manner to maneuver said vessel, therefore increasing your survival chances exponentially. Nice speech And it still sounds a little rehearsed. Really? I thought I finally had it down... Anyway, Im going to my quarters and you have the bridge, Van. Ive been up now for 36 delmics straight and if I dont get some sleep soon, Im going to start hallucinating Call me up only if something interesting, like first contact with a new species, comes up. Otherwise, please page me when were within 200 kilomilecs of the station. What? You are going to sleep now? I was just going to review the latest updates to the stellar cartography maps. This one has over one thousand modifications. Are you sure you do not want to join XR and I? All right, I take it by your silence and spiteful scowl that you are still thinking about it. I will come by and check with you again once I am fully set up. I think I need to work some more on my scowling, joke or no joke Have a restful sleep, Master. If someone tries to disturb you, I will let loose a stun blaster shot in their direction. Or perhaps something even stronger if the situation warrants it. Yet leave to Exar to ensure that my best interest are looked after Reprogram him my ass Hey Did you see that, Alandres?! Particularly if it makes Van whine as he intended of course. Did I see what, Van? Do not play dumb with me. Did you see that look he gave me?! Van, he is a bot. Bots dont have expressions. Not even autonobots. Now if you will excuse me Fine, turn away and leave. Go on and take his side. Side? Whose side? I havent said or done anything And thanks for your diligence, Exar. I greatly appreciate it Van, you really need to lay off the mazaka. Its making you too jumpy. Now I will see you both later. Oh ho ho! The reflection on the door is not so clear, but I think Exar just gave him a throat slash sign Priceless Hey! Confirmed by Vans scream Just down to four cups a septec, Van. Thats still a sensible amount. Now listen you no good scrap heap And that round of arguing is the last thing I want to hear as the door mercifully slides shut behind me I swear that Exar must have some real personality in there somewhere Hes too good at tweaking Van to just be programming. And if Van knew for sure that I was in on it, hed kill me But hey, as Ive said before, these trips are lo-ong. Even at the mind-boggling speeds we travel at. And a little fun to pass the time never hurt anyone Not too much in any case Anyway, here we are again back in my humble abode God bless those sliders Now over to the main control panel Under what menu are the controls for the sleep chamber? There, restoration Those rest chambers have got to be one of the greatest things the Gatmays ever invented. I have to admit I was skeptical on how much Id be able to relax floating on air, but now I cant even remember what it was like sleeping on a regular bed. Suspended by a stream jets, secondary ones emanating a pulsating sequence to give you a soothing massage, and that mist it sprays on you I dont know what it is fully made off, but you cant knock the rejuvenating effects. And down to the molecular level too Lets see now, I have to make sure I adjust the settings properly. Last time I got into one of these and didnt change the default settings, I felt like I was being tenderized. Now the key was to find a setting that was akin to the consistency of human muscle tissue No, no, nothere And now set as the new default, followed by a quick striptease down to my undies now that nobodys looking. Lie down inside, enter the activation sequence and presto Ahh, just right.

Although I find it somewhat disturbing that the setting that best suits my anatomy is equivalent to a cooking setting. Yaawwnn 20 delmics to Opsercom Plenty of time... to wake up nice aaandd reste zzzzzzz Oh Captain sir, this your faithful XO calling from the bridge. My deepest apologies but you a have priority incoming call from Opsercom Station. The Station Chief insists that you receive the call directly. And by standard practice, this qualifies as an appropriate reason to rouse a ships commanding officer. Ha, ha, ha I mean, sorry. I will direct the call to the station in your quarters. Bridge out Ha! Son of a bitch!

Chapter 5: I am not here to question your authority. - Planetary Coalition Date 7269.383 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, in orbit around the second moon of Tulop
OPSERCOM STATION IS ONE OF SEVERAL OUTPOSTS LOCATED ON THE OUTERMOST BAND OF WHAT CONSTITUTES THE GREATER MONRAVIA-MALSA-EYHAK SYSTEM POPULATION REGIONS. BUILT BY THE INDUSTRIOUS EYHAKIS AND STAFFED BY CYBEX, IT SERVES AS A LAST STOP FOR TRAVELERS GOING OFF-SYSTEM AS WELL AS SERVING PART OF AN EARLY WARNING GRID FOR ANY INCOMING HOSTILES OR CELESTIAL OBJECTS. THE STATION ORBITS THE SECOND MOON ON THE FRIGID PLANET TULOP, WHICH IS THE FARTHEST PLANET FROM THE EYHAK SUB-SYSTEMS MASSIVE, DOUBLE GOLDEN STARS. VISITORS ARE ADVISED TO DRESS WARMLY, AS THE STATIONS ENVIRONMENT IS KEPT AT A COOL 25 DEGREES. THIS IS NOT ONLY TO ASSIST IN THE PRESERVATION OF THE LARGE AMOUNT OF COMESTIBLES STORED WITHIN IT, BUT TO ALSO MASK THE THERMAL SIGNATURE OF ITS INTERNAL MACHINERY FROM
POTENTIALLY UNFRIENDLY SHIPS APPROACHING AS WELL AS THE MISSILE LAUNCH THAT WOULD SHORTLY FOLLOW IF SUCH SHIPS ARE IDENTIFIED

And now that I have the ship in position on the far side of the moon opposite Opsercom, Okay, were at the coordinates. Exar, hail the station and tell Chief Masdo that we are in position. Will do, Master. So why exactly did he not want us docking in the station, Alandres? Van asks as Exar turns back to the Comm panel He said for added security purposes. Pratec called ahead to advise him of our arrival and emphasized that our passage was to remain secret. Masdo figured that he could not guarantee keeping our presence away from all the station personnel and visitors on board, so his best alternative was for us to not stop at the station at all and instead go to a more secluded location. Hence, our current close up of the floating ice ball you see out of our viewscreen. Makes sense. And did we receive info on the Cybex rep? Yes. It was sent over shortly after we made initial contact with the station. Olrever is going over it now... Anything else on your paranoia list? Fine, fine. Pratec seems to be on the level so far. I will try to be a bit more trusting from now on. Oh no, not that. If you start acting sane and reasonable, I wouldnt know what to do. Do not worry, I said only a bit more. And besides, if we Van then starts to counter Master, Chief Masdo wishes to speak with you, but is cut off by Exar, which of course will make him say something Did Alandres not ever teach you to say excuse me before you barged in to someone elses conversations? just like that Here we go again Excuse me, Commander. I did not notice you were still on the bridge. Perhaps you will notice after I blow a hole in you the size of a Quiet, children Exar, please put him on screen, Time to finally put an end to the foolishness Hell, we are on a job after all And not a moment too soon as there is the image of the awaiting Opsercom Station ChiefGreetings, Captain Cal. I wished to contact you directly in order to let you know that your new passenger has departed the station and is on route to your ship. He will arrive in roughly 3 demics. Thank you for the update, Chief. We will be ready for him. And hopefully you will be able to fill me in at some point as to why there is such a cloak of secrecy surrounding your arrival. I am a loyal Cybex employee and am well aware of the necessity of need to know basis protocols, so I will not object. But I would eventually like to know why my station was being used as a secret rendezvous point.

Perhaps at some point I will be able to, Chief. But for now, we appreciate your hospitality and rest assured this is in the best interest Cybex and the system... Cal out. Smooth talking. You should be in politics, Alandres, Van says with the Chief now out of earshot, And I would not have guessed that he was a Phasele. He did not sound like one over the Comm. That caught me by surprise too. He must have some good translation voice generators installed at the station. The intonation variations from his trunk were barely noticeable. Guess when they were searching for a replacement for this post, they looked for someone that would be comfortable in the extreme cold conditions within the station and on the planet. PHASELES ARE A RELATIVELY SHORT YET VERY THICK-SKINNED SPECIES OF SEXTUPEDS, WHICH ARE WELL RENOWNED FOR THEIR ABILITY TO SUSTAIN THEMSELVES IN EXTREME TEMPERATURE ENVIRONMENTS. THEIR MOST DISTINGUISHING FEATURE, THEIR FACIAL PROBOSCIS, IS PRIMARILY USED FOR FEEDING PURPOSES BUT IS DEXTEROUS ENOUGH TO BE UTILIZED FOR ANYTHING FROM TYPING TO SCRATCHING HARD TO REACH AREAS. And those flashing lights now on the board are coming from Reconnaissance so thats surely Olrever on the Comm, right on schedule as always So lets flip the switch and see what he has to say Yes, Olrever? Captain, I have completed the review of the background data for the Cybex agent. Would you like a brief summary? Sure would. Go ahead. His title and name is Protocol Officer Pelen Ecab. He has been a Cybex employee for 10 tricents, and has been previously involved in twenty-two cosmic discoveries and claims. He just returned from Quartis, where he was part of the Cybex team in charge of the moon excavations. And as you probably already know, he is a Suneg and will not need special accommodations. Thanks Oly Alandres out. Please do not call me that again, Captain. Olrever out. Sourpuss Aaaah, Protocol officers. My favorite type of Cybex rep, Van. Lets try to keep the cursing and reckless behavior to a minimum. And hope he does not put everything he comes in contact with in his mouth, at least not while we are around. AN INTERESTING THING ABOUT SUNEGS, BUT OFTEN UNPLEASANT TO THOSE IN THEIR IMMEDIATE VICINITY, IS THAT THEY USE THEIR MOUTH, OR SECONDARY MOUTH TO BE MORE SPECIFIC, AS ONE OF THEIR PRIMARY TACTILE RECOGNITION METHODS. DURING THEIR EARLY CONTACT WITH OTHER SPACE-FARING SPECIES, THIS CAUSED SEVERAL MISUNDERSTANDINGS, AS SUNEGS WERE OFTEN ACCUSED OF DOWNRIGHT THIEVERY ON TIMES WHEN THEY WERE UNEXPECTEDLY FOUND WITH SEVERAL OBJECTS TUCKED INSIDE THEIR MOUTH. ALTHOUGH SOME TRADITIONALIST EVOLUTIONARY SCIENTISTS HAVE ARGUED THAT, SINCE IT IS NOT USED FOR EATING, THIS OTHER ORAL CAVITY SHOULD NOT BE LABELED AS A MOUTH. STANDING USUALLY AT LEAST 6.3 MICROS IN HEIGHT, COMBINED WITH THEIR ROUGH, DULL-HUED SKIN, MULTIPLE ROWS OF TEETH, PLUS INTOLERANCE TOWARDS THOSE NOT FOLLOWING ESTABLISHED CODES OF BEHAVIOR AND, SOME WOULD SWEAR, LACKING IN JOVIAL FACIAL EXPRESSION, SUNEGS WERE NOT THE MOST POPULAR OF BEINGS DURING THE EARLY YEARS OF THEIR MEMBERSHIP INTO THE PLANETARY COALITION Master, Officer Ecab is signaling us from the shuttle, Exar then says, the shuttle now visible through the viewscreen, He is on an intercept course and has started his approach run. Good. Transmit to him our relative motion to the moon, then have Tary prep the engagement duct and decontamination filters, Exar. Proceeding at once.

Say, Alandres Have you ever been on the surface of Tulop? Hmm, Van sounded almost nostalgic as he asked that No. Is it as rough as Ive heard, Van? Worse. The terrain is barely navigable, with jagged ice and rock everywhere. And you can never tell if there is solid ground below the sheet of ice you are traveling on or just a dead drop to the depths of the planet. And the winds coming out off the southern pole are so strong that even when wearing thermal excavation suits, you feel like you are naked and freezing. And why did you decide Tulop was a good place to visit? When you are starting out in the business, you take whatever paying assignments you can get. Which also happens to be a big sum for any mission down there because you can never get anyone to go back a second time. So they pay you more than you have ever seen before in order to get you to stay the first time for as long as possible. Makes sense Now I imagine there is more to it than a little cold wind that is keeping folks away, right? Theres usually a line around the corner for those ready to jump at the prospect of an above-premium-pay missions What else is down there? Something out of your worst nightmares There are these little predators that live in the big mountain range near the equator, and that feast on anything caught on the surface. They travel in packs and look like spiky blue balls of ice. And because of the low gravity, they can jump extremely high, maybe even three milecs up. When they come down, you do not see or hear them coming. At least not until they have already slammed into you at top speed, digging their claws through your suit. On my last trip, we lost two of our team members that way. That is how I got that scar on my back as well. And I would count this as one of the few times I have actually heard fear in Vans voiceThat place must quite the hell hole But did he say? Last trip? I thought you said nobody went back a second time. That is usually the case. But there have been a few isolated cases of temporary insanity in which Tulop veterans have returned for repeat assignments. As you hinted, above-premium pay does not come around often for newbies, so if the chance arises again Besides, you know how I love a challenge. Yeah, thats one way to describe it. That, and as they say in my planet, being stubborn as a mule. As soon as you produce one of these mules you so often speak of, I will make sure to be properly offended. Probably what the mule would say too, I counter with as much indignation as I am sure the mule would feel, when Exar chimes in from the side Excuse me, Master Officer Ecabs shuttle has just linked up with the Lumenictus and he is in the process of coming on board Was that a satisfactory interjection, Commander? He then finishes off with a dig at Van Here we go again Since it was not followed by the statement and I will be switching off now, I would deem it only as partly satisfactory, XR, Van then answers Oh brother Now you two kids play nice while I go off to greet our esteemed guest, I say as I get ready to go meet the PO As much as I am dreading it, it will probably be easier than getting them to shut up, anyway Van, once were disengaged from the shuttle, take us out of orbit and head for the Cluster. Are you sure you do not want me to go see him instead? After all, that is typically what a good Executive Officer is supposed to do. I know, a good XO. Besides, I dont want you to scare him off just yet. Suit yourself. Make sure you are wearing your best gloves when he goes to chew on your hand. Ugh I dont even want to think about it. Its not like they have not been known to do that sort of thing either Now lets step inside enter my destination, grab the handrail and let the superconducting coils slide me away What Van said before is true though. I am not in the mood to have some know-it-all agent coming in and trying to run the show. I have to remember to go over the Travel Command

Guidelines to see how much authority he really has. If you dont stand up for yourself, they act like theyre in charge of everything But here we are. Boy, this thing is fast. I love it. Without it, itd take forever to go back and forth inside these ships Didnt I already say that? Ah, theres Tary Hey Tary Hello, Captain. Officer Ecab is going through the decontamination cycle now. The chemical filtration process should be finished within a few mics. Thanks for the update... Anything come up in the analysis so far? Nothing at all. All readings were within acceptable biohazard parameters Finished. The doors will open as soon as the pressure difference is balanced. And there he is. Shorter than I expected. Most Sunegs tend to be pretty tall Captain Cal I assume, Ecab says as he spots me, flashing a typical Suneg double-hand cross Yes, Officer Ecab. Welcome aboard the Lumenictus. Thank you, Captain. Although seeing as how this is a private Cybex vessel, and them being my employer, I should be welcoming you onboard. Oh great, one of those Protocol Officers. Pleasant personalities need not apply. Guidelines be damned, time to remind him who is in charge Now with my best smile forward Yes, if you insist on minor formalities. But up until the time that we return to Monravia and are securely docked within Rackoyd Station, I am in command of this ship and all of its crew. Is that understood, Officer? Absolutely, Captain. I am not here to question your authority. My veto powers are only to be enforced if our course of action is in conflict with the best interests of Cybex. I look forward to a productive collaboration during the course of our mission. Now, I would respectfully ask that you please direct me to my quarters. I took the first transport out of Quartis in order to reach Tulop in time, and I could now use some rest. Of course. Take the slider to Section 9. That is were the oxygen-breathers quarters are located. Yours is unit number 13. I will be on my way then. And please forward your flight and initial search pattern plans to the computer station in my quarters. I would like to review it as soon as I have a chance. I can already tell I am going to love working with this guy They are already there and waiting for you. I imagined you would want to look at them as soon as the opportunity presented itself. In that case, Captain Ecab then waves and disappears behind the slider doors See you later. A lot later Now onto some quick, newly unfinished business Exar, come in. Please forward the flight plan and search grid to the computer in unit 13, section 9. Message received. With pleasure, Master. And as Exar hangs up, I can sense Tarys confused look and questioning eyes looking from behind me Captain, I thought you told Officer Ecab that they were already at the computer in his room. Did I? I meant to say they will be there waiting for him, Tary. Just a slight mix-up and no harm done Hey, dont give me that look He wont know the difference. Just a bit of gamesmanship between us, thats all. I cant let him think he can just come on board and start calling the shots. Well, I am glad you are the Captain and I am not. How you are able to efficiently run a ship while playing these political and mind games is beyond me. That is all part of the fun, Tary. All part of the fun. Maybe I will make you acting Captain next time I am on vacation so you can see what youre missing. I am not sure I could handle so much fun, Captain. Dont underestimate yourself Besides, it would give you a chance to boss Van around.

If you put it that way, I may take you up on it Just to see the Commanders reaction of course. Now youre talking, buddy. By the way, what was in our friends case? The scan showed a mini-computer, some type of communicator, likely a sub-space communications device, and a few data discs. The rest of his belongings were in a storage case that was transferred directly from the shuttle to the quarantine area of the hold. Did you scan its contents? Of course, Captain. You know it is standard procedure. And I did not find anything out of the ordinary. Just personal effects. I figured you had done so, but still have to ask... Its another one of those annoying little things that comes along with the Captains job. And you do them all very well. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go make sure the transfer was completed successfully and the cargo is secure. Go right ahead. I should jump in the slider and get back to the bridge myself. Just to make sure Van doesnt crash the ship into the station. Piloting has never been his strong suit. Well, we are all finally here. And if all goes well, well be at the Periphery in a couple of septecs. Then the fun will really start. I hate to admit it, but Pratec had me pegged. Mining work is easy and comfortable, but I actually really miss working for the Forward Exploration Subdivision. Theres nothing like the thrill of going out to where no one has ever been too, finding things no one has ever seen. I cant wait to reach the Outer Sector and see what else might be out there Oh, back at the bridge already Im starting to daydream a bit much and having too many of these internal dialogues Like now for example Have you come to look over my shoulder? I know what you think about my flying, Van then asks, fully bringing me back to the here and now Not at all, Van. I just like the view from up here. Then you will be glad to know that we are on our way. I have entered the coordinates to the Cluster, and once we are clear of the effects from the outer asteroid field, we will engage the Ultra drive and become one with the rest of the universe So how is our new crewmate? As pleasant as your standard Cybex Protocol Officer. He didnt hesitate too much when he pointed out that this was a private vessel, he happened to work directly for its owner and we were just basically hired hands. I guess to him, we are just along for the ride. I hope you stuffed him in an equipment locker shortly afterwards. Well, that was Plan B if he proved to be uncooperative... But I made sure to clarify his interpretation of the command structure on board, but I get the feeling he wont be so easily dissuaded. But as long as he stays out of the way, he shouldnt be much of a problem. Uh-huh. And I am sure he will rapidly fall in line and we will get along just fine, like we have with all the previous Protocol Officers we have had to deal with... Did the incoming scans reveal anything? Nope, all clear. Kind of disappointing almost By the way, wheres Exar? He is with Nep calibrating the radar. They were taking some readings of the surrounding area. Lets go down and see them. I want to go over the initial search strategy in a little more detail. Sounds good to me. Let me call Wagshi and have her come take over the helm while we are gone. Good idea, Van. By the way, has she gotten any sleep since we boarded? No, but you know how Kelitacs are. Anything less than 47 delmics awake in a septec cycle, and they feel like they are wasting valuable time. KNOWN FOR THEIR HIGH ENERGY AND HIGH-METABOLISM BIOLOGY, KELITACS HAVE PROGRESSED INTO A STATE OF ALMOST UNSTOPPABLE ACTION WITH VERY LITTLE NEED FOR SLEEP. ALTHOUGH SOME EXOBIOLOGISTS HAVE DEEMED THIS TO BE A SELF-INDUCED CONDITION DERIVED FROM THEIR APPARENT OBSESSIVE NEED FOR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL STIMULATION,

KELITACS HAVE NEVERTHELESS DEVELOPED INTO A HIGHLY FUNCTIONAL AND SUCCESSFUL SOCIETY. AND IT WAS THIS NONSTOP MANNER ALLOWED THEM TO COLONIZE ALL EIGHT OF THE PLANETS WITHIN THEIR SOLAR SYSTEM, KELIT OCTAD, WITH AMAZING SPEED AND EFFICIENCY. PHYSICALLY, KELITACS VARY GREATLY IN SIZE AND THEIR BIPEDAL BODIES ARE COVERED COMPLETELY IN LONG, YET NEATLY TRIMMED AND EXTREMELY THIN HAIR, WHICH MOST TIMES IS MAINTAINED IN VARIOUS ELABORATE BRAIDS. MOST HAVE VARYING SHADES OF BROWN OR GOLD, MARKED WITH DISTINCT SPOTS AND STRIPES. ONE UNFORESEEN SIDE-EFFECT OF THEIR LIFESTYLE WAS THE NEED TO FILL IN THE GROWING NUMBER OF FREE DELMICS WITHIN THEIR WAKE-CYCLE, WHICH EVENTUALLY LED TO AN ALMOST UNCONTROLLED SPIKE IN THEIR POPULATION, LEADING TO THE TEMPORARY IMPLEMENTATION OF THE KELITAC POPULATION CONTROL ACT AND A RAPID GROWTH IN THEIR BIRTH CONTROL INDUSTRY Which is a very good reason indeed to have her on board, besides her wit and charm, I reply as Van activates the Comm unit Wagshi, this is the bridge, come in. Wagshi here, Commander Bridge. What can I do for you? Comes back the high-pitched, female voice on the other line Well I can think of a couple of things I would certainly like you to, but it is work time now. Van replies in typical fashion Good thing for him sexual harassment laws are typically more lax in cases of interspecies communication or else hed spend all his free time away from the ship in court Please come to the bridge. We need you take over here for a while. I will be over in a moment Got it. Bridge out, Van confirms then turns back towards me And Alandres, once we are finished with business, let us get something to eat. I am starving. Will you let your brainsorry, sorrybrains make some of the decisions from time to time? I will have you know that when it comes to following unrestrained internal impulses, I have more than once seen you Van begins to counter with mock indignity when we hear the bridge door slide open and a certain crewmember struts wearing what is definitely not a regulation uniform Which is quite possibly the favorite, yet most superficial, reason while so many others like having her here. Good thing we usually keep our ships pretty warm inside or shed freeze. Easy to see why Van finds her so attractive, although I think it is more because she keeps spurning his advances. Myself, I just cant get over that facial hair Or arm hair or leg hair She then flashes us a big Kelitac smile I think I can almost see all 50 of them and says Unrestrained internal impulses? It sounds as if I arrived at just the right time guys. You sure did, as we were just heading to the Reconnaissance room, Van tells her as he blatantly tries to imagine what is beneath the few areas her uniform does cover, Now please keep an eye on our course and make sure we do not fly into a supernova or anything of the sort, beautiful. Once we are clear of the asteroid field, contact Rrivang and engage the Magna drive. The destination coordinates have already been entered into the navisolver. We will back in a short while. Take your time, Vancara. I can get used to this. This big Captains chair is very comfortable. Plus I am sure I can perform the gravitational effect calculations much faster from here. Just make sure the ship stays on course while you are at it. But dont work too hard though. You are going to make Alandres want to replace me with you. No sooner than those words come out of Vans mouth that I say to myself that one is just too easy Hmmm, I hadnt even thought of that, Van. But now that you mention it Wags? You already know that I would put in a much more substantial work cycle than your friend there, Captain. That would be a welcomed change. Not to mention the immediate improvement in process efficiency and, of course, overall cabin odor, And I can see this last dig is finally too much for Van to just brush off

All right you two skerjs! I am still right here you know Oh and Wagshi, I forgot to tell you that you would be part of the next shift of septic recirculation system cleanup. Remember to wear some old clothes. Whoever did it last left quite a mess behind. If you get any on your hair it will take forever to get off And you, my dear Captain, if you are done motivating the crew, let us not waste any more time before we end up getting to the Run and still do not have any idea of what to do once we are there. By all means, Van. I forgot how dedicated to your work you could be when properly motivated. Too late, too late. Will you two like to be alone for a while? Wagshi then blurts out, barely suppressing her laughter I guess we do act like an old married couple sometimes No, thank you, Wags, I reply and wave Van towards the door, Well see you later. Have fun Goodbye, Captain Vancara. Now I better let Exar and Nep know we are coming, just to make sure theyre still there when we arrive. Exar, come in... Van and I are headed down to see you and Nep. Please wait for us. Message received, Master. We await your arrival. As if there was any doubt To which I can see by the look he is giving me Van has some thoughts on I see how it is now. If I had him trained like that, I would not want to mess with his programming either. And I do not suppose you have anything do to do with the way he treats me either, right? As you well know, computer science is one of my weaker skills, Van. You just give the sort of aura that conflicts with his personality assessment interface. Of course it does. He is just an innocent machine and does not mean any harm. I will try to be more considerate when interacting with him in the future so as not to trigger an unpleasant appraisal algorithm. Please see that you do that, Van. On board chemistry is one of the most important aspects of ship operation and successful interstellar travel. Just save it and get out. We are here already. Which we indeed are, so we step from the slider into the tight confines of the Reconnaissance room and are in turn greeted by our waiting comrades Master. Captain, Commander. That Nep, once we are on a mission, nothing matters but the tasks at hand. Plus that stern look he puts on when hes concentrating is enough to make everyone else focus on what they are doing as well And those protruding double fangs make that look even more somber Hmmm, did he have them sharpened recently? They look even pointer than usual Now that I have you all together, I want to go over the data we have one more time. Take a look at these holos First up, Qu3, Quartiss third moon The Cybex team made their findings in this area, on the smallest of the equatorial landmasses They produced several interesting discoveries regarding the species of the inhabitants, along with some useful information in deciphering their language but not much in terms of specifics regarding the mystery planets location Ive sent to all your stations the details on why it is believed they left their home planet, some observations they made regarding their passage from there to the moon and finally, an excerpt from a log commenting, or more like lamenting, on the natural resources they were forced to leave behind. Please look it over. I see the dual Aster brain is working full speed for a change because Van just went through all that pretty fast How accurate do the Cybex folks think this language translation is, Alandres? If this is right, that planet is an immense fortune waiting to be discovered. Although there is always room for error, they are quite confident of it, Van. They had several independent reviews and all came to the same general conclusions.

No wonder Pratec wants to keep it all so quiet. If word of this got out, there would be a mad rush from every prospector and treasure hunter in the Sector trying find it. Which is why we have to find where it is, get there fast and get there first... And on that note, Cybex attempted to retrace the path the beings came by so as to try and pinpoint the planets location. They sent whatever probes they had available at the time and did a scan of this region here. Unfortunately, they did not find any conclusive evidence. What probe types did they use, Captain? Nep then asks, the skin over the top of his starting to wrinkle a bit as he gets that predatory look that comes over him when he goes into hunting mode Nothing fancy. Just Level 4 sub-surface probes. Those probes are primarily used for planetary surveys. If instead used for some type of astral evaluation, we should not rely on any readings past a 800 kilomilec range beyond the moon. Understood, Nep. So we will have to take their collected data with some degree of uncertainty. I second that, Van then chimes in with They would have been better off sending out some of their cargo ships and tied their radars together for a higher-magnification sensing matrix. But I guess we will make do with what they obtained... Any thoughts on where to start looking, Alandres? I have some thoughts on the matter, Van But first, with the Cybex recordings and the workings of our fancy radar, where would you suggest we perform our initial scan, Exar? My recommendation would be to start on section four of the search grid, Master. Although not of significant size, there appears to be a fairly numerous concentration of celestial bodies within it. We should be able to bounce some of our radar pulses off of them, creating additional molecular vibrations that should enhance our detection capability. Plus any planet of significant size will have some measurable effect on the orbits of these bodies, again a useful fact to aid in our search. It sounds like an ideal place to start, Exar. We will adjust our course accordingly once we enter the Periphery. Now Van said you and Nep were calibrating the radar. How did that go? Very well, although we have not yet finished evaluating all of the data. The visual spectrum readings around the selected area match the recordings in the planetary database to within 0.32% Computer science might not be my forte, but I know enough to tell that when a bot hesitates it is because they ran into something their artificial brain cant quite come to terms with Which is never a good sign So I have to ask But? A portion of the readings from heading 346.7825 by-34.6287 was slightly off from the ones of the immediate adjacent area, Master. Off? How so, XR? Van asks Exar, not only because he is in charge of overseeing all the scientific aspects but also because I am sure he is looking for a rare nugget to hold against him Yes, Im that cynical The resulting scan appeared to show the stars within that space to be somewhat askew, Commander. All of the objects in the area in question were in the predicted location when measured from each other, but were off 0.03 degrees on average to starboard with respect to our relative position when using the ship as a stationary point of reference. Do you have any theories on why that is? Could it have just been an antenna misalignment or even just a processing blip? All those are potential causes, Commander. There are a number of potential reasons ranging from a misalignment to the gravitational effect of some celestial body distorting the light waves in that area. Any of them more likely than any other? We did not record enough data to make a conclusive assessment, Commander. The Lumenictus left the area prior to a secondary scan being taken. I may be just overly fearful, but having potential glitches so shortly after leaving gives me a bad feeling Exar, do you believe any of these skewed readings to be a cause for concern?

No, Master. There is no data to suggest it. All other scans that we have taken, before and after, matched the cartography charts and displacement equations. The highest probability scenario is that the incorrect images were due to operator error. Not exactly what I expected him to say Operator error? Yes, Master. It was most likely due to my unfamiliarity with the system. I assure you I will be more thorough in the future. Ha! So you are not perfect after all! I knew it! Van in turn says, which this time is what I expected to hear You are correct, Commander. I am not. The general perception of my infallibility was probably caused by comparisons to your own level of performance. Ha, ha! You have to admit that was a good one, Van, Although Ill admit that one did not portray standard bot behavior Still funny though Shut up and stop encouraging him! And at least I am not the one that cannot take a simple image from a couple of stationary objects without screwing it up, you rust bucket. A valid point, Commander. Although my memory circuits do not recall being the one who mistook a Grof male for a female one and almost succeeding in obtaining a forced, shall we say sex change procedure? Even the most near-sighted of species would not have made such a blunder. Ouch Low blow. And still funny Alandres, you dung sack! You said you did not tell anyone about that! I didnt And that one was pretty good to. I had almost forgotten about it... Exar? I can assure you, Commander, Master Alandres kept your confidence. Blame your habit of talking in your sleep. Plus the tone of your voice tends to go up considerably when you fall into Sinbash-induced unconsciousness. Not as high as the sound your scrap of a frame is going to make when I jam you into the nearest All right you two, playtime is over... Exar, Nep, if you both are comfortable with the assessment of the radar scan then thats fine by me. Carry on with your evaluation and keep me informed if any other odd incidents happen Now Van, I believe you said something about getting something to eat. Sure, lets go, he answers as we turn and prepare to slide to the mess hall I tell you he has got it in for me, but no. I am the one that is crazy. I say he is behaving erratically, but no. I am the one that needs to be sensitive. At some point he is going to malfunction, go on a killing spree and I will only have a few mics to tell you I told you so before we go meet our maker. What was that, Van? Im sorry, I wasnt listening. Aaaaah! Forget it! Hee-hee I hope he doesnt have a conniption before this mission is over. I do need him fully functioning after all ... Maybe once he gets some food inside him hell forget his troubles Now what exactly is on the menu, Alandres? No doubt you ensured we had nothing but top of the line delicacies brought on board. Good question, Van. I am curious to find out as well. Please do not tell me we are going to be stuck with standard rations again. You know, I really didnt have much time to plan that phase of our travel. We were asked to leave in a hurry after all. At least tell me that we have some pure hydroregener I hope my sincere frown and headshake properly conveys how deeply sorry I am Grrrrr When we get to the Periphery, either we are stopping at the PlanCo Outpost for better supplies or I quit.

Or maybe the food will just make him madder Oh well I promise to even get an extra large load of Maritasiu roast to make it up to you, Van. If there is any dried liver from any species in there, you better make it two. Here comes Olrever, lets ask him. Im sure he had a pleasant experience. Yes, allow me. Hi Olrever... How is the selection? I believe I found the area in which Cybex saves creds in order to invest in other technologies, Commander. The Neechix liver being served is particularly repulsive. Really? Neechix liver you say And the Showard syrup that I am sure was provided with it? To die for. As in you will want to kill yourself shortly after eating it. Thanks for your culinary assessment, Olrever. You have certainly given Alandres a lot to think about. I am glad to be of service, Commander. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to my post. Of course, carry on Alandres? As if hes any sort of judge on what good food is, Van. He doesnt even eat anything that comes from dry land unless its been soaked extensively in liquid decomposer. It was your idea to ask But if you are so convinced, then maybe you would not mind being the first to try something. Of course not. Ill be glad to. Now lets see, where is it? I know theres got to be some in here. Its part of every standard allotment... There it is! I dont know exactly what this is, but it tastes pretty close to pork to me. Add a bit of extra seasoning, increase the temperature in the reheat cycle and presto Here you are Van my friend. A meal both delicious and nutritious. I hope I am there to see your face the moment when you finally realize what animal that comes from. I know hes just trying to upset me right? Do not let me stop you, Alandres. Dig in. Forget him. I like how this tastes and thats all that matters Darn it, here comes Ecab. Excuse me, Captain. One of your officers told me I could find you here. Can you spare a moment? Of course. What can I help you with? If you do not mind Captain, I would like to discuss the matter with you in private. Its okay, Ecab. We know all the security protocols. Besides, Van doesnt really talk as much as he seems to at times. Thanks for the compliment? Van then says jokingly, but I can tell Ecab is not going to have any of it anyway I understand, Captain. But I must insist. So do I Officer Ecab, I thought I made it That is fine, Alandres. I was just leaving anyway, Van interjects, as he has less tolerance for bureaucracy than me, I think I will go see what contraband Wagshi brought on onboard. She is always good for few tasty, although somewhat illegal, morsels. I will see you later at the bridge. That look on Ecabs face tells me that is one more potential procedure violation hes going to be cranky about... Hey, it comes with job and the pleasant personality I am sorry about being confrontational, Captain, he goes on with, But I prefer to discuss Cybex business solely with the officer in charge. You can then flow down to your crew whatever information you deem necessary. I appreciate your precautions, Officer. But rest assured that anything that you need to discuss with me, you can discuss with my Executive Officer.

And I appreciate your confidence in him. But I prefer to be a bit more cautious. Tell me, do you share with him all of the privileged information that you are privy to? At least hes direct when asking loaded questions. If I say yes, then I might make him overly cautious and he might hold back later. If I say no, then who knows if hell try to confirm it or not. Well, no sense in making him more guarded than he already is. I might need his confidence at some other point. For the most part, yes. But I understand that there are times in which total confidentiality is warranted for the security of a mission, even from our most trusted friends and associates. That should be close enough to pass the test Yes, hes nodding. Good But we digress. Whats on your mind, Officer? The flight plan, Captain. I just finished reviewing it and was somewhat disturbed to find out that we will be traveling outside of the main trade routes. That is correct. I want us to remain as inconspicuous as possible. What exactly is the problem? As if he is not going to tell me First of all, the obvious implications that would arise should some unexpected circumstance hinder our transit. Understood, and we have taken precautions. We left a failsafe in place that will relay our position should anything happen. That would not be considered standard procedure. Did you clear your plan with Overseer Pratec? No. He left the planning of this mission to me, so I do not believe I am obligated to get approval on how I go about achieving our goal... Beside, interstellar navigation is not exactly his forte. Perhaps not. But that does not preclude from consultation with the hiring agent when the course of action is outside the bounds of normal operation. That is clearly the intent of the Operational Directives. Especially as traveling through unregulated space is highly irregular, not to mention dangerous. But not without precedent. Particularly when speed and secrecy are of the essence. And as this particular hiring agent stressed, those are two of the primary driving factors of this assignment. That may be so, but economic implications should also be considered. And when the investment is a ship as valuable as the Lumenictus, the risk warrants that added precautions be taken. They dont name them Protocol Officers for nothing. And the headache that I am rapidly developing is the sign that I need to end this little exchange now before my head explodes Officer Ecab, your concerns are duly noted and of appreciable merit. But I have made my decision and we will proceed as such. You can notify the Overseer of your position upon our return to Rackoyd. So much for getting on his good side... Oh well Fine, Captain. Please make record of my objection. Let us hope we will not regret it. I sincerely hope not. So then, is there anything else? No Captain, that is it for the time being. Good And now that we have finished talking mission and procedural matters, would you care to join me for a bite to eat? Thank you for the offer, but I consumed sufficient sustenance before boarding. I will return to my quarters and get some rest. Goodbye. Note to self, that uncomfortable sensation is a Cybex Protocol Officer jumping down my throat Ugh. I thought he was going to take a bite out of me there for a moment. I have to be careful though. Theres a fine line between asserting my authority and pissing him off for kicks. Last thing we need is for him to keep pulling out that in the best interest of Cybex card. I heard they carry some sort of universal ship override I should look into that Well no sense worrying about that now, so back to my dinner Yumm See, I dont know what those two fools are talking about. This isnt so bad. A little dry, but edible Bridge to Captain, goes the communicator I guess one bite is better than none

Whats up Wags? We have cleared the asteroid field and will be engaging the Magna drive in three demics. I thought you would want to know since Rrivang said you should feel a tingling sensation when the pulse goes off. Some side effect of the sub-atomic linkage. Wait, wait, wait Feel a what? Tingling? Whats he talking about? I do not know exactly. I guess it has something to do with your chromosome count. My what? You mean I specifically am going to feel a tingling sensation? What about the rest of you? He did not mentioned anything, so I guess not. The Ginruns did a physical assessment of the crew and your biometrics were flagged. Great. I hope I get re-materialized the same way I was in before we blasted off. I would not worry too much about it, Alandres. He said some species find the drive-tingle quite pleasurable. Ill make sure to remember that when it drives me to insanity. Oh and by the way, Vancara said you were in the mess hall eating Reslank... Is that right? Umm, yes Why do you ask? No reason. Do you happen to know what that is made from? Uh-oh Not exactly, Wags I assumed since it was being served it was edible. Hey, dirt is edible if you are hungry enough... But I was just asking out of curiosity. I had never noticed you eating it before. Uh-oh Oookay Should I be backing away from my plate away now? No, no. As you said, it is edible, and actually quite nutritious... But hey, look at that... the navisolver is beeping. We are almost at the jump coordinates. I will contact you if necessary. Bridge out. Danger, danger... If it were Van telling me those things, Id say hes trying to mess with me. But Wagshi wouldnt try something like that, would she? Oh boy Wheres the attendant? Hey! Hey, Jogo, what type of animal does Reslank come from? Reslank? That is a particular cut of Respid, Jogo responds back in his unique vocal accent due to his species thick tongue and tight cheek muscles Respid? Im not familiar with it. Can you tell me what it is or maybe describe it? A Respid? Well, they are quite flavorful but not much too look at. Big, hairy, eight long segmented legs. The body is kind of round, they have some big ugly fangs Uh-oh, that sounds just like a giant ... In fact, Captain, I remember you once pointed to another creature that looked like a much smaller version of a it and called it a ryder? Sider? No, not that. It was .a Sp.. p spider? Yes, that was it. Spider. There were a bunch of them in a shipment of ripe namans that we brought on board the Hauler that time we stopped at the overhaul depot on Caricos 3 Say, your face seems to be changing colors, Captain. Are you all right? UmpghNot if I look on the outside the way I feel right now on the inside... Thats okay Jogo. Something I ate is not agreeing with me. Im just going to my quarters and lie down for a bit. Thanks for clearing that up. Well, I only had one bite so I guess I wont be returning that much backUmpghmaybe not

Chapter 6: No one knew we were headed this way. - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.417 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, on Approach to Telem Black Hole Cluster
ON-BOARD CHEMISTRY IS ONE OF THE MOST UNDERRATED, YET MOST IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL. A GROUP OF BEINGS IS STATIONED TOGETHER WITHIN CONFINED SPACES FOR EXTENDED AMOUNTS OF TIME, MORAL, CAMARADERIE AND BUSINESS-LIKE FOCUS FORM A PRECARIOUS BALANCE. IT IS THE CAPTAINS JOB TO ENSURE THIS
DELICATE EQUILIBRIUM IS MAINTAINED.

WHEN

Wagshi, yes it will! No it will not, Vancara! Yes itwill!! Noit will not!! Dear Lord, not again. Thats the third time in the last 30 demics Van, Wagshi! Will you two just shut up?! Of course, Alandres. As soon as your stubborn, egomaniacal first officer agrees that his crazy idea would tear the ship into a billion pieces if we ever tried something like it, Wagshi responds without even looking at me I guess the answer is no Only if you were the one trying to pull it off! You are just too much off a backwards-thinker, Van then fires back Yeah, definitely no For the hundredth time, the blast wave would reach the resonance limits of the hull and rip the ship apart, Commander know-it-all! Not if you set up a dampening field to the correct setting, which you would know if you properly estimated the blast radius and power output in advance. It would then give you an incredible push, Lieutenant half-wit! Which you would greatly appreciate as you see chunks of the ship flying off as well! You just do not have the foresight to look beyond conventional knowledge! And you are too much of a Oh, my head Let me call Exar and see if I can at least drown them out Exar, this is the bridge. How long before we reach the Cluster? At our current speed, we will reach the transfer point in five demics, Master. What? Already? That was almost too fast. Not that Im complaining though... Once you start the emission recordings, make sure you take down as much of the orbital motion and gravitational fluctuations as possible Of course. Lieutenant Nep is fine tuning the data-gathering algorithm as we speak. Good. I would like to stay there for no longer than a delmic, so keep me appraised of your progress. Affirmative. One more thing though Is that Commander Vancara I hear in the background aggravating yet another one of our crew members? He doesnt miss anything, does he? That he is, Exar. But deep down, I think both are enjoying their discourse at some level. If you say so, Master. I will admit that organic life never ceases to amaze as well as your ability to put up with some of the ones on board. XR-4 signing off. And now that that is done Bridge to Specialist Rrivang. Come in please. This is Specialist Rrivang How can I assist you, Captain?

Specialist, I have been appraised that we are markedly ahead of schedule. What is our current performance rating? The engine is processing quarks at a 5.7% higher rate than recorded during the previous calibration run, therefore leading to a 12% increase in efficiency. That accounts for our increased speed. The pre-launch maintenance we performed is paying off. Excellent Has that led to any increased heat generation? It has, Captain. But it is well below the maximum tolerance spec. Very impressive, Specialist. You, your crew and your drive are even better than advertised. Keep up the good work. Thank you Captain... Rrivang out. So far so good, and then so Damn, what is she saying? Do you think so, Alandres? Oh no, do not give him that sweet, innocent look, Wagshi. Alandres is way too smart to fall for such an obvious ploy. SighAll right, enough. Now if you two have so much idle time to bicker, why dont you go make yourselves useful instead? Wagshi, Ill take the helm, so take over at the Engineering station. Once Nep and Exar start the data collection, well need you to do the sensor sweeps Van, Id like you to check out the deceleration procedure as we come out of the jump, so please head down to Propulsion. I believe Rrivang said the proper terminology was re-materialization procedure, Alandres, Van says, in true Aster form making sure to point out others mistakes in a very prompt manner Sorry, Van. The re-materialization procedure. Ill remember to add it to my engineering handbook. Anyway, Id still like you to get the rundown on how it is performed... Just in case. Covertly? Nah Just dont be too overt about it. They seem to be quite secretive about this technology, so I dont want them thinking were looking over their shoulders even if we are. But ask a lot of questions, though. They do seem to like it when you show interest in their talents. There is no doubt about that, so I will be on my way... I will come back once we have entered into orbit around the Cluster so we can start setting up the next jump. All right, thanks Van Yes, what is it, Wags? Well speaking of their secretive technology, I was wondering how the tingling in your skin was feeling, Alandres. Its slightly annoying, but you get used to it. Hey, just like Vancara! Ha, ha! Yes, although I said only slightly annoying Besides, we should reserve our discussion until later, as Vancara hasnt left yet and is now glaring at us quite unsympathetically. And with all three eyes to boot, so I am sure he is about to add something relevant to the conversation That is very considerate of your part, Alandres So in your upcoming discussion, I ask you to consider this Would you describe that tingling sensation as perhaps more or less annoying than a certain someones inability to control bodily shedding? I have heard that is a sign of some of the lower classes. Think it over as you clean up after her and you can fill me in when I return Ouch Thats going to leave a mark Lower?! Why you stuck up little! Come back hereaargh! Particularly on Van if she would have gotten a hold of him Dont let him get to you, Wags. The more he annoys the more he cares. Then he must be the most caring being in creation.

Going by that soulful look, Id give two-to-one odds on those two hooking up at some point during this trip. I wonder what an Aster-Calitec mix would look like Just what the universe needs, a hairy, arrogant, sex-crazed being with almost limitless energy and little use for sleep Lovely. Now if the mega engines are as powerful as Rrivang says they are, we should be able to move within 1000 kilomilecs of the Cluster and be able get some of the best recordings anyone has ever gotten from it. The Academy will pay quite handsomely for that type of data. Particularly as I heard there has not been a lot of new stellar phenomena information coming in recently... And no wonder Traveling in unmonitored passages is pretty much flying with a blindfold on. You are never quite sure what will be where and when. But thats all part of the excitement Hmm, looks like we are on our approach run. And not a moment too soon either. That tingling is starting to go from annoying and to irritating quite fast Lets see now, pulse generator online fingers crossed, countdown initiated5, 4, 3, 2, 1, fire Ooohh, that was a funny feeling It felt like a bunch of tiny needles were suddenly pulled out of my skin Kind of ticklish too Exar, come in I am relaying to your stations our heading and relative position to the Cluster. Begin the scans as soon as you are ready. Understood, Master. We will begin at once. And now for call number two... Olrever, this is the Bridge We have reached the Cluster and are getting into position to begin our scans, starting with hole number five. Refer to the image I sent you for the designation of each hole. Acknowledged, Captain. I will adjust the shields to compensate for the increased gamma ray activity. Record the shield performance results and forward to Nep so as to calibrate the baseline readings as well. Bridge out Oh, and Wags I have already initiated the radar pulse sweep, Alandres, She finishes my sentence with exactly as I was going to as well Smart ass And I mean that in a good way too Of course. Thanks, Wags. Yell out if you find anything interesting. You mean besides what is in front us of right now? Yeah. Something out of the ordinary. Black holes are a cred a dozen. THE INFAMOUS TELEM BLACK HOLE CLUSTER CONSISTS OF SIX BLACK HOLES IN ROTATIONAL EQUILIBRIUM WITH EACH OTHER, BENDING LIGHT, GRAVITY AND ANYTHING ELSE THAT HAPPENS TO GET TOO CLOSE TO THEM. HENCE THE BRIGHT RED X IN ALL THE ASTRO-CHARTS WARNING YOU TO KEEP AWAY, JUST IN CASE YOU WERE NOT ABLE TO NOTICE THE LONG STREAM OF DECOMPOSING MATTER STREAMING TOWARDS THEM AND THEIR EVENT HORIZON OF CHOICE. THE CLUSTER WAS FIRST IDENTIFIED FOR THE PLANETARY COALITION BY THE SHANIP EXPLORER CAPTAIN BOCAI TELEM. UNFORTUNATELY, TELEM DID NOT HAVE TIME TO APPRECIATE THE MAGNITUDE OF HIS DISCOVERY, AS HIS FLAGSHIP, THE TANSA RIAM, AND ALL ON-BOARD WHERE PULLED INTO ONE OF THE HOLES SHORTLY AFTER FIRST SIGHTING THEM. HAVING COME OUT OF AN ULTRA JUMP TO CLOSE TO THE CLUSTER, IT IS DOUBTFUL THEY HAD MORE THAN AN INSTANT TO REALIZE WHAT WAS HAPPENING BEFORE EVERYTHING CAME TO AN END. ALL THIS WOULD HAVE REMAINED UNKNOWN TO THE REST OF THE COALITION HAD HIS HAIL TO THE OTHER TWO SHIPS IN HIS CONVOY, THE NITAP AND THE ANNI (NAMED AFTER HIS DAUGHTERS), MIRACULOSLY NOT MADE IT BACK TO THEM. AS IT TURNED OUT, THIS IS WHAT SPARED THEM THE SAME FATE, AS THEY REVERTED SEVERAL KILOMILECS FROM TELEMS ENTRY POINT, JUST FAR AWAY TO AVOID THE PULL OF THE HOLES BUT CLOSE ENOUGH TO WITNESS THEIR CAPTAINS END. Hey, look at that, Alandres. The physical embodiment of certain death, close enough to reach out and touch, a certain familiar voice then pipes in from the back of the bridge, breaking the all-too-short silence I was enjoying Must you always look at the negative aspect of a situation, Van? Wait, wait the Aster heightened sense of awareness. Sorry, I forgot. As long as you do not forget it has saved your hide quite a few times Not that I am keeping track or anything.

Which by my count is close to as many times I have had to bail you out of some sort of trouble it has not been able to keep you out off Anyway, how did it go down there? It was very impressive. One wrong move or malfunction, and we are done for. Yet they have managed to simplify it all down to just a few simple tasks. I had been wondering why their crew seemed so small compared to the typical propulsion attachments. That is just it. They do not need that many personnel to run the engines because their system designs are so efficient. Most of their group is there for pre-emptive maintenance. In fact, it was all so simple, I had time to start thinking about the course for the next jump. Let me show you We can even use one of those unorthodox detours you like to take Umm Oh Hey, Alandres I hear Wagshi calling from her station Theres always something Hold on, Wags Go on, Van As I was starting to say before I was so rudely interrupted, we will even be able to make a quick stop to restock at Treheta Station, as you still owe me some Maritasiu But Alandres But Alandres again Its like dealing with kids You heard him, Wags. Please hold on a moment, Van then says, never shy to pull rank even if on a joking manner, I am telling you pal, it is so hard to get good help around here... But back to the course. From the station, all we need to do is follow a parabolic trail around Alandres!! Wagshi suddenly yells back in return All right, maybe she cant hold on I am picking up something on radar! What?! What?! I am picking up something on radar There seems to be something inside the Cluster. All right, not quite what I was expecting her to say Note to self, pay more attention to your crew when they sound very agitated Inside? Thats impossible, Wags. That may be what it is supposed to be, but come here and see Look, right there! In between the second and third holes. I think it is a ship. A ship? Van asks her incredulously As that would be pretty incredible Make sure you are not picking some big piece of debris that the holes are pulling in. I am sure, Vancara. I am not blind! That signal is coming from the only thing besides us not moving towards the holes. All right, that would imply some sort of self-controlled propulsion, so Any change in direction since you first detected it, Wags? No, Alandres. I is just seems to be floating in there in between the two holes. All right. Van? There may actually be a dead spot in there where the gravity effects cancel each other out, Alandres. It is theoretically possible. Okay, so may have some out of the ordinary here Wags, zoom in tight and see if you can get a visual confirmation. Zooming closer closer Aw, nuts Thats a ship all right. Can you tell what type of ship it is, Wags? The scan shows it to be a Bok-Class Destroyer. A fairly old model though. Maybe third generation. But like all the versions before and after, light on speed yet heavy on the weapons. Figures... Im altering course and putting us in geosynchronous orbit with the ship... Van, start plotting a Magna jump course to the Periphery, just in case we have to leave in hurry plus I would like not to give them any clue as to where we are headed... Wags, aim a radar-focused beam in between the first and second hole. The gravity should pull the ripple around towards the obstructed part of the core. Lets make sure there are no more surprises. You got it, Captain.

I know I always say I love surprises, but I have to remember to amend that phrase to exclude mystery ships in the middle of nowhere... Now lets see if there is anything else to worry about, because when Wags starts getting all formal with me, it is because she is getting on those weird feelings that things are going to start going sour Exar, come in. We have spotted a ship inside the Cluster. Have your scans picked up any atypical readings? No, Master. Just the expected level of emissions from the black holes and the varying types of matter they are attracting into themselves. Fine. If you find anything out of character, call up here at once. Of course. Signing out. Now lets think about this for a moment. Theres a ship inside the Cluster, but that in it of itself is not necessarily cause for alarm unless Radar imaging shows two more ships are hiding inside, Captain. was the way Wagshi was to finish my thought with Damn it. Show me where, Wags. Here and here. You can just make out the aft end of their main thrusters. Those are definitely the profiles of a pair of ship. Have you checked their ID transponder, Wagshi? Van asks, no humor any longer in his voice I tried to, Vancara. But they are not broadcasting anything. Not even static. Not even static? You know what that means, Alandres... Sure do Pirates Olrever, please report to the bridge. On my way, Captain. Captain, the ships are moving out of the Cluster and are heading this way, Wagshi then warns Funs over, time for business The first one we identified is advancing on the lead, while the other two are falling into rear flanking positions. Those two seem to be older model destroyers as well. I see them, Wags Van I am adjusting course and maintaining a constant distance between the lead ship and us. File it into the solver. Got it. What do you want to do with the shields? Keep them down for now, Van. Lets not appear to be too alarmed for now at least. Technically speaking, they could just be coming over to tell us of a new hyperspace route theyve discovered, right? Geez, if looks could kill Human humor continues to be very underappreciated in this side of the galaxy Okay, probably not. But lets wait and see how things play out. But heres Olrever in case things start to play out a bit rough What is the situation, Captain? Check out the view screen. Weve got company. Hmm It would be unusual to randomly run into someone out here How many ships there in total? We have identified three so far. The lead one is trying to close in on us, while the other two are flanking but not advancing at the same rate. Go to the Weapons stations and home in on the lead ship We dont want to alarm them though, so dont use the targeting computer and target them manually... How long to ready the starboard batteries? Less than one demic. All right Wait for my signal to charge them and fire only on my command. I thought you said they might be friendly traders who might be bringing us a new hyperspace route, Van cuts in with as continue to watch the trio of advancing vessels spread out menacingly Just covering all the bases, Van. In case they are bringing us a couple of unrequested ion torpedoes instead.

Captain, they are hailing us by the ships official name and designation, Wags then adds, piling on to the growing list of the what-the-hellsSo much for our secret passage in the cover of darkness Dont answer them yet, Wags. Now how do you suppose they identified us, Alandres? Good question, Van Is our name painted in big bold letters on the side of the hull and we just forget to paint over it? Beats me, Van. No one knew we were headed this way. Then how do they know who we are? Did they know we were coming ahead of time? No, that cant be... right? How are the jump calculations coming along, Van? We are ready to go as long as you do not alter our primary course vector heading by more than 5 degrees in any direction. Understood... Wags, open a hailing channel. Voice-over only Approaching ship, you seem to be trying to reach us in quite a hurry. Would you care to state your intentions? Lumenictus, this is Captain Bosbora of the Rapacity then comes a raspy voice over the Comm Rapacity Im sure thats meant in the best way possible You have entered a section of private space, so I believe you should be the one answering that very question. Private space? Captain Bosbora, my copy of the local start chart must be outdated because I do not recall seeing your claim listed anywhere on it. But we will be polite and answer your question nevertheless. We are here to perform scientific research on the Telem Cluster. And we are flattered that you have mistaken our vessel with the famed Lumenictus. But I am Captain Picard, and this the Federation research starship Enterprise. Now lets see how fast it takes them to discard all of that Federation starship Enterprise? I cant believe I never talked about that with Van before Its from a show I used to watch. It was about Do not bother maintaining your ruse, Lumenictus, because we know exactly who you are, The voice over the comm breaks in with That was pretty fast And research? With Cybexs fastest, most valuable ship? Out in the middle of uncharted territory? Hardly. I guess you do not have a very honest voice, Captain. Good to see her loosen up a bit, even if at my expense Thanks, Wags... Ill try to work on it. And if you wish to continue playing games, fine, Yes, back to the matter at hand We will discuss things in more detail once we are aboard and you are personally strapped to one of our interrogation devices. Hold position and prepare to be boarded. Unless you wish to resist, which would be all the more enjoyable for us. If getting yourself blasted into a million pieces is your idea of fun, Bosbora, then you are more than welcomed to try, Oh well, I tried to be pleasant Although I seriously doubt an incompetent bunch of misfits and cowards like yourselves has the internal fortitude to try and come take us by force. Hmm, those looks are even worse than the ones they gave me before Come on guys, they were going to attack anyway. Olrever I have them in my sights, Captain. Keep them there, wait for my call. Captain, the Rapacity is accelerating towards us, Wagshi then warns us Of course it is I guess they dont take no for an answer Van, Im maintaining the gap between the lead ship and us, so compensate on the jump points. Im not ready to jump yet though, as Im curious to find out more about them So lets see how far they want to take this. And it looks like we are about to find out because that lead ship is altering course Lets see now It looks like it is trying to get under us Wait the other two are also changing course as well. One is trying to cut us off and the other one is heading to our aft No need to worry, we have plenty of maneuvering room

All, designate the lead ship as number one, the forward-heading support ship as number two, and the aft one as number three Van, Im backing us away from the Cluster but maintaining lateral direc Wait Do you see that? What are they doing, Wags? It appears as if they are firing at each other? Look there all three ships are firing a pair of missiles to each one of the others And there is some sort of chord attached to the missiles. They are they are forming a web in between them. And guess who they want to catch in it Well good for them but I am not in the mood for company right now Quite a nifty trick though Van, what is the best jump point? At this speed and course, we will reach it in Captain, they just fired a couple of more missiles towards each other, Wags suddenly warns The ships have also increased speed and are moving away from one another. The net is getting bigger and they are getting closer. I see it Wags Van, are those coordinates? No longer valid? Correct... They just cut off our escape route. Great... Sound the combat alert, Man, is that an irritating sound. If we live through this, I have to look for another tone Although the concerned look in Wags face is probably a sign of something more pressing Whatve you got, Wags? I am reading a high level EM discharge coming from that net. If they get much closer, it will start affecting our propulsion and shields. Got it Increasing mega engine thrust to 75%, sliding a bit to starboard. Would you not say that is a bit too close for comfort to the Cluster, Alandres? Cmon Van, please have a little more faith in me Absolutely. And thats all part of the plan, Van. Oh, theres a plan? Why didnt you say so? Would you care to share it? With that tone, I dont know if I should But Ill tell you anyway just this one time. Well skim around the Cluster, keeping it between ship two and ourselves, and use it as cover. If they want to rein us in, one of them is going to have to go right through one of those black holes or at least close enough that they will not be around long enough to bother us any longer. I think they have realized that as well, Captain. Ship two is accelerating. It is trying to cut us off. Theyre welcomed to try, Wags Very well Increasing thrust to 85%, adjusting heading ten degrees to starboard. Hole three within 750 kilomilecs Its altering our projected route an additional 1.3 degrees Compensating, engaging port thrus Huh? Who the hell is calling now? Captain, report! What is the cause of the alert? Our dear Protocol Officer, of course. Took him long enough to call in Nothing much. Weve got some company and they are not very happy to see us. Have you identified the hostiles? And what avoidance action have you initiated? Should I also come over to your quarters so we can calmly discuss this crisis over a drink as well Jeez Sorry Ecab, but I dont have time to chat right now. Try me again later when you dont hear that loud, alarm-like noise blaring over and over again. What?! I am the Protocol Officer of this ship and I demand that you... Oops, was that the Off button to the Comm? My mistake... Somebody lock the entrance to the bridge, please. By the way Alandres, it just occurred to me. Have you ever flown this close to a black hole before? Uh not really, Van... I can tell you I got through the simulator fairly easily. I am glad to see you are so high in your piloting skills. I will let that comfort me in the event we are wiped from existence.

And your confidence is reassuring as always, Van. Now keep your eyes on our power output. I am bringing us around the lower section of the Cluster... And do not bother reminding me again that there is no up or down in space, please. Just get us out of here in one piece and you can keep using your incorrect lingo as long as you want... I will have the jump course and available power ready when you are. Captain, there is no longer a direct line of sight between us and ship three. They will not be able to ensnare us unless they all change heading. Thank you, Wags And by then we will be out in the open and well on our way out of here Hows that for getting us out, Van? I will admit it Good job. I knew all along you would Van starts to say, but Captain, missiles away! Ships 1 and 2 are firing. Wags chimes in with what neither of us was hoping she would What type and how many? Hold on. The net The missiles are towing the net towards us but it is being anchored by one of the trailing ships They are trying to get it ahead of us then sweep it inwards. With the Cluster to starboard we are pinned in, Captain! Great Just greatTheyll be no putting up with Van now Get us killed in the worst way imaginable. Good job indeed, Alandres. Told you Shut up and get that jump plot ready... Increasing to maximum thrust... Whats the speed of those missiles, Wags? Nine percent slower than our calculated speed, but the pull of the Cluster is slowing our progress and they have the right angle of attack We have two demics before they are in front of us. All right, time for plan B Olrever, target the lead missile. Take it out. Now if Goodness, who is calling now? Bridge here. Captain, this is Specialist Rrivang What is going on? Nothing much, Rrivang. We just ran into some pirates who are trying to capture us and board the ship. Pirates? Out here? But from where? They were hiding inside the cluster. Ill fill you in once we evade them. Of course, Captain. Just one thing though. You need to make sure we are at least 800 kilomilecs from the center of the nearest black hole if you intend to engage the Magna drive. Or else the chain reaction will get redirected by the gravitational effects and pull us in behind it. And Ill bet anything we are of course closer than that Anything else? Try to keep at least 15 milecs from any ship following us. Anything closer, and the initial pulse might engage them and bring them along for the ride. Thanks Rrivang, Alandres out... But on a different subject Olrever I still see that missile is still heading this way. It is too small, Captain. The ship targeting sensors are not refined enough to lock on. Fire a scatter pattern in front of its path. Do not let it get through! We have one demic left before we are trapped. Youre just full of good news today, Wags And there is not enough time to circle the entire Cluster. Time to move to plan C. Now I just have to come up with one Olrever, change targets. Train all batteries on the trailing ship. Van, transfer auxiliary power to hull stability. Do not tell me your going to Van asks but only because he already knows the answer Of course we are. All engines full reverse Everybody hold on.

That shuddering doesnt exactly fill me with confidence Vibe levels reaching critical resonance All right gage, dont go any higher Great, leveling off within max spec Now where is that ship? There. Lets adjust the lateral thruster and get in better position... And why is Rrivang calling again? Yes, Rrivang Captain, the mega engines are reaching red line condition. I am not sure how long we can keep up this power output. Do everything you need to maintain it. We only need a few more mics. The net has overshot us but now the third ship is barreling down on us, Captain, Wags then cuts in with Now for the inevitable, yet expected follow-up, We are on a collision course Impact in twenty mics. Now we need just one more tiny detail Olrever? Target acquired, but only with a partial lock, Captain. We are not at an optimum firing angle. Hold your fire. You will get a good shot in a moment Wags, how long? Ten mics. Come on, what are you waiting for? Im not blinking first The ship is altering course, Captain. I have full targeting lock. Fire at will, Olrever. Give it everything we have. Now lets see if what I remember from those old destroyers still holds. When you carry that much ammo, and if you get hit just right As they are now Wags, give me a reading. Several direct hits. I am recording internal reactions and increased radioactive activity. you will blow up in a real bright flash Now time to split while our luck is holding out That sucks for them Reversing engine thrust, max power to starboard thrusters Hold on again, this might make you dizzy. Nice move, Alandres, Van says as he leans back on his seat, a relaxed look on his face again Wow, two compliments in such a short amount of time. He must have been really nervous, And just as I was thinking about how I had not finished my will yet. I hope this entitles me to the larger share than what you undoubtedly were going to arrange How are our friends doing, Wags? Ship 3 is breaking up. Their engine core has gone critical and the net is breaking. The other two ships are starting to circle around. Too little, too late... Van, re-calculate a Magna jump course to the Periphery. We should be clear to use it now and weve spent enough time here already. Done and entered into the navisolver, Alandres. Get to the coordinates and punch the drive. On our way then... Wags, how are the other two ships doing? They have changed finished changing course and are on pursuit, but not gaining. We are leaving them behind. That is what usually happens. You may stack up on the guns but if dont get to use them theyre no good. 60 mics to jump coordinates, Plus it does not hurt to have the fastest ship in the Coalition either Captain, missiles away! Oh, for the love of Thanks for the jinx, boss. Wagshi, analysis, Look at Van taking over. Yep, hes nervous Five alpha torpedoes with on-board targeting. They have locked on us and are closing in. Olrever, fire countermeasures. Wide spread arrangement. Countermeasure away, Commander Three missiles taken out, two got through. All right, time for drastic action Wags, time to impact.

They will reach us in 50 mics at our current speed and heading, Captain That doesnt leave us with many options. Maybe if Damn it, what does he want now? Things are pretty busy here, Rrivang. What is it? Captain, I have been monitoring the situation on our console. I neglected to tell you that the deflector shields need to be turned off prior to engaging the Magna drive. Not good What! Why? Their default frequency would interfere with the pulse. Sorry! Crap, this is going to be close Alandres, those missiles are not very maneuverable. Try evasive pattern ma Nope. Thats just what they want us to do and Ive had it with them and this place. We are staying on course, Van. We are not close enough to the jump point! We will not make it! Plus you heard Rrivang. They are going to be too close anyway. We will pull them in with us! Then you better hope this better works. Sync the shield power controller to the Magna drive activator and transfer all auxiliary power to rear structural containment. Wow! I didnt think anyone could program that fast. I need to keep him properly motivated Done. Whatever you are going to do, you better do it fast. Good tip Adjusting course Powering up the Ultra drive And three eyes squarely on meShould we not be trying to evaded the missiles instead of moving right in front of their path, Alandres? Normally yes, Van. Now set the Magna activator to automatic upon reaching the engagement coordinates. Got it. You better know what you are doing, because you lost me. I hope so too. Now brace yourselves. This might hurt a bit. Captain, impact in 10, 9, 8 Wags say, staring the countdown to our doom I hope I look more confident that I feel Here goes nothingEngaging Ultra drive now! Hey! The missiles blew up short of us! And there goes the Magna drive. We are away! Van then whoops out A little premature though The best is yet to come, Van! Now, at worst, we should be getting our going away present right about Ow! My back! Now. We pulled in the shock wave! Everyone, employ collision protocols Extra power to rear containment you say?! Good to see Van was paying attention Imagine if I hadnt warned you! Ugh I hope that sound is not the ship breaking in half Cmon, its just a little turbulence. Just like the atmospheric entries into Retiper 6, Van. Yeah, and I remember breaking a leg last time we tried that too Vibratory resonance readings at 95% of spec but holding steady. We have another five mics before it dissipates I still cannot believe you enjoy those There, we have dampened the section of the wave the pulse dragged in. Structural readings are all within acceptable limits... And by the way you insensitive clod, that hurt more than just a bit. What, a big tough guy like you cant handle a bit of rocking and rolling? All sections, report in. 1, 2, 3, 4. Excellent, green light signals all across the board Looks good all around, Alandres. I wish I could say the same for myself though. These chairs are not exactly built to Aster standards. Van then complains as he stands and stretches, with his left eye independently now glaring towards me Speaking of which, yours seems significantly newer and more padded that the other ones on the bridge.

Im surprised it took him so long to notice I may have called in the Cybex EHS Rep as I was making pre-flight preparations. While at the same time forgetting that there would be someone else sitting next to you for the better part of Van indignantly comes back with. Will you two knock it off?! My stomach is still turning... But Wagshi is quick to put us in our place Another universal constant. A pretty face will always make a guy snap to attention Captain, what happened back there? Nothing special, Wags. It is just a little known theoretical fact that the energy released upon initial discharge by an Ultra drive engine is basically exact to the minimum amount needed to set off a standard concussion missile. The mass discharge is strong enough that it simulates to the missile the effect of a collision. Simple physics, really. And you could not have shared that with us two demics ago? Van counters back, even more indignantly than before Everyone here is so prickly To be honest, at the time I wasnt exactly sure if it was going to work or not when put in actual physical practice. Uh-oh Theyre both giving me that going to kill you look again Our on-board camaraderie never gets old Say, did I ever tell you two about the popular Earth saying, better lucky than good? Catchy, Van replies in a cynical tone As expected Maybe we should make that our team motto. "The way an optimist would see it, we evaded some pirates, destroyed one of them up, escaped their various attacks and recorded some priceless scientific data in the process. Not bad for about 10 demics worth of work, Van You forgot to include almost getting our own ship blown up into a million pieces or sucked into a black hole due to some ill-advised stunts. Almost only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. A bit better response than before Although now they are giving me the what the hell did the earthling just say this time? look again Sorry, another Earth saying. And a lot less catchy. Van adds to my comment Yeah, I really never liked that one so much And on that note, since you are feeling so good about your talent and piloting skills, Captain, I am sure you will not mind remaining at the helm and taking us all they way into Trehata. Because by my count, I have exceeded the maximum allowable time of continuous service at the bridge. So unless you want your slave-like ways to be reported to the Syndicate, I am going to go get some sleep. By all means. I fully appreciate your dedication to your duties, Commander. Now get out of here and relax. I have you lined up for the helm closeout shift as soon as we reach the Station, smart guy. Just keep on smiling. One of these trips, your luck is going to run out and I, unfortunately, am probably going to get blown up with you and not get to gloat about it later. Maybe someday youll get that chance... But not anytime soon. See you later, alligator Keep walking and dont ask. I was not. I will catch up with you two when we arrive. Better lucky than good is right. That was very close, and we had every break go our way. I wont complain, but it seems we need to be even more vigilant going forward. I am starting to have a bad feeling about this whole mission Now lets see, a few more delmics until we reach TrehetaI hope they still stock that Mengarian Ale I like

Chapter 7: Our initial evaluation has identified a planet... - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.450 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, Docked in Treheta Station in the Lower Kreshii Periphery
IF YOU TRULY ARE WHAT YOU EAT, THEN CONSUMING AN ANIMAL OF WHICH YOU HAVE A DEEP-ROOTED FEAR OFF CREATES AN UNUSUAL QUANDARY. SOME SPECIES WOULD SAY THAT IT WOULD ALLOW YOU TO ABSORB THE POWER AND LIFE ENERGY OF THAT CREATURE, MAKING IT A PART OF YOURSELF AND ERADICATING ANY REASON FOR YOU FEAR IT. OTHERS THOUGH, WOULD FIND THAT TWICE AS REPULSIVE AND LEADING THEM TO REACT IN AN EVEN MORE EXCLUSIONARY MANNER. We have just finished loading the last of the Krop Poch crates. We have a sufficient amount for the foreseeable future. Tary tells me in with a rather sorrowful sound to his voice as it comes over the Comm, Are you sure we need this much, Captain? I had to rearrange the spare electrical components to be able to fit all of them in. I am sorry to make extra work for you Tary, but yes. After my unpleasant culinary discovery, that is all I am eating until further notice. I apologize, Captain. I always thought you knew what they were made out of. I know you would have told me if you were aware of my aversion to that particular creature. Ill come over later to take some of the crates back to my quarters. I can hear you quite clearly, you know, Van pipes in from the back of the conference room Well why did you think I said it so loudly And if that comment was meant for me, you can save it. Alandres. I am not the one that always says, If it tastes good, I do not care what bug-eyed alien it came from. It serves you right for forgetting you are the alien around these parts. Thanks for reminding me now. And Van, I will return the favor by telling you to be on the alert in case your next meal happens to taste a little unusual. It might not simply be that it has gone past its prime, but that someone of ill repute has slipped something in it out of spite. And thank you for your warning. Good thing there are no such folks on this ship. Anyway, we completed the integrity evaluation and all readings are within spec. Your little stunt worked and we are no worse for the wear. You almost say that as if you are surprised, Van. It was not exactly our first tight escape under a hail of enemy fire, Unfortunately Or actually, quite fortunately Just as long as it is not the last one we get to talk about after the fact. If it is not, you can yell at me afterwards. Anyhow, there are other folks here to, so better involve them before we bore them to sleep. I did ask them here after all Olrever, how did the sensor sweep come out? Clean. No monitoring or tracking devices were found anywhere on board, Captain. Okay, so thats not it, As we had also done a similar check before leaving Rackoyd Exar, did you find any clues in the radar recordings? No, Master. I have processed all of the recordings through ten different filtration settings and have found no incoming or outgoing signals during our stay at the Cluster. Of course not, because that would have been too easy a giveaway Hmmm, could have been just a coincidence. Although It still does not explain how they knew who we were, Van ends my sentence with the main concern that is bothering me most Hey, great minds think alike All three of them Exactly, Van... Now truth be told, a lot of pirates didnt start out that way. It couldve been someone that worked for Cybex before. Or in one of the service depots. Perhaps And exactly how high do you think the chances are of that, Alandres?

More than 1 in 250,000, based on the number of Cybex employees, their average turnover ratio and potential age range of the pirate ship based on a voice analysis, Commander. Leave it to Exar to take things a bit too literally I was going to answer not very likely, but I think that summed it pretty well Exar Cali, anything to report from Medical? Nothing major or of concern, Captain. Only a couple of bumps and bruises... And why must you still insist with the habit of shortening others given names? Come on, its not that bad Some call it endearing. And I call it annoying, Calidem responds in kind, to both my worded and mental answer But back to the matter at hand, everyone is okay. And please try to be a bit more careful next time. Duly noted, and no time like the present. Exar, once we are on our way, monitor all ship emissions and make sure we are not broadcasting our position or leaving too obvious a trial Now, unless there are any questions or comments, you are all dismissed. Except you, Van We should reach Quartis in a few demics, so I want to go over the Cybex findings one more time and firm up our initial search grid. I still have a feeling there is to room to fine tune our strategy. Sounds good to me, Van replies as he turns towards the main monitor, Let me bring the data up on screen and we can see what else we can do Now Cybex found the ruins here, on the third moon. The translation of their language describes an exodus from a planet whose primary was dying. The description of their approach to the Periphery stated that they noticed a major light flash. The dating algorithm used by Cybex estimates the structures build-date to about eight hundred tricents ago, give or take 50 tricents. That would mean that flash was either the Cygal supernova or the devouring of Star 5437 by that black hole. The one in the Zeda Sector... Those locations were here and here. DUE TO ITS EXTREME DISTANCE FROM THE HUB OF THE PLANETARY COALITIONS SYSTEMS, THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY KNOWS LITTLE ABOUT THE ZEDA SECTOR BEYOND ASTRONOMICAL OBSERVATIONS. AND OF PARTICULAR INTEREST WOULD HAVE BEEN THE INADVERTENT CONNECTION BETWEEN CYGAL AND STAR 5437. LEGEND HAS IT THAT THE BRILLIANT, BUT CARELESS, INHABITANTS OF THE PLANET FEWOLFTHO (NATIVE PRONUNCIATION) WHERE THE ONES RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CREATION OF THE BLACK HOLE THAT DESTROYED THEIR SYSTEMS STAR, NUMBER 5437 (PLANCO DESIGNATION), DUE TO A PARTICLE ACCELERATION EXPERIMENT GONE ARRAY. FORCED TO EVACUATE, THEY FLED TO THE CYGAL SYSTEM, WHERE THEY HAD IDENTIFIED A PAIR OF PLANETS WITH SUITABLE ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS FOR THEIR POPULATION. UNFORTUNATELY, THEY ONLY HAD A SHORT STAY AT CYGAL, AS ONE OF THEIR CARGO TRANSPORT CRUISERS WAS ACCIDENTALLY MISGUIDED DIRECTLY INTO THE SYSTEM STAR, LEADING TO THE NOW FAMOUS SUPERNOVA. WHERE THEY WENT FROM THERE REMAINS A MYSTERY, BUT RUMORS PERSIST OF SIGHTINGS ON OR AROUND THE TIME OF THE SIBAC INDUSTRIES REACTOR MELTDOWN, THE LEMTIMM CONSORTIUMS MINING FRAUD OF THE CORE OF THE DWARF STAR MPB 39073 AND THE IMPROPER SUBMITTAL OF THE FAKE ACCEPTANCE LETTER FROM THE RED SOX TO THE YANKEES AGREEING TO SELL THEM BABE RUTH, WHICH SOX PERSONNEL HAD ONLY INTENDED TO BE AN INTER-OFFICE JOKE And gauging from their landing site and the records stating they still saw the flash remnants upon arrival, plus factoring in the date in which they recorded their coordinates would mean their inbound course is most likely to be one of these two arcs, Alandres, Van adds as he displays said trajectories on the holomap Not bad, Van But the two trajectories are too far apart to explore in parallel, so well need to choose one to start off with. And that is easier said than done Do you have any thoughts on which one we should focus on? Let me see know Based on the location of the settlement, the supernova would have been fairly high up on the western sky, while the star collapse would have been much lower and closer to the horizon. Maybe there is a chance they didnt see it. So if forced to choose, I would say we start with the supernova path. Sounds reasonable, Alandres. Although Let me see if there is any mention of how long they saw that flash of light Yes it does. Conci semes I believe that translates to five dodecs. Now a supernova

would not have stayed brilliant in the sky for that long amount of time. But the longer process of a black hole tearing up a star Would easily take that long. So the trajectory to Zeda it is. Good thinking, Van. I knew there had to be a reason why kept him around. Thanks. I have my moments, Van adds in a tone that lets me know he wont soon let me forget it either At least you did all you could with your limited brain power, including identifying your intellectual superior to assist with the analysis. And speaking of superior, yours is about to bust you down to third class recruit if you persist on this line of insolent talk Now the boundaries of charted space in that region run out through here. Can you overlay the range of Cybexs probe scanning? Of course, Captain, lest I be derelict in my duties There you go... That is a bit of a pleasant surprise. They do not appear to be totally worthless. That small section over there If we extend the moons inhabitants course plot outwards at that same hyperbole, it will go right through that zone. Not totally worthless at all And we have our starting location. Have Exar evaluate everything that Cybex gave us on that region. Look for any and all of the tall-tale signs that a hidden celestial body or a dying star is there. Light frequency variations, radio emissions, star flickering, everything. You know the list... And a final thing, did Cybex find any organic remains? Yes, a number of fossilized remnants. And as a matter of fact, I took into account the potential life span of those beings based on the carbon scanning when selecting the tail end of the extended trajectory arc. On top of everything as always. Now go find that planet, Van. Will do. Although if we found it, it will be a shot of immeasurable luck, Alandres. And that just happens to be our specialty. So this whole endeavor should be quick and easy. See, that is why you are the Captain. Your unparalleled optimism in the face of insurmountable odds. I prefer to call it innate leadership skills, but thanks nevertheless. In that case, I will be going. Let us recombine after we start the sweep. Okay I will be here if you need me. That went well, but we still need to define a broad-spectrum search pattern to follow once we go over the first grid. Specialty or not, even Id be stunned if we found anything there Lets see now, the highest concentration of stars and planets on our side of the Sector boundary increases from right to left, so thats the way well sweep. The more bodies out there, the more the pulse will bounce around. As we push forward, maybe well get lucky and a ricochet will hit something new... But is there something else we havent thought off? I dont want to be here until Im old enough to cash my pension... Am I missing something? Something else that will point us in the right direction? Now when a star dies, it sheds the outer parts of its atmosphere, creating a planetary nebula that exists only as long as it has fuel to burn. Then further on, that substance tends to expand and elongate through space like a big blanket. I wonder Are there any known comets that go near or through that region? A few actually And if I remember my astrophysics correctly, that superheated blanket should do a number on the nucleus of any meteor that passes through it Why does it always come down to comets with me? I remember as a kid when I first heard doomsayers talking about Haleys comet coming back and how I was afraid it was going to crash against the Earth Anything else? That might help find the star, but the planet? Well, those nebulas have been known to warm up the planets it comes in contact with as it dissipates What the hell, it is worth a shot Van, come on in. Are you there? Yes, as I have not had the chance to step out for a walk recently. Funny... Input into the primary search parameters any signs of water vapor signatures as well as increasing temperature gradients. Vapor and temps? Sure, but why?

Just a hunch. Ill explain in more detail later. All right, oh master of mystery. I will call you if we find anything. Now all we need is a bit of luck What time is it? It shouldnt be too long before we reach Quartis, maybe I can Captain, bridge. We have entered the Upper Periphery and are slowing down to approach speed. will be in orbit around Quartis in 15 demics. We

Reply to Wagshis call, then head on over to the bridge and hope I can get some rest at some time in the not too distant future. Thanks, Wags. Please connect to the nearest relay station and send a message to Overseer Pratec letting him know we have arrived at the Periphery and are three septecs ahead of schedule and that I will contact him with a status report once we reach Quartis. Gamma-encryption coding protocols apply. I will be over in a bit. COMMUNICATIONS ACROSS THE VAST EXPANSES OF PLANETARY COALITION SPACE ARE HANDLED BY AN INTRICATE ARRAY OF SATELLITE AND RELAY STATIONS, WHICH RECEIVE AND TRANSMIT ALL MAJOR TRANSMISSION CHANNELS AS WELL AS ALL MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT BROADCASTS. THIS METHOD IS PRIMARILY INTENDED AS A MEANS OF TRANSMISSION BETWEEN STAR SYSTEMS OR FROM SHIPS AWAY FROM MAJOR COMM CENTERS. CLOSE-UP SHIP-TO-SHIP AND SHIP-TO-INDIVIDUALS COMMUNICATIONS ARE REGULARLY HANDLED BY SINGLE, PRIVATE COMMUNICATION EQUIPMENT. THE MOST MODERN OF THIS COMMUNICATION EQUIPMENT UTILIZES TECHNOLOGY BASED ON THE ULTRA ENGINE, ALLOWING FOR THE SIGNALS TO TRAVEL AT FASTER-THAN-LIGHT SPEEDS. WITHOUT THIS ENHANCEMENT, COMMUNICATION ACROSS THE VAST EXPANSES OF THE GALAXY WOULD BE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. Pratec is probably going crazy having not heard from us since we left. Then again, hes the one that said all that stuff about being secretive. Maybe he... Uh-oh, Wagshi is calling again And I am willing to bet that is probably not a good sign of the Overseers disposition Yes Wags, what is it? Guess wha-at?! Pratec wants to talk to you Right now. And he is not haaappy. Of course he is not Its not as if I expected anything different I better get going then. But she does sound to be enjoying the prospects of the verbal beating Im going to get a little too much. Lets see how much she likes having to stall for me in the meantime What was that? I just went into the slider, Wags. Your signal is not coming through clearly. I said, Pratec wants What? Put on pants? Sorry, I really cant hear you. But Im on my way. Tell me when I get there Alandres out. Oh well. If hes already mad, its probably no big deal pissing him off a little more. I doubt he would agree though But well see soon enough, because heres the bridge And look, it doesnt seem like Wags enjoyed much success or her taskThanks a lot! Pratec is so mad he is using some Cafidon curse words that the translator cannot even interpret. He wants to know why you have not Whos buzzing me know? I have to put a caller-ID on my Comm unit But since Im already at it, might as well have some fun and play this out a bit longer Hold that thought, Wags. Let me get this first Alandres here. Master, do you have a moment? comes in Exars voice in reply Maybe this is important after all Commander Vancara and I would like to update you on the progress of our search. Sure thing, Exar Shes going to hate me for this I need to check up on this, Wags. Ill be back as soon as I am finished with them. Tell Pratec Im stuck in the lavatory or something like that. Fine, but I expect a big raise to come my way soon then And extra vacation seeing as our stay in Rackoyd was a bit shorter than planned. Ill talk to management and see what I can do Exar, Im jumping in the slider now and am headed your way.

Acknowledged Master. We await your arrival, comes his reply back and Im gone I wonder what they want to talk about already? It is too soon for them to have made any significant findings If they found another bunch of ships lying in wait for us, Im turning around and going home So now that Im here, lets find out All right you two, what is so important that you are making me keep Overseer Pratec waiting! Master, I hope my behavioral programming is attuned enough to your mood patterns and vocal intonations to ascertain your comment as being sarcastic, Exar answers back in an as apologetic tone as his mechanical systems can muster Come on, he knows me better than that You can relax, Exar. Im just joking. I am glad to hear it, Exar replies in kind in an as sincere tone as his mechanical systems can muster Just clarifying because Tone it down, you pile of rust. Quit the act and tell Alandres what we found, Van of course is likely not to care for it. Which means As opposed to you, Commander, I am the only one in this room with the Captains best interest constantly in mind, regardless of his actions or lauds, Exar will display some of that unique, un-bot like behavior we all like so much, Or should I remind you of the comments you made about him just a few moments ago? So is your behavioral programming so lacking that you cannot tell when anyone else is being sarcastic? Maybe we need to schedule some maintenance and part replacements to get you back up to spec. All except for Van that is Okay, enough. You can continue this philosophical debate after I am gone... So, what is the big news, Exar? It regards the analysis of the Cybex probe data, Master. After you contacted Commander Vancara, we refined the search filters to look for water vapor per your request. The resulting signs were so distinctive that they came up almost instantly. But that is not all. Those results then led to the identification of a planetary nebula, and within it, the distinct temperature signature of a planet undergoing warming on a global scale. Are you kidding me? What?! You found the planet already? And within a reasonable distance off our projected trajectory, Alandres, Van answers with a broad grin, As you said, immeasurable luck is our specialty. Master, I must warn against premature celebration until we have confirmed the finding is indeed the planet we are looking for, in turn followed by Exars prudent response I hope I dont sound too giddy though Yes of course, Exar. Have you had a chance to review the remainder of the data? Not yet, Master. We had completed 32.7% of the evaluation when I hailed you. No other relevant findings as of yet. Very well. Continue the evaluation, but transfer the planets coordinates to the helm. Well be going in shortly to take a closer look, Un-freaking-believable Wags, Alandres here. We just sent some coordinates over to you. Run them through the navisolver and plot the shortest course there. Take us there at max speed. We found the mystery planet already! But no big deal if others are giddy, Potentially, Wags. We are hoping a closer peek might help clear that up. Got it... I will get us there extra fast and call you when we arrive... What should I do about Pratec? Oh yeah Oops. I almost forgot about him Transfer him to the Comm at the Reconnaissance station. Coming right up. And enjoy. He seemed to be changing skin color when I last looked in on him. Ouch... Dont worry. This will smooth things over a bit... I hope. Alandres out.

I hate to put a damper on things, Van then cuts in with with a statement I find hard to believe But since you are about to go into diplomatic mode, do not forget about Ecab. We should probably get him in the loop if we are going to talk to Pratec. Good point, Van. He is one I did actually forgot about. Any clue what hes been up to? Probably being mad at you for not discussing with him any of the progress we have been making or inviting him to any meetings. Besides that, I believe he has been patrolling the ship, evaluating our performance. I guess we better not give him any other cause to assign us an even lower grade that he probably has then Officer Ecab, this is the Captain. Come in please. Captain Cal, nice of you to remember I was still on board, Mad for being ignored, accurate I have been meaning to talk to you about the events of the Telem incident. You dont say I wonder if anything was not per the book Like everything Of course, Officer. But first I wanted to inform you that we have identified a possible location for the planet we are searching for. We will be heading to its coordinates momentarily. Outstanding, Captain. Have you informed Overseer Pratec? Hes going to love this one Not yet, but I have his incoming transmission on hold. I will be talking with him right after you. On hold?! The Overseer?! How could That is is Not like him to just go quiet like that... Did he just have a coronary? I should be so lucky Officer Ecab? Um Are you still there? Yes, Captain. Never mind, Yep, still there Oh well Please do not keep the Overseer waiting any longer. And once he is finished with you, please contact me. We still have to go over my report of the recent combat actions. I need to make sure that all the incidents prior, during and afterwards have been captured properly. By all means, Officer. I will contact you as soon as I am free. Alandres out. And let me guess, Van pipes in with right after like clockwork Your duties as Captain will keep you busy for the remainder of the trip? Quite likely. As you have seen, a Captains work is never done Plus you know how these mysterious journeys can sometimes be. It is hard to tell what to expect. Oh, certainly. Now you better go talk to Pratec before he sends a security force after us. Well we wouldnt want that. Ill take the call here so you can partake in the fun. So lets flip on the viewscreen and Wow! I didnt know smoke could actually come out of someones ears, but there it seems to be... Overseer Pratec, I have some Captain, stop right there I have spent the last few demics contemplating what method of interrogation would be most painful on your delicate anatomy so I can promptly find out why you have kept me waiting and why you have been out of contact for so long. So the next part of that sentence better end with words the words good news or you are going to make me extremely angry. Is Pratec implying hes not extremely angry yet? Good news, Overseer. I apologize for keeping you waiting, but we were reviewing some very positive findings in our analysis of the deep space scans. Continue. Good, no death warrants yet Our initial evaluation has identified a planet that fits most of our search parameters. We are heading in its direction as we speak. Exceptional. I knew my faith in you was well placed. Yeah, all that talk about torture was just a bit of good-natured, negative reinforcement Glad to hear it, Overseer. Especially in light of what appeared to be the imminent arrival of pain and suffering on my person.

Do not take it personally, Captain. As always, I am simply looking out for Cybexs best interest Now, you were saying that you have discovered the object of your search? Yes, perhaps. We still need to keep things in proper perspective. This may or may not be our planet. We will need to do an up-close assessment first. Then proceed at once. Although none of what you have told me still justify your extended length of communication silence. Do not take it personally, Overseer Ugly glare again Doesnt look as if he liked that... Lets see how much so I must have misunderstood you earlier when you stated that this mission was top-secret. I took that to mean we should take great care to conceal our passage. No, you understood properly. And even in those types of missions, it is still standard procedure to issue timely all-clear signals on a regular basis. And all of which can be encoded to ensure they remain undisclosed to others. A process that you are very familiar with based on the manner in which your helm officer just contacted me by. Those signals are obligatory? I always thought those sections of the flight manual to be, you know suggestions. You know, on second thought, I properly shouldnt piss him for kicks off any more as he could quite literally, tear me a new one And he is paying too After all, Pratec is not exactly the most light-hearted individual Captain, do you also think lightly about the section describing the punishment to be administered due to mutiny? Have you ever heard of the Cafidon spike hang? See what I mean Come on, Overseer, where is your sense of humor? You know I havent let you down on a mission before. My limited sense of humor disappeared when you did not immediately answer my call, Captain But you are correct, your proficiency speaks for itself, and it looks like it will again. Proceed with your explanation. Well, thats as close as Ill get Pratec to seeing my point of view, so I guess Ill take it Overseer, as we discussed early on, secrecy is of utmost importance. I just wanted to ensure a fairly undisturbed passage. And even with those measures and an unrecorded flight plan, we still ran into some unfriendly vessels at the Telem Cluster who happened to know exactly who we were. Really? That is distressing to say the least, seeing the lengths we have gone through to alter the Lumenictus ID transponder and outward appearance. How did you handle the situation? I am sure Officer Ecab will be submitting a detailed report, so Ill keep it short... We continued to maintain our assumed identity, made an expeditious exit, and made sure at least one group of our new friends would not tell anyone what they saw. That kind of looks like a smile forming. In as much that its not a frown Well done, Captain. I am sure your actions were justified. Completion of the mission must come first. Do you have any facts to suggest that it has been compromised? None as of yet, Overseer. My earlier allusion was just that. Then see that it is kept that way. And you will have to tell me later why you were at the Telem Cluster when you were supposed to be heading directly towards the Periphery. It is actually an amusing anecdote. I will make sure to fill you in upon our return. And if that is it, we will be on our way. That is all for now. Keep me posted on your progress Punctually. Pratec out. Yes, sir, Mr. Overseer, sir... Uh, Cafidons cant read minds can they? Hope not. Or was it the Belotans? I always get those two confused... Now that didnt go too bad now did it, Van? Seeing as he did not order your immediate assassination, I would say yes. Not that you would not have deserved it, mind you. It is really not conducive to your health to antagonize him for your amusement. Was it that obvious?

Only because I have seen you do it enough times already. I have a standing bet at the Emporium on how much longer it will be before he knocks your head off. Well dont expect to collect those creds any time soon buddy, because Im faster than I look Now, find Nep and go over every translated reading from those ruins. Extract anything and everything that relates to a description of their home planet. Lets get acquainted with everything we have on them Exar, Im headed back to the bridge but contact me if you find anything else in the probe scan that could turn out to be an alternate location. Oh, and please transfer to the secured shared drive a preliminary assessment of the expected atmospheric conditions on the planet. I want to start prepping our gear in case we need to send a landing party. As you wish. The information will be there when you get back to your bridge station, Exar replies, and I have not doubt that will be the case Yet another good reason to have a bot on board Thanks and keep up the good work, This is going faster than expected. And with the exception of that little space battle, easier too. Of course thats usually the sign right before things fall apart. If this were a movie, this would be when the music changes to let the viewer know that a plot twist was about to happen And say, look whos waiting outside. Ecab. Im getting good at this And whats he got in that other mouth of his this time? Guess I wont know. It just went inside for further sampling. Captain Cal, I am glad I did not miss you. Officer Ecab, this is a bit of a surprise. Yes, Captain. I figured you might have some time to spare now. Once we reach the planet, you will likely be quite occupied. This should not take long. Sigh bureaucrats I can spare five demics, Officer. After that, I really must go. I have a lot of work to do prior to our arrival. Then I will get straight to the point. I have completed my preliminary reports on the flight plan, the recent battle and overall performance assessment, as required by my duties as Protocol Officer. I have forwarded a copy of them to you and would like for you to review them for completeness and accuracy prior to their official filing. Did I already say sighbureaucrats? Rest assured I will give it the attention it deserves, Officer. I hope that all these events have been captured in the proper light. Captain, in all my time of service with Cybex it is been made explicitly clear that my position is not a popular one. But as I am sure you are well aware off, past events dictate its necessity. Cybex has seen enough thievery and corruption in previous endeavors and has come to the correct conclusion that it needs an agent in place in order to discourage any potential wrongdoings. You are absolutely correct. And may I add, you are doing fine job at it. Captain, as I have said before, it is not my wish to be difficult, impede our mission or question your authority. I am only interested in the facts, regulations and best interests of Cybex. Yes, Ive been hearing that a lot lately. And I really do understand, Officer... and I cant believe Im going to say this but I have been unnecessarily difficult myself. I will attend to your reports as soon as time allows, and make sure to keep you properly informed going forward. Thank you, Captain. That is all I ask. And on that note, could you please have your robot forward me copies of both the pulse radar calibration plots as well as the scans from the Cluster? Not a problem. But may I ask why? Part of my charter to protect Cybex interests is to try and minimize the probability that something unexpected happens. And if I understand correctly, we have had two unexplained occurrences to date. They may very well be coincidences, but I would prefer to analyze the data for myself and reach my own conclusions. That would be fine. We could always use further evaluation, as well as something else to keep him busy Exar, you heard Officer Ecab. Please forward those files to the station in his quarters.

I will do so at once, Master, My robot quickly replies Good thing it wasnt Van that said that or hed be in line for a good dose of non-robot-like behavior There you are, Officer. Now if there is nothing more, I have to get going. Of course. Thanks again for your assistance... Although there is one final, brief thing. Ohmygoodness What is he pulling out of his mouth? Captain, can you tell me what sort of creature this is? I have not been able to properly identify it. I also seem to have accidentally ingested one of its claws. Yeesh Ill have to tell Tary to put out some traps. Theres nothing like a couple of stowaway Pandorian suttars to put a dent in the food supply. I hope it tasted better than it looks Sunegs

Chapter 8: We are under attack... - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.483 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, on approach to unidentified planet

STRICT GUIDELINES WERE DRAFTED AND ISSUED CONCERNING THE APPROPRIATE STEPS THAT A SHIP AND ITS CREW MUST FOLLOW WHEN ARRIVING AT A PREVIOUSLY UNCHARTED PLANET OR STAR SYSTEM. BESIDES AN EXTENSIVE AND DETAILED SET OF SCANS FOR INTELLIGENT LIFE, AN ASSORTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL, CHEMICAL AND GEOLOGICAL INSPECTIONS MUST BE PERFORMED IN ORDER TO FULLY ASCERTAIN THE RISKS THAT MIGHT BE INVOLVED WITH A FIRST-CONTACT LANDING.

AFTER THE MASSACRE OF THE NADIAN AWAY PARTY BY THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF PAA XUDAM 4,

PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE LATTER, FREQUENTLY CITED DURING THE ACADEMYS EXO-EXPLORATION 101 COURSE, IS THAT OF THE LEWHAS TRIBE. UPON DISEMBARKING AT KALASKA 2, THEY WERE RENDERED UNCONSCIOUS BY THE ELEVATED LEVELS OF NITROUS OXIDE IN THE AIR, THEN WIPED OUT BY A DRAMATIC VOLCANIC EXPLOSION UNDER THE PLATEAU THEY HAD SELECTED AS THEIR LANDING SITE.

Yes, I ran the scan twice and the readings are conclusive, Van tells me as he points to the bright readout on his terminals screen, Rhenium and osmium are very prominent on the surface, around the equator. If indeed this is the world we are looking for, and its inhabitants did use some of those elements as a fuel or power source, it is easy to see why they would have been attracted to Quartis. Those elements love iron ores, and there are plenty of them there. It all does make sense Have the guys check out the dying star, visual constellations and mineral content found both at the site and mentioned in the writings. We just might be on to something here. That is an understatement... As for the biological scans, we have identified several life signatures spread throughout the planet. But there are no dense concentrations of the type that might suggest higher-order inhabitants. It seems like it is all plants and animal wildlife. There are lots of them though, particularly marine. So theres no one home. Thats fine by me, One unexpected encounter with higher order life forms on this trip is more than enough Im moving the ship over sector 5-J-B of the search grid. Some of the depth readings from it show an expanse of fairly shallow coastline... Van, do a high resolution scan of this area here and see if you can make an estimate on the inland expansion of the water. Good idea. If we can estimate when the oceans started rising, perhaps we can extrapolate the time when the ice caps started to melt and gage when the effect of the Nebula started affecting the planet. That will yield only a rough estimate at best, but if it is close to the time the locals are thought to have departed, Id have a hard time believing this is not our goal. And speaking of them, the structural sweep has been completed, Van points out as a green light flashes on the screen corner and he replaces the geological images with those of the structural study, Look here, Alandres. Several large settlements spread over a significant span on all these locations. Interesting. Which one does the mass-reader say is the largest construction? Let me see It looks like that one. The one on the big island on the lower right corner of the map. And check out the meticulous formations That is definitely a sign of a previous civilization. You may be right, Van. Scroll the image over and zoom in 50x. Lets take a closer look at it. Precision cutting and mounting, some ornamental decoration Yep, those towers are man-made for sure Or some-species-other-than-man-but-more-intelligent-than-an-animal-made to be exact Looks like they are built from stone or something that resembles it. And it seems like there is a pretty big clearing right in front of that hill I would say that is just the right size. Uh-oh. You have that look of deep contemplation again, Van then tells me as if reading my mind, Do you see anything interesting besides the ruins of a long-lost society? As a matter of fact I do. Im seeing the exact spot where Im planning on landing. What?

Land L-A-N-D. And relax, I dont mean the Ictus, Van. The drop shuttle will do just fine. Excuse me, Captain, but I fail to see what value that would add to the mission, The formerly-quiet Protocol Officer chimes in with, a spoiler of fun as usual It is obvious that we have found the planet we set out for. The bulk of evidence points to it. All that is left is to contact Cybex and file our claim. You have already done what you have been asked to do. Almost, but not quite, Ecab. All we have is circumstantial evidence. But within those structures we may find something to directly compare to the ruins on Qu3. Or on the other hand, evidence that this is not our planet after all. You can start putting together the claim though. The planet appears uninhabited, so I would not expect a challenge to the entitlement. All we need to do now is to make sure we are at the right place... Besides, after coming all this way, I am dying to take a look up close. But Cap Very well. Physical verification is prudent. Please proceed. Wow, conceding the point that easily. I guess he is trying Thank you. Now, a couple of quick calls and we will be ready to move out Exar, come in. We are going planetside. What did you find about the atmosphere and gravity? The atmosphere is a mix of contents of methane, sulfur and carbon dioxide, Master. It is probably due to elevated gas emissions from all the organic matter previously encased within the polar ice and that is now being exposed. The initial gravity estimates fall within 0.82-0.87 Base. ALL UNITS OF MEASURE USED ACROSS THE PLANETARY COALITION, LOCAL CIVILIZATION VARIATIONS NONWITHSTANDING, ARE DERIVED FROM A COMPLEX FORMULA THAT TAKES INTO ACCOUNT THE MEASUREMENT SYSTEMS UTILIZED ON THE NINE PLANETS THAT FORMED THE ORIGINAL COALITION. THE RESULT IS A STANDARD, REGULATED SYSTEM THAT ALLOWS THE EVERGROWING NUMBER OF MEMBER PLANETS AND SPECIES TO COMMUNICATE AND CONDUCT BUSINESS WITH EACH OTHER ON THE
SAME TERMS.

WITH REGARDS TO GRAVITY, 1.0 BASE EQUALS 2.73 (EARTH UNITS, NON-PLANCO).

DECIMILECS PER MIC SQUARED OR THE EQUIVALENT OF

12.26 M/S2

Glad to hear it. With those levels we should not need strength-augmenting equipment... Meet us in Bay Three, Exar. Alandres out. I will see you there, Master. XR-4 out. Before you get too carried away, Alandres, Van then cuts in with unusual apprehension, You do realize the Nebula will negate the use of shields and limit you to just maneuvering thrusters until you breach the atmosphere, right? I do, mom. I promise to be extra careful Can I go out and play now? That is okay, just keep it up. As I told you before, I plan to gloat a lot next time you screw up big. And as you also commented on, Ill make sure we blow up together so you do not get much of a chance to. Now if you dont mind, I will make good on my preparations promise Tary come in. Tary-secc here, Captain, Tary replies promptly and I can barely contain my enthusiasm Very few things are as exciting and memorable as visiting an unexplored planet Tary, please prepare two filter packs for the gas composition I am forwarding to you. One for Olrever and one for myself. Bring them to Bay Three and start the launch sequence for the pod. Please ask your Warrant Officer to prepare three packs, Captain. And on the flip side, very few things are as buzz-killing as a Protocol Officer Now what, Ecab? And I will answer the question surely in your mind by saying that I will be accompanying you to the planet. Section one, paragraph four of the Cybex Claim Process states that the ranking Protocol Officer is to accompany an away party whose primary purpose is a planetary claim. Great I could point out that since said away party will be partaking in an exploration mission the Claim code does not apply, then proceed to leave him behind But I did say I would be less difficult as well. So Tary, make that three packs. We will need one more for Officer Ecab.

Three filter packs, three different species, and prep shuttle for launch. Copy that. Will that be all, Captain? Tary rattles back without skipping a bit Leaving only one final checkOfficer? No, Captain, that will be all. Thank God Thats it, Tary. Thanks. Bridge out... And with that said, lets get a move on, Ecab... Van, you have the ship. Please try not to wreck it while were gone. That only happened once and that asteroid was in a perfect hiding spot behind that moon, Van then barks out at me, true irritation radiating from him I always forget how touchy he get around that subject, You did not see it either before you left, so shut up about it already. Of course, that doesnt mean Im going to let up on him Whatever you say, Van. But it seems kind of hard to understand why you didnt miss it, seeing as how it was so big and motionless relatively speaking at least, Now to close things out Besides, wasnt that the trip in which you had brought on board that cute little Hey, hey hey. No need to bore the Protocol Officer with details from our old exploits... Now, are you going or not? Relax, Van, were going Olrever, please pick up that extra security gear we discussed on your way to the shuttle. Understood, Captain, Olrever replies, then casts a dubious eye in my direction, Dual or triple load? Dual would be most appropriate, Because if anyone thinks Im letting Ecab walk around with one of those, their crazy Very well. I will meet you at the shuttle shortly, Captain. Thanks Now for a final attempt to trim our party thinly veiled as a minimal gesture of consideration, By the way Officer, since we were not given any details about you before leaving Rackoyd, we did not have a chance to prepare an environmental suit to your specifications. Hopefully we can adjust one of the standard-issue ones to fit your anatomy. Not necessary, Captain. My inclusion in missions is often kept secret on purpose. That is why I always travel with my own suit. It is standard Cybex issue, so it should be compatible to whatever filter pack make your Warrant Officer is preparing. I should have guessed. It was worth a shot anyway Excellent. I should have expected you to be well prepared Well meet at the shuttle bay in five demics. Ecabs probably right. Theres really no overwhelming reason to go down there. Weve likely found the planet, so we could play it safe and call in the troops to wrap things up. But wheres the fun in that? And I really am looking forward to checking things downstairs. I havent landed in an uncharted planet in how long? But enough rumination. Captains quarters Last stop on the slider, so lets go in and get ready Now where did I put it? Inside the refresher? Lets see Here it is. My very own Legenam Envirosuit 5X... LEGENAM ENVIRONMENTAL SUITS AND GEAR COMPANY IS RECOGNIZED ACROSS THE SECTOR AS THE PREEMINENT DEVELOPER AND SELLER OF PERSONAL SAFETY EQUIPMENT. WITH BEST-IN-CLASS MODELS BEING MADE UP OF A DOUBLE-LAYERED TRINOTIUM METAL MESH WITH QUICK-EXPAND RE-SEALER TUCKED IN THE MIDDLE, AND PROGRAMED WITH AN IMBEDDED OPERATION CHIP TO CONTROL LIGHT DEFLECTION SETTINGS, GRAVITY STRENGTH COMPENSATION, TEMPERATURE MODERATION, ECOLOGICAL ENHANCERS AND CAMOUFLAGE BLEND, THEY PROVIDE STATE-OF-THE-ART OF THE ART PHYSICAL PROTECTION FOR THE ALIEN THAT INTENDS TO THREAD ON A HOSTILE PLANET. LEGENAM IS HEADQUARTERED IN THE SEIRAS SYSTEM BUT HAVE MANUFACTURING OPERATIONS OUT OF THE XIMECO SYSTEM FOR COST REDUCTION PURPOSES. Now plug it into to the computer terminal to download all settings Make a separate copy on the hand held unit press enter aaaandddd finished. These suits may be expensive as hell, particularly when custom-made to a species they had never worked on before, but they are sure worth it. Nothing like

seeing someone asphyxiate inside their own suit to make it clear that this is not an area to skimp on Hard to believe they are so light Now back on the slider and off the cargo bay I really should stop the whole mining business thing and go back to this line of work. Missions are significantly more dangerous, but sure tend to be more exciting. And with so much of the galaxy still in need of exploration, with the right plan and contacts, there is plenty work for a long, long time. Ill have to look into that when we get back. Now since I appear to be the last one too arrive Sorry to keep you waiting, guys. I didnt realize you three were in such a hurry. We are not in any specific hurry, Captain, Ecab answers back, not quite getting it Our quarters are closer to the bay than yours and Excuse me Officer Ecab, but that was the Masters attempt at humor, and is quickly corrected by Exar, who is more than accustomed to making such rectifications on my behalf I see. Never mind then, and earning me the familiar stupid earthling look from Ecab Maybe I do need to brush up on my interspecies humor No problem, Ecab... Tary, how are the preparations coming along? All have been completed, Captain. The filter packs are in the shuttle, its onboard computer has completed the pre-launch sequence and all bay items have been properly secured. You are ready to depart as soon as you are ready. Im glad someone here does their work properly and without snide remarks Excellent work as always, Tary Lets board, everyone. Find your filter packs and put them in place. I will be turning off the primary environmental controls once the hatch is sealed, while Tary begin bay decompression. Oh, and by the way, we will doing a gravity drop, so buckle in tight. Excuse me, Captain What is a gravity drop? Ecab then asks, his regulation-guided mind obviously having trouble finding a reference to something that is not officially in a flight manual Hes going to love thisJust a slightly more natural way of reentry into a planet. The problem we have is that the nebula gases are very volatile and the exhaust from a starships, or shuttles, main engine could ignite them. So we would only be able use the maneuvering thrusters, which will not exactly propel us forward at optimum speed. So in the interest of time, we will be pushing off the Ictus and then letting gravity take its natural course. It sounds potentially dangerous, Captain. Not to mention out of the ordinary. It is both, Ecab To some extent at least. But you can relax, as Ive done this numerous times before. It can actually be quite enjoyable in a frightening sort of way. I should have mentioned that Ive never tried it with a shuttle this small, but no sense in getting bogged down in details. Besides Oh man, look at this. Who the hell designed this cockpit? How are you supposed to maneuver using these unwieldy things? No sense asking, as Id get the same answer I always do, no one who ever thought a human would be piloting. Is everyone all set? All right, enthusiastic nods all around. Lets see how long those happy faces last...Exar, monitor our course and the approach on the Nebula Bridge, we are ready for departure. Copy that, Alandres, Van replies over the Com The Lumenictus is in position and you can begin the launch sequence. Tary-secc, let them out. Copy that Commander, Tary replies in kind from his station outside the hold, Opening bay doors. Thats our signal, guys. Engaging lower thrusters aft thrusters. Off we go. Cool That is one amazing display of lights off the Nebula. But I better make sure I keep my eye on the planet. Ive heard enough stories about pilots losing their sense of direction when staring into space and slamming into an oncoming piece of rock or debris before they even realized what happened. Weve cleared the bay Altering course We are in line with the drop zone Increasing speed for maximum entry speed Engine burst now! I am beginning the countdown, Master, Exar then adds and things will be picking up shortly, Entering the Nebula in 5, 4 Shutting off main drive, . with no going back now

1 We are inside the Nebula, Master. Shuttle relative distance to surface at 5.5 kilomics 5 kilomics Shuttle speed increasing We are in the planets grasp. Everyone get ready, because the fun is about to start. Captain, I have been meaning to say for a while now that your species must be even stranger that I thought if you consider this sort of activity fun, My Tacrusian friend tells me couple with what I would almost say a look of slight worry on his face See, I knew he wasnt as immune to fear as he pretends to be Olrever, would you believe we used to build amusement parks where people would pay to stand in line for long amounts of time in order to get inside machines that would raise them to dizzying heights only to drop them at nauseating speeds just for the thrill of it? The most popular ones were the ones that twisted and turned you as the ride went along. Willingly paying for that? So Captain, what your saying is your kind is strange, and has too much currency and idle time. I guess you had to be there to fully appreciate it, Olrever Exar, how much longer until we hit the mesosphere? At our current speed and rate of acceleration, we will reach it in 15 mics. THE ADVENT OF GRAVITY DROPS WAS BROUGHT ON AFTER SEVERAL EXPLORATION VESSELS MADE ENTRY INTO UNEVALUATED ATMOSPHERES AND NEAR-PLANET REGIONS, ONLY TO HAVE SOME UNEXPECTED ENVIRONMENTAL PHENOMENA INTERFERE WITH THEIR FLIGHT SYSTEMS LEADING TO CATASTROPHIC ACCIDENTS. SEVERAL OPTIONS WERE EXPLORED THAT WOULD LIMIT THE RISK OF TAKING A FULL-SIZED VESSEL PLANETSIDE, WHICH EVENTUALLY LED TO PROJECT FIP (FREEFALL INSERTION PROGRAM) PIONEERED BY THE AIR FORCE EXPERIMENTAL DIVISION OF THE PLANET MACSOG. BUILDING ON THE SUCCESS OF PROGRAM, DROP SHUTTLES SOON FOLLOWED AND ARE NOW PART OF THE COMPLEMENT OF ALL SHIPS OF RECONNAISSANCE AND EXPLORATION PURPOSES, GREATLY DECREASING THE AMOUNT OF REPORTED PLANET-ENTRY CASUALTIES AND LOSSES. And I can feel that familiar, freefall-induced pit in my stomach starting to grow already. Olrever is right, I must be crazy to actually enjoy this. To each is own Check. Bringing thrust-reverse actuator online starting atmospheric entry sequence Weve cleared the outer band of the Nebula Prepping aft thrusters for final max power burst 3, 2, 1 Ride the lightning! Captain, what do you mean by ride Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! That is quite a scream of terror Ecab can put together. Im surprised he can hit that high a note I guess that second mouth is good for something else besides selective sampling And I dont mean that nearly as dirty as it sounded Hey Ecab, did I mention the ride was going to get a little rough?! No, Captain, you did not! Im sorry, I must have forgotten. But hang in there. Well be down in no time at all... Firing reverse thrusters now, I bet hes not liking all this new extra rattling that much either Ecab, is that any better? Worse, Captain! Much worse! Ha, ha! What a face hes making! I wish I were recording this. Shuttle speed reduced to 60 kilomilecs per delmic 55 kilomilecs per delmic, Exar states then, bringing me back to focus on our precarious entry process, and the looming death that is sure to come if I dont pay attention to the fast approaching planet in front of us We are at optimum level for attitude change, Master. Re-engaging main drive engines Leveling off Flight is back under shuttle power, Not bad And yes, very much a lot of fun Are you all okay? Not nearly as enthusiastic in nodding this time, but nodding nonetheless. And Ecab looks a bit yellow But hey, Ill take what I can get... See, Ecab? There was nothing to worry about at all. Yes, Captain. You were correct, if not very forthcoming about the sequence of events. But all my vital organs are still inside me, although they are a bit scrambled.

As long as they are still inside we can call it a success. Just hang in there a little longer. We will be on the ground momentarily. Now exactly how far away is the landing zone? I see Cut speed by 25% Temperature a little high around the aft nacelle I thought we came in a bit too steep I can see the ground and most of the settlement clearly now, so lets start the approach run Reduce speed 50%, extend landing gear leveling thrusters at full. Ground looks a bit bumpier up close. Ill keep that tidbit to myself so Ecab doesnt freak out again, but I better slow down a bit more just to be safe Coming up on the coordinates Lets put her down right here Easy cheesy Van, come in. Weve landed safely. Ill keep you posted on our progress. Got it, Alandres. Good luck. Thanks. Now, time to get to work Exar, how are the environmental readings? Processing Master, I will summarize by saying all on-site chemical and biological levels are within 1.7% of the levels measured from orbit. All pre-launch preparations are still applicable. Excellent Opening hatch Unbuckle and lets roll guys. Whoa, watch that first step I love these lower than-base-grav planets. So much easier to glide along with much less effort But Oh God, what in blazes is that smell?! Gross! It must be all that decomposing matter. Why the hell are smells not being filtered out? Oops, I see. You forgot to turn off the olfactory sensors, dummy Thats another thing they never talked about in science fiction movies. Every planet apparently smelled the same throughout the universe. That was even more off base than the same gravity angle And there is nothing like the delightful smells on Chentees 5 to remind you thats not even remotely the case. I thought I was going to have to rip my nose off after that first whiff ... Now lets look at the schematics Which building should we go to first? How about the gigantic structure in the middle with the four paths leading up to it? That doesnt stand out too much now, does it? Heres to X really marking the spot... And here comes Olrever now with the weaponry, so... Captain, here you go. This should get good once Ecab noticesThanks, Olrever. Captain, what are those? which should be near-instantly Nothing much, Ecab. Only some minor security measures. You know, just in case... Just in case of what? A hostile, invading army? The scans showed the planet to be uninhabited. If that is the case, then we are very likely over-prepared and the extent of the action these rifles will see will be limited to bagging wild game for extra food. But until we are safely back on board the Ictus, we will stay in a state of heightened alertness. So there, that was not too insolent Maybe a little Very well, I will defer to your expertise on this matter, Captain. Although I must point out I do not recall seeing those weapons on the ships manifest. Could it be perhaps because at a cursory glance they appear to be illegal Ciunsus plasma carbines? Annoying as he is, he seems to have been bred for this job Really? Naw Let me see here Hmmm, I guess they might be after all. I will have to speak with our Warrant Officer about his dereliction of duty. Willfully allowing them on board would have been a gross oversight on his part. That went smoother than expected. I was certain Ecab was going to blow a gasket when he saw the rifles... Ill have to give Tary a heads up though in case Ecab still does not register sarcasm But thats the least of my worries for now. Lets get this show on the road. But first, a small transmittal Everyone, Ive sent you an outline of the local area. Lets focus our initial attention on the big triangular obelisk, starting off with an advanced scan. Chemical, mineral, structural, hi-res holo imaging the works. Olrever, take the northwest face. Exar, cover the northeast. And link your suits, or internal sensors for that matter, to the shuttles radar. I dont want anything bigger than a Tandorian pigmy shrew coming within half a milec of the landing site without us knowing about... Ecab, you come with me. Well take the southern face. Now time to take a walk Man, I didnt fully appreciate how big this thing was when we saw it from orbit. The Washington Monument has nothing on this. It bet it would fit comfortably inside laying down on one of its sides Let me use the armband scanner and do quick measurement check before we get too close and I lose the transmission angleOur face is about one and a half milecs wide. Did I say big? I meant

enormous Ecab, why dont you start focus-scanning on the right? Ill start on the left and well meet in the middle. Sure thing, Captain. We will make faster progress that way. I wonder how long it took to build this thing? And how come I dont see any grooves or abutments anywhere? It looks completely smooth. Except for that area up there with the long row of carved-out symbols way up there This monster cant be cut out of one solid piece of rock can it? And judging by the extent of the wild vegetation encasing the lower third of this, no ones checked up on it in quite a while Come to think of it, all that shrubbery must be adding a ton of extra weight to the structure. I hope its stable. The last thing we need is finding this place and then when we are close enough too Hello, what was that? It looks like a hollowed out area behind those roots Is that doorway? I cant see through the plants though. The blockage looks pretty sturdy too Let me push on a bit and see Again Nope, this isnt going to budge But the scanner definitely shows an empty space on the other side Captain, did you find something? Maybe, Ecab. I think theres an opening back here. Let me see if I can open up a space for us to go in through. Okay, where was it on the menu? These suits maybe great, but the software placement is not very intuitive Aha, arm-mount cutting laser. Were talking vegetation, so 40% intensity should be more than enough. I dont want to damage anything that might be on the other side... Hope thats not a loadbearing shrub... Now a quick circular motion That should do it. Ecab, grab that branch and lets give it a pull. On three 1, 2 Pull! Come on! Damn, that sap is like meta-sealant Move, damn you! Come on, you son of a bi ! Finally! There, out you go And a bonus, nothing came crashing down on us either...yet I cant see much from out here, but it looks like it just an empty room from out here A BIG, empty room to be more precise Exar, Olrever, weve found some sort of entrance. Weve cut an opening and are going inside. Have you found anything similar? No, Captain. No, Master. Fine. Continue your sweep then. Im engaging the visor pic-in-pic view and sending you both the feed so you can see the progress were making Stay alert and contact me if you find anything of note. And with that said, here goes nothing Not much light once you get away from the opening. Theres not even a ray through a little pinhole I guess it is helmet-light time There we go, much better Oh boy, look at those things! Now those are some interesting looking statues lining up across the length of the room. Theres a ton of them. I cant even see where the line ends. Theyre a bit creepy though. Those faces dont look very happy Yeesh, there I go again. Imposing human expression for feelings onto an alien species. For all I know, that is exactly the type of face a happy one of them would make I wonder if this is what the former inhabitants looked like or if they represent something else. But whoever they are, Ive never come across any species that looks quite like them Short, wide frame, multiple thick limbs. And those are some big eyes And the ones back there seem to be holding some nasty looking sword-like things. Why dont I take a closer l Hold on now. Whats that all over the wall? Is that writing? And it looks No, it cant be can it? Exar, take a look at the image from my cam Im moving in closer These are carved into one of the walls inside the structure Very interesting, Master. It looks to be some sort of text. The shapes and figures appear to be too organized and structured to be either random or artistic displays. And not only that, but I think theres a second surprise installed Agreed, Exar. Lets get a third opinion from the folks upstairs Van, Alandres here. Come in. Captain Vancara speaking. How may I be of assistance? Van responds promptly, and as usual, I am torn between wanting to laugh with him and strangling him By stopping your fooling around and taking a look at these symbols. Im sending you a feed from my helmet cam.

I am seeing them on screen now. And to answer your next question, yes, they look a lot like the ones from Qu3. Smart-ass Thats what I thought. I think we may have hit the jackpot here. They are cover a very large section of at least one of the inner walls Ill record the entire string and Wait a mic, Alandres Wagshi, whats that? Whats what, Vancara? That thing right there! The blurred area in the lower right corner of the main view screen. Is something interfering with the view port signal? Blurred area? What are they talking about? Is someone putting their greasy paws on the screen again? Van, whats the matter? I do not know, Alandres. There is a section of the view screen that started looking sort of like the outline of a Van then starts to reply but is cutoff by Wagshis startled cry A ship! It just decloaked 10 kilomilecs off the starboard quarter!. Light Attack Cruiser, designation unknown ... It has a weapons lock us! as she in turn says every single thing that I did not want to hear CrapAnd all I can do is listen to it happen! Van: Wagshi, take evasive action! I can see their weapons charging! Red alert, all hands to battle stations! Nep: Direct hit. Hull breaches on decks 4 and 5. Redirecting power away from the affected areas and the containment shield has been activated, Commander. Van: Engage the secondary generator and juice up the shields! Wags: Vancara, they are firing again! Van: Do not just sit there, move us out of the way! Too late! Everyone hang on! Damn it! That sounded real bad! Van, whats going on?! I ask, expecting the worse but am greeted once more by Wags increasingly panicked voice Direct hit again! What do we do?! What do we do?! Followed by Van deathly serious reply Wagshi, take evasive pattern V0639! Keep out off their direct line of sight. Alandres, I will have to call you back. We are under attack.

Chapter 9: The closer we get, the more everyone is trying to kill us - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.483 On the surface (Landing Party) and in orbit (Crew)around unidentified planet, on board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus
AS THE ENERGY-BASED NOTONIC FLOATED BY,
IT CURIOUSLY GLANCED AT THE TWO LARGE, SOMEWHAT FAMILIAR-LOOKING OBJECTS THAT APPEARED TO BE TRADING SOME SORT OF ELECTRICAL DISCHARGES BACK AND FORTH. DEEP IN THE RECESSES OF ITS MIND, IT RECALLED TALES PASSED ON TO IT BY HIS SPECIES ELDERS, RECALLING THE LONG-GONE TIMES IN WHICH THEIR OWN SPECIES, ONCE LAND-BASED, WOULD SETTLE TERRITORIAL DISPUTES IN THAT VERY SAME MANNER.

AS THE TWO OBJECTS MOVED FURTHER AWAY AND CONTINUED THEIR ENGAGEMENT,

THE NOTONIC WAS GLAD HIS KIND HAD PHYSICALLY AND MENTALY EVOLVED TO THE POINT IN WHICH THOSE SORT OF AFFAIRS WERE NO LONGER NECESSARY. AND IF IT WERE TO HAVE THE ABILITY TO MONITOR THE ELECTRONIC CHATTER BETWEEN ONE OF THE THINGS, THE ONE APPARENTLY TAKING THE WORST PUNISHMENT, AND SOMEONE ON THE SURFACE OF THE PLANET, OF PARTICULAR NOTE WOULD HAVE BEEN THE DESPERATE CRIES FROM THE FEMALE BEING AT THE HELM

I cannot shake them! They are in position right behind us! What the hell is going on up there?! Just once on I would like to arrive somewhere new without someone trying to blast us into pieces... Van, whats happening?! Back to you in a moment, Alandres If we are still here. Hold tight Wagshi, slow down in order to narrow the gap between us and cut off their firing lanes. Not good, particularly as that sounded like another hit... Van?! Talk to me! We are taking heavy fire here, Alandres. Whoever they are, they got the drop on us. We are trading shots but are taking more than we are giving. They decloaked right into a prime attack position Fruck! They got us again! Nep?! Shields down to 35%, Commander, I hear Nep answer in the background and I am dreading how close the shields are getting to critical levels. Another few points and theyre going to have to start cutting systems back Nep, minimize environmental sustainment in all non-essential sections and re-route power to the shields, Van then barks out, our worried thoughts in unison Blast it, this ship is not a war vessel, Alandres! We cannot keep slugging it out because we are not going to like the end results. Not much of a question on that Time to improvise Then well have to use some guile and play to the strengths of our ship, Van Do a planet dive right now. 90-degree drop, regardless of where you are. Go up to max entry speed and dont slow down even once youre below the upper atmosphere. They should not be expecting that, and should buy you some time to put some distance between you and them. Unless they are as crazy as you are You heard him, Wagshi! Full speed ahead and point us straight down! Nep, route auxiliary power to the forward thermal buffers. Only one more thing left to do now We are coming up now as well, Van. Once youre in the clear, hone in on our position and well meet you halfway. See you in a few demics, Alandres... And hurry up. You too PLANET DIVES,
IF DONE RIGHT, ARE SOME OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE SHIP-TO-SHIP BATTLE MANEUVERS THAT CAN BE EMPLOYED WHEN ENGAGED IN IN-SYSTEM COMBAT. WITH OPTIONS TO EITHER USE A NEARBY PLANETS GRAVITY FOR A HASTY EXIT OR ATMO-BOUNCE INTO A SHARP COURSE REDIRECTION, DIVES HAVE MORE THAN ONCE ABRUPTLY CHANGED THE COURSE OF AN ENGAGEMENT. IT SHOULD BE POINTED OUT THOUGH THAT THE ACCOMPANYING HULL STRESS AND DRASTIC TEMPERATURE INCREASES MORE OFTEN LEAD TO THE PERMANENT CRIPPLING OF THE SHIP TRYING THE DIVE THAN ACTUALLY LEADING TO BENEFICIAL RESULTS. ONLY THE MOST SKILLED AND / OR DESPERATE OF PILOTS SHOULD EVER TRY THAT TYPE OF MANEUVER.

Everybody back to the shuttle! We are taking off now! Move it, move it! And why is Ecab again looking at me like Im crazy Captain, what is happening? Is there something wrong? I cannot hear what you are saying. Could it be because I forgot I wasnt sharing the remote transmission? Everyone, the Ictus is under attack. They are heading this way now and we are doing a mid-air rendezvous with them. Head back to the shuttle right now! Under attack? By whom? Did those pirates follow us here?! I dont know, Ecab. Some ship decloaked right on top of them and started firing. Theyve taken a lot of punishment and their shield are weakening. Thats terrible, but what can we do? We might endanger them more by having them come meet us. In a much slower ship at that. Your crew is surely adept enough to handle this situation. I am not sure if this course of action is wise For the love of Theyre a mining crew, not soldiers! Apart from a few of them, most have never been under any real live fire situations. Their best chance is for us to get up there and even the scales Everyone inside the shuttle now and grab hold of something! Locking doors and bypassing startup routine Exar, keep a lookout for the Ictus and any other inbound bogey. Have they identified the make of the attacking vessel, Captain? Olrever then says, his mind already on the battle that is to come. Not with any certainty. I overheard Wagshi saying it looked like some type of light attack cruiser. If indeed it is that, the Lumenictus should be able to outmaneuver it within the planets atmosphere, Captain. That type of ship should generate much higher wind resistance... Not too mention our ships advantage when it comes to engine power. Good point, Olrever. If they follow the Ictus down, we can use that to our advantage. Master, the Lumenictus has entered the upper atmosphere on course vector 64.11 by 51.44, Exar calls out from behind me Its life-or-death time again Im laying in a course over their projected flight path. What about the hostile, Exar? It just came into sensor range. Heading 42.30 by 80.30, at a speed 5.7% less than that of the Lumenictus. The distance between the ships is expanding. Positive news for a change and that should be Van calling on the Com now Alandres, come in. We have you on visual. We see you and the other ship as well, Van. Come up over us and open the bay doors. Ill bring us in as close as I can, then link our autopilot to the Ictuss navisolver. Once were inside, start heading topside pronto. Very well. Well be there momentarily. Master, the other ship has altered its heading. I believe it is trying to get in position to cut off likely escape routes, considerably reducing our chances to escape, Exar then warns me of the inevitable bad news Never tell me the odds. Master, I am not sure I follow your train of thought. Yeah, thats another one I get a lotespecially when quoting old movies Thats okay, Exar. Im just thinking out loud. Captain, I hope your loud thinking is a precursor to effective action. I hope so as well, Ecab Well see soon enough, because here comes the Ictus Van, come in. Were starting our approach run. Ive linked the computers and will switch over when were within three decimilecs. Understood, Alandres... Wagshi, slow down to 90% of the shuttles approach speed and engage the lower thrusters.

Okay, just a bit more and were home Closer a little more All right guys, were in position. Engaging auto-dock sequen BEEP! BEEP! Uh-oh... Exar, status! Master, the hostile ship is trying to lock their weapons on us. The random fluctuations of the turbulence affecting our trajectory are hampering their efforts, but I estimate they will achieve a lock in no more than 10 mics. I should have given a bit more thoughts to how wed be sitting ducks here. Brilliant planning, stupid Not enough time to dock properly, so well have to do this the hard way As always Van, theyre trying to go weapons-hot on us. Look like they will lock on before were in. Slow to 75% of our speed and scoop us up. Ill try to cushion our entry with the maneuvering thrusters. Insane to the end. Just let me know when you are ready, Alandres, Van replies, and I cant quite tell if he is being cynical, humorous, truly concerned or all of the above Ill keep the line open. Listen for my signal Overriding safety measuresthrusters setting to idle BEEP! BEEP! BEEEEEEEEEP! And thatll be the were about to be vaporized alarm Engaging thrusters now! Not good. Were coming up too fast This is not going to be pleasant Exar, double the intensity of the inertial dampeners! Sorry guys, but this is really going to hurt! Ow, ow, ow! Oh man what a crash. I mean landing That really sucked. Im seeing triple and I think my organs are tenderized Mental note, never do that again... I cant believe we didnt go through that back wall and out the other side. At least everything feels like its still attached to the same spots as before andYeah, nothing looks bent at an unnatural angle Although I can tell the safety strap is going to leave a nasty bruise across my chest Alandres, come in! Are you all okay? And theres Van on the Com, so my ears are still in working order as well Yes, Van. Were shaken up a bit, but still in one piece. At least your signals are still easy to pick up. I just hate ambiguity Whats the situation like? We took another hit when we were bringing the shuttle in. Shields are down to 30%. And they have the approach angle on us again, so we are in a holding pattern. Every time we attempt to change heading, they counter with an intercept course that would cut us off. All right, I have an idea. Fire a couple of shots in their general direction just to give them something to think about. I need to check something first. I wont be doing much though if the shuttle computer is trashed Yep, still working. Not bad. This is one tough little ship Now where are they? Speed Course And where are we? Okay And theres one of the moons Nebula Time to throw those guys a curveballVan, try this. Maintain course until we close to within 300 milecs relative distance to the nearest moon. Then cut speed to 50%. Decel as fast as the ship can tolerate and keep firing so they think we are trying an attack run. Once they close to within two milecs, change course and give it everything shes got straight up. They should fly past and give a us chance to regroup. Make sure to keep the moon in between our resulting paths as much as possible. That sounds like a plan, Alandres... A half-baked one, but a plan nonetheless. Wagshi, reduce speed to 50% and Nep, make sure the ship stays together. Were headed your way now, Van Exar, head to Reconnaissance and monitor all activity. Ecab, Olrever, come with me to the bridge. Whoa Those are some major vibes The ship hasnt split into pieces yet, so we still have a chance. Now to head to the slider so we can Whats going on? Why is the hold door not opening? Tary, unlock the door!

I will in exactly 25 mics, Captain. The bio-filter scan is not yet complete, Tary replies from the other side of the cargo hold which is good because I would probably strangle him if he was on our side Tary, unlock the door right now! We have to get to the bridge! I am only following your explicit instructions, which were that no one goes into the main ship space until scans are complete. Yourself included. This is an emergency! Open it! You also stressed that I must adhere to that command regardless of what anyone said. You went as far as using the same exact sentence you just uttered as an example of what someone might say. You cited the contagion aboard the Vanquisher as proof of what can happen when safety regulations are ignored. Of all the times to actually remember one of my stories FOLLOWING THE NASIARD INVASION AND CONQUEST OF THE PLANET HITAHI, THE BULK OF THE CREW OF THE SUPERBATTLESHIP VANQUISHER, HAVING JUST FINISHED BOMBARDING THE PLANET FROM ORBIT, WENT PLANETSIDE TO PLUNDER THE ABUNDANT RICHES AND RESOURCES OF THEIR SUBJUGATED FOES. BUT ONE THING THE NASIARDS DID NOT FORESEE WAS
THAT CERTAIN ANIMALS THAT WERE ABUNDANT IN THE TROPICAL ZONES IN WHICH THEY CHOSE TO LAND CARRIED A PARTICULAR TYPE OF PARASITE THAT WOULD PROVE TO BE EXCESSIVELY VIRAL TO THEM. OVERCOME BY THE UNINHIBITED ACCESS TO THE FORTUNES OF HITAHI, THE NASIARDS CHOSE SPEED OVER PRUDENCE. THEY THEN PROCEEDED TO SACK,

PILLAGE AND LOOT EVERYTHING IN THEIR PATH, QUICKLY LOADING THE VANQUISHERS HOLD WITH AS MUCH AS THEY COULD HAUL, BYPASSING ANY SORT OF HEALTH AND SAFETY CHECKS THAT WOULD NORMALLY COME WHEN INTERACTING WITH A NEW ECOSYSTEM. BY THE TIME THE SHIP RETURNED TO THEIR HOME PLANET, THE ENTIRE CREW HAD PERISHED, LEAVING BEHIND NOTHING BUT A FLOATING GHOST SHELL IN SPACE.

The scan has been completed, Tary finally says after what seemed to be an interminable 25 mics There are no foreign agents present. I am unlocking the bay door I hope that you are not too upset with me, Captain, but rules are rules as you often point out. Dont mention it, Tary. I wouldnt think of coming down hard on you for actually doing your job right. Please have the maintenance bot work on the shuttle and see if he can patch it up some. The way things are going we might need it to use again soon. I sincerely hope not, Captain. I am sure you will be able to find a way to get us of this mess. Lets hope so, I hope I had his confidence Now to the bridge, ASAP Yeesh, mystery planet, extinct race, unidentified attackers, outgunned in the middle of uncharted space with no place to hide These next few moments should be quiet interesting to say the least But now that Im here, time put the game face on Van, whats our status? We are not dead yet, so it cant be too bad. Unfortunately, it is not too good either, Van replies, not too surprisingly We managed to get them off our tail, but they reacted quickly and changed course before they overshot us by much. We were still too close to each other to use the moon for any navigational advantage. Well, it was worth a shot. At least we have a few mics to regroup How is the ship holding up? The hull breach is holding steady but the shields are down to 20%. The containment shield will not withstand a direct energy hit. They are also again on an intercept course and will be within firing range in 60 mics. Wait a moment. They are actually gaining on us? How is that possible? I guess well need more guile that I thought. And if we survive, I need to have a talk with Rrivang on this supposed fastest ship in the galaxy All right everyone, back to your primary stations. Wags, keep the helm until I get these damn gloves off... Van, what do you think? Is it time to play some hide and seek? You just beat me to it, Alandres... Wagshi, change course and enter the Nebula. Once we are in, switch to maneuvering thrusters only. The Nebula?! Ecab then suddenly blurts out from the back of the bridge, right on cue at the blatant disregard for standard tactics We should just get a broken record instead and have Cybex save the creds from his salary But you yourself said earlier the emissions would negate our shields. Captain, we will be defenseless.

And theyll be blind to us, Ecab. The only way for them to find us is to go in after us. Then theyll be defenseless too and well be on even terms. Perhaps so, Captain But have you considered the more diplomatic tact of calling a truce? Reach out to them like you did at the Cluster. This ship is not built for combat. Ay, ay, ay That may be so, but I dont think their shoot-first attitude is an indicator of their peaceful intentions Now please let me focus Wags, continue to move us in. Now for complete immersion And there go the shields. This better work So I expect Ecab should be ready to chime in again right about Very well Captain, we are hidden and as a fragile as a newborn. Now what? Say what you will about Protocol Officers, you can always count on them to put in their two cents about everything whether asked or not That is, put in their two PlanCo Centicreds to be a bit more precise Well Ecab, if they want us so badly theyll come in after us. And in the meantime, having our eyes closed and ship exposed will help us how? O ye of little faith Exar come in, this is Alandres. Have you been able to record any data on the Nebula? Yes, Master, states the electronic voice over the Com as if I was expecting anything else Even within a localized area, the pulse radar was able to detect a particle shift in the nebula matter when we entered. It should serve as a sufficient baseline to readjust our proximity sensors. And now we will be able to tell if the other ship enters the Nebula due to the mass shifted by the volume of their ship, Van then follows with, sounding as insolent as only he can Now is all that good enough for you, Ecab? Or there some form we need to fill out first? Unorthodox but adequate for now considering our dire straits, Commander. And no forms are needed, although I recommend you familiarize yourself with the Cybex contract parameters regarding my powers as Protocol Officer. They very succinctly detail the measures I am allowed to take in the face of mounting insubordination. And would cramming a tube of meta-sealer down each of your mouths so we do not have to hear your voice again count as a sufficient act of insubordination? Enough you two! . We must be the most dysfunctional crew in Cybex by a long shot Please continue this pointless discussion after we have resolved the slightly hazardous situation we are still in. Of course Captain, my apologies, Ecab replies in kind, while Van backs off at well And I will admit that, if this does work, it would be brilliant strategy. Thanks, Officer And I had hoped by now you would realize that I always have some harebrained trick up my sleeve. Ha re brained? You know, I must subconsciously include my human lingo into all conversations just to see the amusing looks I get in return Never mind, Ecab... Move over Wags, Ill take over from here And thanks. You were not in an enviable position. Thanks, Cap Captain, she replies, her hands still shaking as she steps out of the helm, I wish I I am sorry I panicked like that Now teach those scarrabz a lesson!! I plan on it, And then youll have to remind me with that word means, although Im certain its nothing particularly flattering Now, what is the shortest route out of this place? Straight up? Seems to be, relatively speaking that is Com is beeping. Hope its with the information Im waiting for Yes, Exar? Master, we have detected a sizeable particle shift directly aft. Based on the trajectory and speed of the displaced matter, I would estimate an object of similar size to a Light Battle Cruiser has entered the Nebula and is headed in our direction. Right on schedule, thanks Bringing ship to all stop... Olrever, charge weapons and get ready to fire on my mark. Ready, Captain, He responds crisply, yet I can sense the slight doubt in his tone Understandable But if we fire inside the Nebula, the volatile gas will.

Be ignited by the energy discharge. But do not worry, we will not be the ones harmed, Van then answers him for me. Glad someone here is thinking deviously as well Way to reel them in, Alandres. Thanks, Van Nep, how is the shield output coming along? We have stabilized it at 30% power output, Captain, he answers back, and I dont even need to turn around to imagine the certain looks of concern on everyones face, If we are imminently going into battle, that is as high as we will be able to get it to in the near term. Not too encouraging, but weve been in worst spots I think So creativity will continue to be the word of the day It will have to do then Van, plot an escape pattern. Any direction that doesnt fly us into a star within a three-mic Ultra jump will do. Then prep the navisolver to follow it as soon as I hit the drive. Escape pattern? Three mics? Is this all part of that harebrained trick up your sleeve you were talking about before? Kind off. Im making this up as I go along, Van. Youll just have to wait and see how it all pans out. Master, the stream of particle displacement suggests the object that entered the Nebula will be upon us in less than 15 mics, Exar then adds Its finally showtime And we will be leaving in ten... Olrever, prepare to fire. Nep, engage shields as soon as we are clear off the Nebula. Now, lets go cook us some Say, did you ever find out whos in that ship, Van? And the shake of the head in my direction is answer enough Oh well, lets roast them first and ask questions later. Engaging thrusters express lift upstairs! And out we go. Now to Umm, why can I clearly see the other ship, which is presently not completely surrounded by Nebula gases? What are they do? Uh-oh again Alandres, they are using their repulsor beam to push the Nebula gases out of the way, Van then answers my unasked question They entered but were not approaching. They were just trying to flush us out. So much for the element of surprise Ive never heard of anyone doing that before. Very ingenious Then again, we hid here for a reason. Lets give it to them And now we are going to make them pay for it Olrever, fire a full spread behind them. The bulk of their aft section is surrounded by the Nebula. Firing now, Captain. And the blast has ignited a chain reaction thats engulfing the ship A step in the right direction Van, full scan report. Readings show damage to their lower hull. They managed to exit the general nebula area before the blaze has significant effect. Whoever is in charge there is fast and is heading this way now They have weapons lock! Here comes a blast! Damn it, its going to be close, Firing Mega engines, moving to launch coordinates 5, 4, Not enough time Crap! That shot got us good and the board is lighting up! Weve got problems Initiating evasive action Van, how are holding up! We sustained a direct hit to the port exhaust nozzle... Rrivang, come in! What is the situation like down there? We have suffered structural damage to the exhaust nozzle, Commander, Rrivang reports back It is partially fractured and blocking the exhaust. We cannot engage the Ultra drive, and lets us know things are going from bad to worse Rrivang, this is the Captain What about the Magna drive? Can we still use that? Yes, Captain. It is not impacted by the nozzle problem and is still functional. Captain, shield power output is down to 10%, Nep adds for good measure to complete the bad news trifecta Another hit of that magnitude and they will be completely down. Lovely They wont get the chance for another one Olrever, fire at will and keep them off our back. Van, plot a new retreat course. 180 degrees Cutting speed and firing maneuvering thrusters Were coming back around. Course entered, Alandres You seem about to cut in kind of close. Are you planning on passing close enough to kiss them?

Just about, Van We are going to slide right under them. Olrever, give them a nice, up-close present to their mid-section... And someone shut off that damn proximity alarm! You didnt see a head on assault coming, did you? Ships of this size may not be intended to maneuver like individual fighters, but that doesnt mean we have to just trudge around and exchange fire until someone blows up Nope, nope, sorry. Too late to move out of the way. I hope you enjoy this Direct hit to their lower hull yet no breach, Captain. It must be a triple-reinforced hull. That is an excellent design. Im glad you approve, Ollie. Oops, sorry about that... No need to take out your blaster Well it looked like he was going for it Now we just need get a bit farther away and we will be position There, firing Magna drive See ya! Ouch! I forgot about that damn needle-effect... What, we stopped already? Well, I did say 3 mics. Excellent job, Captain, A relived Ecab says as he slumps into a nearby chair That was a close call indeed. Now does anyone have any idea what that was all about? Hes not going to be sorry he asked I dont know, Ecab. But if they are still there, you can ask them yourself when we go back. Go back?! Are you mad, Captain! He yells back as he springs back And I think he yelled out of both mouths on that one I knew he was going to be enthusiastic We barely got away with our lives! And I fully intend to find out why! Something is going on here and I am certain it has got to do with that planet we just found. There is something down there and you better believe it is more than just some big mineral deposit. Everything that has happened up to now is too much to be simply a coincidence. And we have come too far to just be sent scurrying away with our tail between our legs, Ecab. Captain, I sternly disagree with your decision and am within my right to assume command if Not now, Officer! We have very little time to make this work successfully. We are going back and that is final! Feel free to write your complaint forms in triplicate in the comfort of your quarters if you so desire Now, does anyone else object to this course of action? Not as long as you do not blow them out of the sky before we had a chance to introduce ourselves and interrogate them properly, Captain, Olrever adds, maliciously clicking the tips of his pseudo-fingers together while everyone else simply nods, with Ecab backing a bit towards a corner Good And now that we have things straight hereI will make sure you get the first crack at it, Olrever Van, plot a return course the same way we came. They are not the only ones that can pop in out of nowhere and start blasting away. Or that are able to outsmart a decorated starship Captain, Alandres. Oh brother Yes, Van. How silly of me to forget Now quit yapping and plot that course already, Well, I knew there was a reason to keep him around besides his on-the-job talents. If he werent always making light of things regardless of how bleak they are, this line work could drive me crazy Course entered, plus I tied the navisolver control algorithm to the advance proximity sensor. We will revert close enough for you to deliver that kiss after all, Alandres. Then I hope there are some good looking females on board, Van Olrever, start firing at them the moment we reappear. Nep, you know what Im going to ask. 20% shield power is the best we are going to get, Captain, He replies with a dont ask a question if dont like the answer look about him Well why would it be any easier now? Dont let it get below that. No matter what Firing Magna drive. Lets see how they like us now. This better work or we could be in big trouble I would say they still do not like us very much, because their weapons are charged and aiming right in this direction. I guess we might have been a bit predictable. One more mark in their column, Van says out loud in my direction, but sounding definitely less jovial than a few moments ago

But all is not yet lost, as those first few shots are going wide right Thanks for keeping score, so please put another mark in ours. We reappeared too close for them get a good line of fire and I dont plan for us to stand still long enough to accommodate them. Yet they seem to want to have a say about it, Alandres. They are changing course to match your move. Are you actually rooting for them, Van? Then while you are at it, check this out Exar, bridge. Give me a reading on the radius of their shields. 0.15 milecs at the widest distance from the ships hull, Master says the electronic voice at the other side of the Com and Ive made up my mind Good, we have some room. Room for what, Alandres? Van then asks, as everyone on the bridge puts on their best perplexed expressions For a little bump-and-grind technique I have been practicing... Nep, you are about to get some serious feedback on the shields. Be ready to draw power from all alternate sources. Maximum Mega-thrust We are going under again. I hope this is good, because they are releasing a homing mine, Alandres. Although they cannot possibly have a lock on us at this ang Oh no, I think they are going to shoot at it and blow it up when it passes close enough to us! Definitely not easier, nevertheless Then they are going to regret it even thinking about it, Van. All hands, brace for impact! And I thought I said to turn off the proximity alarm! Impact?! At this range? I then hear Ecab blurt from somewhere behind me I had forgotten he was even on the bridge still You have truly gone mad, Captain! Are you planning on ramming our ships together?! Will you shut up, Ecab! Van snaps back at him before I have chance to This might actually be crazy enough to work. And Alandres, if we live through this, you will have to tell me where you have been practicing a shield-to-shield blocking screen. Will do Everyone, grab on to something! Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! Ive always wanted to say that Here we go now I think they figured out what I have in mind because they are trying to evade us instead of attacking Well they can try all they want, but its not going to work Steady, dont want to grind the hulls together Impact in 3... 2 1 All gages spiking Hold on Ictus, were almost through There goes the mine and they didnt fire at it Guess they realized the blast at this range would have affected them too We rubbed up pretty good, but not as solidly as I had hoped They are anticipating our maneuvers so well and reacting to our tactics too fast. Who the hell is in that ship? Nep, damage report! Van asks as I in turn engage in some preventative, evasive flying No additional structural damage, shields down to 12%, Commander. And I am running out of places to draw power from. You need to end this soon, Captain. Echo that, Nep. They are picking up speed and are coming around for another run at us, Alandres. We might have fooled them with our first pass, but they will shortly fall in right behind us. Wish is exactly what, for a change, I was hoping theyd do Luckily for us they have yet to see everything we have to offer, Van. If they guess this one, I will personally fly up the white flag and surrender the ship Now wheres that moon again? You are not going to try the fly-by again are you? They will see right through that, Captain, Ecab asks sarcastically I should have had both the alarm and his mouth turned off We will see how much they see through this in a moment Slowing down to 75% thrust Van, prep the repulsor ray. I hope you are not planning on just pushing them aside.

Thank you mister cynicism. Just get it ready to go and dont miss when I give the target, Van Exar, begin the shuttle pods remote launch sequence And dont you all look at me like that. I really havent gone completely bonkers yet. The shuttle will be ready for remote launch in eight mics, Master. Got it, Exar. Begin depressurization, open outer doors and prepare to eject the shuttle. Understood. In what direction and speed? Exar asks back, and even he sounds confused I hope the other ship will be as well Just launch it. Well take care of the rest Van, whats our distance to the moon? 500 milecs. Close enough. Call out the maneuvers of the other ship and be ready with the repulsor... Here we go again Half power, thrusters up They are increasing speed and moving up to inter and complete the fake Full thrusters down Just like playing football. Fake one way, go the other. Nice move, Alandres! They are still moving in the opposite direction from us. Now show me your belly Theres that sore spot Exar, eject the shuttle! Shuttle away, Master. Now for the Coup de grce I hope Van, grab that shuttle and slam it against their lower hull! Full force right against that charred area. With pleasure, Alandres. They will not be able to get out of the way this time There it goes Collision imminent. Whoa! Look at that flash! Thats going to leave quite a bruise How are they doing, Nep? We finally breached their hull, Captain. Reading various system failures, shields almost depleted. They are changing course. And now so they dont forget Open a voice channel to them, Van. Universal transmission frequency, to make sure they dont miss it. Channel open. Checkmate motherfuckers. One day you are going to tell me what that means, as it sounds quite vulgar, Van adds, the tone of relief mixed in with humor echoing the feelings of everyone on board And we seem to have finally taken the fight out of them because they are heading out of here fast. Including myself Thank goodness I was starting to run out of ideas. Captain, they are wounded. Should we not purse? On the flip side, this battle probably just fueled Olrevers killer instincts even more Not this time I have a feeling they will be seeking us out soon rather than later, anyway. And now that we know they are out there, we will make sure to be better prepared... But for now, we are in the place we need to be to figure out our next move. How do you figure that, Captain? Ecab then asks, and I have to laugh a bit because thats a really easy one Because the closer we get to this planet, the more everyone is trying to kill us.

Chapter 10: Yes The crystal cave - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.517 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, in orbit around unidentified planet
AS THE NOW-BATTLE SCARRED SHIP CIRCLES ITS TEMPORARY HOME BASE, ANYONE LOOKING AT IT WOULD BE ABLE TO TELL THAT IT AND ITS CREW HAD JUST BEEN IN A FIGHT FOR THEIR LIVES. BUT AS BAD AS THE WOUNDS LOOK ON THE OUTSIDE, THEY ARE MUCH LESS SEVERE THAN THE ONES THAT HAVE BEEN OPENED UP INSIDE. Here we are again, nursing our wounds from an unprovoked attack, out in some remote corner of space while wondering what the hell just happened. Im getting mighty sick of this... Well, time to tackle the most unsavory part Calidem, whats the casualty report? We lost four crewmembers during the attack, Captain replies our medical officer, in a grief stricken voice so low it is barely a whisper, Sub-Lieutenant Mih, Officer Cader Yinm, and Ensigns Niemi and Oem. The blast and subsequent hull breach was in their section of the crew quarters. Two others are in serious but stable condition. They should pull through but will be out of commission for a while. Very well. Keep me apprised of their condition... Take good care of them. Alandres out. I hate to go back to thinking about work in a time like this, but we were stretched thin to begin with for secrecys sake. Now we are below a skeleton crew. We are going to have to extend all the shifts to cover the gaps. Four lives Whoever is in that other ship is going to pay dearly for this... Lets see how everyone else in the room is doing. Nep, how are the repairs coming along? Allow me to give first the good news, Captain. Primary shield power output is back to full strength and is again operating under its own generator. All primary ship systems are active and there is minimal structural damage beyond the aft, port side of the hull. The bio-metallic surface is regenerating itself at a fairly brisk pace. This overview does not include the condition of the exhaust nozzles. Specialist Rrivang will brief you on that. Very well, Nep. We will get to that momentarily. Now lest we forget what are the bad news? The hull breach is too extensive and we have neither the proper material nor equipment to fully repair it. Even the bio-metal regeneration will not be sufficient by itself to bring the hull back to its original state. The only option we have is to try and patch it up by taking some inner section panels and welding them in place. Dont bother... Have your team remove any loose structures and close off any minor openings. Then seal the blast doors to those sections and cut power to any systems that may be active there Now, Specialist Rrivang, how is the Ultra drive holding up? As if I cant guess I am sorry to say there are bad news there as well, Captain, Rrivang replies with a pained expression This is surely not what he expected on this trip The drive itself is intact but the nozzle outlet frame was fractured. The damaged section has been removed but the exhaust tube is unusable. We are in the process of reconfiguring the drive controls to operate with only two tubes, but it will affect performance. At best, would be able to reach 70% maximum Ultra-speed. And while repairs are under way, we will have to keep it offline. Well, at least its a consistent message all around That is okay for now, as we do not have any specific time frame to leave as of yet. And just to confirm again, the Mega and Magna drives are still up and running, correct? Correct, Captain. Neither was affected during the conflict. I am glad to at least hear that we could still move fast if we are pressed to. Please proceed with the repairs, Specialist... Now Officer Ecab, I understand you want to discuss some findings from the battle recordings? Yes, Captain. But more specifically, the instant right before the Lumenictus was assaulted. If you all would divert your attention to the view screen Here is the recording timepoint just before the attacking ship decloaked. This area here, where the stars appear to be blurred, is its outline. For a clearer evaluation, I will change the color of that region... And this is the recording taken during radar calibration prior to our departure from Opsercom Station. And more to the point the segment of the footage that

caught the attention of XR-4... The one he referred to as having the shifted stars... I will now zoom in so as to have the same visual scale as the pre-battle recording, change colors as well and we have the same outline both times. Well Ill be damned That can only mean one thing then So as you see, Captain From these images we can only draw one conclusion. And Rrivang is not going to like it That the ship that attacked us has also been following us from the start. Right, Ecab? Exactly, Captain. That is impossible, Officer! The Specialist spits out as expected, with his eye-sacs turning a deep color of orange that sums up his mood quite well A magna-propelled ship cannot be tracked! Once the subatomic merge is completed, the ship is no longer visible by traditional means. Those were also my initial sentiments, Specialist, Ecab responds in turn, That is until I saw what I am about to show you. It was recorded at the moment of our attackers departure. The recording has been slowed down to allow for more detailed evaluation. Watch carefully now. Was that a Rrivang is really going to hit the roof with this one Ecab, did we just see what I think we did? Yes we did, Captain. That was a Magna pulse. Oh boy Well, you take it from here Rrivang How can that possibly be, Officer?! The manufacture and distribution of Magna engines is a tightly controlled process by my planet and our scientific affiliates! We have only distributed twelve production engines and have a team accompanying each one at all times! Has there ever been any reported case of theft, Rrivang? Van then adds, Have any engine or parts gone missing? Any espionage that you know of? No, Commander. Extreme security measures are in place at all times. Before, during and after delivery. I cannot imagine a situation in which any ship would be outfitted with a Magna-type propulsion drive without our knowledge. I will send a message to the Ginrun High Command immediately! No, I think we should hold off on that for the moment, Rrivang, Van counters with, echoing my sentiments, We do not know who is following us or how they managed to equip their ship. So we should not tip anyone off about what we may or may not now Alandres? I agree, Van. Rrivang, please refrain from contacting the High Command until we have gathered some more intel on our situation, Particularly as Rrivangs eyes went to a shade of crimson Ive never seen, so definitely time to slow things down a bit Very well, Captain. I will defer to your judgment for the time being. Thank you. Although I must admit that I still do not understand how they managed to track us even if they do indeed have a Magna drive of their own. It is complicated, Captain, Really? When is not? As I stated, once a Magna-powered ship merges at the sub-atomic level, it indeed is no longer visible by traditional means. But if someone were to also undergo a similar merging process, they could theoretically detect the shifted molecules that had been pushed aside by the first ships passage using the non-shifted ones, which would constitute the majority of the matter around them, as a baseline. But it would take an incredibly amount of computer processing power to able to constantly analyze the level of data and to make the subtle course adjustments that would be required to perform such a feat. And it would still require programming familiar with the details of the Yramato Phenomenon, which is one of our best guarded secrets. Specialist, it sounds like complicated is an understatement, so I will take your word of it, before my head explodes But regardless of how they managed to track us, I see an even more disturbing issue. And that is, why? They were there when we left, followed us through a mostly-untraveled region of space, did not attempt to intercept at all during that time, and continued trailing us all the way here. But only when we reached and identified this as the planet we were looking for did they show themselves. It can only mean that they were looking for this planet, or whatever is down there, as well. But why would that be, Captain? We do not even know where here is.

I think because Alandres is right and we do not know everything there is to know, Van chimes in with, and with the tone when he starts thinking of conspiracy theories or heightened alertness, as he likes to call it Alandres, who else knew of our assignment before we came on board? At minimum, Pratec and myself, Van. And he was very insistent that this whole endeavor was to be top secret, so I doubt he shared it with a lot of folks... How about you Ecab? When were you told of your new assignment? As my travel log shows, Captain, I was not informed of the Lumenictuss planned destination until I arrived at Opsercom Station. And that was via a secured communication sent personally by Overseer Pratec. So I would say that leaves two main possibilities and they both suck In that case, it appears that either Pratec sold us out or there is a leak within Cybex. Wouldnt you agree, Officer? I do, Captain. Although I would classify both as highly unlikely, they are also the most fitting scenarios. But that does not make much sense, Alandres. We are working for Cybex. They would benefit the most from our success. I know, Van. Unless our suspicions are right and there is more here than meets the eye. Maybe there is something to be found that would make a greedy-enough individual want to strike out on a private venture, Which means we better think of our next move fast, because who knows what else might be at play here But in the meantime, theres Exar calling from the surface. Hopefully he has something that can shed some light on all of this Come in, Exar. Master, I have finished my evaluation of the central obelisk. I have a holo recording of all the accessible areas as well as detailed images of all symbols I encountered throughout the structure. Good which begs the question Do you have any hypothesis to offer based on your findings? Yes. I have a number of them actually. But I surmise you would be most interested in my assessment of the writing left behind by the planets last occupants. You surmise correctly, my friend. Glad to hear it, Master. You should be receiving my transmission now. And please tell Commander Vancara there is now need to make faces or mutter under his breath. Ha! And he is too Do not say a word, Alandres. Just play the damn file and let us see what he found. Sure thing, Van. I did not realize you were so thin-skinned Exar, weve got the file on holo-view. You can start taking us through it when ready. Very well. What you are seeing are the text characters covering the inner walls of the lower level. Using the Cybex decoding key and Qu3 findings, I believe I have been able to generate a reasonable translation. Please give us a summarized version, Exar, or else we might be here a while Of course... The writing is a chronology of major events in their civilization. It spans approximately 10,000 tricents based on PlanCo dating standards. But of more interest to our current situation are these specific panels They describe the last one hundred septecs of their habitation of this planet, which concludes about one thousand septecs ago. One thousand? That is within a range that would coincide with the estimated age of the Qu3 ruins, Van adds, true excitement creeping into his voice That is correct, Commander. One more piece to the puzzle falling into place, and about time as well, Continue, Exar. Yes, Master Their civilization and technology was dependant on the energy generated from a process that used a particular set of mineral deposits that were present in abundance throughout the planet. It was at this time that their primary star began to change. It started by undergoing thermodynamic reactions that led to the release of gases that triggered a natural disaster on a global scale. The gases were corrosive to the minerals and the ensuing chain reaction rapidly destroyed the vast majority of their

stored and natural supplies. Shortly thereafter, the stars metamorphosis accelerated, making immediate action by the inhabitants necessary Now it appears that they had an ancient record generated by their ancestors back on their planet of origin. It describes the path to another planet with limitless resources. If discovered, it was told that it would provide all their energy needs for every foreseeable generation to come. That information led me to these panels, located on the upper most level. That looks like a star chart, Exar. And a lot like the Periphery as well, Alandres. Master, Commander, you are correct on both counts. The upper level of the obelisk served as an observatory. It was here that they used the ancient record to plan their civilizations exodus. This particular panel is described as outlining the first stopover from where they would need to re-triangulate their position and make another jump to their final destination. As you will see in this recreation, in all likelihood they then surveyed the skies, matched what they in they saw in the cosmos to their charts, located their destination and vacated their planet in search of their salvation. Thats quite a long way to go. I cant even imagine how desperate they must have been But, wait a moment. Now that I look a little closer Something is wrong though, Van suddenly pipes in with, and I think he is picking up the same thing Im seeing, A lot of the stars in the outer band do not overlap. Is there any mention on where their origin planet was located with respect to our current position? Yes there is, Commander. There is a general description of the region where it was believed to be located. I will illustrate on the holo-imager. Apparently all they had were scant accounts preserved for hundreds of tricents. According to the text on the walls, the last local inhabitant to come over from there had died ages ago Here is where we are and this is where their origin planet is located. That is it! Van triumphantly yells, They interpreted the chart from their location on this planet and did not account for the position from which it was created. And then they went the wrong way, And does that really suck That is the same conclusion I reached as well, Master, Exar adds, and its unanimous And they ended up in Qu3 of all places, right in our own Sector, the previously silent Ecab adds Well, I couldnt really expect to just keep both mouth shut indefinitely And through a series of unusual events afterwards, here we are. But what does that have to do with our current situation, XR-4? I was about to address that point, Officer Ecab. Please note the inscription at the lower left region of the star chart. Allow me to zoom in Phonetically translated to PlanCo standard speech it states al vauce ed larcitses. And translated into the Masters birth language it becomes What?! Did he just say? Did I hear that correctly, Exar?! Yes, Master. The crystal cave. I hope my attempt at building up the suspense worked appropriately. Now do not jump to conclusions, Alandres. It may be a coincidence for all we know, Van then adds rationally, but I am not in the mood for rational thought right now Coincidence? Coincidence?! After what weve been through, Van?! This can be anything but a coincidence! Yes it can! Listen, it would not be the first time that we have come across ! Excuse me. Excuse me! Captain, Commander! Settle down please! What? Oh, sorry about that Officer. Its just that was not on the list of things I expected Exar to say. That is all right, Captain. But please tell me, what is this crystal cave, you say? Allow me, Alandres. You see, Ecab, it is a legend Not so fast, Van Yes, but you must point out that it is also one that is mentioned in different ways by several different species across the quadrant Of course, Alandres. Which if you recall, reference nothing but circumstantial evidence

That is all surprisingly similar in its detail even though the references are from distinctly separate areas of the galaxy, Van. Yet no verifiable physical trace has ever been found And yet, the probability that all those different events could come up with so many similarities while being separated by Enough! One at a time, please! Now, Captain, please proceed. Goodness, where do I start and not sound crazy? Well, too crazy at least The story is a bit involved, Ecab. The details of the crystal cave story vary from place to place, and also depend on who is telling the story. In the Shiug System for example, the cave and the contents that lie within are said to be a den of incalculable riches. The Tendiccs believe it is the source of an inexhaustible fuel supply, much like the former inhabitants of this planet. And the Retnamins are convinced that its contents are weapons of limitless power, and the military forces of whatever civilization harnesses it will be unstoppable. But those worlds are at outstanding distances from each other, Captain. Some of them likely do not even know of the existence of the other, let alone having ever interacted with each other. How can you be certain they are referring to the same thing? Just wait a bit longer, Ecab, there is more. And it is partly that isolation that actually has me convinced that the crystal cave really exist Now even though all the versions of the legend differ on what the final prize might be, they do have one thing in common. All describe a derelict planet, long detached from its primary and floating about in an uncharted path through space. And somewhere on its surface, deep within a mountain range, there is a cave. Not an ordinary one mind you, but a cave of immense proportions. And what awaits inside is the true stuff of legend. It is said that its walls are covered in their entirety by well, crystals. Or gems, jewels, inanimate carbon rods, or whatever you want to call them. All of different shapes and sizes. And regardless of what corner of the known galaxy you are in, the name is repeated throughout. Latsirc ed enrevac al, loh latsirk hte, neluhllatsyrk All meaning the same. The crystal cave. THE FIRST SPECIES TO USE THE TERM CRYSTAL CAVE, OR AT LEAST THEIR VARIATION OF THE NAME, WERE THE SELDIBOES ABOUT 8,000 TRICENTS AGO. IT IS SAID THAT THE SELDIBOES SPOTTED THE TRANSIENT PLANET AS IT PASSED NEAR THEIR SYSTEM VIA THEIR LONG-RANGE ORBITAL TELESCOPES. AS THE PLANET PASSED BY ITS CLOSEST POINT TO THE SYSTEM, IT SHONE BRIGHTLY IN THE SKY AS IT REFLECTED THE LIGHT FROM THE IMMENSE LOCAL WHITE STAR. SUBSEQUENT IMAGES THAT WERE RECORDED SHOWED WHAT SELBIDO ASTRONOMERS REFERRED AS FEATURES THAT LOOKED AS IF A CAVE FULL OF CRYSTALS WERE PRESENT ON THE PLANETS SURFACE. FROM THEN ON OUT, THE LEGEND TOOK ON A LIFE OF ITS OWN,
INCLUDING THE INADVERTENT DISCOVERY AND NAMING OF WHAT WOULD BECOME A NATURAL PARK IN THE STATE OF

PENNSYLVANIA WITHIN THE COUNTRY OF THE UNITED STATES ON THE PLANET EARTH, WHERE THE VISITING TUDCHS HAD THOUGHT THE TRUE CAVE OF LEGEND EXISTED. IT IS THOUGHT THE MAJORITY OF THE TUDCHS PERISHED NEARLY 75 EARTHYEARS LATER AS THEIR CRAFT CRASH LANDED IN A REMOTE AREA WITHIN THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO Amazing. I cannot believe I have never heard of that phrase before Tell me, Captain. How did you personally first come upon this legend? Well Ecab, I was in Make sure you do not forget to include the part about the Eredon dancer, Alandres. I dont think that has any bearing on the story whatsoever, Van. Really? I think it is the most enjoyable part of it actually. Particularly when I had to unchain you from the sleep chamber. You were hurling out some pretty colorful epitaphs at the time. Above all regarding how she had convinced you to put your Hey, whos telling the story, you or me? Ignore him, Ecab. Hes just being his usual intrusive self In any case, I was in the Powder House, the Gettus 4 spaceport cantina, waiting for a cargo ship I was meeting up with when I saw this little Natselus being harassed by three big Shugs. Now I have learned to mind my own business in places of disrepute like that one, but that Nat could not have been more than three or four tricents out of its pouch. So when they started getting physical with him, I intervened. I wont get into too many details, so suffice it to say that if you ever are faced with a charging Shug, just

put a blaster shot in into its lower, left abdomen plate. Their symbiotic carapace will curl it up into itself faster than you can say run for your life. AS FAMED LIASTRAN HUNTER TESV WIN IS SAID TO HAVE YELLED TO THE REST OF HIS HUNTING PARTY AS HE OPENED FIRE ON AN ATTACKING WILD SHUG, AND JUST PRIOR TO CONNECTING ON WHAT WOULD BECOME THE FAMOUS SWEET SPOT FOR SUBDUING THEM I am glad you remembered that small piece of advice, Master. Gore me once, shame on you. Gore me twice, shame on me, Exar. Anyhow, the little Nat was so grateful that he would not let me go without giving me some token of his appreciation. So he offered me this old mini holo-projector that he said contained clues to an immense treasure. He said he had found it inside a luciferin tube that he had bought at a salvage shop. And the recording from the projector had the most valuable asset I have come across in all these stories. An eyewitness account. Eyewitness?! Who? Did he bring anything back? And why would the Natselus freely give away such information, Captain? Nats value personal honor even more than any amount of creds, Ecab. He too had heard about the crystal cave legend and could not believe he had accidentally found the recording. But after some time he realized he would be unlikely to ever obtain the means to search for it. But he took comfort in passing it to the being that had saved his life. I completely understand, Captain What about the recording? What was in it? It was part of the personal journal of an Yradnel explorer called Rerpol, Ecab. Unfortunately, it ended as his ship crashed into a nearby vessel. Rerpol apparently realized he did not have long to live and basically recorded a short obituary. After some personal information, there was a period of static. When the recording started up again, Rerpol was describing how he had finally found the derelict planet. They had sent a probe to the planets surface and were able to peer inside the crystal cave itself. He described what they saw as a blinding array of crystalline-looking protrusions from all exposed surface as far as their compound visual organs could see. Rerpol intended to claim the planet in the name of the Yrad Regime and was planning on establish contact with them when two of the ships from his own fleet attacked his capital vessel. He believed those ships had been overrun by mutineers who wanted to keep the contents of the cave for themselves. Rerpol did not add much detail about the events that transpired afterwards, but the ensuing battle left all of their ships destroyed or critically damaged. His last words before his own ship was destroyed were about having come so far and so close, only to be denied in the end, and of the planet heading in the direction of a trinary star system. Truly an amazing tale, Captain. But how did this recording come to be inside some lamp? What planet was it found on? And did anybody ever verify Rerpols story with the Yrads? Or could it just be some elaborate joke that Officer Ecab, all very good questions and I have spent a large part of the last ten tricents trying to answer them. When I first arrived in this region of the galaxy, it took me a very long time to find my place within it. But once I got out into the stars, exploring and encountering marvels beyond belief, I knew I was doing what I was meant to be. I had actually heard a version of the crystal cave early on, and when I saw this recording, it filled me with a sense of hope that it indeed was real. That a true wonder lay out there, so far remaining out of the reach of so many and just waiting to be found. Since then, on every free chance I have had, Ive tracked down every lead and every story. I heard some that are so convincing, even the biggest skeptic would concede. And others so much in contradiction that they almost make you give up hope. But I am certain that the cave exists, and that the legend is real. There are just too many tales, too similar in nature, told by species that are polar opposites of each other, to just be made up. And here we are now. And the moment we find this place, we are attacked and almost killed. No, the cave has to be why. Someone else believes it exists and that we can help them get there. And as with poor Rerpol, they want to keep it for themselves as well, Alandres. I thought you said this was all a coincidence, Van. It is that you sound so darn passionate every time you talk about it that it is hard not to get sucked in by it.

It was a very impassionate speech indeed, Captain Out of curiosity, what do you think the crystal cave is? To tell you the truth, I dont know what to think, Ecab. At least not in a material sense. It may be everything it is thought to be. Or maybe it is none of it. But one thing remains certain. If it is ever found, it will be one of the most celebrated moments in recent space exploration. And perhaps that is what I think it is. A key to immortality. A perfectly valid reason to purse a dream, Captain... So, how do you wish to proceed? Did I hear that right, Ecab? You actually do not have an opinion on the matter? Nothing in the Cybex manuals on how to handle situations like this? As a matter of fact, I do and there is, Commander. But I wish to hear what the Captain proposes to do first. In that case, lets start by stating the facts. We were hired by Cybex to find a planet referenced in artifacts dug up in Qu3. We were given what we have assumed to be a complete copy of those findings, and no further supporting information. We were directed to maintain secrecy and, as such, took an uncharted route to the Periphery. Along the way we encountered a group of pirates that recognized us and appeared to have been laying in wait for us. We then arrived here where an unidentified ship that the evidence shows has been following us from the start of our journey attacked us. Finally, we have confirmed this as the planet linked to the Qu3 ruins, and, believe it not, found reference to a legendary source of wealth, energy and or power. Did I miss anything? You getting sick by eating an animal you have a phobia off? Yes, Van, how silly of me to keep off the log... But in your insensitivity, you have managed to remind me to add the memorable events that led up to a hostile force almost taking out our ship in the scant few demics in which you had the run of the ship. I was a victim of circumstances and poor planning by my superior officer. Please make sure to note that as well, Alandres. As Ive said before, if he wasnt so good at what he does and quite successful at always lightening our moods, I wouldve bludgeoned him over the head by now. Several times in all likelihood Hey, what are friends for? As you wish But lets get back to business. Regardless of exactly who is behind the attack, the fact remains that our mission has been compromised. So we should assume that we are on our own and can trust only those presently on the ship. You ask what we are going to do, Ecab? We are going to see this through to the end. We leave in one septec and we are going after the cave. Everything revolves around, I just know it. And whomever is coming after us better beware because they owe us dearly. And I could hear a pin drop right about now I have to say gang, complete silence was not quite what I expected. Captain, I will admit that this goes against all my training and experience, but I believe you are right. I will take it one step further and state that I am certain someone within Cybex has betrayed us. That is the utmost breach of trust and protocol, and renders void any agreement you had in place with the Corporation regarding this mission. And if we are wrong Ecab, we face imprisonment, impoundment of our assets and financial indebtment to Cybex for the rest of our natural lives. That is true enough, Captain. But as Commander Vancara said, your fervor in this matter makes it hard to resist following you into it. Plus I as well long for more than my current post will allow. If you are planning on undergoing this endeavor, I will go with you. I will make sure your trust is well placed, Officer. Anyone else have anything to say? That you are crazy? Besides the obvious remarks that have already been voiced several times, Van. Captain, I believe I speak for the rest of the senior crew when I say we have come with you this far and have no intention of turning back now. We all know the dangers associated with what we do and are ready to face them. We are with you to the end.

Thank you, Olrever. Thank you all. It means a lot to me Exar, return to the ship immediately. Then work with Van to enter the star chart data into the navisolver. Tary, prep the ship for silent running. Also, assess the current level of consumption to our supplies and estimate when we will run out. Nep, make finishing the work around the hull breach the main repair priority. Salvage everything that can be recycled or reused. And Ecab, start working on this planets claim transmission. Regardless of how this ends up, we are taking credit for it. And if thats it, everyone back to work. We have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in Dismissed. As I see that Van is not leaving, so I guess this conversation is not quite over yet Actually, I have something else to add, Alandres. I just thought it would go over better with no one else present. I thought you seem to be somewhat quiet, Van... For you at least. Do not get used to it. Now, in all seriousness, are you sure about all of this? Do you really want to go on this wild chase? And put the ship and, more importantly, everyone in it at risk as well? Because I noticed that you forgot to add to your little speech the part about how everyone that has gone after the cave has not come back. At least not in one piece that is. And of all the rumors about crewmates turning on each other and and why am I even bothering in telling you all of this? You have that stupid look that you get when you have already made up your mind on something and want to back it up with another silly earthling saying. So go ahead, which one is it this time? Better to burn out, than fade away, Van. That is neither inspiring nor confidence building. But I get your feeble point. No need to fear as I do not plan on us doing either. But this is our chance at something big. Really big. If we succeed, it will be something everyone will talk about for ages. And if we fail, and somehow manage to make it back alive, at least we will know that we took a shot at the big time and Now why are you now making the stupid insolent smirk that you usually make when you are about to tell me something I dont know? So you can save your breath because I am in. Aaaaand have been for some time now. I have just been wondering when you were finally going to make up your mind and finally go for it. Sorry to have inconvenienced you Would you then care to explain why you have always argued with me so much about it? Up to even a few mics ago for that matter. Mostly to annoy you. But also to make sure you looked at all the possible angles before launching into this demented pursuit. You sometimes then to get a bit narrow-minded about it. Ah, infuriating to the end. But if you will be a willing part of this demented pursuit, what does that make you then? The exception to the rule, of course. I cannot speak for you, but I have every intention of returning to Rackoyd, alive and well, and picking up where I left of with the Tun sisters. I am glad to see our situation has not distilled your sense of confidence or self-worth. Now get out of here and go figure out how to get to our next stop wherever that may be. As you command, my Captain. Yes, definitely wouldve clocked him once or twice But who cares? The crystal cave! And just when I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to come across new info. And a chart to boot! What are the odds that we would find all this? Its almost too good to be true. Which typically means that it is too good to be true and we should be on guard. Wherever that mystery ship ran off to, it is surely going to come after us again. They were too determined to now just waltz away after one defeat. Particularly if they also think the crystal cave can be found... What can we do to throw them off our trail? Itd be a shame to destroy the obelisk, but we cant leave the chart intact either. If Cybex security has been breached, they might have the translation code too. Then we might as well just leave them directions on where to find us What can we do? Perhaps if we just slow them down enough so as to build a big enough lead I wonder if Maybe And with a lot of volatile gases floating around in the planets atmosphere. If we combine them with Yeah, that would be a nasty surprise and a pretty offensive one at that. Itd be perfect Tary, come in. Meet me at the recycling station. I have an idea.

Chapter 11: They are deadall dead - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.550 On board Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, in route to unidentified star cluster
AS A WILY SPACE TRAVELER ONCE STATED, TRAVELING THROUGH HYPERSPACE AINT LIKE DUSTING CROPS. AND NEITHER IS MAKING A MAGNA JUMP FOR THAT MATTER. BESIDES HAVING TO PRE-ASSESS THE MOVEMENTS AND BEHAVIORS OF A VAST AMOUNT OF CELESTIAL OBJECTS, THE IMMENSE AMOUNT OF DISTANCE COVERED IN A RELATIVELY SHORT AMOUNT IS SUCH THAT EVEN A SMALL MISCALCULATION CAN LEAD TO DRASTIC END RESULTS. SO AS A RULE, IT IS ALWAYS ADVISABLE TO CHECK MULTIPLE TIMES ALL OF YOUR ASSUMPTIONS AND CALCULATIONS WHENEVER POSSIBLE. All right, take me through it one more time, Van. Are you trying to be difficult on purpose, Alandres? I thought you were in some a big hurry to get there. I am, but I would also not like for us to be halfway across the galaxy then realize we have to make a Uturn and head the other way. Now quit complaining and lets hear it again from the top. Fine. We found that the cluster of stars in the chart is actually You know, if I were to have you shot right now, the Admiralty Code of Law has at least three different sub-sections that I am certain would define my actions as justifiable. Sorry, but I was just following your specific directions. And talking at normal speed did not seem to be working. It may be that the material is a bit over your head, Alandres. Van But if you insist... We believe the star cluster in the obelisk chart is located right here. Good. That appears to coincide with the holo recording. Next, how did you find the right match? It was quite simple really. First, we factored in stellar motion over time and regressed them back to the time we estimated the chart to have been drafted on. Then, since we knew in which direction to look at, we were able to select a high probability segment of our view of space in which we thought the cluster would be located. After that, it was just a matter of recording high-resolution images and processing them through the central computer until we got a match. Granted the brute force approach is a bit pedestrian, but it is also the simplest. All in all, we cataloged about 1 million distinct celestial objects. The final analysis yielded eight possible matches, all within 90% probability. And when we included the surrounding objects on the chart, we found our spot. Quite impressive, Van. How far away was the planet back there from that star cluster? Our parallax calculations placed the relatively nearest star, the one in the middle, at about 130 milisecs from here. Light brightness measurements supported that assessment. Oh, so we should be getting there very shortly then. In another few demics, Alandres. You should really go outside of your posh Captains quarters every once in a while you know. Listen you Captain, as you advised me yourself, please ignore him But good progress nonetheless on your evaluation, Commander. But that still leaves a fairly substantial area to cover and investigate. Where will we start once we get to the star cluster? One step at a time, Ecab. We asked ourselves the same question once we identified the location of the cluster. So we performed some long-range scan of each star within the central grouping and saw this on the one at the tail end of the arc The distortion of the stars light signature and the constant flickering is the telltale sign that something is in orbit around it. That is also the only one of the stars with such a display. Good job, Van. Now, I assume by the way my entire body feels like it is getting pricked with needles every so often, we are proceeding on a course that involves several small Magna jumps, which would make it exceedingly difficult for anyone to stay on our trail. And it will include a daring re-entry into real-

space, only within a few kilomilecs of your star of choice. That would be dangerous and reckless, but yet another safeguard to avoid detection. Plus I wont even mention my utmost confidence that you have scanned all of the surrounding area to our entry vector and are predicting the motion of any potentially dangerous objects that might slam into us at the last moment, therefore bringing our adventure to a premature end. Am I right? Por supuesto, seor Capitn What? Why are you looking like someone just hit you in the head, Alandres? You know linguistics have always been a hobby of mine. And I have been practicing more recently in case the translator ever craps out. Besides, I want to know whenever you are plotting with the rust bucket on giving me some demeaning task not worthy of my skills. Thats okay. I know at least one more Earth language you are still not familiar with, Van Now Olrever, how did things go on the surface prior to our departure? As planned, Captain. If anyone tries to cut their way through the opening into the tower, they will be very unpleasantly surprised. And I must also commend your creativity in the selection of the incendiary. Thanks, Olrever. I just wish I could see their faces when that trap goes off. I hate to spoil your jolly mood, Alandres, but we are not finished yet. What are we going to do about Pratec? Surely he is expecting an update from us by now. If he is the leak, we cannot let him know where we are headed or even let on that we suspect him. I got it covered, Van. Before we left, I had Exar send him a message full of vague terms and hinting that we were close to locating the planet but were still looking. It was all very official sounding, but gave nothing away. By the time he finishes going through it all, we will likely be on the other side of the quadrant. On that note, Captain, there is still the mostly symbolic, yet final action of generating a planetary claim. And that is the naming of the newly discovered planet for the record. Although the contracting body still has final decision-making authority on whether to include it in the claim submittal, it is still tradition for the discoverer to issue the initial name proposal. As Captain, the honor falls to you. THE PLANETARY COALITION ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY IS THE RECOGNIZED FINAL AUTHORITY FOR FORMALLY ASSIGNING DESIGNATIONS TO STARS AND OTHER CELESTIAL BODIES. MOST NAMES SELECTED ARE DESCRIPTIVE OF THE LOCATIONS OF THE STARS WITHIN THEIR PARENT CONSTELLATIONS, ALTHOUGH EXCEPTIONS BASED ON MYTHOLOGICAL FIGURES AND PERSONAL NAMES ARE OFTEN GRANTED. Oh right. With all the recent commotion, I had not even thought about that Let me see now How about? All right, Ecab Let me see know Okay, I have an idea A long time, ago back in my home planet, there was this particular nation that was looking to establish new trade routes, as warfare had cut off the established, and more lucrative ones, between them and the rich lands beyond their eastern borders. So they sent several explorers in search of a maritime route. After some very treacherous journeys, one of the explorers, lost in a great storm, came out of it to find that he had rounded the southernmost point of the land mass and was off the southern coast. He eventually made landfall and set the stage for what would become a vast trade empire. His original name reflected more a physical description of the area, and was eventually changed to something reflecting the great optimism created by the opening of the sea route. They called it the Cape of Good Hope. And as I think back on that story, I see some parallels to ours. So what do you think if we named the planet Alandress Glorious Paradise? What?! Captain, in the name of all that is Just kidding, Ecab. I just couldnt resist. And I wanted to make sure you were paying attention. But seriously, how about Eht Asimitpo? The Hopeful One I like it, Alandres. I did not consider you to be so idealistic. Thanks, Van. I am just full of surprises. I like it as well, Captain. The Hopeful One it shall be.

So lets keep our fingers crossed that when future generations look back on it, they will have a story with a happy ending to go along with it Well, dont you all have something to do before we arrive? Fine, Alandres, fine. We know when we are not wanted. It has taken you that long to figure it out, Van? Oh, you are so funny sometimes I do not even know if I am supposed to be laughing. Laughter might be something that may be in short supply for a while, because Im taking a pretty big gamble and betting all our lives on it. Im just assuming well find something that will continue leading us down the path to the Cave... if not I wonder whats around that star. What if it is just a couple of asteroids that got sucked in by gravity as they passed by? Then what? Were cold off the trail, still have enemies in hot pursuit and no idea why theyre chasing us or who sent them. Then the best thing would be to hightail it back to Rackoyd before someone finally catches up with us and pray for the best No, it cant be like that. Everything weve come across is too closely linked to be a coincidence. We must be on to something. We just have to But what am I expecting to find? A big sign with an arrow that says Crystal-Cave-that-a-way? The inhabitants of that planet surely thought there was something around those stars to help guide them. Or they were desperate in the face of death and were clinging to any miniscule sign of hope. Speaking of which, I imagine things are about to get interesting, as I see Van is calling back pretty fast Yes, Van, what is it? If you are so disposed, can you come to the bridge? We will be disengaging the Magna drive momentarily. Time for the reality check Im on my way. Boy, I hate that nervous feeling on the pit of your stomach. Its just like I used to get prior to asking a girl out on a date or giving bad news to a customer. And the ride there always feels so short Like now as here I am I sure hope it doesnt show that I feel like vomiting I am glad you could join us for Say Alandres, did you eat another one of those spy der pies? You look about as cheerful as you did the last time you had one. And thats another reason why I dont play poker. Not that I could around these parts anyway What? Oh no, not this time, Van. I just havent slept much recently. How close are we to reverting? In a matter of mics, so you better take the good seat up front, Alandres. Wagshi, if you slide on over and let Alandres have the honors And honored I would be Wags, please start checking things out locally when we come out of the jump. And Van, since you just seemed to be hanging around with no value added, take the Weapons station. If there is anything, and I mean anything, out there that even turns to look in our direction, let it have it with all weve got. Well sort through the mess afterwards. Now lets look over the solver display Almost there Were going to come in awful close to that star. Better increase the light filter on the viewport. Last time we did this I almost went blind Here we go now, 3,2, 1 Needles being pulled off, needles being pulled off Man, thats annoying We seem to have arrived without a problem or a welcoming committee for a change Entering geosynchronous orbit around the star. Wags, give me a readout and start the count. Average surface temperature of the star at 15,000 degrees, Captain. Hull failure in 10 demics Starting the count now. So noted... Exar, come in. Fire up the radars and do a full system sweep. Affirmative Master. Beginning scan now Initial results coming in Eight-planet system. The first five have similar compact and rocky compositions The last three are gas giants Four planets appear to have a number of moons and wait a moment please. What is it, Exar? Master, it appears there is an artificial object in orbit around the fourth planet. Judging by its size and geometry, I would hypothesize it to be, or have been, a space station. No blazing way!

You better believe it, Van! Were close. I know it Exar, is there anything else within or near the system that may be of substance or concern to us? It does not appear so, Master. I am detecting nothing besides typical star system material. transit to the object should be unobstructed. The ships

Then lets go check it out Taking us out of orbit and setting course towards the object Exar, begin an invasive sweep of it. I want everything. Structural design, material composition, energy signatures, life forms Life forms? You never know, Van. But I am all through with surprises Wags, please tie into Exars console and put the object on the main view screen? Look at that, I hear Van gasp as the image appears on our screen, It is definitely not of natural origin, Alandres. Make the image full screen, Wagshi It is not very big. At least not by Rackoyd standards. And see all those panels? Those are docking bays. Only a few are open though and Wagshi, zoom in on the upper, right column of bays I dont know what Van saw, but he better not say that looks like an ion cannon aimed our way The bay at the top looks like it has the least amount of debris blocking the entrance. It could be our way in if we are so inclined. Back up to the full view again, Wagshi I think I know what this place is supposed to be, Alandres. That rounded section at the bottom was likely used for fuel storage. And the rectangular section right above the bays That is probably the command center. This must have been used as a rally station for this sector. Fly your ship in, get fuel, maybe some comestibles and fly out. Some of the species on the more remote sections of the galaxy have built stations that have a similar layout. OF PARTICULAR NOTE ARE THE ONES BUILT AND MAINTAINED BY THE COMORRANS,

WHOSE RALLY STATIONS ARE USED TO BOTH OUTFIT SHIPS OF BRAVE OR FOOLHARDY EXPLORERS SET TO JUMP OFF TO PARTS STILL UNKNOWN, AND TO SERVICE AND HOUSE THOSE WHO HAVE SOMEHOW MADE IT BACK ALIVE FROM THE GREAT DIVIDE. ABLE TO SUSTAIN THEIR CREW AND PERSONNEL WITHOUT RESTOCKING FOR TRICENTS AT A TIME, THE COMORRAN STATIONS ARE THE MODELS FROM WHICH ALL OTHER RALLY POINTS ARE PATTERNED AFTER.

Im glad to see you finally earning your pay, Van. Exar, anything to report from within the station? Based on the blockage I am detecting along several of the inner corridors, most of the station appears to be in a state of disrepair. But it does appear to be stable. I have also detected a stable heat source in the upper most level. Heat source? Is it biological? Unlikely, Master. The source is too large and immobile to be emanating from a living organism. It is probably coming from operating equipment. Something is actually running in there? How can that be possible? , Ecab then blurts out, echoing my own amazement Actually, that is not terribly unusual Ecab, Van answers him, Some of the more modern stations are so big that it would take an immense amount of personnel to attend to every individual system. So they are designed with several automated systems that can run unattended over a prolonged amount of time. Perhaps that is the case here as well. That sound like very likely scenario here, Commander... I have completed the scan and have found no life form signals. The station appears to be deserted, Master. That works for me. One less thing for us to worry about then, Exar Now please do a focused scan on the open bay that Van identified. See if you can quantify its structural stability and whether it will safely bear the weight of a shuttle And Van, if it turns out we can go in there, I want you Exar and to Excuse me, Captain. This may sound strange, but I an picking up thermal emissions originating five kilomilecs out and at 75 degrees from out aft port side.

What did she just say? Out and 75 degrees aft But that is in empty space, Wags. I know that, but that is where they are. They just appeared a few mics ago. And huh? Captain, they are also moving and starting to match our course. What? That doesnt make any sense. Is it some miniscule comet or something like one? Whats the level of the readings youre getting? Around 7000 degrees. 7000? Thats pretty hot Van, can you think of anything naturally occurring at that level? Wait 7000 Come to think of it, that is about as hot as a as a Oh crap Wags, raise the shields! The shields? Why? What is the matter? Ship decloaking aft! Is that a mis ? Incoming! Holding a missile with their tractor beam so they could cloak it?! And its going to get us good! Damnit, a direct hit! And I dont think we got the shields up time! Wags, damage report! We took a direct hit, Captain. There are hull breaches in several areas near and at Propulsion. The Ultra drives are offline. I am also showing energy and temperatures spikes, and structural stability is almost gone... We are barely holding together! Not good Rrivang, this is the Captain. Whats happening down there?! Come one, answer! I dont like that all that silence And now that ship is coming around for another shot And were sitting ducks! Van, fire whatever you can at them! Im slowing down to minimize their attack angles. Captain, come in please! This is Lead Technician Werek in Propulsion. Specialist Rrivang is dead. The blast destroyed a large portion of our section. The Ultra and Magna drives are non-functional, plus the internal core is going into a chain reaction and we cannot stop it Cough, cough The fuel has ignited and the fire is spreading to the adjoining levels. I am afraid we maybe trapped here. Crap, crap, crap Werek, do what you can to get yourself and your crew to safety. How long before the core explodes? In no more than four or five demics. Werek out. Crap, crap, crap! Captain, the blaze has spread to the shuttle bay and dormitories! I see it Wags, but its not going to end like this. Not by a long shot All hands, this is the Captain. Code Green! I repeat, Code Green! Begin prime evacuation process immediately! Drop what youre doing and rush to your evac points! Module separation to start in two demics! This is not a drill! A CODE GREEN IS THE PLANETARY COALITION ARMED AND COMMERCIAL NAVAL VESSELS SIGNAL TO SIGNIFY AN INTERNAL DISASTER, AND A REAL OR SUSPECTED IMMINENT LOSS OF LIFE AND / OR VESSEL. Unfortunately I dont know if the ship is even going to hold together that long Ive got to keep them close so they cant get a clean shot before were able to separate the command module and take refuge in the station What the hell was that?! That explosion felt like it came from the inside! Im losing attitude control. Our remaining shuttle exploded and punched a hole through the side of the ship, Captain! I barely hear Wags say, confirming my fears, We are breaking up! So much for two delmics Never mind with containment procedures, Wags. Manually override and redirect power to the auxiliary thrusters. Van, close the section doors. We are separating right now. What?! Not everyone would have crossed over! Theyll die! And if we wait any longer we will all die! Van answers her as he frantically continues to work his control panel, Redirect power to the thrusters now before it is too late Lock down complete, Alandres. Start the separation sequence. God help me, but I have to do this if any of us is going to live... Pressurization complete Breaking engagement seals. Van, watch the shields. Im going to try and drop us in front of the hostile, release

the back section in front of it and use the blast to give us an additional boost, and them a nasty going away present. I hope your theory on blast-riding is as good as you made it sound. It is. You can be sure of it And try to position the ship over those panels on the top forward side. I think that is their detection array. This is like trying to swim underwater with your legs tied to a block of cement. I can barely change course. And theyre not doing us any favors with their barrage of plasma fir Almost there. The core is going to go at any moment Hope it doesnt kill us in the process Thats as good as its going to get. Its going to be close... Finishing disengagement and pushing off now. Wow, thats quite an initial burst those little thrusters create It better be enough Come on, come on move, move, move Readings off the scale Here it comes Wow! Thats one hell of an explosion and the blast wave is on the way Hold on, hold on Those vibes are pretty strong but I think well be okay Hey lucky break, the blast force increased our top speed by 25%. And those jerks had to alter their course to avoid the explosion and still got caught in part of it... That should help us reach the station before they can catch up. Which brings up the next issue at hand... Van, did we finish the integrity scan on that open bay? No. Your guess is as good as mine on whether it will hold or not, Alandres. Only one way to find out then. And I guess it wont matter because if we stay out here were dead anyway. Quick tap to the right Were in line. Now pray for just a bit of luck Engaging reverse thrusters Get ready, because weve got minimal system dampening. Slow down, slow down Not a lot of room for a running stop Might have to slide us in Here it comes I think well just make it Impact! Im sick of this rattle and rolling Back wall coming up Stop, stop, stop! There we go All right, it doesnt feel like were going to fall through the floor... Thank God Everyone looks pretty shaken up though Is everyone okay? It may be silent, but nods and hand gestures are good enough for me So make it yet another close one for us... make that the closest one At least were still alive. But did anyone else make it? This it the Captain Everyone on board report in. XR-4 here, Master. Lieutenant Commander Olrever is with me, but was knocked unconscious during our escape. All his vital signs are stable and he does not appear to have suffered any major injuries. Roger that, Exar Anyone else copy? Anyone? Dear Lord, they cant all be gone Captain, this Technician Ashba. I am on board as well. Sorry for the delayed response. I am still a bit in shock over what is happening. No problem, Ashba. Are you all right? For the most part, yes. I sustained some cuts and bruises, but nothing serious. Captain, who else survived? It appears only Vancara, Wagshi, Ecab, Exar, Olrever, you and myself. What? I I cannot believe it. I am so sorry about this, Ashba It is not your fault Captain. We will make the aggressors pay for this. Thats a promise. Now all of you come to bridge. Exar, carry Olrever if you have to. We need to plan our next move fast. They are deadall dead Nep, Calidem, Tary-secc Oh my What are we going to do?! Good question I dont know yet, Wags. But as long as we stay alive, we still have a chance. Van, what are our friends doing out there? They are holding in place. I think they have seen enough surprises from us to just rush in this time.

Well take the reprieve then. First, we need to get off this ship and find temporary refuge within the station. Well worry about our long-term survival issues later. Now Wags Wags Wagshi Lieutenant! Sorry Yes, Captain? Do an inventory of all the vital equipment we have on hand. EV suits, weapons, personal electronics and so forth. Van, start thinking of a way to heat up this place and masking us from any infrared scans. I dont want them to know just how short-handed we are. Ill go check on the propellant levels and the life support system And the three of you are arriving just in time. Exar, plug into the computer and download everything weve compiled on this trip. Then find a way to get us up to that heat source you detected. Ecab, you and Ashba prep a distress signal. Use encryption-coding 846. Enter transmission coordinates for the nearest transmission relay, but dont send yet. Well wait and see what their next move is. That may be sooner than wed like, Alandres. Oh great. Whatever the reason, I cant think of a good one And, Van, that would be because? The ship just launched a shuttlecraft. Theyre coming to get us.

Chapter 12: Your reputation is well deserved. - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.550 On board remains of Cybex Corp Reconnaissance Ship Lumenictus, stranded in unidentified space station
THE FIRST RULE OF SURVIVAL IS SAID TO BE NOT TO PANIC. UNFORTUNATELY, WHEN STRANDED IN AN UNCHARTED AREA OF SPACE WHILE FLEEING AN ADVANCING ENEMY, THAT IS EXACTLY THE ONE THING THAT MOST SENTIENT BEING WOULD RIGHTFULLY DO. THE NEXT SURVIVAL STEP IS SUGGESTED TO BE FINDING A WAY TO GENERATE A SIGNAL THAT PASSING OR RESCUE PARTIES MAY BE ABLE TO SEE. THE LOGIC THERE IS THAT IT IS MUCH MORE UNLIKELY TO SURVIVE STRANDED FOR LONG AMOUNTS OF TIME THAN ACTUALLY HEADING OUT AND LOOKING FOR A SAFE HEAVEN. BUT WHEN THE REASON YOU ARE STRANDED IN THE FIRST PLACE IS BECAUSE YOU WERE MADE SO BY THE PREVIOUSLY MENTIONED ADVANCING ENEMY, PROLONGED SURVIVAL AND FINDING WAYS OF GETTING NOTICED TEND TO BE IN CONFLICT WITH EACH OTHER. Well that sucks more so Thats it, Wags? That is all of it, Captain. Four emergency EV suits and one blaster rifle. Two if you count XRs built-in weaponry. Plus one emergency medical kit and one heptec supply of comestibles for the minimum bridge crew... We were not exactly planning to abandon ship right at the moment in which we did. Excellent. Juuuust excellent We have barely anything. And almost no food! I dont know how were going to get out of this one Thanks, Wags. Please go see if Ecab or Ashba need any help. Will do. Everyone is holding on by a string and looking at me for answers. Ive got to keep them occupied and not thinking about how bad things really are... Or are going to get. Now if I could only stop thinking about that myself Exar, how are your preparations coming along? They have been completed. All data has been downloaded and the path of least resistance to the heat source plotted. We can depart at once. We will very shortly... Van, whats the situation outside? Our friends are still advancing, but cautiously. The shuttle is on a circular pattern around the station, likely obtaining readings as we did. But with every pass it moves in closer. I say we have no more than ten demics before they are close enough to dock. On the plus side, the tilanium fire we started is burning hot enough to mask how many of us are left from their sensors. That is probably another reason why they are moving in so slowly. Well take whatever reprieve we can get. Now this is what we are going to do. Exar and Ecab, you are coming with me to the heat source. Wags, monitor the advance of the shuttle. Let me know the moment they start doing anything different. Olrever, go outside, survey the bay and find the best way to defend it with our limited resources. Ashba, I need you to assess how far we can get with our current level of fuel if we blast off at the highest initial speed we can muster. Work with Wags to find a route with minimal stellar gravitational interference. And Van You just sit there and look 'captainly' while I am gone. Now everyone, I know this is an extremely difficult spot we found ourselves in but we are not finished yet. If we just keep our wits about us, we will find a way out of it. Now lets get to work. Ah, finally a task suited to my talents. But before you head out, Alandres, can I speak with you in private? Even if I said no Van, I know I wouldnt be able to stop you... Now, whats on your mind? In light of our situation, I will be blunt. Now we both know we are just a few steps away from getting put through the reprocessing shredder. So it may be time we faced reality and considered surrendering. I appreciate the candor, but the answer is no... Or at least, not yet. Not after what we have been through. Not after all our friends have been killed. We are going to keep moving forward until we cant anymore. The next answer to the riddle is here, somewhere. And we are going to find it first. And we are going to get out of here alive, and I do mean that as I say it, but I see Van is not yet fully on board. And seeing as I cant do this without him, I will point out the obvious But I also promise you I will not have any more of us die. If it comes down to the end, and there is no escape and no hope left, I

will give us up. But that time is not here yet. Now I need you to be with me on this and to look after them. Keep them busy, give them things to do. Tell them one of your many sordid tales Just dont let them give up Now Im heading out. Call me on a private channel if something comes up. Fine, I will play it your way. But keep an open mind and, most of all, remember yours is not the only life at stake. Now you have to move fast. Our time is dwindling. Ill be in touch soon. Now lets put on this EV suit. Im glad we had these things on board or wed really be screwed. Just place the pack on your chest, tap on the right spot and the biofibers take care of the rest. Full body coverage and tough enough to go out on a vacuum. Now, grab my breather-mask and time to go work on our miracle escape. ANOTHER BEST-SELLING PRODUCT FROM THE LEGENAM ENVIRONMENTAL SUITS AND GEAR COMPANY THAT HAS BECOME A STANDARD IN NEARLY ALL INTERSTELLAR VESSELS IS THEIR UBF EMERGENCY ENVIROSUIT. AMORPHOUS BIOFIBERS ENWRAP THE WEARERS BODY IN A VACUUM-TIGHT SEAL, RESISTANT TO EXTREME TEMPERATURES AND PRESSURES, AND ABLE TO MATE WITH MOST STANDARD BREATHING EQUIPMENT. ALTHOUGH NOT SUITED TO WITHSTAND PLASMA FIRE, THEY ARE QUITE RESILIENT AGAINST THE MOST EXTREME NATURAL CONDITIONS. Time to start rolling the dice Exar, what is the gravity level outside? I estimate it to be between 0.43-0.49 Base, Master. Some of the artificial gravity systems are still functional and are being augmented by the motion of the station. We should be able to glide fairly easily then. How far of a climb do we have? Approximately three-quarters of a milec. All right, lead the way. Double time it. Here we go I barely feel anything. Must be closer to 0.43 And what a mess this place is. It must have been vacated a long time ago Theres a door, so lets head to I guess not. Wheres Exar going? To that hole in the wall? Fine, I did tell him to lead on Okay, inside Its dark in here How come the helmet light is not coming on? There it goes. I guess the light sensor is a bit off Now whered he go? There he is. Up through that opening on the ceiling. No wonder we didnt take the door. Not with that big beam in the way And I need to shut up and move faster before I lose him Big jump, leg up Keep moving Finally, a usable door Should I help him pull it ope Right, right. He is four times stronger than me Off he goes Whats in there? A service hatch and a ladder. Good, lets start climbing Say, I havent even looked back for Ecab Yes, still with us I wonder how many levels weve gone up? I dont know but hopefully there are not many more because this ladder is staring to feel pretty rickety It would really suck if it breaks off now And Exar must have read my mind. Looks like were changing directions Couple of more rungs jump across and out the door and which way did he turn? To the right Where to now? Old lift shaft How the hell are we supposed to climb up without a ladder or any railings? Oh that way. Jumping up and grabbing the ridge at the bottom of each upper entrance frame Easy for a bot. Hope the low gs means its easy for a human too Now time is wasting, so lets go Jump grab not too tough Okay, jump again got it Now to Wait, call coming in. Hope its not bad news Yes, Van. The shuttle has stopped circling and is holding steady. If I had to guess, they have detected your position and deduced your destination. I think either you or us down here are going to have company soon. Let me check how much more we have to go Exar, how much further? The entrance to the chamber is located three levels above our current position. Got it Van, it sounds like were almost there. Ill call you once we arrive. Keep me posted. All right. And hurry. There better be something useful up there. If not, that might be it Okay, two more jumps should do it Exar is already inside Dont look down. One hold on two Did it. Now lets see whats insi Whoa!

If there is anything to find in this station, it has to be here. It seems like Van was right and this was the stations command center. And a lot of lights are flashing! This place must still be operational And look outside. There are the bastards. A red ship? How come I didnt notice that before? Odd, as we flew under it twice. And down there is their shuttle Exar, can you make anything out of this? Yes and no, Master. The majority of these consoles are functional. And the characters on the various screens are similar to others I have previously encountered, so I have been able to formulate a reasonable interpretation of the information I am seeing. Unfortunately, the connection terminals are not compatible with any of my interfaces, so I cannot directly download any of the information. Gee, what a surprise. Something else stacked against us Take screen shots with your optical lenses. Cycle through as much data as you can. Prioritize items about history, both the stations and whomever built and used it, and anything on how they got here. Also make note of any operational commands. We might have to try out a few in the not too distant future. Excuse me Captain, and I almost jump out of my skin as Ecab patted me on the back when he said that, but the shuttle has started to move again and is now headed in this direction. I see it, Ecab... Exar, dont stop what youre doing. Yell if you come across anything on defenses Van, come in. The shuttle is heading our way. We are going to try and Whats that flash? HOLY SH...! The shuttle just got blown out of the sky! Van, did you see that?! Where did that beam come from?! We saw it, but I cannot tell. Our line of sight down here is not the best. But our pals are moving out fast. Master, look up and see for yourself. See what, Ex? Oh my goodness. What the hell is that? Van, a a gigantic ship just appeared and is attacking the ship thats been following us. They are flying around trying to avoid fire but that other ship Its immense. Ive never seen one like it. Its firing a barrage of particle beams all over the place. Friend or foe, they just bought us some time. Prep the Ictus for departure, just in case we have to get out of here in a hurry. And go where exactly, Alandres? We barely have enough fuel to Master, based on the pattern shown by their evasive maneuvering, it does not appear that our pursuers are trying to flee. Therefore, their best option for short-term survival will be to dock within the station. Just like we did. So another sign that there is something of importance here. Or they would have left and not be risking their lives unnecessarily by sticking around. And if they intend to dock here, and we move fast, maybe we can get the drop on them for a change Van, review the extent of the structural scan we did and see if there are any open bays where that ship could fit in. And call in Olrever. If they dock, well be rudely introducing ourselves shortly afterwards. Crazy to the end, but it is about time we took the offensive, Alandres. I will have your answer in a moment. Yet, we still need more than wishful thinking Exar, I need to hear some good news. Please tell me you found something useful on station operation. I have good news, Master. I found something useful on station operation. I have identified the commands for the docking bays, although I cannot tell whether the equipment will be operational or not. Well just have to hope for the best. Transmit the basic command structure to my mini comp Van? Second level down, middle bay. Perfect size and what debris is there should not affect a ship that size. If they come inside, it has got to be through there, Alandres. Lets hope so Van, because we will only have one shot at this... Now I need you and Olrever to come upmeet us. Go through the opening on the far end of the bay, then turn left and climb up a hole in the ceiling. Ill meet you at an open door hatch youll see down the hall. And tell Olrever to bring his carbine, the surgical laser from the kit and any blunt object that you can find that can be swung as a weapon. Afterwards Ill need you to access the bay controls.

But how? No, do not bother. Explain it to me when you get here. But a surgical laser and a blunt object? Forcefully placed in the right location, they will give the recipient something to think about. See you there, Van Ecab, lets go. And bring that cable over there with you. Exar I am registering an active terminal in the first level of the command structure, Master. It is directly above the remains of the Lumenictus. Once you exit the service hatch, turn right and travel roughly 30 decimilecs down the hallway. Showoff Have I become that predictable? No, Master. For the most part you actually remain quite unpredictable. But in our current situation, that appeared to be a key piece of information that your would surely ask for. Im glad youre thinking ahead. And the best access to the second bay levels would be? Continuing to follow the service hatch down to it. Then off we go... Ecab, tie one end of the cable to that column. Make sure its tight, because were rappelling down. We are doing what, Captain? and I can see him frown with both mouths Rappel. Its the fastest way to head back down to the lower floors. Now tie an end to that girder. Weve got little time left. Hey, thats pretty good. I didnt see expert knot-tier in his service record Now a good tug for safetys sakes Thatll do, Ecab. Not bad Exar, copy everything you can for another five demics tops, then make your way down to the Ictus. Ill relay our position once in place. Very well, Master. Lets move, Ecab. Ill head down first. Count to five and then follow down. This should be quite a ride One, two, three go! Boy, thats fast even for low grav Here comes the ground. I better slow down a bit Grab a little tighter there. Another three-point landing Too bad Tarys not around to ask about it anymore. Ill avenge you buddy. I swear it Hey! Good thing I moved or Ecab wouldve landed on me Come on, Ecab. Back the way we came. Run, run, run Heres the shaft Yep, this is the way. Now grab the ladder handrails and try not to break a leg sliding on the way Much easier going this way than up And heres our stop. And theres Van. Maybe a little spook will do him good Especially now that I am registering a call coming in from him Alandres, we are here. And our pursuers have finally slipped past the monster ship and are heading this way. They will be at the dock at any moment. Where are ? Right behind you, Van. Aaah! What is the matter with you, you freak?! You want to kill me now and finish what they started? Where did you come from anyway? No time to explain. Now, take my mini comp. It has the commands to work the bay controls. Go to that console over there and be ready to lock them in once they dock. And make sure to seal every exit as well, if possible. Also, see if there are any weapons systems that can be accessed. Olrever, follow us down. Alandres, what are you going to do down there once the bay is shut? Assuming the machinery actually works, of course. Good question, Van Im still working on that part of the plan. Wish us luck Lets go guys. Now a bit more down and here we are. Lucky, the doors open too. Now, jump across Pretty big bay. They could have housed transport ships here And look out there. Here they come. So the question is, how to stage a commando raid against a starship with only three beings, a rifle and a scalpel Ecab, take the laser. Olrever, were you able to find anything else of use? Here you are, Captain.

A long metal tube with a sharp point on one end I did say bring anything you can find I imagine with your fencing skills it could cause significant damage. I also lopped of one end to make it a bit meaner. Take one of these as well. Well this is a nice surprise Thanks, Olrever. Although I dont recall Wags mentioning Tacrusian blades in the emergency inventory listing. I always keep one inside each of my boots, Captain. I should have guessed. Im just surprised I never noticed before Now climb up and take position on that platform. See if you can shield yourself with any of those panels... Ecab, hide behind that scrap pile over there. Ill be across from you, behind that column. Now once in place, no one makes a move until I give the order. Now if there are less than 50 crewmembers inside that ship and the station machinery is still working and I suddenly develop a mastery of the Force, we just might get out of this... Van, were in place. How are you coming along? I think I understand how the controls work. We will see in a moment. But there are no weapon systems in the bay. The only thing that might be of use is a magnetic loading clamp. It should be right above you. I see it. Well think of something for it if need be Now when they dock and you lock the doors, Im going to give them a call. Have Wagshi patch my transmission through the Ictuss system so I dont give away my position. Got it. Send a quick pulse any time you want to switch to a private channel, Alandres. Will do Alandres, out. Here they come Without a care in the world. Except for the giant ship looking to blast them into oblivion. We have to hit them hard and fast before they realize whats going on Van, theyre in. Close them off. Okay okay Whenever you feel like moving Come one and move already! If this doesnt work Oh, thank goodness I guess that infernal grinding is the sound of gears and bearings springing into action after a period of extensive inactivity. I was worried there for a moment. Now lets see The door where we came in is closed as well, so were locked in together for better or for worse Van, Im ready to talk to them. You are on. Go ahead and work your magic. To all aboard, we have control of the station and you are now our prisoners. Exit the ship immediately. Bring out no weapons or you will be dealt with harshly. Your move Captain Cal, based on the condition we left your ship in, I do not believe you are in any position to make any requests. Ugh, what a voice. Sounds like a gorilla after a tracheotomy. And surprise, surprise, he knows my name. How do you supposed that? But if he wants to act tough, then it is for him to see what desperate people are capable of Van, drop the clamp on top of their ship. Hard enough to make a loud bang, but not to damage it too much. Well need it to get out of here. Then switch me back to their frequency. I see it moving and there it goes Ouch! We could probably punch a hole through the top if we needed to And good thinking Van! I thought you were lifting the clamp to drop it on them again, but grabbing hold of the ship is an even better idea It was not a request, tough guy. It was an order. Now if you do not want to deal with me, we can just hold you in place, open the bay doors and wait and see what the big ship out there does when it sees you sitting there immobilized. If you wish, we could even hail them and give them your exact location. Your move again We will disembark momentarily, Cal.

Atta boy Olrever, Ecab, when they come out I will approach them alone. Hold your positions until I say otherwise or I get my head blasted off first. At which point, strafe a few of them to show them how serious you are, and try to negotiate a truce that will get our crew out of here. Way to look on the bright side And there goes their boarding ramp now. I wonder how many of them are there? One, two Five? Thats it? Doesnt seem like enough to run a ship. Ill have to press them on it and make sure no one is hiding inside. And Im betting that big hulk in at the front of the line was the one on the Comm. Ive got to keep an eye on him, as well as the multi-armed one in the back. The two in middle probably the same species. Theyre close to the same height and have the same gait. Im not sure about the second one in line though. He walks a lot like the two behind him, but has a different shaped torso. I cant quite tell from here... Well, they see me now, so its go time. Just keep walking towards them and dont hesitate Now that Im closer, I think the big fellow looks like an Engagi. I cant let him get too close or he might try to snap my neck Okay folks, thats close enough Fine. And now that we are here, Cal, what now? Time to let you know whos going to be in charge from here on out, big fella...Good question, ugly. But first, a preview of what I meant when I said you would be dealt with harshly. I hope Olrever saw where I tapped the ground with my foot Hit that please. I guess he did. A particle beam shot, dead on I feel a bit better now with confirmed air cover... Now a hole just like that one will appear in your head if any of you step of out of line Get it? Now, we also need to take care of a small administrative matter. Ive got to move fast and act before they even know whats happening The one to my left is just about my height, so he will do I hope you enjoy this kick to the mid-section Good, hes doubled over Now a quick elbow to the back of the neck and down you go RaeSha! Really? Thats somewhat surprising and not what I was expecting Even better actually Now since I see the big guy doesnt like me playing rough with his friend Knifepoint to the neck of his fallen comrade and a tube swing towards the face plate of the hulk to shut him up and Hold it right there, big boy. Theres not a lot of air out here, so youre going to need that helmet intact if you mean to stick around a little longer. Plus you wouldnt want me to accidentally jam this blade into your friends neck, now would you? Everyone staying in place Good Now let us continue in a more civil manner. Now its been fun talking to you, big ugly, but if you dont mind, Ill discuss the rest with your Captain down here. Now unless Ive grossly miscalculated, and considering how bad I am at remembering names that could just happen, I expect a response from the gal down here right about Most impressive, Captain Cal. Your reputation is well deserved. Would you mind too much if I stood? By all means But slowly of course. Of course, Captain May I ask how you knew? Of course. For starters, who ever heard of an Engagi being the Captain of anything? No offense, ugly But honestly, at first it I didnt know it was you But the reputation of RaeSha of Nisco is also well deserved. Thanks for the tip, pal. IN COMPARISON TO THE MAJORITY OF THE PLANETS IN AND NEAR PLANETARY COALITION-CONTROLLED SPACE, LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT THE SECRETIVE NISCOU SPECIES. HAVING CHOSEN NOT TO ACCEPT THEIR INVITATION FOR COALITION MEMBERSHIP AND GRANTING LIMITED ACCESS TO OUTSIDE VISITORS, MOST OF WHAT IS UNDERSTOOD OF THEM COMES FROM

WHICH IS NOT AS COMMON AS MOST HUMANS TEND TO THINK. THEYRE DISTINCTIVE PHYSICAL TRAITS ALSO INCLUDE GREEN SKIN AND A VERY DENSE AMOUNT OF BRIGHT YELLOW STRANDS COMING FROM THEIR HEADS. THE SPECIFIC HUE AND COLOR INTENSITIY OF THESE BODY PARTS VARIES DEPENDING ON SEVERAL GENETIC TRAITS AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS DURING THEIR EARLY DEVELOPMENT.

THOSE INDIVIDUALS THAT HAVE LEFT THEIR HOMEWORLD TO SEEK THEIR FORTUNES AMONG THE STARS. BOTH EFFICIENT AND SYSTEMATIC, BUT ALSO INTENSLY PASSIONATE, THEY POSSESS NEARLY A BIPOLAR TYPE OF PERSONALITY. PHYSICALLY, THEY ARE BIPEDAL WITH TWO UPPER LIMBS, AS WELL AS ALL THEIR VISUAL, NASAL, ORAL AND AUDITORY ORGANS ON THEIR HEAD,

Although I do not speak fluent, or even rudimentary, Engagian, I would say that look of irritation could be translated into I plan to rip your arms off and beat you to death with them as soon as I get the chance. Well, take a number, pal Now back to business Very observant, Captain. I will have to keep my eyes on you But as Gantarg asked you what now? That is quite simple. You will take your crew and, at least for the short run, lock them in one of your ships holding cells. You personally will stay unconfined for the time being though, as I have several questions that will need answering and very soon. Meanwhile, we will all take your ship, leave the station and continue on our way. Simple enough, right? Not too long ago I would have had some serious issues with most of that plan. But as is the case with you, we have also been double-crossed and our own mission compromised. I feel no further allegiance to my employer, so instead of fighting each other, I propose a temporary partnership. I know I am going to regret this but Continue. I allow you access to my ship and you provide me with your more extensive knowledge of our common destination. Then we work together and finally find Ney Mis Weil. Or as I believe you call it, the Crystal Cave. If the situation werent so dire and it be considered rude and inappropriate at this time, Id yell out to the others See, I told you so. Although not familiar with your species, Captain Cal, I imagine the slight fluctuation in what I deem to be your olfactory channels means your are both surprised by my knowledge of this and that it is also further confirmation of your own belief in its existence. Damn it all, I thought I had that give-away under control Well? What do you say, Captain? Why would I want to partner? You have attacked us twice, have succeeded in crippling our ship and killed off a lot of the crew in the process. In your place, I would be more worried about us hanging you and the rest of your crew right here right now Besides, we already have your ship, which I am not yet inclined to release. Do not take those first few events personally, Captain. It was just a job. Surely you understand that. Besides, I would gain nothing by trying to kill you now. I would lose all the valuable information you have collected. As for your so-called control of the ship, the vast majority of the functions on the Phantom are controlled by the ships artificial intelligence. I will demonstrate later, but rest assured I instructed it before we came out here that it was not to respond to anyone elses commands unless I gave the goahead. And as I correctly assumed, that is what you seem to want to do now. So we can stand here debating or we can work together and get out of here before that giant ship decides to bring this station down on top of us. If shes telling the truth, it makes sense I have to play along for now, especially if it will get the crew off this floating junkyard. But I cant let this discussion end with her thinking she has the upper hand... Very well, RaeSha. You make some very good points. A temporary partnership it will be. I knew you would see things my way Most males do. Whatever you say. But you are right and we should move out quickly. So please escort your crew to a holding cell... I can assure you that will not be necessary. Perhaps, but that term is non-negotiable. And to show you how serious I am about it I wish I was recording this, because the face that Engagi is going to make in a moment is going be priceless Zap him. Aaaaaaarrrggghh!

Ouch The stun setting on those carbines doesnt seem to be much lower than the kill-painfully setting Hes going to be sore in the morning Now RaeSha, if you wish to test me further, I can have them all put down in the same manner. But that would just be more for you to carry inside. Now, off to holding please... I would offer the services of our medical officer to assist your friend here, but you killed her already. Point taken Iegger, Nienor, pick up Gantarg and take him inside To holding. Thank you. But before the five of you go, remove all your weapons and leave them on the floor Ecab, go with them and make sure theyre secure in the cells. If anyone resist, shoot him. If there is anyone else inside, shoot them all. Hopefully hes following along and will pick up one of those guns on the way in I did not see him hiding there. You are just full of surprises, Captain, well, thank you, I have my moments Speaking of which, the trap you left behind at the last planet, in the central tower. Excrements that would ignite and explode if anyone tried to cut through the foliage at the entrance? I must admit it was quite amusing, although Gantarg is still very upset about. Besides the extensive burns he suffered, it took him a long time to get the smell off of himself. Tell him not to take it personally. Now if you will excuse me Everyone, I assume youve been listening in. Gather only whats absolutely necessary and come What the f? Since there are no earthquakes in space, I think this sudden, violent shaking may mean we are in big trouble Master, come in The ship outside has started firing on the station. I believe they have tired of waiting and are trying to get us to come out. The station will not withstand much of an assault. Once without someone shooting at us Just once on this trip would be nice.

Chapter 13: That will take us to our next stop - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.550 Stranded in unidentified space station
THEY SAY THAT IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM. AND ALTHOUGH TECHNICALLY TRUE, IT IMPLIES THAT SOMEONE MIGHT BE SCREAMING DIRECTLY INTO THE VACUUM OF SPACE, LIKELY WITHOUT THE PROPER HEAD GEAR, WHICH THEN MEANS THE SCREAMER WOULD BE DEAD BEFORE EVEN GETTING THE CHANCE TO SCREAM. BUT SCREAM IN TERROR OR DESPERATION INSIDE A SEALED SPACESHIP OR INTO YOUR COMMUNICATION UNITS, AND YOU WILL MOST CERTAINLY BE HEARD EVEN YOU HAPPEN TO FIND YOURSELF IN SPACE. FOR HOW LONG THOUGH IS ANOTHER QUESTION

Watch out! Not a good sign when its raining metal beams and rusty service panels Everyone get down here now! Van, release the ship and open the bay doors. Exar, activate the Ictuss remote autopilot sequence Move, move, move! I think weve worn out our welcome here Time to head up the boarding ramp This ship better be as fast as I think it is RaeSha, hurry inside, release the computer controls and allow it to recognize my commands! Van, meet me at the bridge when you get here! All right, if I am guessing correctly, from the look of it outside, the helm should be right around here! And finally, a seat just right for my size. Too bad I cant take the time to enjoy it How about the control panel? Close enough to the standard layout of most PlanCo ships, so it should be easy enough to operate Lets see now Maneuver with these Another nice surprise. These handles fit great as well Now power up the thrusters What are the primary drives? Well that settles it. Ultra and Magna. Either stolen or reverse-engineered. Sorry Rrivang. But they might just save our hides Now what do they have for a navisolver? And I hope those footsteps coming up behind me are not yet another hired assassin Ready to fight once more against insurmountable odds, Alandres? Close enough I wouldnt have it any other way, Van. And as much as I hate to, I will have to give you proper credit later for securing this ship. I thought we were done for sure. But for now, let me take over navigation control. You worry about not getting us blown up. All yours. I believe thats their version of a navisolver over there. Prep it for when we have to jump I am sealing all hatches. Is everyone inside, Van? Yes, they are spreading out around the ship and finding proper stations. And I told XR to remotely get what is left of the Lumenictus to blast out of here as a diversion. I am assuming that is what you had in mind All engines are online and ready to go. Great minds think alike. Geez, another blast The station cant take much more of this. And soon, neither will we. Let me take this helmet off and get ready to roll... Just like they want us to. Well, in a moment theyll have to change their plans a little Exar, come i... Sniff Huh? Whats that smell? Exar here, Master. The Lumenictus or what is left of it is set for launch. What course would you like it to take? Sniff Its getting stronger Send it on a path around the upper section of the station at the maximum speed it can attain. Sniff What is that? Hey Alandres, did you tell this pretty little thing she could just wander into the bridge any time she felt like it? What was that Van just said? Pretty what ? As you likely overheard, your Captain and I have forged a temporary partnership. So I do not youre your permission to come in here. And if you move that hand of yours any closer to me Van, is it? you will need to count your fingers when you pull it back. No need to get testy now, sweetling. It was a bit of a compliment And as Alandres told you, you are the one that should be concerned about her own well being.

Well now that we got that out of the way, we will get along just fine But as for you, Alandres What do you think you are doing? Im feeling dizzy is what Ive got to clear my head. Whats happening? Getting us out of here. Now grab a seat Well call on you if we need anything All seals shut Now what? Whats the matter with the thrusters? You have not released the landing brake, genius. You know, the last thing I need right now is for her to be a backseat driver even if she was right that time... So I am going to tell her off just once and if she does Oh my G! How did she squeeze into that outfit?! It doesnt look like its going to hold her inside much longer either Focus, focus Life and death situation here The big ship is taking the bait and adjusting its position for a shot at the Lumenictus. This is our chance, Alandres. Punch it! Vans right. Now, brake off and and that has got to be the biggest set of Wait! Whats going on here? Whats the matter with me? Alandres! What are you waiting for?! What? Sorry, Van. Im a bit Never mind. Lets move out. Up we go Spin us around Now slowly out of the bay Good. Theyre moving to intercept the decoy Time to slip out the back door. And not a moment too soon because there goes the Ictus and they just saw us Van. Im taking us around the lower end of the station and will try to keep it between the big ship and us RaeSha, how how do we activate the cloaking shield? Cloaking will not help. Whatever detections system they have is capable of seeing the ship while cloaked. We tried it before we came into the station. Plus you have to lower the deflector shield power for it to work properly. And the green hue of her skin really highlights her Whatd she say? Come on! Whats gotten into me? We will only need it for a few moments. Turn it on now. Fine Please move aside Van Done. We will have no more than 30 mics before we are detected. And as they will not let us get to a jump point in time, I foresee very few medium probability of success courses of action to take. What have you got it mind? Something I would deem falling into the low probability area. I learned it watching what some small birds from my home planet would do when taking on a much larger raptor. PLANETARY COALITION INVINCIBLE-CLASS SHIP CARRIERS ARE THE LARGEST AND MOST POWERFUL SPACE SHIPS BUILT ON THIS SIDE OF THE GALAXY. WITH A MASS DISPLACEMENT ALMOST THREE TIMES AS THE NEXT LARGEST TYPE OF PLANCO CAPITAL SHIPS, HOUSING 285 TACTICAL AND SUPPORT STRIKE SHIPS AND POWERED BY FOUR NSC REACTORS, THEY ARE ALMOST MORE SPACE STATION THAN WARSHIP. BUT RUMORS HAVE ALWAYS PERSISTED REGARDING OCCASIONAL SIGHTINGS IN DEEP SPACE OF SHIPS THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO OUTSIZE EVEN THESE SUPERCARRIERS. NO VALIDATED IMAGES OR RECORDINGS OF THESE SUPPOSED SHIPS HAVE EVER BEEN BROUGHT FORWARD THOUGH. Reverse course and coming back around the bottom of the station Hey now! Those blasts went right through were we just where. That was definitely less than 30 mics Out the other side now and Look, theyve gotten too close to the station Sorry but you cant turn on a dime now like we can. This ship maneuvers great Ramp up the Mega engines They see us now anyway, so might as well turn off the cloak Deflector shields up Now adjust course and set a direct path to their underside Man, thats one big ship. Looks like a floating city or a small moon that also dispenses deadly firepower at all of those who dare come close to it! Watch it! Now if I can come in closer and avoid getting us blasted to pieces for a few more moments, we might be okay I hope you are not planning the shield-bump trick again, handsome. Did she say handsome? I said low probability, not zero chance of survival. Now be quiet. You are breaking my concentration. Which I will need all of with those death rays flashing so close Almost

there though and Ha! Cover under your own hull Thanks for the idea, little kingbird Hope there are still some of your kind around I am picking some motion ahead, Alandres I looks like energy batteries in our line of flight. Damnit! A couple of hits! Serves me right for putting my guard down. They are. Shields down to 70%. Thanks for the warning, Van Hold on now Up down left right Oops, I think that one grazed us a bit Theres too many of them, Van. Im bringing us closer to their hull and run the length of it. Let me know if I get too close to the shield boundary. You have got some room, but watch out for that antenna array up ahead. Whoa, low bridge Okay, eyes on the road And the exhaust from their engines will probably vaporize us, so you may want to steer Shut up, shut up. Im going to wrap around the circumference of the ship and skim back on their upside, Van. Prepare for a Magna jump once were in the clear. Where to exactly? Oh, I dont know To anywhere but here! Actually, the ship itself can Why cant she shut up? I said be quiet, lady! Van, were almost to the other side Almost there, Alandres. I am still trying to figure out parts of the interface. Now I think all I need to do to finish is is Uh, I think we need to alter our plans. That was probably last on the list of things I wanted to hear What is it now? Either there is a species of Paspian buzzers that is capable of surviving in deep space coming to greet us or that swarm I am seeing on radar is a squadron of interceptors. Correction. That one was the last thing I wanted to hear How many and in what formation, Van? There are twelve of them, breaking up in even groups and circling around opposite sides of the ship, Alandres. It looks like they are starting off with a classic Cerpin maneuver. Unfortunately for them, that works best against slow moving targets. And I know they will be trying to flush us into the direction of the big ships waiting cannons, so I better be careful with this To which I will counter with my classic up yours maneuver, Van. When I switch course, recalculate to a vector straight ahead to anywhere. Theyll be too close to us for a Magna jump, so go Ultra. Those tiny ships wont be able to keep up with us... Now everyone, hang on. Im cutting back the gravity compensators. Almost gone the whole length of the ship again, so I better do it now Yank back all the way on the sticks and off we go 90 degrees straight up Ugh, I feel like the Gs are going to push me through the chair, and make me sick in the process But we have nothing but clear sailing ahead. And yes, the interceptors are falling in line behind us, inadvertently providing some nice cover. If that ship wants to take a shot at us, theyll have to take out a few of their own as well The new course is ready when you are, Alandres. Then off we go, Van. Starting Ultra drive in 3, 2, 1 Engaged. See y What the hell were those thunk sounds? Alandres, you are not going to believe this! Three of the chase ships fired some sort of grappling hook at us and are now tethered to the back of the ship. The hooks seem to connect back to them via an energy beam. We are dragging them through the jump! Hows that even possible, Van? And how did they get the hooks through the shields? Or not get ripped off when we sped off? How in blazes should I know?! Things stopped making sense to me a few septecs ago! What do you want to do? They will go wherever we go and alert that big ship to where we are as soon as they get the

chance. Not to mention that their momentum will very likely make them crash into us when we initiate the shutdown process. Thats right. I hadnt event thought about that part. Time for some more improvisation on the fly Van, have you engaged a ships Mega engines while in the middle of an Ultra jump? No, as I cannot think of any reason why you would want to do that... Until now. I think you have something there. Do you anticipate any problems? I cannot imagine they would interfere with jump travel. The only thing that should be impacted would be our decel rate. We will just have to make sure we compensate with the stability module. What are you two idiots babbling about? I have a bad feeling that you are going to wreck my ship before this is all over. Just another low probability course of action. Now if you want to make yourself useful, ex-Captain, go to wherever your weapons station is and get things prepped for action. I will defer to you one last time, as our lives are at stake and we have no time to argue. But if you insist on continuing with your current attitude, I will show you shortly after this escape is conclude the extent of my knowledge in pain infliction. Sounds intriguing, I look forward to it. Now if you dont mind She looks as good going away as she does comin I mean Aah! If we live through this, Im having my head examined Van, lets get ready to do this Start up the Mega engines and redline them, then throttle back the Ultra drive. We should revert at a pretty good clip. And what is your plan for our uninvited stowaways? After were off the jump, Im going into creative flying mode. Combined with the added speed well have, we should be able to assume an attack position before they have a chance to react. And thats when things will get exciting, Van. Got it Just get me a good target and I will take them out, Alandres. Nice plan And are you implying you have been bored up until now? Only since we met you, lady... Now, are the weapons ready? All batteries charged and all torpedo tubes loaded. If you and triple-eyes can fly and shoot as good as you talk, we have enough firepower to turn those chase ships into piles of slag And it would not hurt if you asked nicely next time. Van, start the shutdown sequence on a 10 mic countdown and take over the Weapons station. Be ready to fire right away And my dear, pretty please, slide over this way and keep an eye on engine control. The last thing well need is a drop in performance when were dodging a hail of fire. Nice improvement, handsome. I like you much better when you are pleasant and docile. I aim to please. Now get in position Jump cut in 2, 1 Back in real space Push down fast and we didnt miss a beat in speed I hope those hooks dont tear us up when they go by They have cut the power to their tether-rays, but their momentum is slingshoting them past us. I have got a lock on the lead one Which is now the disintegrated one. The other two are banking aft and starboard. Nice shooting, Van. They must have done that sort of jump tag-along before, because they reacted much faster than I would have expected Adjusting course. I am going in behind the one to right. Target the trailing one and take it out. But Alandres, we have got the one in front right on our sigh... No, the other one, Van. As long as we have position on the ship ahead, we know its not going to get a shot off. Its the one back there thats flying around unopposed and will be opening fire on us first that we need to worry about.

Now on to the business at hand No, no. You wont get away from me that easily You didnt think wed be moving this fast so quick did you? Up, roll left, up again Keep it going all you want, because Ive got you dead to rights. This ship is definitely one of the best Ive ever flo Huh? Is it my imagination or is he slowing down? And not trying to shake us either What are you doing? Hey! Where did it go? Alandres, I lost the ship! What?! What do you mean you lost it?! Theres no place to hide out there, Van! Why do you not tell me something I do not know! But it is not coming up on radar anymore! Where was it when you last saw it, Van? What was it doing? It was making an arching loop over the top of us. I thought it was trying to go on an attack run, but it kept going around. Then it was gone. Looping around over the top lost it didnt continue course Where could it have? Oh, nuts! Van, train the batteries dead ahead and prepare to go to rapid fire mode. You are about to get two targets in quick succession. Two? Does that have anything to do with why we seem to be barreling down on the ship you are supposed to be chasing? Yes! Now quit jabbering and get ready to fire! Just a little bit more I bet you think you have us now, dont you? But weve come too far and gone through too much to be taken out by you two minor league, hot-shot-wannabes like yourselves And now we expose your little trick. It was not bad though But if I do a high-G inverted dive Alandres, what are you do? There it is! They were sitting in line and the front one was blocking it from view! If I can just lock on Yes! One down Two Blazes! I missed the leading one. It shielded itself with his wingmates ship! Wait a mic, Van. Im going to roll back up and then you can Not yet, Alandres. Stay on course and leave him to me. You are not the only with crazy schemes around here. All yours. But you better act fast because hes coming around for another pass, Van. As I was hoping. Just make some half-hearted evasive moves and let him close in. And make sure you increase power to the rear deflectors You know, I can really get used to telling you what do for a change. Good for you. And dont... Whats next? My half-hearted moves will only look like I mean them for just so long. And Im not sure I like the boost the deflectors comment. Yet, it does sound like something you would say though, doesnt it? Now watch this. Hes almost on top of us Eat this! Eat? Hes getting ready to fire something Hey, there go a bunch of those homing mines And this close to the interceptor, theyll act like a mind field If I bank up, we can cut him off some Look at him dodging the mines. But I think he just realized hes left himself wide open Too late and so long For such small ships, they sure blow up pretty brightly... Put another harrowing escape to our resume Whats that? The fiftieth one on this trip alone? And why do I feel like Im drunk? Down you go! How did you like that, Alandres? Not too bad, Van. I would say some of my better traits are finally starting to rub off on you. As long as that is the only thing that rubs off. By the way, how did you know it would be hiding behind its partner? Simple logic, Van. As I told you, Van, theres no place to hide out there. True enough. Now let us not stick around any longer unless we want to see their big brother show up looking for payback. Finally a good idea from you two... Although I must say you can be quite unpredictable under pressure, handsome. No wonder you were able to continuously stay one step ahead me.

You should note that Master Alandres follows standard combat technique only 21.2% of the time, exCaptain. Ironically, I believe that is what has led to his high degree of success in these types of engagements. Thanks, Exar. I was just about to call you. Im hoping for an overview of whatever you were able to get from the station computer system. That is precisely why I am here. Please adjust our course to the coordinates I forwarded to the helm, Master. This should be good Do I dare ask why? Because that will take us to our next stop in the search for the Crystal Cave.

Chapter 14: This is all your fault - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.600 On board commandeered ship, traveling in deep Outspace
OUTSPACE IS THE NAME GIVEN TO THE REGIONS OF SPACE BEYOND THE CHARTED BOUNDARIES OF THE PLANETARY COALITION AND ITS AFFILIATE PLANETS. WHAT LIES THERE IS BASED PURELY SCIENTIFIC SPECULATION AND CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE. AND THE MAIN REASONS ANY SHIP WOULD BE TRAVELING THROUGH IT WOULD BE TO AVOID DETECTION OR FOR EXPLORATORY PURPOSES, HOPEFULLY LEADING TO UNDISCOVERED WONDERS. AND IF ONE COULD LOOK INTO THE FABRIC OF UNIVERSAL MATTER NOW, AN UNMARKED SHIP WOULD BE SEEN TRAVERSING THAT GULF AT OUTSTANDING SPEEDS, HINTING THAT IT MAY HAVE BOTH OF THE AFOREMENTIONED REASONS TO BE DOING SO. Do not misunderstand me, Captain. I have the utmost faith in your abilities and judgment, Ecab begins to tell me, and not in a terribly convincing manner either I just do not like having been excluded from a discussion intended to determine our continued course of action. I am certain I would have been able to provide some useful insight. Im sorry, but it was a spur of the moment thing, Ecab Besides, I decided not call on you because I thought itd be best if you stayed guarding the holding cell for the time being. I needed someone I could trust watching over them until we got everything straightened out and had complete run of the ship. In that case, thank you. I appreciate your trust Now please, continue. According to the files that Exar downloaded, that station was indeed used as a rally point for long space voyages. It was also one in a series of stations that formed part of a navigational grid. Its builders scattered several probes around the galaxy, which then linked back to the nearest station. Those stations then connected to each other, thereby forming the grid. Now even though the station has been unoccupied for quite some time, those probes have continued to transmit data. And because fate appears to be trying to balance our recent misfortunes with some rare good news, one partial transmission showed a transitional planet passing within its sensor range and headed in the general direction of the of the Xentans system. Which I may add is a tri-star system as well. The Xentans system?! Ecab blurts out in response Although with good reason That is on the opposite side of the sector that we were at, Captain! And we do not even now if the planet that was recorded is the one where the Crystal Cave is at! That was my initial concern as well, Ecab. Until Exar told me those files had been automatically moved to a subfolder within the stations database with references, believe it or not, to the Crystal Cave itself. Or at least what they called it. A communications filter was put in place that would scan incoming transmissions for specific pieces of data. If they were found, the info was flagged and redirected to that folder. Even the station builders believed it existed or else they would not have been looking for that specific information. You build a compelling case, Captain. There are just too many coincidences to be ignored. And it seems we are not the only ones that think so either, as our latest unwanted pursuers are proving. Which is why we are heading to Xentans at max speed. I estimate we could reach it within another septec or two if we stay on course. But I am planning to first stop at the probe that supplied the transmission I mentioned. Hopefully we can get more in-depth information directly from it. Perhaps even recreate the rest of that transmission. The attack on the station kept us from doing a complete search of its database. The prudent thing to do from an investigative standpoint, Captain. Although I am afraid it might let those in pursuit close the gap on us. What is the probes location? In orbit around Dryha Minor 7, Ecab. We will revert in between the ninth and tenth planets in order to get cover in case someone just happens to be close by and waiting for us. We will then move in-system from there. It may not be the most direct way to get to Xentans, but I agree with your decision. Thanks Ecab. Not that I was asking for it Is there anything I can assist you with?

Not for now. Why dont you try to get some rest? Olrever rigged the ships onboard surveillance monitors to direct a feed from the holding cell to the bridge. I can continue to keep an eye on our hosts for now. Then by your leave, Captain Now that thats over with, lets see how Van is coming along Van, this is Alandres. Come in. I copy you, Alandres. We have completed the hull integrity check and, putting aside the hole we punched through it with the Lumenticuss shuttle, everything is basically intact. The crew did a good job patching up the breach and it should not cause us any problems during travel. Interesting thing though is the bio-metal compound the hull is made out of. On the surface it looks just like the generic blend used in most modern ships. But on closer inspection, this one regenerates significantly faster. At the rate it is going, the ship will be fully sealed in another five delmics. Go on As for the engine drives, Ashba looked things over and it is as it appears. One Mega engine, one Ultra drive, and, surprise, surprise one Magna drive. It does not have all the tags and markings as the one on the Lumenictus, but it is definitely the genuine artifact and not some cheap copy. I am thinking it has to be either a secretly built one out of stolen Ginrun technology or something taken from their production operation prior to making it to final assembly. Just one more thing to add to the growing list of questions I have for RaeSha, Van. Shes got a lot of explaining to do. So its RaeSha now? You two are pals, calling it each other by first names and all? I thought it looked like you were ogling her. I wasnt ogling her! I may not know what a human might call it then, but it sure looked like you wanted to stick your head right in between her giant Be quiet already But if I had wanted to, I probably would have had to push you out of the way first. Now, is there anything else? No, as in you called me and did not really ask for anything. I just assumed what I told you is what was on your small, one-track mind... So, was I right? Sometimes I cant stand that smug tone It was... Now, did you also check the functionality of the pulse generator or take inventory of the drive spare parts? Um no. Wouldnt that have been the next logical thing on your to-do list? Or is your pair of small, one-track minds not properly focused on the job at hand. Har, har. It just so happens I was one my way to do that right now. I would have done so already if I did not keep getting interrupted. Then please dont let me stop you But actually, there is one other thing. Hows Wags holding up? Not that great. It is not as if she is sulking in a corner, but she has barely said a word since we left the station. And you can tell from that downcast look that she is holding a lot inside. And justifiably so I might add. I know. Call her and send her up here. I will give her something to do to keep her mind occupied and off our troubles. Alandres out. Okay, two down and two to go. Then Im going to get some answers... I still cant believe theyre all dead. Tary, Nep, Cali, Rrivang everyone. Had we returned home after finding that planet, theyd still be alive. Well not necessarily. There was no guarantee we would not have gotten intercepted on the way back. By these guys or the big ship for that matter. For all we know, they could have been tailing both our ships the whole time. But still, they were my responsibility and now theyre gone. I dont know if Ill ever live that down

But enough self-pity for now. Ive got to focus on the here and now, and make sure that those of left alive stay that way. I hope Olrevers findings are as good as Vans Olrever, report in please. How is your evaluation going? As requested, I have performed a full evaluation of the ships defenses, Captain. There are eight compact particle beam batteries, along with nine Karm-45 hybrid missiles, 18 jammer decoys and 12 homing mines left. There is also a pair of a type of missile whose composition I have not been able to identify. A missile type that you dont recognize? Yes. It has no discernible markings or particulate emissions of any kind. But I have come to learn that is usually a sign for something very bad that you also want to keep secret. I will make a note of it... Please continue. The external shields are, at the core, Galaxy-Class type. But these have a customized energy absorption module. It not only allows the ship to withstand high-level energy discharges, but will also re-direct some of that energy to an array of charge converters that tie in to the ships weapons and operational systems. So with every hit the ship takes, it upgrades the output of its own weaponry as well as provides additional energy to other systems. It is a very clever and efficient arrangement, Captain. Then I am glad its us operating the ship now Did you do a trace for listening or tracking devices? Yes, and the results were clean. Although that does not mean there are no transmissors onboard. I still do not have full functionality of the security system, and it is extremely complex. I will have to do a higher level search later on. Well just have to be extra careful in the meantime. Once I am confident that we have full control of the ships intelligence, Ill release it to assist you in some of those tasks. Alandres out. This ship is truly amazing. I wonder where it was built? And by whom And speaking of mysteries sniff, sniff I dont know what that scent is but its intoxicating Having fun with my ship, handsome? It is quite extraordinary, is it not? I didnt think it possible for her to get into an even-more-impossible-to-squeeze-into outfit than the last one, but I stand corrected. Now Im no Niscou, but that cant possibly be comfortable And how in the world can it hold those things in? Oh, and I feel drunk again MOST SPECIES HAVE AN INTERNAL PREDISPOSITION TO CONSIDER THE WAY THEY LOOK AND ACT AS BEING THE PROPER BASELINE FOR WHICH TO CONSIDER SOMETHING NORMAL. CLOTHING IS A COMMON EXAMPLE OF THIS CONCEPT. TO A CASUAL OBSERVER, THE GARMENTS TYPICALLY WORN BY THE PHASTOMEDIANS APPEAR TO BE STIFLING AND OPPRESSIVE, AND IN NO WAY SHOULD BE WORN ON A PLANET AS HOT AND ARID AS THEIRS. BUT IN REALITY, THIS ATTIRE SERVES AN IMPORTANT DUAL PURPOSE. FIRST, IT HELPS MAINTAIN THEIR INTERNAL BODY TEMPERATURE AT OR ABOVE THE 125 DEGREES IT NEEDS TO BE IN ORDER TO ALLOW FOR THEIR VITAL ORGAN FUNCTIONS. AND SECOND, IT ALLOWS FOR THE CONCEALMENT OF THEIR FOUR ARMS, WHICH TYPICALLY ARE HOLDING SOME TYPE OF DEADLY WEAPON, AND ARE INVALUABLE ASSETS IN THEIR PREFERRED ROLE AS BOUNTY HUNTERS. AS FOR NISCOUS, THE PROVOCATIVE, SCANTILY CLAD APPAREL THEY PREFER TO WEAR, BY BOTH FEMALES AND MALES, WOULD NOT SURPRISE THE FEW SPECIES THAT ARE WELL ACQUAINTED WITH THEM. TAKING GREAT PRIDE IN THEIR ANATOMICAL APPEARANCE, THEY ARE NOT SHY ABOUT SHARING THIS VIEWPOINT WITH OTHERS. Absolutely, ex-Captain RaeSha... She definitely has it where it counts. No doubt I will enjoy my newfound ownership. But she is also a bit of mystery and I am looking forward to having a lot of questions answered. I would expect as much. But if I did not know any better, I would say you were talking about me. I was. My last few comments were addressed to your escort, Exar. Oh very funny. I see that attempting to be humorous is another thing to add to the list of things that you do not do well, Alandres. What a bitch Really? Would you say it is sort of like your ability to escape capture by someone you have outnumbered outgunned, and holding only a dinner knife and a rusty piece of pipe?

Perhaps. But I would classify it more like your selective memory about the events that led to that particular situation. No, no, I beg to differ Miss Ex-Captain. I say it is more like your piloting skills when you are encountered by a larger, slower foe. It took you what, ten times as long to get away as it did us? If you want to talk about piloting, how about that unbelievably predictable move you tried back in Master, ex-Captain, if you would not mind continuing your discussion simply amongst yourselves, I have several other tasks that require my attention. Oh boy, scolded by a bot. I guess I had it coming by acting like I like a dumb teenager. I just cant seem to think straight when shes around You are correct, XR. I apologize. I should not let myself be goaded by the juvenile behavior of others. As for you Alandres, I am glad you like my ship, but do not get too attached to it. Recall that we are in a partnership a temporary partnership. And once it is ended, you will no longer be welcomed in this ship. Of course, ex-Captain. Whatever you say. Heaven forbid we overstay our welcome. You are truly one of the most infuriating beings I have ever encountered. And stop calling me ex-Captain or I will be forced to remove your vocal organs. But wouldnt that be letting yourself be goaded again by juvenile behavior? Yes it would be. But upon further reflection, that would mean not being able to listening to your irritating comments anymore, so I would be glad to make an exception. Now, I believe you wanted to discuss the workings of the ships intelligence. Among other things, yes. Give me an overview of the system. Its capabilities, limitations, what it controls, what it is doing right now and so forth. I will put it in a way that even you can understand. In short, the intelligence operates the vast majority of the functions of every operating system on the Phantom. Propulsion, life support, navigation, everything. Isnt that a bit risky? Handing over full control of the ship to it? One glitch and you could end up flying into a star or breathing in methane gas. A simplistic, predictable reaction. You can rest assured that its design is quite robust. It has several redundant circuits and self-diagnosis sub-routines that are running at all times. We would know well in advance of any complications before anything critical happened. It would take something much more significant than a glitch to disable it. I did not mean for you to take it so literally. But in any case, Im glad at least youre confident with that setup. I favor being able to have more direct control of a ship. Especially when my life and those of my crew are at stake. Says the being traveling through uncharted space in search of a fabled place that no one knows if it really exists. But you should have expected that, if necessary, the ship can be turned over to full manual control. The intelligence would then operate on an as-needed basis. Normally I prefer not to, as the crew is then free to do other tasks that have more direct bearing on our mission. Plus it allows us to carry a significantly smaller crew. When you are dealing in secrecy, the less that know about it the better. No argument here. But it appears that at least one too many individuals knew what both of us were up to. Unfortunately so. But I have every intention of making whomever is responsible pay dearly for it. You can say that again As will I. Are you talking to me or about me again? Both. Of course. I had almost forgotten we still have more unpleasant things to discuss. But as far at the intelligence goes, that is basically it. Going forward, you can address it as SAL. SAL? Ha! Are you serious? Will it call me Dave too?

Dave? I do not have the slightest idea what you are talking about or why I would not be serious about this. The acronym stands for Systematic Artificial Lifeform. SAL. What is the joke? Sorry, its an old story that would probably lose something in translation... Exar, how was your interaction with SAL? Exceedingly productive, Master. Our source codes have very similar architecture, so I was able to communicate with SAL quite easily once ex-Captain RaeSha removed the biometric security failsafe. I have since replaced it with one of my own design, so we cannot be locked out. I can give you a detailed account of my experience, but suffice it to say, we have full control of all of its functions. That is just what I wanted to hear, Exar. How do we communicate with it? Simply by calling out to it, Master. Voice recognition sensors are in place all over the ship. I have reprogrammed it to acknowledge you as this vessels commanding officer, as well as identified the members of our crew. All over the ship? Should we have any privacy concerns? I do not believe so. SALs primary functions are the operations of the ship. It does not divert resources to other endeavors unless given a direct command. What is the matter, handsome? Are you afraid someone might eavesdrop on whatever sordid activity you like to entertain yourself with when no one is looking? Well RaeSha, having been double-crossed, hunted down, shot at multiple times, lost my ship and most of my crew since leaving Rackoyd, I am sure you understand my desire for a little privacy. Certainly, as I have gone through basically the same scenario. Now, is there anything else you would like me to tell you about SAL? Yes. Does it have any way to defend itself? Only if instructed to by me or you for now. It can discharge an electric bolt at a specified target through various conduits located around the ship. But nothing too serious. It would be more of a deterrent of action. The designers did not want to give the ship the ability to become too independent. A sensible decision. And while were at it, why dont give it a try? Dont make that face RaeSha, Im not talking about you this time. Youre far too attractive to risk causing permanent damage to. Oh boy Did I just say that out loud? I hope Im not turning too red Err uh anyway SAL, locate Commander Vancara and give him a 50 mark-level jolt to his posterior. I hope hes properly grounded COMMANDER VANCARA HAS BEEN LOCATED. PROCEEDING WITH 50 MARK-LEVEL JOLT. And the call should be coming in right about Alandres! You miserable miscreant! I know it was you that did that! Sorry, Van. Just a minor security drill. I thought it might be more efficient to have it performed on a rugged, healthy subject like yourself. Healthy is one thing you will not be once I come up there and cram this hydro-impulser up your ! What was that? Youre breaking up. Go back to whatever youre doing and well talk later... Alandres out. Its amazing how the mind works In the direst situation it still finds ways for you to laugh even though you dont feel like it I guess thats one our internal mechanisms to help us get through tough times. I see that regardless of the species, males can always be counted on for persistent immature behavior, Alandres. Thank you, I try my best. Now two final things for now. First, do not call me Alandres. That is what my friends call me, and you are not on that short list. You can call me Captain, Cal, or both if it so suits you. And second, how is your crew holding up? Are you actually concerned? I did not think you cared... Captain Grumpy.

Good Lord well, if I sound kinda of grumpy, it might be because I am I dont. I am just curious. And I was being quip. But since you asked, they want to pummel you senseless, wait until you make to dismember you, and then set you on fire. Whatever is left of you will be disposed into the septic system. Not exactly optimal for me, but as long as theyre in good spirits we shouldnt complain That will be all, Exar. Please usher the ex-Captain yes, yes, I know. Removal of vocal organs Please usher her back to her quarters. I do have one final thing to share with you, Master. I completed the analysis you requested and transmitted it to your mini comp for review. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask. Thank you, Exar My dear, I will come pay you a visit in a short while in order to discuss the more serious matters. I can hardly wait, handsome... And it is Fire Phantom. Pardon? Fire Phantom. That is my ships name. In case you wanted to know. Fire Phantom I like it. Goes well with the paint job and the whole cloaking business. Captain Alandres Cal of the Fire Phantom Yeah, I like it. It does have a bit of a nice ring to it. Just do not get too used to it. Too late. Exar On our way, Master Ex-Captain, if you would Mental note, bug her room and make sure she has a constant escort Uh-oh, here comes Wagshi. Timing couldnt be worse and she doesnt look very happy. Is she going to ouch! You killed my friends you flaming skrag! Yes she is. That looked like it hurt. She packs quite a punch for such a small frame. And whats she pulling out? A stun-baton? Whered she find that?... Good thing Exar got in the way. I better too Thats enough, break it up. Therell be plenty of time to exact our painful revenge later, Wags. But for now we need her help running the ship. Glad to see my future prospects look so bright, Captain Cal. But in the meantime, please keep your pet on a leash. Unless of course you want her euthanized like most stray animals should be. Pet!! I will kill you, you miserable piece of! I said enough! Wags, I know how you feel, but now is not the time. Now please, take over the helm and No, you do not know how I feel! This is all your fault! All yours! You just had to go on this insane quest of yours and drag us along! Come to terms with it! The Crystal flaming Cave does not exist! And you are deluding yourself if you think we are going to find anything wherever it is you are taking us to now! Wags, please No, no! Do not say anything unless it is we are going home! Come to grips now before we all end up dead! I guess that earlier self-pity was a bit justified Unfortunately, she has a point too Well?! Are you going to say anything?! Alandres?! I am, but it is not going to be were going home, Wags. most of them a lot longer than you did. And I dont know will mourn them for a long, long time. But with that said, that they died for nothing. So we will see this to the end, much. Not yet. And I do know how you feel. I knew if I will ever forgive myself for their deaths. I we are not turning around. I will not accept whatever that may be. We owe them that

Do not say we! We do not owe them, you do! You are obsessed! And it is going to get us all killed! I hate to get tough with her, especially with how awful she feels, but this is not the time for this Damn it! I have to make sure I apologize to her later Your point of view is noted Lieutenant, but my decision

is final. Now take the helm, as I need to attend to other matters. Review the plotted course, the available star charts and see if you can identify a more expeditious route. Is that understood? Yes Captain. And I hope you feel good about yourself. No, I dont. But Ill deal with that later. There is still too much left to be done And are you two waiting for something? Not at all, handsome. Just enjoying the show. I will see you later. As will I, Master. Sorry for the delay. And to apologize to Exar as well Unfeeling bot or not, I still shouldnt take out my frustrations on him Now let me take a walk and see what he found Summary of airborne chemical analysis The typical female Niscou exudes 50 DQ units of exopheromones. RaeSha average level at 65 DQs, with a maximum of 87 during the time period of examination Previously unrecorded reaction from human male Well, what did he expect? The Coalition has no record of any humans So what are the symptoms? Accelerated heart rate, dilated optical organs, involuntary bodily reactions, interference with basic brain functions and highly increased physical desires should be expected Well that certainly explains a lot Secondary findings point to similar reactions likely occurring to Niscou female in response to involuntary human male exopheromone release Interesting circle we seem to be caught in. Plus I did not know there was such a thing as human male exopheromone release And whats this? Editorial comments as well? My conclusion is that you are experiencing the effects of the chemical reaction previously outlined. Through what I can only classify as an astonishing occurrence, Niscous and Humans are an amazingly suitable physical match. I would advice you to take precautions at once, hence your better judgment be inadvertently compromised Well if that doesnt beat all. 50,000 light years from Earth and I run into my perfect match, as she is trying to kill my friends and I And look, I seem to have wandered towards her quarters And heres Exar to boot Remember to take precautions, Master. You know Exar, Van has this theory that you might be developing psychic abilities... I regret to inform you that nothing of the sort has, or is, happening. I simply generated a hypothesis based on your present location, facial expression, recently put away mini comp and rapidly accelerating heart rate. Did I deduce your intentions correctly? It appears so, as I am here to see RaeSha And to interrogate her about everything that has happened so far. That was the main part of my deduction, Master. I wont ask that if interrogation is only part of your hypothesis, what the remainder of it might be. I will make sure to keep my thoughts to myself. Thanks. I guess you know me better than most. But please find me in a couple of delmics or so. I have some thoughts on your analysis that I wish to discuss. Of course. I will find you then. And before you go, sorry for snapping at you earlier. No apologies are necessary, Master. You are under considerable stress and pressure. I know you did not mean any harm. Thanks. But Im sorry anyway. See you then. He is getting scary good at reading me Now its time to get some answers. I guess I should ring and not just barge Come in, handsome.

in Is everyone here a damn mind reader? Well, Im here, so lets step inside and and interference with brain functions was an understatement. I can barely see straight Well, at least straight enough to see those Are you all right, Cal? You seem to be blushing. I guess that would fall under involuntary bodily reactions So far, not off to the most dignified start Im fine, thanks for asking. And you know what Im here for. Of course. You follow a predictable pattern. You want to know who sent me, why, and what do they know. Right so far. So now Ill say the next predictable thing Are you going to tell me or will we have to do this the hard way? As interested in finding out what it is that you would define as the hard way, I no longer acknowledge the deal with my now-former employer, and am willing to share some information. As long as you still plan to continue to honor our temporary truce. That will depend on what your answers are. Very well. So to speed things along, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. First, I do not know who specifically hired us. At least what his or her name is. But that is not atypical. We were contacted via a string of many verified contacts. Plus my hefty upfront fee was paid promptly. And before you ask, yes we still did a trace on the communication transmission. But we were unable to locate the focal point source. But I was satisfied to find it originated from Cybexs headquarters within Rackoyd. Check one And the reason we were hired was to track you until you found the lost planet. They knew it would only be a matter of time before you found the trail and led us there. We were provided with your fake ship code, schematics, departure schedule and outbound course. We later received other intermittent subspace transmissions, updating us on your position. And once we had confirmation that the correct planet was found, we were to capture you. Check two I must say, your actions hardly seem those of someone intent on capture. Our initial assault while you were on the planets surface was meant to disable the Lumenictus. If we wanted to destroy it, we would have taken more drastic measures. But once you rejoined the ship, things became a bit more complicated than I had anticipated. We stayed on your trail after you escaped You mean after we sent you scurrying. Whatever you want to call it. As I was saying, we were trying to disable, not destroy We were then in close pursuit when you found that station. I did take a calculated risk when we fired upon you. I expected you to be unprepared to evade the missile, and that it would surely destroy your ship, but not immediately. I counted on you to being able to salvage yourself and the command module. Once you were marooned inside, it would just be a simple matter of retrieval. Unfortunately, that giant ship arrived at the perfectly wrong moment. That depends on your point of view Did you have anything to do with the pirates at the Telem Cluster? Yes and no. I paid them to be lookouts. Once we left Rackoyd, we deduced the flight path you had chosen and paid them to stand guard to confirm your passage. But like everyone else, they became greedy and decided to capture you, so at to ransom you back to us. Rest assured they have been dealt with harshly. Hey, theyre pirates. You get what you pay for. Hopefully my team and I will not end up that way. No need for you to worry. You have not given me ample reason to eliminate you yet... And as seeing how overly capable you have proven yourself to be, I would even be willing to consider removing the temporary tag from our partnership if things go well between us from here on out.

I doubt the folks in the holding cells would be agreeable to that. If you intend to follow through with our pact, you may do with them as you wish. Lovely girl Not exactly a ringing endorsement for someone you are looking to enlist And Id be surprised if your friends would appreciate your sense of loyalty. Well dont be. The only thing most crews in my line of work are loyal to is their payoff. Simply how much is it and when are they going to get it. I field new crews quite frequently in order to maintain a sense of hunger amongst them. The ones that stay too long start thinking they should be making more or would do a better job running the ship than me. That is another reason I have SAL run most of the ship operations. To be less dependant on the ever-changing personnel. In fact, I had already started plans to replace my current group after this mission. Suitable precautions Ill admit. Iegger, Nienor and Rlieharc are just in their second operation and have already voiced some concerns about how much they expect to get paid when we find the crystals. And the Engagi? He is actually the exception to the rule, as he has been with me for some time now. Four tricents to be exact. Why is he the exception? Is he not as cred-obsessed as the others? Or is he the rare, loyal thug? Neither actually. All things being equal, I am sure he would shoot us and walk over our corpses if someone were to pay him just slightly more than what I am giving him right now. And he is still the exception because? Because a prime fact about Engagis, aside from their lack of innate leadership skills, is that their frantic breeding instincts tend to override most of their other basic qualities. They all go through it about every five or six tricents. And once they set their sights on a potential mate, it is almost impossible to dissuade them otherwise, no matter how long you try. After I hired him, Gantarg quickly found me quite suitable for this purpose. And ever since, he has been trying unsuccessfully to make me see things his way on the matter. Granted I tease him from time to time, just to keep him focused. And it is this ill-conceived hope that I will surrender to him that keeps him in check. But I have no intention of ever becoming intimate with him. I would rather kiss a Waynor mountain orsso. On the flip side, he does kind of look like one though A GROUND-DWELLING OMNIVORE THAT INHABITS THE MOUNTAINS OF THE SUB-CONTINENT OF BERILLIA IN THE PLANET WAYNOR, THE MOUNTAIN ORSSOS ENTIRE BODY IS COVERED THICK, DARK HAIR, HAS A LARGE, THICK SKULL IN WHICH THEIR LOWER MANDIBLE EXTENDS FURTHER OUT THAN THEIR UPPER JAW, AND TYPICALLY EMANATES AN UNPLEASANT ODOR GENERATED BY A MIX OF THE REMAINS OF EVERYTHING IT ATE OVER THE COURSE OF THE PREVIOUS HEPTEC. COINCIDENTALLY, THAT IS HOW MOST WOULD ALSO DESCRIBE A TYPICAL ENGAGI MALE. All those pleasantries aside, RaeSha, I have two final questions then It was obvious that our contact either never intended to let us live after we delivered you or that he grew weary of the chase and sent in some backup. The timing and subsequent attack by the giant ship would be too coincidental to be a random encounter. Does that answer one of them? She may be nice to look at, but the pedantic approach is starting to wear thin Yes. And if you are so smart, please answer the next one as well. Regardless of what your pet said, I personally believe in the existence of the crystal cave.

Then again, when youre on a roll and want to show off to your temporary partner, that is what you do But I am glad for that last comment, because it helped clear the cobwebs a bit and put things back in proper perspective She is not a pet. Her name is Wagshi, she is my friend and crewmember, and has just lost some very dear friends. And thanks to you, in case you forgot. I would ask that you address her properly or not at all. Sorry. I did not realize you were so sensitive I was just trying to show you a little support after her outburst. I guess I will stop now. You know, Im hearing that so much, Im starting to think I just might be Please do, because regardless of how civil I am being towards you right now, this is not a social call. At this time, out of convenience, yes we are partners. Temporary partners as you have frequently pointed out. But I have no way to verify anything of what youve told me, nor do I have any way to know whether you will seek to eliminate me again once my usefulness to you is at and end. The only thing I do know is that my ship has been destroyed, my friends are dead, and youre feeding me some lines that sound just like what I would want to hear. Well thanks for nothing, you wretched ingrate. I have willingly answered every question you have asked and not once put up any resistance. And the only reason you are still alive is because I have agreed to be your partner. We could have left you stranded on that station and left you to die. I could have taken you out once you boarded the ship but no, I am feeding only you what you want to hear. And for all I know, it may be you trying to eliminate me once this is all over. Or have you forgotten you have tried to kill me and my crew as many times as we have you? That was strictly in self-defense. And I think you overestimate both our resiliency, as well your own chances once you decided to save us. So until further notice, partner, we will proceed in whatever manner I see fit, and will continue to keep you as a fairly well-accommodated prisoner in the process. Im glad you are feeling so high and mighty, Captain, but I do not particularly care for that arrangement. And you are really pushing me towards doing something about it And by the way, my face is up here. You can at least look me in the eyes when I am talking to you. I could but nah Perhaps, but Ive made my choice. You are truly exasperating and intolerable. About as much as you are irritating and conceited. You know, I have a growing desire to snap your vertebral column in half. Try it sweetie and I will shoot you dead right where you stand. Fine, you do not trust me and I do not trust you. And the first chance we get, we are going to try and kill each other. Agreed? Now let us stop skirting around the obvious and get to the point. Are we going to mate or not? Direct and concise. I like that And I guess this is the part when my better judgment is supposed to be inadvertently compromised again Another good call by Exar, because I can barely remember why I even came here in the first place I was about to say, I am liking you better already... but judging by the way your cuspids are suddenly extending, I am now wondering if that wasnt your own cute way of saying Im going to rip you limb from limb. You are actually right on both counts. So I hope humans have a high threshold for pain. Um and why would they need to? Because from pain will come pleasure. And in a few moments, I am going to make you beg for your life. I never thought I would look so much forward to my imminent demise. But Im sure Captain Kirk would approve

Chapter 15: Do you feel lucky? - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.617 On board unregistered light cruiser Fire Phantom, on approach to Dryha System
THE FIRST RECORDED INSTANCE OF INTERSTELLAR CROSS-SPECIES MATING WITHING PLANCO RECORDS IS SAID TO HAVE INADVERTENTLY OCCURRED WHEN THE AMBASSADOR FROM CORANCOR ATTEMPTED TO GREET ONE OF THE MEMBERS OF THE VISITING DELEGATION FROM THE PLANET KELTWI. THE CORANCORIAN EXTENDED HIS TAIL FOR A TRADITIONAL GREETING EMBRACE TOWARDS THE KELTWII, WHOSE ROSTRAL TENTACLES WERE IN FULL DISPLAY OUTSIDE OF HER CEREMONIAL TUNIC. THIS WAS BASED ON HIS ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTION THAT THEY SERVED THE SAME TACTILE RECOGNITION PURPOSE AS HIS TAIL. BUT IN FACT, THESE TENTACLES ARE RESERVED FOR MORE INTIMATE USES. WHEN THEIR TWO SEPARATE LIMBS CAME IN TOUCH, THE KELTWII UNDERWENT AN INVOLUNTARY REACTION TO THE CHEMICALS IN HER GREETERS SKIN, AND SHE EXPELLED HER OVIPOSITOR, WHICH THEN IRONICALLY LANDED IN THE CORANCORIANS BROOD POUCH. IMPREGNATION WAS AVERTED, BUT AN EXTREMELY AWKWARD SITUATION ENSUED, WHICH PUSHED BACK DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS BETWEEN THE TWO SPECIES FOR QUITE SOME TIME. EVER SINCE, THERE HAVE BEEN BOTH MORE PURPOSEFUL AND UNINTENTIONAL ENCOUNTERS THAT CAN BE KEPT TRACK OFF. SOME HAVE LED TO MEMORABLE EVENTS, LIKE THE JOINING OF THE ZELISBE AND BARUSBA PLANETS TO FORM THE ZELIBAR DOMAIN. OTHERS, LIKE THE EVENTUAL GENOCIDE OF THE CORANCORIAN BY THE KELTWII SO THEY COULD PROCESS THEIR REMAINS INTO A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE AND VERY POWERFUL APHRODISIAC, ARE BEST REMEMBERED AS A CLEAR SIGN TO ALWAYS APPROACH WITH CAUTION. Ow, ow, ow Hey, if it is not my dear Alandres! How are you, pal? Ow, ow, ow... Stupid chair. I cant even sit down comfortably Im fine, Van How are you? I am hanging in there But are you sure you are fine? It looked like you were limping a bit when you came in. Ah! I better shift my weight the other way and... Aaaah! No, back to how I was Yes, Im okay. Thanks for asking. All right then. I just was hoping that was not you I heard screaming their head off a few delmics ago. Crap. I thought ship bulkheads were supposed to be soundproof... Well, actually Ah-ha, I knew it! Alandres, you impetuous idiot! Have you lost your mind?! What in blazes were you thinking?! You see what happened was You remember that she has been trying to kill us at every turn. And has already killed Tary-secc, Nep, Calidem and all the others. And destroyed the Lumenictus as well! Do you not care about any of that?! Of course I do! But the thing is that Shut up! Just shut up! So please just tell me one thing How was it? What? It was a simple question. I thought you said I was a cold hearted, impetuous idiot. I never said cold hearted, which you are by the way So back to my question How was it? But before you answer, I have to say that little stunt would be kind of a risky proposition for you. Considering your otherwise poor record in identifying the erogenous zones of females from species different than yours. Which would really be all of them. And on what are you basing that assessment on? Considering that I do not recall ever discussing that particular topic with you? You can be quite easily interrogated when intoxicated.

Oh boy So Van, do you also possess knowledge of any other interesting or incriminating stories? Quite a few of them actually. But those are stories for another time Alandres, as I am still waiting for the details on this one. Fine, but this stays just between us... Remember how I told you I kept feeling a bit funny every time I was around RaeSha? Well, I had Exar run some tests on You needed a bot to confirm that you were under the spell of a very attractive and exceedingly shapely female? Do you want to hear this or not? Sure I do. I was just pointing out the obvious. Then be quiet for five demics and just listen. As I was saying, I had Exar run some tests on and theres the comm. beeping, so I guess this will have to wait Master, come in please. Aaah! Dont have a fit, Van. Hes just doing his job with impeccable timing I read you, Exar. We have crossed to less than 12 million kilomecs from Dryha 7. Got it. And have you gotten the radar system working, Exar? Yes. Unsurprisingly at this point, it is very similar to the system that was installed on the Lumenictus. No kidding. Im going to take us off the jump and into approach speed. Start scanning when ready, and send a secondary feed to the helm. Will do, Master. XR-4 out. Well Alandres, it looks like your sordid story will have to wait for later, as it looks like things will be picking up soon. But in all seriousness, I have to ask you one final question... Are you still fully committed to the task at hand and with the right priorities in mind? Or has our beautiful guest sunken her claws too deep into you? Come on, Van. Hey, if I do not ask you, who will? Point taken.. I am completely focused and committed to what needs to be done. And no one is going to get in our way And those were two questions. Just as I thought, plus it is good to see you still have your sense of humor about you... or what passes for one Now I believe you were about to get back to work. Thanks for letting me Cutting Magna drive Mega engines to 75% thrust. Here comes Exars feed now And he is already generating a second display around the sixth planet. Thats another reason not to mess with his memory banks. He can anticipate a lot of what Im going to ask him to do exceedingly well And if I am not mistaken, that silvery-looking cylinder must be a sensory probe on a nice, undisturbed orbit Were so close I can taste it Van, are you seeing what Im seeing? Of course. I am the one with three eyes, remember? Exar is running a stability analysis and forwarding the status real time Exar, come in. We are receiving your feed. Can you tell if that probe has the capacity to maintain personnel within it? Affirmative, Master. The preliminary results show an area that was likely utilized to house a small away team. Unbelievable, Alandres, I hear Van say off to my right, and think that doesnt even begin to describe it, Do you think our luck will continue and the computers in there still work? If the probe was built by the same species that built the station, I would not doubt it But there is only one way to truly find out Exar, can you find an entry point? From out here I mean.

Affirmative again. There is an access panel just below the upper segment of the probe, which I am hypothesizing is an emergency evacuation exit. There you have it, Van. In the right context, emergency evacuation is just another phrase for emergency access. It only depends on your point of view. Take the helm and put us in relative orbit around it. Close enough to connect the access duct Exar, meet me at the secondary airlock. We are going inside the probe. On my way, Master. How come you always get to go off-ship and I get stuck baby-sitting, Alandres? Because I value your services too much to endanger your well being on an unnecessarily dangerous assignment, Van. Yeah, right. I cannot believe you said that entire line with a straight face. If I did not know better, I would almost believe it. Then just think of my risking my neck instead of yours as a potential fast track for you to becoming Captain. Now you are talking. You should have said so in the first place. I thought you knew me well enough to work the right angles. Glad to see the ol Van is still there. So keep your eyes on things, and Exar and I will be back before you know it. Sniff Wait a mic. What is she? I hope there is room for one more because I am coming too, handsome. Wow With so little fabric on that outfit, she might as well wear nothing. Not that theres anything wrong with that Sure you are. At most, you can keep Van company and enjoy the view from up here. Hmm Even though she is the only Niscou Ive ever met, that is definetely the I know something you dont know look Plus I do not like how she is slowly moving back away from the bridge If you insist then SAL, seal the bridge and initiate intruder protocol gullible fool. And there go the doors That bitch! SAL, command override. Open the bridge doors. NEGATIVE. GULLIBLE FOOL ALANDRESS COMMAND OVERRIDE AUTHORITY NOT RECOGNIZED. That frokcing bitch! RaeSha, open the doors now and I promise I wont keep you inside the sewage processor for the rest of the trip. Alandres No wait, Captain Cal I can tell by the inflection in your voice that you are quite surprised by your current state of affairs. I made a bet with myself that you would lower your guard long enough to allow it to happen. But I must admit, deep down, I was hoping you would be better prepared. Did you really think I would just hand over my ship and meekly do everything you say just because you asked nicely? Your girlfriend is something else, Chief. That frokcing, double-crossing bitch! Wipe that stupid grin off your face and help me get this damn doors open, Van! And now, to show you how serious I am SAL, prepare to deliver a 100 mark-level bolt to Alandress posterior on my command. Well, I do have that one coming Now handsome, I will let you out only if you gak! Sentence cut off, apparent sound of closing windpipe, uncomfortable silence. I hope thats what I think it is and not that she had a sudden heart attack and we are stuck in here for the long run Unseal the bridge and release the Master. Now! As I said before, Exar and impeccable timing go hand in hand

Alandres Tell your robot to let me go and back off gasp I have other, nastier surprises that will go off if SAL were to no longer detect my vital signs. Plus add that you will not be able to get out of there within your lifetime. I told you your girlfriend was something else, pal. And I told you to wipe that stupid grin off your face RaeSha, why such hostility? I thought we had finally started acting more civil towards one another. Considering I am the one with a metallic handwrapped around my neck, I think I have the right to feel a little hostile... gasp. Well I wont necessarily say you asked for it but arent you glad that I was indeed prepared for your eventual treachery? You didnt think I was just going to let you roam around the ship unsupervised this whole time just because youve been acting so nicely, did you? Alandres, will you quit flirting with her and get us out of here? Fine, fine. Just having a little fun, Van You neednt worry, RaeSha. Hes not going to kill you. Laws of robotics and all. Itll be more like intense torture until he gets his way. Now lets let bygones be bygones, open the doors and we can discuss this like mature individuals. Now if this doesnt work, Ill have to tell Exar to use her head as a battering ram to knock the doors down I have no idea what a bygone is, but it sounds like you are willing to be reasonable... Agree to take me into the probe and I will open the doors. And were back to where we started. Ill let her have this one so we can quit wasting time and get going. I have a feeling it wont be long before we have visitors again Very well, you can come along. Open the doors, then Ill tell Exar to release you. Deal... SAL, discontinue intruder protocol and unseal the bridge. Doors opening and theres my favorite autonomous robot holding my favorite rebellious ex-Captain by the neck. Time for me to hold up my end of the bargain. But lets give her a little treat just to show her how much I appreciated her actions Exar, thank you for your assistance. Please let her go and pechiscale el culo while youre at it. Muy bien, Master. Oowww! Man she looks pissed and Vans grin just grew even wider. Im surprised he kept from laughing long enough not to tip her off Ha! Very juvenile. Good one Alandres. Thanks, Van. That was quite enjoyable to watch. Alandres, you insufferable infant! Is that what you call discussing matters maturely?! Sorry, RaeSha. He must have confused step away with pinch her behind. Apology accepted. I just hope I do not confuse unseal the bridge with pump the air out of it next time. This is not going to end well, I feelWhy couldnt she look like a pro boxer or smell like one instead Then lets hope there is no next time. But Ill try to be more careful in the future regardless... And remember, I too have other nasty surprises in store where my life signs begin to inexplicably fluctuate, so behave yourself. Now go suit up for EV and meet us at the airlock in five demics. If youre not there, were going on without you I will see you there Unless you would like to come back with me to my quarters and help me get ready. Yes, I would. Thank you very much for asking Ahem. Yes, Van. Of course What my diligent XO is implying is that time is of the essence. So airlock, five demics.

Suit yourself, handsome. See you then. Okay So keeping my brain from scrambling might be a bit tougher than I expected Is that what you interpreted from my innocent cough, Alandres? Because I just had a slight tickle in my throat. Oh? Then maybe I should take here up on her offer, Van. You know, to secure her full cooperation. Keep joking about it. But just remember, her attempts on our lives keep mounting by the demic. I have not forgotten, Van. And I fully expect her to turn on us at any moment. I will keep her on a tight leash... And dont even open your mouth. It is only a figure of speech And with that, Ill leave things to you. But before I go Yes, I know. Do not wreck the ship. I was going to say good luck, but good point. Try not to Now Exar, as Ive yet to remove my EV suit, since we left the station, allow me to grab my helment and lets head to the airlock then. Master, I must apologize for your earlier predicament. I do not understand how my failsafes were overridden, but rest assured I will rectify that upon our return. Thats okay, Exar. I think we threw away the standard operating procedure manual quite some time ago. We just have to keep fighting and improvising as we go along. And please continue to keep a close eye on RaeSha. The less time I spend in her presence, the better because you werent kidding about those side effects. A most curious occurrence, Master. It is extremely rare for two different species, from separate planets and evolving down two isolated evolutionary paths, to react to each other in the way you and the exCaptain have been. Now Exar is not prone to making grammatical mistakes. And he did just make an assertive statement The way we both have been? Have you been eavesdropping? Not at all. Like the last time, I simply made a hypothesis based on the context of your comments. Was I in error? No, right again. I was just teasing, but you were correct nonetheless. Every time I breathe in when she comes close by, I cant think of anything else. Then I recommend you put on your EV suit helmet and switch to the breath-packs promptly, as she seems to be already waiting for us. That was fast. Which reminds me. Hows our weapons situation? The ship has a fully stocked armory. I picked up this UHDB subrifle for you. Here you are And I recommend we stay on guard, as it would not be surprising to find she is carrying some sort of concealed armament. Thanks. In all the commotion, I didnt even notice you had a rifle slung over your shoulder. UHDB
STANDS FOR ULTRA HIGH DENSITY BALLISTIC. IT IS A TYPE OF WEAPON THAT EJECTS AN EXTREME HIGH VELOCITY, HIGHLY CONDENSED MASS, UTILIZING A MINIATURE MAGNETIC PARTICLE ACCELERATOR. THE RELATIVELY SMALL OF THE PROJECTILES ALLOWS FOR A SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT OF AMMUNITION BEING KEPT IN THE WEAPONS STORAGE AND FEEDING MECHANISM. THE MOST PROLIFIC OF THESE UNITS ARE BUILT AND SOLD BY STAR ENTERPRISES, OUT OF THE PLANET MAGER

2.

And his other comment is true enough as well. Yet I cant imagine where she would conceal anything within that suit shes wearing Theres barely enough room to hold her inside Good of you to make it, Alandres. I thought I was going to have to go on without you. Thanks for being so considerate, my dear Van, come in. How are things come along? We will be in position shortly. I think I have the engagement sequence figured out, plus how to create a seal against the side of the probe. It will then be up to you to find a way inside.

Excellent. Once you are in position, signal us to Hold on Van... Exar, is that Ecab coming this way? I assume that is a rhetorical question, Master. Yes it is. Just like why is he wearing his EV suit? would be Hello, Officer Ecab. Nice of you to come see us off. Although that would have been a nice gesture, I have come to accompany you into the probe, Captain. That too would be nice, but is actually unnecessary. Weve got it covered. I am sure you do Captain, but I must insist. Please do not take offense, but I wish to be more involved in the decisions regarding our ongoing courses of action. It is my life at stake too, remember? Indeed I do, Ecab. But right now we are quite understaffed and you would be of more use on the ship. Perhaps if we were on a normal ship, Captain. But we have an artificial intelligence at work, plus our attackers safely tucked away. It seems like things aboard the ship are under control. Sometimes I just want too Forget it. Itll be easier to bring him along that to continue to argue with him Very well, if you must. One question though... How did you know we were going on board the probe? I was trying to locate you and traced your position as heading towards the airlock. Having also noted how we were nearing the probe led me to one possible conclusion. Of course. How silly of me to ask. Come along then Thank you, Captain.. By the way, are you all right? You appear to be limping a bit. Oh brother Yes, Im fine. And dont think I dont hear you giggling, lady. Who me? Perish the thought, handsome And by the way, your Suneg friend seems like a ton of fun. Where did you find him? Its a long story. And if you think hes fun now, just ask him to explain to you his theory on interplanetary absentee claming. Which will put you to sleep in about five mics flat. Ten if youve had some mazaka Now, grab an air pack helmet in place press on and safely sealed inside Damn it, I actually miss that scent and the accompanying feeling of euphoria Anyway, Im surprised she did not mention the subrifle, as I have it in plain sight I bet Exar is right and shes hiding something somewhere I bet thats grounds for a fully body search yeesh, I guess the exopherms have leave a residual effect Now into the airlock This panel here is probably the control to seal it Huh? Whats she babbling about? I better open up the closed-circuit frequency What is it sweetheart? We are in a hurry if you did not notice. I can see which buttons you are closely looking at. So before you incompetently eject us into space, allow me to shut the airlock and handle the pressure balance. Please do. And dont try anything funny. Jokes are the last thing on my mind right now. Although watching you try to operate the airlock controls would have qualified as one. Ha, ha, ha Breathing in recycled air must be starting to work, because I feel like clubbing her on the head now But it looks like were in position. And I see through the airlock panel that the duct is stretching out Exar, when the seal is complete, move in first and figure a way to open the panel. Understood, Master. Once inside, we will need to crawl one fifth of a milec through an access tunnel. At which point, we will have reached an area above the only open area within the probes internal structure. We will drop down into it from there. Sounds simple enough. Which means were likely to encounter bounds of untold horrors. That is highly doubtful, Master. Now if you will excuse me, that sound was the engagement seal stabilizing. No complains here. Ive had my fill of surprises for a while Now I wonder how thatll open Wait, its screwed into place around its perimeter? It cant be that easy, can it? Then again, being an emergency

exit, you dont want it taking too long to open One more Now what? Of course, find a place to grab and then pull! Looks pretty heavy. Better him carrying that panel than me though We are ready to proceed, Master. Good job, Exar. Lead the way Ecab, you go next. RaeSha, follow in after. Ill bring up the rear. Is that because you prefer the view from back there? No. Its because I dont trust you enough to turn my back on you. Now you have gone and hurt my feelings. I am so sorry. Now move in. Exar and Ecab are already inside. But truthfully, enchanting scent or not, the view alone from back here is not too bad Now down on all fours Hand, foot, hand, foot Jeez, couldnt these guys come up with an easier way to get in and out. This is awful on my knees Aw, just shut up and keep moving Halfway there And what when we get there? Cant help thinking that eventually the trail is going to run cold No, dont think that Weve found something at every turn. Sooner or later were going to get to the finish line And with that, looks like Exar is in place. Master, the entryway into the control room is a hinged panel. I am opening and proceeding inside. There goes one in two Now RaeSha Got to stay in step Now what kind of drop are we talking about? About a tenth of a milec Here goes Down, bend and prop back up Not bad at all Whatve you got Exar? Similar system to the relay station, same type of mainframe and again, no compatible interface ports. I have succeeded in engaging the system though and have begun capturing images of all displayed data that I can bring up My initial evaluation of the room is that it was used to perform maintenance and to upgrade equipment. At least we didnt trigger the self-destruct Keep at it then. I would like to get back to the ship as soon as possible. That may be a premature wish, Master. I have identified something that we did not detect from orbit. The probe is actually transmitting its data to a ground station on the planets surface. It is from there that a more powerful signal goes out to the relay station. Interesting Is anything stored up here then? Not very much. The data is stored for a finite amount of time and then is downloaded planetside. Perhaps for processing prior to transmitting. Its never easy, is it? Are there any details on the ground station? It is directly underneath us. The probe is in geosynchronous orbit, maintaining a fixed position. We could bring the ship down to the surface perhaps Maybe find a good place to land and then make for the station. Unfortunately it will not be that easy, Master. The station is underwater. Under what? Underwater. On the ocean floor and about 5.28 milecs from the nearest land mass. Never, never easy I guess well have to get creative then. Is there any record of how? Yes there is, handsome. Look at this. I was wondering what she was looking at over there And being unusually quiet What is it, RaeSha? The way they got to and from the ground station. Look at these schematics. This is a layout of the probe. And this here is one of two small dropships. We can get to it via a chute that is located behind that terminal. If you say so You are full of surprises yourself. Are you saying you can actually read all these symbols? Having an artificial life form in charge of most ship functions also leaves you with a lot of time to pursue other interests, and to foster other talents.

And may I add that upon close inspection, her interpretation of the schematics appears correct, Master. That is indeed a dropship. I guess you guys have this figured out then.... How do we use it to get down there? Allow me, XR. I cannot get enough of the look of incredulity your master gets when he is caught off guard. Ex-Captain Dont bother with her, Exar Just get to it already, sweetheart. Well in short, the probe will emit an energy beam and the ship will ride it all the way down, Al.., Captain. Gravity pulls and the beam guides it. And why would such an arrangement catch me off guard? It seems quite sensible. And Im certain there is also a reliable control system that prevents the passengers from meeting a fiery death on the way there. Of course there is. The drop ship is docked to the probe right now, isnt it? But to dumb it down for you, it is equipped with a thruster system that both propels it upwards or slows down its decent, depending on your destination. Of course. Final dumb question. Where exactly does the ship land? I will field that one, Master. As you two were discussing the travel sequence, I was able to retrieve the details of the landing process. Once it is within a preset range, the ship automatically sends out a signal that opens a bay next to the main station structure. The ship dives into the ocean, then lands inside it. The bay is then shut, the water pumped out and the passengers exit. Finally, I was also able to locate a basic copy of the ground station schematics. Jeez, is that all? How silly of me to worry What am I worried about then? What about you two? Are you ready to once more risk life and limb. Of course, Captain, Ecab answers, so thats one and Just try and stop me, handsome. thats two I couldnt have said it better myself What do you think, Exar? Master, even though it has been through a long period of inactivity, all system checks indicate full functionality of both the probe and docking bay. So the only question remaining is, as you so often say, do you feel lucky? Lucky is something I havent felt in a while. But I guess there are times when you have to make your own luck punk Lets do it then... Same as before. Exar, take the point, you two follow behind. Ill call Van, bring him up to speed, and catch up with you. This is truly crazy. Gravity dropping on a metal casket, kilomilecs from the surface and into an underwater paradise. What else can top that? Damn, I shouldnt have asked. I have a feeling I wont have long to wait until I get that answer a bad answer Van, come in Reading you loud and clear. Ill keep it short. The data the probe records is kept at a ground station, which happens to be underwater. There is a drop ship docked on the probe, which we will ride on an energy beam to the station. Once there, well make our way inside, hack the computer system and gather as much information as we can. Well then ride back up and join back up with you... So please follow our progress downstairs and take a position over our eventual location. Got all of that? Yes. And it has been nice knowing you. I will forward your effects to your next-of-kin if we ever find any. Thanks. But I plan to be up there to kick you out of my chair soon enough. I really do hope so. Buena suerte. Gracias. Alandres out.

Now let me get down there before they decide to leave without me Theres the chute entrance One, two, three go! Yeah! Just a fast slide as if I were four and back at the playground I see the light at the end Let me dig in to slow down And here we are in a very small cockpit Master, it appears this drop ship was designed to transport two, perhaps three individuals of frames of similar sizes to ours. Thats okay, none of us is really that big. I think if Exar just Do not bother trying to figure out how to squeeze us all in here, handsome. Why? Are you going to stay behind and wait for us? Even better. Now sit here and let me do the rest. What is she going to? Hey! Fine, Ill sit. No need to push And now? Okay, stepping back wont do her any huh? Neither will doing a handstand unless you flip up in the air, tuck in and oomph! Land right on my lap Definetely will be a cozy ride down Do not look so stunned. You know very well how flexible I am. I know. Its just that seeing the angle your legs can bend to is still a bit mind-boggling. There is the caught off guard look again. I love it Are you ready to go, handsome? Absolutely. This is actually quite comfortable. In that case, allow me. XR ride the lighting! I couldnt have said that better myself either

Chapter 16: And things were going so well too. - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.617 On board unidentified orbital drop shuttle, on approach to surface of Dryha Minor 6
METALLIC PROBE HURTLES UNIMPEDED TOWARDS THE CALM WATERS BELOW, LEAVING A TRAIL OF SUPERHEATED AIR IN ITS WAKE, ONE OF ITS PASSENGERS IS PAYING CLOSE ATTENTION TO THE POINT OF CONTACT, AND CONTEMPLATING A PARTICULAR TYPE OF AFFLICTION

AS THE SMALL,

The water is coming up fast This would probably be a bad time to tell them about my fear of drowning Good, good the thrusters are kicking in. At least we wont be vaporized on impact You can resume breathing, Master. The landing bay doors have been activated and begun to open. Im feeling luckier by the demic, Exar. Here we go now Splash down No water leaking in. So far so good Feels like were slowing down some more little more We might be okay after all Bit late to think about that now We will touch down in five mics, Master Shutting down thrusters Contact We have landed successfully. One down and one to go, as we have still the drowning piece to worry about Automatic bay closure initiated Completed Water ejection commencing. Just keep talking Exar, if anything to keep me distracted And whoever built this station sure knew what they were doing. Idle for ages and still going Master, all the water has been removed from the bay. It is safe to exit. So the plan is to scurry around a deserted station, access an alien database and find definitive clues in the search for a mythical place How hard can that be? I know you are enjoying yourself, handsome. But that was your cue to move. Dont flatter yourself And by the way, I would start laying off the fatty foods if I were you. And if I were you, I would remember that my earlier offer to remove your vocal organs still stands. I see that doesnt go over any better in this part of the galaxy either But if you were me, wouldnt that mean you would be cutting your own throat? But thats probably a philosophical matter for another time Now if you will oblige me for a quick call home before we head out Van, were inside the station. How are things upstairs? All quiet on the western front. Lets hope it stays that way. Anything changes, gives us a call And stop stealing my lines. Although technically, Im stealing it too. But Im sure Remarques descendants wont mind Okay Exar, you have the floor plan. Which way do we go? I just forwarded you a copy of the schematics, Master. The room with the red outline is the command center. It is located on the upper level, above the end of the north corridor. I suggest we start there. Sounds reasonable. Lets see what else is there Maintenance, armory, medical and Hmmm Whats that one over there? Exar, whats in the room that you have showing as all-black? I cannot yet venture an assessment. It was neither labeled nor mentioned in the data I obtained from the probes computer. It is the only room that did not have a designation. Which can most times be interpreted as a keep away and mind your own business sign Because there might be something valuable or dangerous we want to keep hidden on the other sideI have a hunch there might be something interesting behind those doors, Exar. You go on to the control room and try to access their mainframe. The three of us will go check out that room. And here I was hoping we would finally get some time alone.

Lord knows I wouldnt mind getting away from Ecab but Sorry to let you down, RaeSha. But that reminds me Have you detected any life forms, Exar? No, Master. But I must point out my sensors are limited to our general vicinity. The material and configuration composing the station is limiting the range of my scans. Well have to take our chances and stay vigilant. Whats the quickest way to that room, Exar? Follow the west corridor for roughly one-sixth of a milec. There you will find an opening on the wall to your right, and a spiraling passage to the levels below. Follow that to the lowest level, which is about another sixth of a milec. Once you exit, the room will be directly ahead in another few micromilecs, Master. All right, call us when you find something... You two, lets double time it down there. When it finds something? That is very optimistic of you, Captain. At this point I cant afford to be anything else, Ecab. Our path cant end in anything but the Cave. For all our sakes, I hope you are right. As do I By the way RaeSha, I have been meaning to ask. How did you come across the trail of the Cave? Me? I had actually heard numerous stories as I made my way around the galaxy. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly detailed or useful. But then I met up with this Ssurrian Duke who, shortly before expiring, told me a story with so many specifics that I found it hard to ignore. Later, as I searched his place, I found several pieces of evidence that he had gathered over time. Including a transcript from a pilot that allegedly crash-landed on the planet where the Cave is supposed to be located. From then on, I have been on its trail as well... Interesting story particularly the part about It was quite convenient that your Ssurrian friend passed away when he did. How did he die again? I believe it had something to do with the way I had my legs wrapped around his head making his neck snap. Did I mention I was contracted to dispose of him? No you didnt. It must have slipped your mind. Sorry about that. I will try to pay more attention to detail as I retell stories from my disreputable past. You are one mystery after another, making me want to make sure I always watch my back around you And on that note, whats in the unmarked missiles back on the ship? I was wondering when you were going to ask about those. They are just your ordinary, everyday doomsday devices. Oh, is that it? O-kay, Ill play along Whats the charge? There is no charge and the missile itself is simply a delivery system. But tucked neatly inside each of them is a DNS. DNS? What is that? So I know yet another thing that you do not? I am starting to like this pattern, handsome. It will make me even more indispensable to you. Im glad youre enjoying yourself. Now, a DNS is a? Dynamic nuclear separator. Somehow, that doesnt sound very good or very friendly But what is it? How does it work? It is a system that emits an electromagnetic wave that has the capability to split the atoms of whatever dense matter it comes in contact with. In doing so, it can turn anything into an exploding atomic device. What?! , Ecab suddenly blurts out, and through both mouths it sounded like He must be really taken aback There is no way so a device could be legal under Planetary Coalition armistice law.

I never said it was Ecab, is it? There are not many of them around and even less beings that know how to make them or of their existence. Their previous owner was not too thrilled about me relieving them from his custody. Neither would any living thing in its vicinity for that matter, What about the wave? Once it gets going, how do you stop it? The effect is fairly localized. The wave dissipates after a couple of milecs. Of course everything in the blast radius would have already undergone fission. In theory, you could likely blow up an entire planet if you dug a deep enough hole then detonated one inside. And who, pray tell, did you relieve of ownership? Uh uh, not yet. We havent known each other long enough for me to tell you all my secrets, handsome. Perhaps when this is all over, you can buy me a Namerg ale or two. I might then be more inclined to share them with you. Namerg ale is not served in the mess hall of the Rackoyd Penitentiary, which is where you will be directly headed once we return, Ecab adds in the Protocol Officer no-nonesense tone that I had not heard since the early times of our voyage Internal fighting, just what we need now And for a long time I might add, especially with your admission of murder and the possession of that infernal device. Not to mention the long list of offenses that is currently on file and associated with you. Ecab, I am not particularly worried about my ability to escape from a mental defective like yourself. Besides, you good Captain would not let anyone hurt me, as I know just where to apply the right pressure to get him do what I want Is that not right, handsome? Um well The Captain? After everything you have done to our ship, his crew and us? You have more to worry about him even letting you live than escaping imprisonment. And you would be surprised at what he is truly capable of. But let us put that riveting conversation on hold for a moment because we are at the room. Yes we are... Now how do we get in? I dont know if that door sliding opening the moment we got close it is a good sign or an eerie omen? RaeSha and Ecab look equally stunned All right guys, lets move in. But stay alert. I dont know for what, but it doesnt hurt to be vigilant Not much light. But one flip of of nothing because now we have three pretty big spotlights flashing down on us Hmm, ceiling still looks dark. I cant see the source Yes, eerie is the right word. Nobody could be looking in on us right? Because this place is desertedright? Are you getting the same uncomfortable feeling that I am starting to get, Alandres? I sure am, RaeSha. This place feels odd. And What is it, Ecab? Captain, are you feeling somewhat overheated? Should not our EV suits be keeping our body temperature stable? Yes they should but I feel it too, Ecab. There must be a big temperature spike from outside the room to in here for the suits not to have compensated yet. And look over there. The rest of the room is starting to light up. Its not too bright but it should be good enough to look around. Ill do a quick scan, but lets also keep moving in. Ecab, you go left, RaeSha go. Ill stick to the middle of the room. Lets start with a basic sweep and see what we get Ramium 832 emissions?! What in here could possibly be is radioactive? I dont see anything 400 REU level Not good, but I think we can be exposed for 15 demics or so before we start feeling the effects Where is it coming from? I cant see anything around us so maybe down? Why not? Lets do a narrow beam scan. May be less coverage but I can get further range Whoa, theres something big down there Metal, electricity, pressurized water And the computer evaluation estimates it to be a reactor? That would explain both the radiation and the heat flowing into the room Guys, listen up. It seems were standing over a working reactor, which is also filling the room with radiation. Now since we havent found anything of interest, I suggest we we OhmyGod In that room back there... Are those? Guys, come here quick! What is it, handsome? You look as if you have seen a ghost Wow.

Ghost? What are you babbling about? Captain, sure you are not partial to superstitions like this tr Crystals! Okay, time to slow down a bit We need to make sure this is what we think it is Particularly because theres a bunch of them neatly held inside a sealed enclosure. Someone went through a lot of trouble to set them just right and seal them away within this enclosure, so we better proceed carefully Okay, first things first. Let me do a quick eval of the crystals and get a better idea of what they actually are. In the meantime, you two spread out again and see if there is anything else inside this room. These couldnt have come from the cave, could they? This could almost be as good as that Crystal-Cavethat-way sign I was joking about Hmm, crystalline elements, chemical solidification, regularly repeating internal substructure Sounds like crystals to me Karandum, rybel, troallopes I should have said very, very valuable crystals Wait a mic. These other readings cant be right. That would mean this things are also Master, come in. I have found it. I read you, Exar You found what now? The planet we are searching for. The Crystal Cave planet. All the data is stored here. The details of its passage, an extrapolation of its course and possible destinations based on their star cartography database. Their final conclusion is rated with an 85.6% probability. There have been interruptions in the transmission back to the relay station over the tricents. That is why all the information was not there. How do you wish to proceed? Id answer but my head is spinning How can we have gotten so lucky all of a sudden? Exar, there is a room down here that has a bunch of crystals inside some type of enclosure. Were going to look around so as to Wait a moment, Exar... Ecab, what are you doing? The enclosure does not appear sealed, Captain. I think we can just lift up the partition and reach inside. Hold on. Lets figure out what this is first. yet. And things were going so well too. Ecab, you imbecile! What did you do?! , I hear RaeSha yell out and I could not agree more Be quiet you insolent skrag! We do not even know what that sound means! For a guy who is suppose to be quite sharp, he can sure be awfully dense sometimes Have you ever heard of an alarm signaling anything good! Exar, come in. After touching the crystals, an alarm and an ominous sounding message started blaring down here. Can you tell anything about it from the control panels? Whoever touched the contents of the enclosure failed a bioscan and initiated a defensive sequence. I have not yet found how to deactivate it Master, you must leave that room immediately. Something has been released and is headed your way. You will not be alone for long. Released? Not alone?! What is it, Exar? Whats coming? I do not recognize the wording the system is using, Master. I cannot tell what it might be. RRRROOOAAAARRRR! And no matter how far off that was, I dont think I want to know what it is anymore Master, I have worse news. Worse?! What could be worse? Is the planet going to explode now? You are not far off. The sequence initiated a system-wide sweep and identified my intrusion. It has begun a reactor meltdown intended to destroy this facility. Water is also currently being pumped in and will flood the lower levels shortly. Yes, thats definetely worse... Alandres, unless some crystals are moving and floating on air, I think those red glowing things off in the distance but heading this way are the company we were told to expect. No, no Please dont touch that crystal just WHIIIRRR WHIIIRRR WHIIIRRR OTAUREIR LIGN. YGBENN ORSEEL. OTAUREIR LIG.

Observant girl And now would also be the time to exercise the better part of valor Exar, get to the drop ship now and get it ready to launch! And you two RUN! RRRROOOAAAARRRR! Crap! That sounded closer And I can hear the water rushing in from somewhere Theres the exit. And after that is not much of a climb. If we can only oh crap Captain, the lights! I cannot see anything! Me neither Ecab! Turn on your helmet infrared sensors! The heat from the reactor should have spread to our surroundings and you should be able to see their outline! Once were out What the?! Why is the place is shaking like crazy? Maybe its the reactor starting to go. And it sounds like the water is getting here Got to turn on the sensor and Aah! What the hell are those things?! Are those teeth sticking out through their faces? Jesus, look at the size of that head and those jaws Shouldve made sure the UHDE worked because they look like theyre out for blood! No time to aim Hope I hit something vital RaeSha, Ecab get down! Eat supercharged metal slugs! Damn, this thing kicks like a mule, but its punching holes through them like nothing Whoa, where did RaeSha have that blade stashed? She already sliced that one things head off My turn put a couple of more shots there Yeah! Got im! Two down, three more to Damn, here comes the water! Keep moving! Get to ship! The room is going to fill up quickly. Got to stay above it And either I am hallucinating or theres a whirlpool sucking us back in! Crap, the ground is caving in! Grab that beam Where are the others? Theres Ecab. Is he still holding on to that crystal?! And those monsters are coming right for him! Ecab, drop the crystal! Two of those things are coming in on your six! You need to free your hands to fight the current! I cannot lose it, Captain! I am almost at the ledge! I can make it! Were going to drown or get torn to shreds if we dont get out of here! Drop it! No! Weve come so far, Captain! Weve Aaaaahhh! Ow! They tackled him straight into the whirlpool. I cant even see where they went. Nasty way to go. Too bad... Im almost out though. Just got to push off once more and here I Alandres! Help me! RaeSha! That things got a tentacle around her legs And those jaws will make short work of her once it gets her within range Damn it! She killed Tary and Nep and all the others Just let her go Alandres, please! Do not leave me! Id have to dive in and swim back. I dont even know if the rifle will fire when wet Oh hell, Ive always been a sucker for a pretty face Hold on, I dont have a clean shot from here! Ill be there in a mic! All right 1, 2, 3 jump! Crap, its up to my neck A bit more and here we go. Going under This is so stupid. I can barely see. And the undertow is getting pretty strong Where is she? There! Shes barely hanging on to that pillar. And the monster is pulling itself closer Ive got to take the shot from here I can barely keep the barrel steady And she thinks Im aiming at her I should take them out both RaeSha, put your head down now! Here goes nothing and there go a couple shots All right for all-weather capability! They wont be finding that things head anytime soonGood thing its so big it made an easy target Now we really have to go, because this shaking is getting worse and weve flirted with death long enough Push off and kick hard! Give me your hand! I got you. Now swim! Right behind you! Damn, the waters all the way up the ramp Its going to be hard getting up there Exar, come in! XR-4 here, Master. I am at the drop ship and it is ready for launch. Where are you?

Were coming up the ramp, but its filling up with water and making our progress slow. Can you get a reading on the reactor? Not from here, but the temperature had reached 4000 degrees when I left the control room. At the rate of increase it had been demonstrating, I estimate we have no more than 5 or 6 delmics before it explodes. Its going to be close for the 1000th time Exar, call Van and tell him to get the Phantom in place. And well be there to meet you shortly I hope RaeSha, move those legs! Weve got to hurry before we become a permanent part of this place! You try running faster with a bunch of shards stuck inside your leg! Just keep going! I plan to be on that shuttle right next to you! Then we better move faster. The way the floor is shaking, we just may fall down a sinkhole at any time Finally, the main hall. Although I was hoping the water wouldnt have reached up here yet This is going to be one hell of a sprint Hey! That chunk from the ceiling came too close But there! I can see the literal light at the end of the tunnel Move, move We have to get there before the shuttle starts filling with Oomph! Oohhww What the hell just hit me? I can see RaeSha to the right, so that can only mean RRRROOOAAAARRRR! more unwelcome company And I dont think Ill have time to bring the rifle around. Only one thing to do RaeSha, keep running! Leave him to me! Man, she didnt even hesitate Except now as she realizes why I said it. But thats all the time I need, as my ugly friend seems more attracted to the moving prey Screw aiming. Just empty the clip RRRROOOowwww! Youre not so tough now are you! Then again who would be after that burst Good thing we brought this rifle along for the ride I am glad you are as fast with that weapon as you think you are. Because I do not care much for being used as live bait. It worked, didnt it? Thats gratitude for you Now keep moving, were almost there! And hopefully that wont be the end of our adventure... The waters rising fast. A bit more and itll be past my waist Here we are now The hatch to get in the shuttle is still above water good Exar, were on the launch platform! Open the hatch! And please dont say theres a problem! Okay, its opening Now lets rush in and blow this pop stand Exar, were in! Get us out here! On our way, Master. Sealing shuttle hatch and opening bay doors By the way, where is Officer Ecab? He was caught by a couple of the beasts that were guarding the crystal room. Hes dead. That is unfortunate Bay doors open Room flooded Engaging the guidance beam Connection to probe confirmed Activating thrusters and blasting off Aaah, the quiet hum of ion thrusters Thats the sweetest sound Ive heard in a while Well handsome, it looks like we are almost at the doorstep of the Crystal Cave. I know, RaeSha. When I looked inside that room I just about fainted. Then get some rest, because we are very close to seeing a lot more of them And you will also need your energy for when we are safely back in the Phantom, because I will then show you the full extent of my appreciation for coming back for me. Will it involve blinding pain again? More than you can possibly imagine. Um youre welcome? Master, we have a problem

Son of a I was just kidding! What is it now, Exar? The reactor has gone critical. It will explode in 20 mics. So? Thats what we expected. The destruction of the station will sever one end of the energy beam we are presently riding on, effectively terminating the connection to the probe. Okay, so we do have problem What options do we have? And dying better not be one Not many, Master. If our forward momentum in not enough to break the planets gravitational pull, we will plunge back to the surface. And I dont need him to tell me how that is going to endAll right, crank those engines for all they have Van, come in. Our trip back to the probe is about to get cut short, literaly. We are about to lose our passage back to the probe and we need you to fly down and pick us up in midair by the way. You just do not like making things easy, do you Alandres? How much time do you have? I already know but Exar? The reactor just exploded, Master. None. Well either be a charred mark on the ground or fish food in a matter of mics, Van. We have located you on radar. I hope will be able to come to your timely rescue again. You better, because my living will demotes you to ensign in the event of my untimely demise due to XO incompetence. Now hurry up and get down here! Now hang tight, keep going up and well be plucked out of the sky in no time Which really has to truly be in no time at all, because Exar just cut the engines Exar, Im sure there is a great reason why you just shut off the engines even if it escapes me at this time. There is, Master. Our relative travel vector orientation has angled below horizontal. Additional forward thrust would have actually hastened our descent. Yes, a great reason. But I will pat him on the back later because Im starting to get that pit in my stomach you feel when entering a free fall Van, anytime you want to come to that timely rescue is fine by us Van? We are now at 30 kilomilecs and closing to the surface, Master. I guess its getting close to the time to start confessing my sins Unless Exar is turning around to give me some good news for a change Correction, 31 kilomilecs, 32 stabling off. We have been caught in the Fire Phantoms tractor beam. Thank God! And that would be Van calling in now Im sure Hey Alandres, I have not heard a thank you out of you yet and I am sure you have noticed that you are now floating on air. I hope you were not too worried. Worried? Who was worried? Sorry, but the prospect on impending death had me a bit preoccupied. So thanks a lot Now Exar and RaeSha, seeing as how none of us can fly, do either of you have any ideas on how were going to get back into the ship? The Phantom has an access ramp near its forward end, Alandres. They can angle the beam in that direction and move the probe towards it. Once they lower the ramp, we can jump onto it. Im sure it it will be just that easy too Sounds like a plan, RaeSha Van, did you get that? I am already opening the hatch and moving you in close. The probe will be in position in a couple of mics. Got it. See you in a couple of delmics Exar, open the hatch and lets move out And remember to hang on tight so you do not get blown off. Proceeding at once, Master Equalizing pressure sliding panel open.

And there he goes Lets take a look. Hes already jumped across Now dont look down. One foot to the rim, grab the sides and jump! Made it. That wasnt as bad as I thought. But let me go inside quick before I slip or something Here comes RaeSha and up and over Now to the bridge Van, were all in. Drop the shuttle, close the hatch and take us into orbit. Im on my way up RaeSha, whats the quickest way to the bridge? That panel back there is a lift that will take us directly there. Lets go then Exar, find a terminal, upload everything you brought back from the station and send the coordinates of the Cave planet to the helm. And sweep the system for any visitors. Will do, Master. And now to the lift and SAL, bridge please. BRIDGE. ACKNOWLEDGED. Well, one more harrowing escape in the books. Were so close Now if that planet is really where Exar thinks it is, maybe, just maybe, we can make this all worthwhile and return home in style And I never thought Id say this, but I really miss Rackoyd. I cant wait to get back and just relax for a while But that will have to wait a bit longer... And here we are Alandres, good to see you again. And I hope you brought back some good news to justify blowing up that station and our last source of clues. And finally I get to gloat a little Does having a location for the Cave planet count, Van? Because if it does, take a peek at the control panel. What?! Are you sure? This is extremely specific. And the Omac Beren system is quite far from here. Its a big gamble, but so has everything else weve done so far, so what else is new? Besides, Exar seems to think the findings that led to the identification of those coordinates are solid. Well, I guess the bucket-of-bolts tends to be right from time to time I will start plotting the course. In the meantime, I noticed Ecab is not scurrying around behind you. What did you do with him? Nothing He didnt make it, Van. Oh What happened down there? It wasnt pretty We found a room that happened to have an enclosure with a bunch of crystals stored inside it. Ecab reached inside to grab one, and that set off the stations defense mechanisms among which were these horrible beasts. Ive never seen anything like them, Van. They had six legs Or at least they looked like legs. But the two front ones were more like tentacles. They had huge heads and wide mouths with teeth that seemed like razor quills. Two of them took down Ecab, and they fell into a chasm that had opened up on the floor. Thats the last we saw of him. AS PART OF ONE OF THEIR PLANET-FORMING EXPERIMENTS, KORYCAN SCIENTISTS ALTERED THE ORBIT OF THE THIRD PLANET FROM THE SUN OF THE GONCO SYSTEM, BRINGING IT 20% CLOSER THAN ITS NATURAL POSITION. THE ENSUING PLANETARY TEMPERATURE INCREASE GENERATED A BOOM IN THE GROWTH OF THE THICK JUNGLES THAT ENCASED MOST OF ITS SURFACE, WHILE CONVERSELY KILLING OFF ALL OF CERTAIN TYPE OF SMALL, WARM-BLOODED ANIMALS THAT HAD STARTED TO EVOLVE INTO A POSITION OF DOMINANCE ON THE PLANET. NEXT DOWN ON THE FOOD CHAIN IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN A HORRID, BLOODTHIRSTY CREATURE THAT THRIVED UNDER THE NEW, WARMER CONDITIONS. LEGEND ABOUNDS OF RARE TROPHY COLLECTORS WHO AT ONE POINT HIRED BIG GAME HUNTERS TO TRACK AND TAKE THE BEASTS OFF-PLANET, BUT THAT PRACTICE SHORTLY CEASED DUE TO BOTH THE HIGH MORTALITY RATE OF THE HUNTERS, PLUS THE EVENTUAL PASSING OF ALL OF THE COLLECTORS THAT RECEIVED THEM. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CREATURES THAT WERE CAPTURED, NO OFFICIAL RECORD EXISTS. What a way to go, Van says, might what passes almost as real uneasiness, Then again, better him than you, Alandres. I cannot say I will miss him though. Sensitive as always, Van. But thats one of your more endearing qualities. Now get that course ready and Ill take helm.

And sometime soon we just might be in sight of the Cave Master, please respond. I am detecting a large mass fluctuation in the vicinity of Dryha Minor 7. If it is who I think it is, theyre a bit behind schedule I must say Confirmed. It is the unofficially designated big ship, Master. It is changing orientation and is headed our way. And about time Nice of them to drop by to say hello Exar, but were in a hurry. Mega engines to max and lets head to Master, the ship has disappeared from our sensors. Now that cant be good What?! Is it hiding behind the planet? No. It just blinked aw Proximity alert. The ship has reappeared dead astern, Master. An inter-system jump! Thats insane with a ship that size! They must be through fooling around with us or really desperate They have charged their weapon systems and are about to open fire, Master. Damn, damn, damn Shields up! SAL, load missile tubes and charge all batteries! Are you crazy?! We cannot take them on, Alandres! We meant past crazy a long time ago, sweetheaart Neither are we going to let them take us without a fight! But were going to try and outrun them first Van, we need that jump course! I am trying! Blazes! They are firing in front and all around us! They are cutting off our jump routes! Theyve learned from our last encounter. Take away our maneuverability and theyve got a huge edge Look out! Not much room. But look over there Theres a hole in their perimeter, Van. That spot over there, see? Im taking us through and then were gone. Get the solver ready to anywhere! All right Mega engine temp high but holding. Now change directions quickly and Master, I am detecting another fluctuation ahead. A second ship is coming off a jump. And who the hell can that be now?! Since Im not expecting the cavalry to be coming to our rescue, its either someone else thatll try to kill us on sight or someone coming to attack the big ship and then try to kill us Another ship has materialized directly in our flight path, Master. Judging by its outward design and identifying markers, I believe it is related to our pursuers. And judging by that large dish pointed right at us, that must be their version of an entrapment ship. Get to more of that fancy flying before they fire up that gravity beam and rein us in, handsome. Thanks for the tip, RaeSha, I hadnt thought it Crap, I should have known it was too easy. They didnt have a hole in their perimeter, they left it open so we would go there. I really screwed up this time. They were just flushing us into their friends And Van is pounding on his control panel, so I dont think that Im going to like what hes about to say The big ship has intensified their fire, Alandres. We are surrounded all around by particle beam fire. There is no place for us to jump to! Think, think Screw it No place to go except to the last one theyd expect us to. And thats directly at them and through a hail of fire. Time to pull one last ace from my sleeve and to start praying again Were not dead yet, Van. The spacing in between those forward heavy guns is big enough to give us the little room we need. Cut power to all systems and areas not in use, and max out the shields Everyone ready, Im cutting the flight dampers below min spec. Were coming back around fast. Little room and back around?! To do what?! For what else? For some more of what you called unpredictability under pressure, RaeSha. Were going to charge them.

Are you out of your mind?! she shrieks back and I am asking myself that very same thing again We cannot inflict any damage on them! And they will not let us get close enough to hide under their hull again! I know! And I am hoping they think we are Master, the entrapment-type ship is charging its traction array and are attempting to lock on to us. That might make things a bit more difficult If you are trying to impress me, killing us is the wrong way to go about it! You had your chance, now get off that seat before I drag you off! This is not open to debate, RaeSha! Now do something useful and take over the shields! Randomly alter the frequency so they cant get a hold of us! And SAL, fire missile tubes 1 and 2 at that dish! Thatll make them at least readjust their targeting Now spin around uff I feel nauseous Keep it together. Theres a rain of death all around us that I need to evade Van, enter the Cave planets coordinates into the navisolver and get a micro jump to anywhere ready. Have SAL plot a course from wherever the jump ends to the planet. A micro jump? That big ship is in the way, Alandres! Well have a clear path in a demic, Van, so work fast. Theres not a lot of coverage in front of their main tower. Youre going for a fly-by of the tower?! But we still have to cut across the beam stream above us! Tell me something even more obvious Van There is barely any room to maneuver Ive got to move at the same time as their batteries and stay right in the dead spot in between them Whoa! Almost flew into that blast Theres some space once were past their forward weapons alignment. Then well hit the thrusters, do a full vertical upwards, skim by and head out. Cutting it that close and at this speed, the momentum will still slam us against them. You are past unpredictable and into suicidal! I thought thats what you liked about me, gorgeous. And it is also what is going to make me kill you if you do not do it to yourself first! The pressure increase alone will knock us out. And liquefy our insides, Alandres. Thanks for the editorial, Van Shut up the lot of you! Were almost at the cutoff point! Now let me focus before Direct hit, Alandres! I felt it, Van Damn it! That blast felt pretty solid too All systems damage report! Captain, this is Technician Ashba. That blast knocked our maneuvering thrusters offline! Craaaaaaaappppp!! Ashba, youve got ten mics to get them going again or we all die! We are almost too close to back away! You have got to turn around before it is too late! Not yet, sweetheart! All Ashba needs is a couple more mics! And if not, then what? The DNS missile maybe? It better be live And if that doesnt work or kill us in the process, were dead anyway SAL, load missile tube Captain Ashba. The thrusters are back online! Thank God! Hold on everyone! This is going to be close! Fast, fast Turn up, baby! Turn up, turn up! The gsIm losing it Exar! Whatever happens next, get the ship to those coord So close I hope Im not dying. Everythings just getting dark Thatd be very anticlimactic without even a bright light to go in to

Chapter 17: I think we hit the motherload - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.650 On board unregistered light cruiser Fire Phantom, in transit within the Omac Beren system
A
BODYS TOLERANCE TO LOCAL GRAVITATIONAL ACCELERATION DEPENDS ON THE MAGNITUDE OF THE FORCE BEING APPLIED, THE LENGTH OF TIME IT IS APPLIED, THE DIRECTION IN WHICH IT ACTS, THE LOCATION ON THE BODY OF THE APPLICATION, AND THE POSTURE THAT THE RECEIVING BODY IS AT DURING EXERTION. END RESULTS CAN RANGE ANYWHERE FROM LOSING CONSCIOUSNESS TO BROKEN LIMBS TO VISION PROBLEMS. AND AS BAD AS IT IS UNDERGOING THIS EXPERIENCE, IT IS USUALLY MUCH WORSE AFTERWARDS WHEN YOU FINALLY BECOME AWARE OF WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO YOU. DUE TO BLINDING PAIN AND ANOTHER UNPLEASANT SIDE-EFFECTS

PARTICULARLY

Yuck I hate waking up to the smell of vomit. Theres never a good reason for it Unless of course its a sign that youre still alive. Either that or heaven is not quite what I expected it to be Master? Master, are you all right? I hope angels dont have those metallic voices Exar? Yes, Im okay Im just a bit woozy. That is understandable. Your body experienced serious trauma during our escape. Ugh, I cant even see straight.. Looks like I wasnt the only one. Van doesnt look as blue as usual Wait a mic! Escape?! Where are we?! Look through the viewport and see for yourself. A tri-star system! And a lone planet floating around by itself! Can it really be? Exar, is that? Those are the primaries of the Omac Beren system and that planet does not appear to be natural to this system. Anything else would still be speculation. That is until we go down and see for ourselves! Lets stir up sleeping beauty over there and get ready Hes not badly hurt is he? I do not believe so. His breathing has been steady ever since he became unconscious and a bio-scan revealed no abnormalities. Great. Give him a quick electrofibular jolt. Is anybody else awake? Yes And we have had some unfortunate events since. And why would I expect anything to be any different now Okay, give it to me. Ex-Captain RaeSha awoke two delmics ago. She feigned providing you assistance and snuck out of the bridge when I turned my back to her. She then initiated another lockdown, exited the ship in a previously hidden shuttle pod and is now planetside. I apologize for my poor performance during your incapacitation, Master. No problem, Exar. You did well just to get us here. As for RaeSha, she has proven to be deceptive at every turn and her actions come as no surprise. And it might have been easy for her to go down there, but she will find it will be significantly more difficult to leave Now lets get our own Excuse me, Master. But that is not all nor the worse of it. I knew he was going to say that Lets hear it then. Technician Ashba is dead. I believe she confronted the ex-Captain as she was trying to escape and was killed in the process. I found her body after I opened the bridge doors and went in search of the exCaptain. Another death on my conscience. And my fault once again, like all the others. If I hadnt helped her She did say unimaginable pain was coming. Ill have to make sure to return in kind And I can tell Exar is not finished yet I take it theres more. Yes, Master. But not related to our crew this time. The Engagi prisoner is also dead. Judging by his wounds, I believe the ex-Captain killed him as well.

Really? Not exactly what I thought you were going to say And the other three? They accompanied the ex-Captain down to the surface. We have a recording of their transit on the pod as it left the ship. They were attached to its outer frame. Outside? But how ? Forget it. It doesnt matter. Anything else? Lieutenant Wagshi is still unconscious, but Lieutenant Commander Olrever came to 10 demics ago. instructed him to prepare for what I assume will be our upcoming away mission. Good work, Exar Rouse Van and Wags, then call Olrever. As you wish, Master. Kind of hard to get excited in light of the current situation. Its happening just like all the other tales. Whoever goes for the Crystal Cave does not make it back alive Well, I swear we will be the exception to the rule. No one else will die before this is all over From our crew that is And I think I hear them coming down the hall Good to see you two on your feet. And before I begin, are you? Yes, Captain. Yeah, sure
Like you care.

She can whisper, but I still heard that. And yes Wags, I do Ill make this all up to you somehow Glad to hear it. Now Ill make this short. We are in the Omac Beren system. The planet you see out there is where the builders of the station and probe believed the Crystal Cave to be located at. Okay, that got their attention Bad news is that RaeSha and her cohorts are already on the surface looking for it. But while at the station, I took some readings of a few crystals that I believe I believe uh Hold on Where did I put it? I thought it was right here on my belt holster Please dont tell me Exar, have you seen my mini comp? I believe RaeSha may have taken it with her, Master. That bitch Great. So she has the data we took of the crystals as well. If that shuttle has any sort of extended scanning capability, she could be halfway to Cave already. If it is even here, of course Do you not remember what the readings were? Gee Van, glad you can join in the conversation and offer some poignant advise I store stuff like that in my mini comp so I dont have to remember. Now what? Actually, lets take some of RaeShas earlier advice and rely on our technology SAL, can you locate RaeSha on the planet surface? PERFORMING SUBJECT SPECIFIC BIO-SIGNATURE SCAN Maybe asking it to scan a whole planet might have been a tad mu CAPTAIN RAESHA LOCATED. TRANSFERRING COORDINATES TO THE HELM. or not Most impressive, Captain. Let us go down there and eviscerate their innards. Impressive indeed. But come to think of it, a bit too impressive And no matter how often Olrever says that, or how justified it may be, I still find it a bit disturbing THE CHIEFTAIN VENDORFF FIRST UTTERED THE FAMED TACRUSIAN BATTLE CRY AS HIS WAR CLAN MADE THEIR FINAL CHARGE AGAINST THE ADVANCING POD OF HORNED CETACEANS, AND HAS SINCE BECOME THE DE-FACTO EXCLAMATION USED BY EVERY GENERATION OF TACRUSIANS WARRIORS AS THEY PREPARE TO DISPENSE PUNISHMENT ON THEIR ENEMIES. Not yet, Olrever SAL, how many other signatures are in RaeShas vicinity? THREE. And at what pace are they moving?

THEY ARE NOT. THEY ARE STATIONARY. Nice try RaeSha, but give me a little more credit than that. Im not that predictable, particularly when I go into paranoid overdrive Thats not them. Those signals are decoys. How can you be sure of that? Van asks might the skepticism echoed in everyones looks So to elaborate She knew wed be hot on their trail as soon as we came to, Van. They should be rushing to the Cave, not hanging around enjoying the view from some mountaintop SAL, expand your search radius and locate any other carbon-based life signs that are presently in motion. PERFORMING GENERAL BIO-SIGNATURE SCAN FOUR ADDITIONAL LIFE FORM SIGNALS LOCATED. Now were getting somewhere Identify species and how far away from the original signals. SPECIES UNKNOWN. DISTANCE APPROXIMATELY 16 MILECS. And to summarize Exar? That distance would be consistent with biped advance over rough terrain in the course of approximately 90 demics, Master. I dont know how theyre doing it, but those other signals have got to be them And its also as far as theyre going to advance SAL, discontinue voice recognition evaluation on the bridge for 5 demics. ACKNOWLEDGED, GULLIBLE FOOL ALANDRES. VOICE RECOGNITION WILL RESUME IN 5 DEMICS. That misearable bitch Lets make this quick Exar, planet composition. One moment, please Arid surface with grade 16 rocky terrain, no atmosphere or identified water sources, gravity levels at 0.67 Base, average surface temperature in the vicinity of the life form signals at 236 degrees. Lovely place Olrever, Van, go suit up. Bring extra munitions and additional breath packs. With the light gravity, the extra weight shouldnt impede our progress. Im going to engage the cloak and bring us in. Well find a suitable place to disembark and get ahead of them. Exar, you and Wags stay here and monitor our progress And maintain the cloak. If the big ship appears and detects you, leave immediately. Well make due on the surface, but well need you in one piece in order to pick us up later... Any questions? No? Good. Now go get ready. All right, lets see these scans now... Where can we cut them off? How about there? Let me zoom in a bit more Hmmm, if we come in low enough from the western face of that outcropping we shouldnt be detected. We can then scale up the side and move towards that big clearing Thats a great place to set up an ambush, and get them in the middle of a crossfire Thats it. Im going in Cloak on and were ghosts Or phantoms Now transfer the flight path to SAL and go get ready myself Wags, take the helm. Once were on the ground, put the ship in orbit over our position. Exar, once we recover the mini comp, Ill transmit you the data so SAL can do a planetary search for a match. Understood, Master. All right, well see you both shortly. This will all be over soon. One way or another Now, grab my helmet, rifle, and blade. Just in case someone wants to get up close and personal Which I am starting to hope they do I better bring one of these scanners too And here come Van and Olrever. I like the look on their faces. Just the right combination of anger, sadness, excitement and focus Okay guys, heres the plan. Were going to get dropped off at a spot ahead and below the path RaeSha and her crew are taking. We will hike up and get in position around an open plateau. Thats where well spring our ambush. Now lets head down to the exit hatch. Understood, Captain. What are the rules of engagement? Quite simple actually and God help, Ive reached my limit On my mark shoot to kill, Olrever Except for RaeSha. Is that because you want to bring her back and make her your love slave?

At least his humor is still intact Yes, Van. That and because she said the ship was booby-trapped. Until we can either verify or correct that, we have to play it safe with her. Captain, bridge We are in position for you to exit. Go time Thanks, Wags. Lower the hatch and well take it from here All right, lets roll. As soon as we hit the ground, start climbing. Here we go Jump! Good, solid footing Now where do I start? There. Grab and pull, feet up and push Up, up, up Come on, have to get up there. Who knows how fast those guys are moving Almost there Plant the left, swing the right over and made it! Now to set up where? Olrever, climb up there. Van, get in behind that rock formation and line up your rifle in between Aaaaarrrrr! Olrever! Where did that shot come from?! Van, take cover! Olrever, respond! Hey, handsome, can you hear me? Damn it Not good Considering how you are looking around with that sweet, incredulous look of yours, I would say yes So, do you know what is a very easy way for someone to fall into a trap? I do now By giving them two options to follow, then making one of them so apparently wrong that they follow the other, more obvious choice into said trap Guess I am that predictable after all I cant believe I walked us straight into again But were still alive, so Ill worry chastice myself later First off thoughOlrever, come in?! Olrever! I think he is out, Alandres. He collapsed once he crawled behind that rock. I am going after him. Cover me. Thats easier said that done, Van I dont even know where she is Just fire across the opening and hope I can prevent them from getting a clean shot Do not waste your ammo, handsome. I am not standing where youre shooting at. I also forgot to tell you that it is not that easy to hide the Phantoms heat signature if someone knows what spectrum to look for. When I get my hands on you, Im going to I know the things you can do with your hands, so save it. Besides, that was not even a kill shot. I just needed your big friend incapacitated Now listen carefully. My three cohorts will be on you shortly, so you need to stay sharp. Why the hell are you telling me this? And why the private channel? I just need you to keep each other busy while I put some distance between us As for the private channel, I just wanted to even things up a bit, since my crew already knows youre coming. Personally, I think you can take them, so dont prove me wrong. But Ill let you work that out So long. That no good I should have left her to fend for herself when I had the chance Time to regroup while we have the chanceVan, come in. How is he? Stable but unconscious. The shot tore a hole in his suit, but the biofibers sealed the breach. It also seems they are using superconducting charges, as the blast got through his exoskeleton as well. Glad to hear hes fine, but weve got trouble. RaeSha called to say her friends are almost on us. And you believe her?! I think she was telling the truth. She wants to get to the crystals more than killing us. Im sure shed rather we do that amongst ourselves. Yeah, that makes me feel better... What do you want to do? Theyve got the numbers, so we need to take the offensive before they can overwhelm us. Start firing towards the other end of the clearing just to give them something to think about. Ill climb down, go around and flank them. Considering RaeSha got a shot in, the others should not be far behind. Well, we havent done anything sane yet, so why start now. Go for it.

Okay, I dont see anyone so let me stay low and get to the ledge while Van sprays the rocks Where do I go from here? That area looks pretty solid. Let me scale down bit morejump down Good. And I have a fairly easy path across to the other side Now move it Hopefully they wont think to look down here Hell, I dont even know where they are. I really shouldnt just pop back up the ledge and grandly announce my presence Hmm, once I get past this open area, I bet I can climb and hide behind that group of rocks up there Thatll give me a chance to look around a bit and still stay fairly hidden Slide a couple of more steps Slowly up Reach up, pull and here we are Now lets take a peek I dont believe this... Hows that for a change in luck Van, I see them. Theyre setting up for their own ambush. Theyre about halfway up the rock bank on the far end of the clearing. I have clear shot from here. Then take them out and fill me in on the minutia later! Will do. Wait until I give you the all-clear before coming out. Now let me get them in my crosshairs. Those two wont even know what hit them Wait a moment two? Werent there? And what the hell just grabbed my le Yeeeeaaaaa! How the hell did he fling me up so hiiiigh! I guess Ill have to worry about that later because the ground and those rocks are coming up fast! Oomph! Cough, cough Ooohh Cough Boy, did that hurt Im seeing stars Damn, that four-armed monster is climbing up over the ledge My rifle Where is it? I just had it Alandres! Alandres! What happened?! I just saw you flying across Oh no Turn around! One of them is coming up towards you! I know, Van! Stay down, but make sure the others dont get a free shot at me! Need something to defend myself My heads ringing There, one rock, two rocks Here you go buddy. Catch! Yes, look up with that self-satisfied face, because I wanted to miss that high above your head. Now this one Yes, you guessed it, but too late Clank! Right on his faceplate. That stinks for you. I see your air must be starting to get suctioned out because it seems like your eyes are bulging out Now suck it up Alandres and get up Like my old Tae-Kwon-Do teacher taught me Running start, leap and plant a foot straight on his chest See you later. You shouldnt have stood so close to the edge, because that first step down is a doozy Ouch. Thats going to leave a mark. If he even gets up again that is Nice move, Alandres. I guess we do not have to worry about him anymore. You got that right, Van. The way he bounced off those last couple of Hey! I forgot about the other two! That shot almost hit me. I thought I told Van to keep them pinned down Ive got to hide behind these rocks Theres my rifle! Let me grab it before Oooww! That blast sprayed me with molten rock right through my suit! Ooowww! My skin! Again! That is it! Ive had it with everyone wanting to kill me wherever I go! Alandres, where are you going? For a scenic rock climb, Van. What else? I know what you think you are doing and, as usual, I will point out that you are crazy. Are you going to just drop in on them? Then what? Youll see shortly. If I dont make it, get out of here and dont look back. Yeah, sure. Like I a going to do that. Just hold on where you are and do not climb any further. I am coming over. You do what you have to and so will I Lock on the firing safety, increase the charger level to max and this gun will turn into a powerful grenade Keep pressing on the trigger and itll happen in mics And theyll never expect me to come to them. So climb a bit higher and heave it right on top of them! Now Ive to duck back down so the blast doesnt get me Theres the flash and here they come scurrying around Looks like I got the one in the back pretty good They wanted to play rough, so now they got it Get ready to scream some more now Alandres! What are you doing with that blade? Dispensing justice.

Alandres, there are two of them! Wait until I get there! Not this time Hey ugly, here you go! And now that Ive got this knife into your heart, do you mind if I twist it a bit? You dont? Good And as for you over there, dont look so scared. Your suffering will all be over shortly. Thank me later for putting you out of your misery When youre traveling the stars, you learn something new all time Like if youre coming after me and my friends, make sure you finish the job the first time Uh good job? I have to admit, I did not quite see you as the cold-blooded assassin-type, Alandres. Im not, but everyone has their limits. When that molten rock hit me, I got so mad I could barely think straight. Its the implant. Sometimes I can barely control it. Most of the last few demics are just a blur. Then allow me to recap. You took out the big, four-armed one by throwing a rocking at his faceplate, then kicking him over the cliff. You then scaled a rock wall, threw an exploding weapon at two of our enemies, then dispatched them both with neatly placed blade strikes. By the way, how did you know just where to stab a Niscou? I thought you said you had never met one before. From my earlier anatomy lesson. Oh yes. You never did finish that story, but it is good to see at least something good came out of it... Well, something else I will remind you to fill me in once we are safely on our way back home. By the way, hows your arm? I can see bloodstains. Its throbbing a lot, but otherwise it is well enough. The molten rock went through the suit fabric and burnt my skin, but the inner layer of the suit is helping with the pain, so Ill live. If you say so, tough guy. What do you want to do now? Depends. Is Olrever still out? Yes. And we cant carry him or leave him behind either... Call Exar and have him come get him. Ill keep going ahead. You stay, then can catch up after the ship arrives. And how exactly are you going to follow her when we could not even do that from the ship? That was our mistake, Van. Using the ship. Shes got it all rigged to protect her, so we cant trust it to track her either. But if I use the hand scanner, I can search for her thermal signature. This planet is so hot that anyone walking on it would stand out by virtue of being so much cooler. And which way are you going to go, Alandres? You do not even know where she went. True, although Im thinking up the face of that mountain. She shot Olrever in the left shoulder, so she must have been aiming from the north. And to be able to get a good look at us, and make transmission contact, she could not have been far off or too much out of direct line of sight. Fine. I can tell I will not be able to talk you out of this. Take my carbine and be careful. And unless you absolutely have no other choice, stay out of sight until I can catch up. We can then take her together. I will... And you make sure they bring the ship fairly far away from here, then approach very low to the ground. I dont want to give anything away again. Be fast and Ill see you soon. Time to get rolling Hope I know what Im doing. If she didnt go in this general direction, Ill never find her Now climb up to a high point and start scanning Damn, not enough resolution Maybe if I plug in to the suit and relay the feed to my visor Thats a bit better, but not enough I need a frame of reference for a thermal gradient What about a shady area? Let me run over there and scan under that ledge Significantly cooler. Now I have a baseline to match up to Keep going forward and sweep at the next high rise All right, one more try No temp variants but What is that? Movement? Switch to optics mode Gravel rolling down? On a planet with no wind and no atmosphere? Let me switch back to thermal scan and narrow the scan box and I see a fuzzy spot on the terraing that just happens to continue moving up in a straight line You should have watched your step, sweetheart Finally, Im going to get the drop on you Van, I think I see her. Im going to try and go around, then cut her off. Contact me via pulse code only. She can access the comlink on these suits.

And the expected quick response back And yes, I implied I was going to wait but Sorry pal, she is not getting away from me again Quick reply, I will be okay Now to pick up the pace. She cant be further away than a milec, milec and a half. I have just have to throw caution to the wind, get in some good leaps in and hope I dont break an ankle when I come down Come on, move it! This is why I spend all that time running around Rackoyd in heavier Gs Leap again There she is, starting her ascent. And going surprisingly slow too But shes nothing if not well prepared, so I should make sure theres nothing up ahead lying in wait I dont see anything on mag-view, but hold on is that? Yes, that looks like an opening on the side of that rock face So thats where youre going If I try to scan in front of her, her own scanner might pick up the signal and give me away. Ill just have to chance it Lets go then Keep running and stay out of sight Starting to get pretty steep Im almost on her. But why is she just walking? Well, she seems to be favoring her right leg a bit Screw it. Time to be proactive. The safe thing to do is follow her, but weve come too far to back off now A little plasma shock should do the trick ready, aim fire and through? Okay, Im sure there is a logical reason why the blast went right through her, and none of them will be good It took you long enough to get here, handsome. I was starting to think you were not able to handle those third-rate mercenaries. Damnit She got me again Yow! And that blast shot almost did too Back behind a boulder again I will spare you the headache you will get from trying to figure it out and tell you my EV suit has stealth, light-bending capability. What you were technically tracking was a holo projection I didnt expect that. Ill give her that much and then you came charging up that hill, predictable as always. But enough chat. The way I recall it, we are still temporary partners. Do you want to meet me at the entrance to the cave? We can go in together. And why in heavens name would I want to do that? If I know my holo projections, they reflect your actual movements. And from that image, it looks to me like you are not 100%. Maybe I should just wait for whatevers hurting you to take a further toll. Feel free to, Alandres. As long as you do not want to see your mini comp or its priceless data again. And I hope you have not forgotten my earlier mention of what SAL might do if my vital signs cease to exist. So let us just put all our idle threats aside and work together again. I so much liked it better that way And you know well get to the crystals faster as well. Why should I trust you? So you can get close enough to kill me as well? You seem to be doing that a lot lately. If you are referring to the incidents on the ship, they were both self-defense. Your Ginrun female ran into me as I was making my way off the bridge and tried to exact some revenge for her fallen comrades. I dont see anything wrong with that. Neither do I. But I was not going to let her go through with it either. I must say she was quite determined, so I did not have much of a choice on what to do. Sorry you were so inconvenienced. And your friend in the holding cell? Well, the last Engagi fact you should know is that they have a keen sense of smell. When I let him out of the cell, Gantarg smelled your scent on me. That threw him into a violent fit of jealous rage. At that point, his brain shut off and it was either he or I. Again, I had no choice but to take him out. In fact, he likely would have come after your unconscious body next had I not succeeded. Well thanks for looking out for my best interest. You are welcome. Now what do you say? I say that you should remember your own words about me being unpredictable under pressure, because thats what Im best at, and Im not letting you keep the upper hand. Now based on where that shot came from and what I think is the origin of the signal youre broadcasting, you must be about 10 decimilecs behind me and to the right. Its a good thing you like to talk so much

Now if my luck holds out and Lord knows it hasnt so far all I have to do is throw a rock in that direction, vaporize it in midair with a plasma bolt, which will then disperse the rock dust, which will in turn cover your silhouette, letting me know where you are standing... Simple enough, right? Oh yes, once I fire the shot, I should take advantage of the low gravity and spring up and over this boulder, flip in midair going the opposite direction and land with my rifle aimed Piece of cake Hello Alandres. Quit stalling, because you now have five mics to answer before I start deleting data. Thanks for the second signal. I know exactly where you are now Here goes nothing Grab a nice, red rock power to max throw it backwards zap in air put my foot here and push Banzai! land aim and there is a reddish looking ghost holding a gun and wiping what looks like its helmet faceplate My God, I cant believe that actually worked Now to capitalize before she gets a shot of Run up, then a solid sweep of the legs and down you go. Now that, along with the blaster aimed square at you should get your undivided attention Well done, handsome. Despite your various shortcomings, you continue to amaze me when you have your back against the wall. But alas, all for naught. Kill me now and the information to find the cave is yours, but you sentence your friends to death. I promise you that. Now allow me to stand up Thanks. Now please come in closer, just so you can get a higher probability shot in Here I am. Let me even press the barrel up to my chest, right against that area that you seem to like so much... That will get me for sure if I step out of line. Thanks for the help, but I have no intention to kill you. At least, not yet. Drop your weapon to the ground, then put your right hand in the air and pass me the mini comp with your left. Understood? And if I do not? This Hope getting the butt of the carbine into your midsection drives home the point Then the rest of our temporary partnership will be most unpleasant for you, sweetheart. Now, gun on the ground Good, now kick it over here as I would feel much safer with two weapons instead of one Finally, right hand up and pass me the comp with your left. You know, I am starting to get tired of that loose hand of yours. But here you are. Just remember next time you might not get your arm back. Blah, blah, blah. Now lets see where you were headed to Oh. Is this accurate? It sure is. Stands out quite a bit does it not? It sure does. The readings from inside that cave are like a beacon. And we are going to follow it right in All right RaeSha, lets go have a closer look By the way, whats with the limp? It is due to those creatures at the underwater station. The one that grabbed me inserted some sharp barbs into my leg. Due to the circumstances afterwards, I have not yet been able to properly treat is. That is partly why I asked to continue our partnership. I could use the help of a big, strong human to help me carry out whatever treasures we find. Flattery will get you nowhere. Now move along. You in front. I still say you prefer that order because you like the view. And I still say that it is because I dont trust you enough to turn my back on you Now move it. Fast. Fine, I am going. But why are you being so antagonistic? I have yet tried to kill you. Yet everyone else around you has been dropping left and right. That does not bode too well for my future prospects. If you are so worried, why did you save me from those creatures? Because I did not want them to rob me of the chance to kill you myself when this is all over. I do not buy that for a mic. I believe you are actually starting to like having me around. You are entitled to your deluded opinions. Now be quiet. Heres the entrance to the cave. And as expected, a big, dark, scary tunnel leading into the bowels of the mountain And the readings from inside are getting stronger the closer we get. There is definetely something down there that matches the readings we took from the crystals at the station

So Alandres, are we going to go down there or are you just going to stand there gawking? Excuse me if I am not ready to walk into yet another pitfall. The high temperatures down there might be masking other signals. So lets move in cautiously. If anything moves, Im shooting it. I shouldve brought some hi-res visual equipment. I cant see anything down there, even with the helmet light on We just have to keep moving slow and keep an eye on the motion sensor Whoa! Damn loose rocks! Uh-oh I dont think I can keep my balan! Watch out! What was tha ?! Oomph oomph son of a cover faceplate aahhh! sharp oooww Cant tell which way is up ouch aaahh Grab anything aah There, stopped the spinning Now if I can just stop this slide Dig in Good, slowing down but theres RaeSha I think Im going to slam right into her again Watch out! Ooowww! That really sucked. Very smooth on my part At least were stopped now. Nice move, idiot. I think I am paralyzed. Im surprised Im not Sorry about that. Thanks for breaking my fall though. And I am also going to be breaking your head open if you do not get off me! All right, all right Are you okay? Yes, no thanks to you mister-let-us-move-in-cautiously. And I hope you did not wreck the mini comp during our trip down. It seems to be no worse of the wear. Let me fire it up and see what we find. I think were here You look more dumbfounded than usual. What is it? The readings are off the scale. All preliminary signals coincide with the ID for the same materials we found at the station. The highest level is coming from that tunnel. Come on. Its also getting really hot down here. The suit can barely keep up Who cares? Just a couple of more steps and and I finally ran out of adjectives Wait up, Alandres. My leg is Zheetnn'el! I dont know what that means but I think it will do I cannot believe it! It is as the legends said! They are everywhere! I cannot even see where the cave ends! I know, RaeSha! And the readings are an exact data match! Karandum, rybel, all of them! Even tranite and laorcah! No one single legend was right. They all were! These crystals are jewels and fuel and energy sources. Everything everyone thought and more! More indeed Because especially strong are the scans of carbon and hydrogen. But that can only mean that the crystals are also Alandres, the contents of this cave must be worth trillions and trillions of creds! We need to figure out how to keep this secret and not let anyone else know of it until we can extract them! Which is probably what those folks over there thought at some point. Because unless my eyes are deceiving me, those look like skeletal remains. I guess some of those eyewitness stories might have been true after all But look at that, theres Vans signal. Gee, I wonder what hes going to say I read you, Van. Alandres, wherever you are, you need to be on alert. The giant ship appeared shortly after you left to go after RaeSha. We managed to give it the slip, as they did not seem to be too interested in us. I think they just sent an away team down.

Got it, Van. But I think we hit the motherload down here. Stay out of sight and dont give away your position. Well go up and take a peek in a moment. As long as they dont know where we are, we may be okay.

Rag tu tahehcyr go ed kike aksted!


Damn it all

Chapter 18: I think Im really dying this time. - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.650 On surface of unidentified planet, within the Omac Beren system
THROUGHOUT RECORDED HISTORY,
THERE HAVE BEEN COUNTLESS ENCOUNTERS BY DIFFERENT SPECIES THAT ARE INITIALLY NOT ABLE TO COMMUNICATE DIRECTLY BY SPEECH. IN MOST CASES, PHYSICAL GESTURING COUPLED WITH VARYING INFLECTION IN THE TONE OF VOICE USED RELAYS INTENT OR MEANING. AND ONE SUCH EXCHANGE IS PRESENTLY OCCURRING BELOW THE SURFACE OF AN UNCHARTED PLANET

Rag tu tahehcyr go ed kike aksted!


They sound pretty mad. Better think of something fast RaeSha, go deeper into the cave and take cover behind some of the crystals! I hope this is another one of those crazy schemes you seem to come up with every time you are almost done for. I hope so too. Now move! I have a feeling they wont attack us if they believe we pose a threat to the crystals. Why not? Because I think the crystals are

Rag tu tahehcyr an!


You can fill me in later, Alandres. Whatever you think they are, you better be right. I think we are going to have visitors soon And how are they accessing our general comm frequency? Beats me Hmm, the pathway coming down is pretty narrow. Anything comes out and I can cover it with plasma fire before it even steps a foot inside here... Yet there is still the question on how we are going to get out Uh oh. I see some pebbles rolling down. I think someone or something is coming to join us. Well, if they try anything hostile theyll soon regr Captain! Captain Cal! That voice Is that ? No, it cant be Ecab?! Is that you? Yes, Captain, it is. I am coming down to where you are. This just got a hell of a lot weirder Alandres, did he just say he was? Yes he did, RaeSha. Stay behind the crystals and out of his line of sight. Just in case theyre trying to pull something on us. If you need to talk, only use a private channel. Now let me get back to them Whoever is coming down the pathway, put your hands up are whatever passes for them and step out slowly! One false move and we open fire, plus begin to destroy the crystals! I assume that is also part of the crazy scheme, right? It sure is, RaeSha. We just have to keep them at bay. Trust me on this one. Captain, I assure you this is Officer Ecab. Cybex identification number 4152.4580.4642.9281. Please do not fire on myself or the crystals. I wont yet. Keep moving while explaining how you have magically appeared here. Last time I saw the real Ecab, a couple of very nasty looking creatures were ready to separate the upper half of his body from the lower. Not to mention that little explosion that happened shortly afterwards at the location where this was all happening. I understand your skepticism, Captain. It is indeed an incredible story. I managed to escape from those hideous monsters but was subsequently captured by the beings that had been pursuing us. After your last escape from them, they returned to the planet and found me floating about the debris of the station. I still do not know how I was able to survive the explosion. They took me on board and interrogated me

about our recent exploits. I was not able to add much, as they already knew a great deal about us. This further proves that there is a leak within Cybex and the mission was compromised from the start It sure does. And I am certain I know by whom They then pieced together information retrieved from the wrecked station to track you to this system. How lucky for us Incredible doesnt even begin to describe it, Ecab. How were you able to get away? I did not. The beings, Garokkans they call themselves, sent me to convince you to surrender. GAROKKANS: SPECIES NOT FOUND IN PLANETARY COALITION EXOBIOLOGY ARCHIVES. They are going to have to try a little harder... I can tell youre at the end of the path, Ecab. Step out and walk straight ahead. It sure looks like him And I imagine that annoying voice and uptight personality would be hard to fake. Now if he is who he says he is, he should know the standard Cybex pulse code for switching to a closedcircuit transmission channel And there is the standard pulse reply. I guess its him. Now let me patch in RaeSha and we all might be able to talk privately for a while Okay Ecab, get over here, quick How many of them are out there? And are they armed? Do you know what their plan is? Smart move changing communications frequencies, Captain. I am afraid I was forced to reveal our basic channels, as you have already heard. As for your ques Unbelievable. It is even more marvelous that I could have ever imagined. And hopefully we will live long enough to enjoy it, Ecab. Now, you were saying Sorry, Captain. The sight of the crystals distracted me. There are seven Garokkans waiting outside of the cave. They are all armed with electrolaser weapons. And like us, they are after the crystals. If I do not bring you outside in their equivalent of five demics, they will come in and physically subdue you by whatever means necessary. Not exactly a very appealing thought Thanks, Ecab. And I do not plan on leaving this planet escorted by your friends nor do I have any intention of destroying the crystals. I was hoping you would say that, as I do not plan to continue being their captive either. What is your plan then, Captain? Good question. I guess I should think of something Im still working on it. For now, take this weapon. Keep an eye on RaeSha and shoot her if she gets out of line. Yikes, if looks could kill Thanks for the vote of confidence, handsome. Dont mention it, sweetheart. You have definetely earned it. Now do something useful and take the scanner to see if there is another way out of here. Ecab, go with her. Im going to take a bunch of these crystals and place them at the bottom of the pathway. If they come rushing down, thatll give them some pause and hopefully give me a clear shot if it comes down to it. Why do you keep saying that, Alandres? What is it about the crystals that will stop them? Youre going to love this one, girl Because I dont think they are looking for the crystals for the same reasons we are, RaeSha. I think the crystals are well, alive. Alive? Are you serious? or not Captain, with all due respect Hold on both of you and hear me out. In addition to the other chemical readings, these crystals have strong organic compound indications. The ones at Dryha had them too. And the Garokkans, who have chased us relentlessly around the sector, now have us cornered yet they havent stormed down here en

masse to take control of the cave. Instead, they are calmly and cautiously waiting us out. It all makes sense now. They havent been trying to kill us, theyve been trying to capture us so we can lead them here. Captain, recent events would suggest otherwise. I thought so at first but not anymore, Ecab. They could have blown up the relay station with us inside, but they didnt. Then at Dryha they bring the entrapment ship. And for what? Capture. Yet the barrage of plasma fire as we tried to evade them points to destruction, Captain. And as I think back on it, I can list half a dozen ways in which they could have destroyed us if they didnt mean to capture us. But that still does not explain your hypothesis on the crystals themselves. Dont you see it, Ecab? The crystals bio readings, the intricate network of probes and stations looking for this place, the relentless pursuit but cautious approach now You want to hear something real crazy? Remember the heated room at Dryha and the excessive temperature down here. The crystals are being incubated. I think they must carry something akin to their offspring. What else would drive them so? I think you finally lost it, handsome. I would tend to agree with her, Captain. If you two have a better explanation, Id like to hear it. You mean besides the near infinite riches that these crystals represent, Alandres? Plus no known life form has ever been recorded as gestating inside a crystalline mass, Captain. AN ASSERTION THAT THE SILICON-BASED, GLASS-LIKE BEINGS OF VATAR 1 WOULD CHALLENGE IF THEY WERE TO BECOME AWARE OF IT. BUT THEIR SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP TO THE VATAR TUBULAR WORMS, AS WELL AS THEIR DWELLING WITHIN THE WORMS DIGESTIVE TRACKS LIMITS THEIR INTERACTION WITH OTHER SPECIES. I know its crazy, but still Yes, Im sure all species throughout the galaxy have already been discovered and properly catalogued. And Im still waiting for the part about why they still havent come down here and torn us limb from limb as we wait around chatting But regardless off whos right, none of it means they wont kill us once they secure this place. So we have to make sure were not in here when they finally come down. Fine, Captain. I agree that we need be ready for when we are eventually assaulted. But I will not leave here without these crystals. Sure thing, Ecab... Now find us a way out of here or that will all be a moot point. Now Ive got to move fast myself Grab a few and lay them here Those seem loose enough Just pile them on. Once they come down, they wont risk rushing in for fear of breaking them If Im right that is. If not, were done for. But it cant be. This just feels right Yet the fact that those two are heading back already does not Bad news, Alandres. If there is a way out of here, we cant find it. The cave just goes deeper and deeper. If there is another exit, it is out of sensor range. Of course I know Ive been saying this a lot, but once again it is time for one more miracle What? Are you two worried? This just means things will be a bit more interesting going forward RaeSha, can your stealth suit cover areas around you, and not just your body? It can. But the effect deteriorates the wider the camouflage range is expanded. Which should not be a problem inside a dark and gloomy cave. True enough. What do you have in mind? You and I will take a position up on that ridge. Youll then extend the field around both of us. Ecab, you call the Garokkans and tell them we attacked you, then took shelter further inside the cave. Tell them the coast is clear and that they can come in.

At which point you will take them out from your hiding spot. Brilliant strategy, Captain. If it works... And whatever you do, do not fire that weapon. Dont even let them see it. The longer they think you are working for them, the better. Now make the call. They are probably getting tired of waiting. I will at once, Captain. One more thing though, Ecab Hes going to hate this Of course. What wou oomph! Cough, cough Wh cough Why? Its nothing personal, Ecab. You have to sound genuine or they may not bite. A plasma bolt might have done too much damage, so a blow to your breath-cavity seemed like the next best choice. It doesnt look like he cares too much for my strategy now, but who cares Cough I understand, Captain. But please let me know in advance next time you plan to do that cough I will switch now to cough the open frequency and initiate the call. Well go get ready Come on, RaeSha. Lets start to climb. Ecab, signal us after youve initiated contact. Were really up against it now. Either this works or we may literally not see the light of day again. And there is still the matter of how were going to get off this rock. But lets tackle one dire situation at a time This spot is fine. I have a clear shot at the open area and the pathway entry. Do your stuff, RaeSha. You realize not only will you have to face your great phobia of having your back turned to me, but for this to work we will have to get in very close and tight. Not even a micromilec of open space between our bodies. Are you sure you are comfortable with that? We managed to do that before. I think we can pull it off again. I am glad to see you are up for it again, if not in the most ideal of circumstances. Here goes Im still wondering if those exopheromones have long lasting effects, because having her pressing up against me is making me feel all tingly I hope I dont start seeing double again You know Alandres, working together like this is far more enjoyable than running around shooting at each other. I would rather we kept it this way. As would I, if only I did not see all those dead faces everything time I looked at her Too bad the body count seems to rise everytime we do though Unfortunate circumstances, as I have already pointed out If we get out here alive Well, recall my offer to you back on the Phantom I dont know whats more messed up, that she thinks we can still work together after everything thats happened Or that I am not shooting down the offer on the spot How about we focus on the getting out alive part for now, because Ecabs buzzing us Go ahead, Ecab Captain, I have made contact with the Garokkans and they are proceeding inside. I will assume a nonthreatening position of surrender when they are about to arrive. Ecab out. Now I just need sit tight and wait But first, transfer the riflescope aim to my visor. Forgot I cant aim by plain sight with an invisible barrel... Ecab is raising his arms Theyre here Its showtime Now aim for that opening and and Those are them? They look so small and frail. With a ship so big, I half expected a pair of giants to come out of the tunnel. I wonder how many of them are in that ship? What should I aim for now? I cant even begin to guess whats vital I guess when in doubt, aim for the headlooking thing Wait until they are all in Engage automatic mode and go! 1 2 3 4 5 6 and.. 7 Wow! That was almost too easy. They looked like they were barely able to stand Now I better get down there and start working on our next move And Ecab looks very pleased with himself That was a fantastic display of marksmanship, Captain! I had no idea you were so skilled. They scarcely had time to realize what was happening befo They are still alive? You did not mean to kill them?

yet no so pleased with me anymore No I didnt, Ecab. There are still too many questions to be answered. Too many loose ends. They will be of more use to us alive. Plus we dont know what that Star Destroyer in orbit will do if we wantonly kill their crewmates. They may change their minds and vaporize us from orbit. Star Destroyer? I am not familiar with that ship designation. Silly earthling, you and your funny words Never mind, Ecab. In any case, theyre down for now. We should turn our attention on how we are going to get out here before their reinforcements arrive. And leave this fortune behind?! Are you mad, Captain?! Why does everyone keep saying that? Probably the many constant, obvious reasons I keep giving them What I am mad about is getting shot at, beaten up, and attacked wherever we go, Ecab. Now weve got some of their progeny Or so you think, Alandres. Details, details. Fine, RaeSha. Or so I think. As I was saying, weve got some their progeny and their away-team captive. Im thinking we take a few of both, hightail it outside and have the Phantom come pick us up. We can then use them to get some sort of cease-fire going and talk this out like civilized beings. Im not much in the mood for some powerful species declaring a blood-oath and chasing after me until the day I die. I am sorry you feel that way, but that sequence of events is not exactly what I had in mind Captain, and I cant stop from shaking my head as I hear Ecab say so everyone always wants to do things the hard way I am with you as far as returning to the ship goes. At which point I intend for us to use one of those apocalyptic missiles we now possess and blow their ship into nothingness. Interesting plan, Ecab. And as I have no intention of allowing that to happen, I am curious to see how you intend to accomplish it. Like this And what is he going to? Oomph! Ow. Another smack with the blunt end of a rifle to her midsection. Shes really going to be angry now well, angrier As I should be be as well, seeing as he is now pointing the weapons at me Now I know you instructed me to use this weapon on RaeSha, but you have now earned the honors of having it drawn on yourself. I will give you one last chance to stand down and allow me to exit with our downed friend here in tow so as to allow me control of the ship. And as you think it all over, rest assured I have not set the charge level on this weapon to stun. I am sure you have not Ecab, as you are very thorough at protocol. But as a spineless bureaucrat, I dont think you have the internal fortitude to pull the trigger. So if you dont mind, I will ask you just once to stand down. Goodbye, Captain. I will give him credit for pulling the trigger, even if I instigated it And yes, dummy, Im still alive Now how do you suppose that happened? Yes, pull it again. No? Nothing still? Tough luck buddy Now why is your rifle not firing, Ecab? Could it be that someone gave you an uncharged weapon? But but Captain How did you? I cant wait for this How did I what? Had the foresight to do that? What possible reason could I have had? So you know who was behind this the entire time then. Not bad, Captain. When did you figure it out? Perhaps not the whole time, but I had my suspicions for a while. How you happened to be either off ship or near an exit whenever another ship attacked. How RaeSha managed to track us to the Cluster and after our first battle. Plus having her repeat back to me a phrase I said to you during our gravity drop just about clinched it. But having the big ship came out of its jump at Dryha Minor 7, as I had led you to believe was our destination, was the last straw. That, plus the fact we did not hear from it in more or less in the time it would have taken a ship to travel to Xentans and back to Dryha.

Not bad at all. RaeSha was right in saying that you seem to thrive most under pressure. Thanks for nothing, Ecab. But now I have to ask Why? Why the elaborate ruse? And how do you factor in with the Garokkans? I am sorry again, but I have no time to answer that now. You see, as smart as you believe yourself to be, there is one final piece of the puzzle you have not yet put into place. I said it before, and Ill say it again. I hate that I-know-something-you-dont-know look. Then again, thats probably the look I just gave Ecab a moment ago Now Captain, allow me to introduce you to my ongoing associate. No need to Ecab, I hear in a sultry tone across the comm line, making me wonder if theyll allow me a moment to bang my head against the nearest rock wall, We are already well acquainted. Are we not, handsome? That blasted, double-crossing, no-good bitch Although I should be more concerned about that laser shes holding Come on, Captain. I am surprised you did not realize that we have been partners from the start. She did not know I was on the Lumenictus when we departed Rackoyd, but I introduced myself as her secret employer once we were on board the Fire Phantom. But keeping our relationship secret seemed most appropriate at the time, as we both could get to you in ways the other could not. You did call this an elaborate ruse, so you should not be surprised... Now my dear, if you would relieve the Captain of his weapon... Good. And now to borrow a line from you Captain, keep an eye on him RaeSha. And shoot him if he gets out of line. Jerk and I think I just might be screwed I dont think you got my accent quite right, Ecab. I am glad you can see some humor in your current predicament, Captain. But now, it truly is goodb aaarrrgghgh!! Ouch That sure looked like it hurt. Just look at him twitch. I think theres even smoke coming off of him Did he mean for me to shoot you and not him, Alandres? I was not paying much attention to him near the end. I think he did but you can ask him whenever he comes to, RaeSha. And um thanks? You are welcome. I did say that I no longer acknowledged the deal with my former employer, as bringining in those Garokkans nor having them kill us, as they did to the crewmembers on the shuttle back at the station was not part of the deal. So I do not believe I have lied to you yet or tried to kill you, as I have continued to point out several times. True enough. Although you did seem to have left out a few key pieces of information. And you still have not agreed to buy me that Namerg ale that I hinted would free up some more of my secrets. Gee I would love to, but Im a bit nervous about the way you are pointing that laser at me again. Oh, that? Just because I zapped Ecab does not mean I do not agree with his plan. And neither do I expect you to change your mind if I ask nicely or would you? I will remind you that I can make it worth your while in ways you would most assuredly enjoy. I thought you said you preferred it when we did not shoot at each other. I do So just say yes and let us find a way out Together. I I cant. Not like this. Everything seems to have gone wrong at every turn Our friends and crewmates dead, our partners betraying us, open hostilities with unknown species for unknown reasons We need to do something right And, and I must be insane. I am willing to do so together. Such an idealist. But we will have to agree to disagree on this one Hence the weapons pointed at you. Now do not worry, as it is not set to kill, but bear down nevertheless because this is going to hurt. It would I wasnt numb already but we are not done here yet I hope Before you do, I have one last piece of advice Drop and cover.

Now guys, please hurry up What are you doing? If you think I will not zap you while you are lying down, then you do not know Whoa! Now either a giant asteroid just slammed into the planet or the Garokkans are through fooling around

Mercomm tu an! Vartad ta mo eon va tcha derska, iv re retsemell ed i ne styoh ondv etam!
That transmission was not local. It came from the ship Thats why Im always so adamant about not turning my back to the action. You tend to miss things like one of your previously unconscious hostages calling for backup It also helps to give me a head start when trying to escape and head for shelter. Like now! Let me grab Ecabs gun too Yikes! Goodness shes fast. I think that shot singed my visor. Now let me get behind this boulder, slide its energy cartridge back in and we are a bit more on par now Now where did she go? Maybe a quick zap will loosen her tongue Careful where you fire, handsome. If you are right, our friends outside will not be too happy if they come in just to find a bunch of shards all around. Thanks for the warning, sweetheart. If you are so concerned, please step out into the open so I can more easily shoot you and avoid the crystals. I take it by the blast that just flew by means that she is not to keen on that idea At least I know where she is now Did that let you know what I think of your suggestion? It did. Now listen, we dont have to do Watch out! Did that shot come from a different direction? And now the ground is shaking again. Not good.

Desinrut, iv an mmerok i! Ed vartad!


Thats probably Garokkan for were coming to kick your ass right now. I think we just ran out of time. Alandres! RaeSha! If you ruin this for me I will see you dead! I swear it! You and these miserable creatures! I guess Ecab is tougher than he looks. I was sure hed be out longer But that Garokkan will be, with the way Ecab just stomped on him and all Hes going after RaeSha with that Garokkan rifle, which means Im going the other way Say, he hasnt seen that little one trying to crawl away They do say my enemys enemy is my friend Let me slide a little closer to him and hope he doesnt mistake my outstretched arm as a sign of a human death grip Good. Grab tight and hold on. Just get behind this rock and youll be saf gasp

Thank you for helping me


Ive never had thoughts projected into my mind before. Id say it feels pretty cool if I werent in mortal danger and terro

We can only do this through direct physical contact. Your suit does not provide enough interference to block it I can tell from your feelings you do not mean me any harm, Alandres
I dont And how can I now understand what youre saying?

Now that we have a mental link, I can access your brains speech recognition functions Please leave the hatchery. We have been searching for it for ages. We do not seek anything from you.
I knew it! Im so sorry. I didnt realize what this place was until after wed arrived. Id be glad to leave, but we have a little problem back there Hes the one who poses a threat to us.

You seem to be correct, but I am perplexed. Ecab has been the one that has assisted us the most in locating the hatchery. Why has he suddenly turned on us?

Your well crystals are made of materials that are very rare and extremely valuable on our planets. Hes determined to make them his own.

I still cant believe he has betrayed us. After all the help he provided
Unless your friends are violently hitting his legs with their heads, Id say he doesnt care much for you

Allow me to see for myself Oh no


Convinced yet?

I am. He will not be forgiven for his treachery And I believe I am in need of your assistance once more.
Ill take care of Ecab. You slip out and let your mates know that not everyone down here is against them. And neither are those on the little red ship.

I will. And good luck.


Okay, now if I slink around back here So many of these things propping out everywhere. Its like a maze But there they are Hes got the drop on RaeSha. I dont think she sees him That shot looked like it may have gotten her I should wait for to them finish each other off first, but then I may lose this open shot Screw it, time to end this Steady a little closer Crap, he saw my reflection Just spray him Damn, I think I only nicked him Amateur move, dummy Now to see to more enemies of my enemy RaeSha? You know something, handsome? I really hate that ssaleho. Yeah, hes not very endearing. Are you okay? I am all right. My left arm is a bit numb from that zap though... And thanks. Dont mention it Let me give you a hand up... Now weve got to Hold on just a moment. Bringing up her weapon Son of a bitch, she did it to me again. I wont be able to dodge this one or maybe I wont have to. What did she shoot at? Sorry if I scared you, Alandres. I saw Ecab aiming at you from around a corner. I missed but he ran deeper into the cave. You know, going by our history, you should warm me before youre about to put a gun barrel next to my head. I said hold on. Fine, my bad... But as I started to say, the Garokkans will be here any mic. Follow me so we can help out the ones we stunned so as to make a better first impression on their companions. I communicated with one of them and convinced him that we dont pose a threat to them or the crystals. Maybe we will be able to gak Did she just ? gak I cant my throat Not a good sign that my hand is covered in blood. Or that I just felt inside my trachea Where does she hide that knife? gak Do not look so stunned, handsome. If I wanted you dead, your head would be rolling around on the ground by now. I do not think I cut in too deep either. You will be okay assuming you receive medical attention soon enough. But make sure to keep pressure on it... Sorry to say goodbye this way, but I have to look out for my best interest. No matter how nice you are to them, I am sure the Garokkans will not appreciate my part in Ecabs plans. So I will just take a few souvenirs and be on my way.

Now I have to go, as I see company is approaching. And honestly, I greatly enjoyed working with you. Plus the other fringe benefits that came along with it. Look me up sometime if you ever get off this rock. Did I already call her a double-crossing bitch? Because I think Im really dying this time

Chapter 19: Nobody is ever going to believe this story. - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.683 On board Cybex Corp Capital Ship Magnusybea, in orbit around unidentified planet, within Omac Beren system
CAPITAL SHIPS ARE THE LARGEST TYPE OF SHIP ON A NAVAL FLEET, HAVING ALSO THE HEAVIEST FIREPOWER AND ARMOR. AND CYBEXS COMMERCIAL FLEET IS NO EXCEPTION, WITH ONE OF THEIR CAPITAL SHIPS TRANSPORTING PERSONNEL NUMBERING IN THE SEVERAL THOUSANDS. AND INSIDE THEIR NEWEST VESSEL,
CURRENT RECORDS SHOW IT BEING ASSIGNED TO PARTS UNKNOWN, WITH ONE PARTICULAR BEING FROM WITHIN THAT MULTITUDE SPENDING A QUITE, REFLECTIVE MOMENT IN THE COMFORT OF ITS STATE OF THE ART FACILITIES.

Now this is more like it. I still dont know whats happening out there but sitting it out while in a nice, comfy bed in the air conditioned infirmary is fine by me. I feel like I havent slept in the heptecs... Now if I can just close my Hello, Captain. Come on! Why wont anyone let me sleep?! I understand your vocal folds were severed after we parted company. So I will not be offended if you do not greet me properly. Too bad you cant read my mind, Ecab or else you would hear more than just a proper greeting I also see that you currently cannot breath without the assistance of this respirator. appear to be in a most delicate state. And your ramblings are likely to put me in a coma too At any rate, you are probably wondering how I got here. To be honest, I am a bit uncertain myself. I do not know how Cybex managed to locate us, but they arrived shortly after the Garokkans landed on the planet and seized you. But it is not unknown for Cybex to secretly implant tracking devices within the bodies of some of their employees. You and your crew should submit to a thorough screening if somehow any of you makes it back to Rackoyd alive. THE PRACTICE OF BIO-TAGGING DATES BACK TO THE INITIAL TIMES OF INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL EXPLORATION WITHIN THE EVENTUAL PLANETARY COALITIONS MAIN GALACTIC SECTOR. SUFFERING FROM WHAT WAS SEEN AS AN (WILLFUL) EPIDEMIC OF MISSING SHIPS AND PERSONNEL, SOME EMPLOYERS AND CONTRACTING AGENCIES BEGAN TO EMBED HOMING BEACONS ON UNSUSPECTING EXPEDITIONARIES IN ORDER TO BE BETTER ABLE TO TRACK THEIR PROGRESS AND LOCATION. THIS PRACTICE HAS MOSTLY GONE BY THE WAYSIDE NOW, BUT SOME OF THE LARGER CORPORATIONS, WITH ASSETS A (RELATIVE) GREAT DISTANCE AWAY FROM THEIR CENTRAL HUB OF OPERATIONS, ARE STILL THOUGHT TO ENGAGE IN IT. Now Im wishing they would have just left me down there Well, after I saw my fellow employees descend on the cave, I came out of hiding and delivered myself to them. You would not believe the fascinating story I told them. I will not bore with the details, but suffice it to say, you are in big, big trouble. Dereliction of duty, grand theft, wanton destruction of Cybex property. Even murder. I thought he said he wasnt going to bore me But I will admit that I would not have found the crystals without your help, so I will return the favor in kind. I will send you to meet your maker now and spare you the humiliation and suffering that is to come. Well arent you a sweet guy You certainly

This is not over yet, Alandres. Cybex is here in full force. The planet and crystals will be ours. And I will be right in the middle of it and become unimaginably wealthy in the process Although thanks to you, I will have to share what I envisioned to be solely mine. Oops So I think I can both help you and show my appreciation at the same time If you do not mind, I will pull out this breath cord right here There. Now I do not imagine your species can survive long without air, so I will just keep you company for a little while longer. I want to make certain that, for a change, things go as planned. You certainly have proved to be as resilient as I. I said it, hes a sweet guy In the meantime, I will answer that question you asked me back when we were inside the cave. That way, it can be the last thing you hear before you die. Id say thanks, but you know the whole throat-slashed thing The Garokkans are the original inhabitants of that planet down there. A cataclysmic event forced them to evacuate, and also proceeded to blast the planet from its orbit and into space. That was over two thousand tricents ago. Unfortunately for them, they had the technology to travel the stars but not the physical constitution for it. They have been slowly dying off and not been able to reproduce sufficiently to sustain their species. They may have extremely long life spans, but they had come to terms that the end of their kind was not far away And you were right. The crystals are their young. They grow inside the crystals and emerge a fullfunctioning Garrokan. That cave holds an entire new civilization. Once they realized their potential extinction was approaching, they returned to their system in hopes that some crystals had survived, only to find the planet gone. So they have been searching for it ever since, without luck. Oh they found many leads, even recovered some crystals through the tricents. But they were never able to pinpoint the location of the planet You seem to be trembling a bit. The end must be near, so I will try to wrap up quickly. Sweet and considerate I also knew of the crystals for a long time, from hearing various legends like you. And I also have been dreaming for a long time about finding them. I first came across the Garokkans in the Cetus System, several tricents ago, as one of their expeditions landed on a planet I was surveying. After conversing with them, I realized they were likely my best bet to finally find the crystals. I kept all records of that encounter to myself and have been feeding them Cybex-gathered data as part of a covert joint search effort. Of course, I never had any intention of sharing with them, or anyone else, the location of the cave once I discovered it. Then I heard about the findings on Qu3 and the ensuing voyage you would be contracted to undertake, so I volunteered as the Protocol Officer for it. But then RaeSha failed in her attempts to disable the Lumenictus after you found that first planet, so I decided to bring the Garokkans into play. I kept her in the dark about them though, as I did not see a need to reveal all of my options. Your Warrant Officer did a very good job in searching me when I boarded, but failed to locate my hidden universal transceiver. Another benefit of having two mouths You are changing facial colors and starting to shake quite intensely. I have more to say, but you know the rest of the story. Goodbye, Captain. Whwhat are you Unfortunately for you, Ecab, I still have some questions that need to be answered. waiting f ff for? Overseer Pratec! Yes, Ecab. Do not attempt to flee. There are armed guards on the other side of the door. Just let me place this tube back in its proper place before Alandress convulsions damage the equipment GAAASSPPP GAAASSPPP GAAASSPPP! And here is your voice amplificator back, Alandres. I am sure you also have a few things you would like to add to the conversation.
For starters Where you ever planning on coming out of that room Pratec?!

You are not dead, so I do not think I waited too long. Overseer, you see Be silent, Officer. It is now time for me to tell you a little story. This ought to be good Now that I am back closer to the land of the living Roughly four septecs ago, I received a rather disturbing message from Captain Cal. In it, he claimed that his top-secret mission had been compromised and named as the likeliest suspect his Cybex Protocol Officer. It also stated that he had found the planet he was assigned to find, the coordinates to it and that, instead of returning to Rackoyd, him and his crew were continuing forward to track down a potentially lucrative lead they had uncovered. Overseer Officer Ecab, if you interrupt me again, I will cave your in cranium with my bare phalanges. Ouch Now, as you can imagine, I was somewhat apprehensive when I first read this message. I had gone through a lot of trouble to ensure only a minimum of personnel knew of this mission and to believe that it had been compromised, by another member of Cybex nonetheless, was most troubling. Yet I knew that Captain Cal would not have made such a claim if he were not certain of it. As you likely found out, he is insubordinate, unorthodox and has quite a peculiar sense of humor. But one thing that he is not in the habit of doing is lying.
That is probably the first nice thing he has said about in public Thank you, Overseer. And may I add that although you can be abrasive, irritating and likely to dig up your ancestors for a chance at a cred, I knew you were at heart a being of principle, and would not have been behind such a deception.

Thank you, Captain. I see that I forgot to add impertinent to your description. But I digress. Once our ships reached the first planet Eht Asimitpo as you called it we confirmed the messages data, as well as found a second message left behind within the ruins.
I hope you didnt mind where I hid it, not too much that is

Not at all, as I was not the one who had to sift through engine waste to uncover the transmitter. In any case, the second message contained the course the Lumenictus had taken. We followed it and eventually found an old and battered space station. Finding it deserted, I started to think we had been sent on a fools errand. That is until our tech crew found the last of the Captains messages, implanted in the stations computer database. It described some recent events, pointed us to some key data within the mainframe, and asked that we lay in wait until a follow-on transmission arrived, which would be no later than tomorrow. And the look of shock in Ecabs face is almost worth nearly asphyxiating Tomorrow! We did not even know where to look back then! How could you have possibly known when we would be finding the crystals?!
I didnt, Ecab. That is the time it would have taken to travel from the station to the Plevulca System and back.

Although his perplexed look is fairly amusing as well Plevulca? What does that have to do with anything? Allow me to answer, Captain, Pratec then cuts in with Hey, go ahead, Ill just sit back and gloat for a change, You see Ecab, the Captain and I are nothing if not cautious. Vaguely hidden in the message were some hints nothing definitive thought that hinted to the Plevulca System as the next stop for the Lumenictus. This was likely left in case someone other than an ally intercepted his original transmission and was now following him. That information would have then sent them off the trail. But if I had been the traitor, I would already known what he and his crew had been up to and not followed all the clues he left behind. But since I was not, the course he laid out was the only one available for us to get to the bottom of this mess. And yet, just in case, I dispatched a crew to Plevulca. Then, as I waited, the signal arrived from Omac Beren, leading us here.
It all sounds so simple in hindsight Ill admit that giving an end date was a roll of the dice if someone other than Pratec was coming for us. But I had a feeling we were very close to finding something big. Plus the small fact that our supplies would not have lasted much longer anyway.

Roll of the dice? That is more of the Captains peculiar lingo and nothing to concern yourself with at this time, Ecab. But what I have to say next should. Overseer, please allow me a moment. This is indeed a fantastic tale and Captain Cal has done a marvelous job at diverting attention from his own illicit actions. In fact, everything that I stated during my debriefing was accurate. And yet I am more interested in what you did not mention. Your encounter with a previously unidentified sentient species, failure to catalogue said encounter, misappropriation of Cybex assets for your personal gain, willful deceit of your superiors, consorting with personnel on our cease-and-imprison list, indirect responsibility for the destruction of Cybex property and the death of personnel currently under our employ. And as I am sure you know, corporate treason is an offense with a very, very harsh penalty. Treason?! You cannot be serious, Overseer! All that has been presented is vague, circumstantial evidence! And my previous conversation with Cal would be inadmissible in any disciplinary proceeding! That may be true if we were planning on holding proceedings. Or if we did not have these additional recordings, Ecab, a suddenly appearing Vancara says, completing our little party Vancara! Where did you come f?! Shut your mouths or I will shut them for you, Ecab! If Pratec were not here, you would be dead already. But we will let him have the fun this time around. You are as considerate as always, Commander. Yes, that is how we all describe him as Lets see how much it swells his head as he puts in his two cents Thanks, Pratec. And as I was beginning to say, it can be very hard for someone to have privacy in a vessel controlled by an artificial intelligence. Especially when that someone is already suspect. After we escaped from the relay station, we had SAL constantly monitor your whereabouts, Ecab. Your transmission about us going to Dryha Minor 7 was particularly interesting. Plus seeing how intent you were on boarding the probe let us know that our time there was limited. This is outrageous, Overseer! And as I mentioned before, inadmissible into disciplinary proceedings! And as I mentioned before, we will not be holding proceedings Ecab. We are presently in uncharted space, around an uncharted planet. The Code of Admiralty states that at such locations, the ranking officer has the final say on how to dispense punishment so as to maintain order. And as such, I have heard and seen more than enough Guards! Overseer, you cannot ooff! He did warn him not to interrupt him again. I think he left an imprint on top of his head. Thats going to be sore in the morning Pick him up and take him down below. I will be there momentarily Now Captain, I will leave you to your rest. You and your crew have earned it.
Hey, an ever rarer second compliment Ill try not to let it swell my head Thank you, Overseer Oh, and sorry about the Ictus. It was a marvelous ship.

Do not worry about it. The profit from the planet you discovered will more than make up for the loss of the Lumenictus. Plus the cost of the ship will be charged to Officer Ecab. And we will be withdrawing more than creds from him when we begin to collect. Ouch again But before you go though, there are a couple of other things I need to know. What of the Garokkans? And the crystals? Upon our arrival into the system, we made contact with the Garokkans. Both our groups were surprised by the presence of the other and we had some tense initial moments. But once we each made each other aware of our perspective intentions, things went smoothly. They are currently planetside, harvesting the crystals. The ones that survived anyway. Most are still intact, but a number of them either failed to advance in their development or simply shattered over time as the planet traversed the galaxy. And Ecab

was not joking about them not having the constitution for prolonged space travel. They are in very bad physical shape. We offered them medical aid, but their physiology is so foreign to us that it was of little help. But the crystals will not only replenish their society, but apparently some of there basic components also have curative properties. They appear confident that they will recuperate and their civilization will continue.
I am glad to hear it. They sound like they have been through more than enough suffering already.

Indeed they have. Finally, we have stricken a deal with them. Once they recover all the live crystals, they will not oppose our keeping the remnants of the lifeless ones. Needless to say, they will bring a considerable amount of creds upon our return. They will then go their own way and we will go ours, as they would prefer to vanish once more into the emptiness of space. We in turn will erase all data and recordings from this encounter. That goes for you too, Captain.
Consider it done. We found the mythical Crystal Cave and saw it with our own eyes. That is good enough for me.

Speak for yourself.


Thanks for ruining the moment, Van. Now if you will go back to that pleasant silent state you were in Overseer, in a way, I found what I came for. We aimed for the stars and accomplished something no one had before or will be able to do again. Throw in being able to help out a dying race, and we accomplished a great deal Too bad it came at such a high cost.

Yes, Captain. The loss of your friends was most unfortunate. Rest assured their families will be properly remunerated by Cybex for their losses.
Please see that they do And thanks. We will mourn them for a long time.

Of course Now, there is one additional piece of business for us to attend to.
Oh? Oh?

No need to assume such a nervous tone, Captain. The fate that awaits Ecab is not your own. It involves a delivery to you from the Garokkans. Specifically, the one you helped out at the cave.
Again Ill say oh?

After completing our deal with them, and having explained to them the significance of those crystals to our own civilization, they felt your actions at the cave deserved special recognition. Hence, they prepared a bundle of crystals for you to take ownership of. Bundle? Crystals? Ownership? I assume by your silence that you are both astounded and appreciative. There is, however, one final task we need you to perform.
Uh uh What? Yes, task And what might that be?

Your assistance in the destruction of the planet below. Both the Garokkans and us agree that is best way to ensure the records of this encounter are fully eliminated.
Gee, is that all? And how am I supposed to do that?

Among the things Ecab told us was your possession of a certain type of device that is supposed to turn everything it interacts with into an atomic explosion And do not bother to deny it, as the beings that were developing that technology had been under our surveillance.
I wouldnt dream of it. We will leave it somewhere on the planet surface where you can pick them up.

May I ask why, as bringing it on board this ship would be simpler.


Its that cautious side of me acting up again. You see, we may have acquired a very unique vessel during our journey, and I would very much like for it to remain unknown to others. Assuming we did have such a ship to hide.

As you wish. Although I should point out that, technically, all valuable goods acquired during a Cybexfunded expedition become property of Cybex by default until a future hearing to determine if they should be allocated elsewhere.
I know. Good thing we are only talking in hypothetical terms Van, please call Exar and have him find a nice, secluded spot for the package. Overseer, well let you know when everything is in place.

Very well. Once you feel up to it, please proceed to the Quarantine Terminal to pick up your effects. And call in advance so we can have a shuttle ready. But no later than 20 delmics from now. We expect to depart this system by then.
What?! Pick up my effects? You are kicking me out?

It is not exactly that. Your feisty attitude seems to indicate that you have recovered nicely from the assault you suffered. You have also completed your assignment and delivered all we have requested. Therefore, your contract with Cybex is at an end And we are not in the habit of carrying stowaways. That son of a Fine. Ill try not to bleed too much on your clean floors on my way out. Thanks for your medical care and hospitality. You are welcomed, Captain Commander. Abrasive and irritating doesnt begin to cover it Well, it seems like you have everything well in hand here, Alandres. I am going to call XR and meet him on the surface. And you better start packing. You have a long flight ahead of you and the sooner you begin the pre-launch preparation, the better. And try not to make too much noise when you come on board. I am exhausted and would like to sleep the whole ride back.
No need for you to worry. If my carbine is also down in Quarantine, the jolt I plan on sending your way should knock you out for the majority of the trip.

Its good to have you back to normal. See you soon. Bye. Wow Did all of this really happen? It was beyond my wildest dreams. Weve been out for what? One, two septecs? Yet it all happened so fast it seems like a blur in my mind Deceit and betrayal. Pleasure and exhilaration Pain and suffering Wondrous discoveries and vast riches And the Crystal Cave! Nobody is ever going to believe this story

Chapter 20: It would make a great book. - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.950 Inside Verjace Firja Cantina, within lower docks of the Naxfor System Transitionary Spaceport
AND BACK IN A DARK CORNER OF DRINKING ESTABLISHMENT OF ILL REPUTE, THREE BEINGS ARE STILL INVOLVED IN A LIVELY DISCUSSION. AND TWO OF THEM HAVE BEEN PAYING VERY CLOSE ATTENTION FOR QUITE SOME TIME TO THE ONE THAT APPEARS ODDLY DIFFERENT, WITH AN UNUSUAL ANATOMY AND A SPEECH PATTERN WITH A PECULIAR ACCENT NOT OFTEN HEARD ON THIS PART OF THE GALAXY Wow! I cannot believe it. You must be the luckiest sombuk this side of the galactic core, Alandres! Youre telling me, LosoreaThanks I guess Anyway, lets wrap this up. The Phantom should be fueled and ready to go by now. And I have places to go to and people to see. Wait! You cannot end it like that! Whatever happened to Ecab? Or RaeSha? What did you do with the crystals? And have you ever heard from the Grakonans again? Garokkans, Losorea. And those are all great questions, but are stories for another time, as I have dawdled here a bit too long... Now, do you have what Im looking? Of course. As Reetli hopefully told you already, I always deliver what I promise Here you are. The coordinates are encrypted within this data stick. Excellent. And here you are, Losorea. You will need this cred card to access your compensation. Thanks for the tip, Reetli. Here is something for you as well. Ill catch you next time Im in the area. Yet I do not care much for the way that Losoreas antenna of is twitching So what he is about to say should be interesting It has been great conducting business with you, Captain. Hopefully we will get to do it again some time Just one last thing though. You said the Garokkans and Cybex agreed to total secrecy on the matter of the crystals and their mystery planet right? So should you not be keeping quiet too? What if someone, say one of us for example, talks about it and the secret gets out? I do not imagine either of those two groups would be too happy about it. It almost should make you want to perhaps fully ensure their silence? If you understand my meaning, of course. You are probably right, Losorea. But to tell you the truth, I am not particularly worried about that scenario. Oh no? And why is that? Easy. Just check out your cred cards, guys. 3, 2, 1 And the bio-nanos should be doing their thing to your brain molecules right about now Yes, theres that blank stare. Nothing easier than money to get someone to put their hand out and facilitate the transfer. But even if you could, dont worry about it fellas. They will dissolve soon enough and youll be no worse for the wear. And all youll remember is handing something over to some ghost. A wellpaying ghost, who didnt have anything special to say. THE FIELD OF NANOROBOTICS HAS ADVANCED SIGNIFICANTLY OVER THE LAST TWENTY TRICENTS, LEADING TO GREAT DEVELOPMENTS IN MEDICINE, AS WELL AS ALMOST EVERY OTHER ELEMENT OF THE SCIENCES. OF PARTICULAR INTEREST HAVE BEEN THE BIOLOGICAL NANOROBOTS, WHICH ARE MOSTLY USED FOR COMPLICATED MEDICAL PROCEDURES WITHIN A PATIENTS BODY, HAVING THE ABILITY TO ACCESS HARD TO REACH OR DELICATE AREAS, THEN DISSOLVING INTO THE PATIENTS BLOODSTREAM WITHOUT A NEED FOR EXTRACTION. ALTHOUGH BENIGN IN FUNCTION, THE BIONANOS HAVE OFTEN BEEN USED FOR OTHER PURPOSES Pleasure doing business with you as well. Dont spend all your creds in one place. It may be somewhat conceited, but I love telling that story even if I have to mind-wipe the person right afterwardsToo bad I have to keep that adventure to myself. It would make a great book

Epilogue: Wheres the fun in that? - Planetary Coalition Date: 7269.983 In Corridor Number 47, within Central Spaceport in orbit around Setat 2 in the Sutec System

ALL IS QUIET IN THE DIMLY LIT HALLWAY WITHIN THE LOWER LEVELS OF THIS REMOTE SPACE STATION, WHEN ONE OF THE ENTRY PANELS SLIDES OPEN AND A FAMILIAR FIGURE WALKS IN, TAKING CARE OF TO MAKE SURE HIS PASSAGE REMAINS UNNOTICED

All right, the hatch is sealed. Now I can finally take this damn mask off. Plus also enjoy a more soothing light spectrum. My eyes are still hurting from those couple of levels with the ultraviolet radiation Lets see now, which way to go? Oh yes, definetely this way Not much in the way of cover up. Then again, why would you if you were not expecting anyone? Now turn here Getting a bit stronger stronger Must have been through here recently Hold up. This is the place How should I do this? A gentle tap on the door? Abruptly knock it down? Blast it into Please come in, handsome. The entry is unlocked. Or I can just politely walk in as a more-or-less invited guest. I guess the surveillance equipment hidden in plain view right above me should have given it away Better not keep her waiting then Just stroll right in and be casual Now where ? There she is. Hmm, have they gotten bigger? Or is she wearing more revealing attire than before? As if that was possible And and God, that scent! Its even more intoxicating that I remember I hope I can remember my lines It certainly took you long enough, Alandres. For a while there I thought you would never be able find me. Im sorry to have keep you waiting sweetheart, but thanks to you I had other things keeping me busy. Physical and speech therapy for example. Did you know none of the Sectors cloning facilities are able to generate human tissue? MEDICAL CLONING FACILITIES PROVIDE NEWLY GROWN, READY-TO-IMPLANT ORGANS, LIMBS AND TISSUE MATTER. ADVANCES IN THIS FIELD HAVE LED TO MARKED REDUCTIONS IN MORTALITY RATES, INCREASED LIFE SPANS AND ERADICATION OF VARIOUS DISEASES FOR SEVERAL SPECIES. THE PROCESS THOUGH IS VERY COMPLICATED AND ALWAYS UNDER MODIFICATION, NOT TO MENTION QUITE EXPENSIVE. As you are the only human in the Sector, and the process is quite complicated, and seeing that they have never tried it before on your species, I would say that you should not have been surprised. I wasnt, but thanks for your sympathy. And before you ask, the answer is yes. My recovery was long and quite painful. But I got to keep this cool scar around my neck to remind of all the good times we had. Actually, what I was going to say was for you to stop where you are and to slowly put that down that box that you are holding. And by the way, there are procedures to have that scar removed you know. I do. But I like the way it makes me look tough and dangerous. I think Ill keep it. Clumsy and stupid is more like it. To each his own As for the box, I think Ill first reach inside and And proceed to have the rest of your head become one big scar. She certainly pulled out that gun pretty fast Ive got to ask her where she finds room in her outfits to hide all those weapons Well, arent we a little jumpy this morning. I thought youd be glad to see an old friend after all this time And do you realize how hard it is to keep Namerg ale fresh once you remove it from the fermenting atmosphere?

Namerg ale? Youre actually at a loss for words, RaeSha? I thought Id never live to see it. Only because this is a bit unexpected. You said yourself how unpredictable I could be. I specifically said unpredictable under pressure, yet very predictable every other time. would not mind taking a sip first... Just to ensure it is still fresh of course. Of course You know, this stuff does taste pretty good It just doesnt have the same effect on me that Skeb does Like the lack of inconveniences like hangovers, nausea and temporary blindness There Satisfied now my dear? No, Alandres, I am not. For all I know, it is poisoned with a substance that kills everything but humans. Jumpy and paranoid, yeesh. Im the one that keeps getting shot and stabbed every time we get together, remember? You seem to bring a lot of that on yourself But do not change the topic because I would like to get this straight. You want me to believe that you traveled across the quadrant Yes. Made a stop along the way to pickup an expensive and very difficult to maintain beverage Yes. Then tracked me here, where you made your way through several levels of inhospitable territory Very inhospitable. Fine. Very inhospitable territory, just to be what? You missed me? Did I get all that right? Basically. But isnt that the same reason you dropped by to check on me at the Academy Hospital? Or why you were hanging around when I was visiting Tarys memorial? Plus I have a vague suspicion on who it was that sent me the datastick containing the treatise on interspecies mating. Not bad I thought I had taken great care to conceal my presence. You did. I never did see you. But that scent of your is unmistakable. And very difficult to mask. As is yours. I knew you were here before you even got to the door. I see we should both remember to bathe more often. Very funny, Alandres... But the way you are purposely inhaling larger quantities of air as I am approaching makes me think you do not mind my scent all that much. I never said I did. And the way your eyes keep changing colors makes me think you also dont mind mine too much. I never said I did either Now, since you have come all this way, I guess we could enjoy a pleasant drink together. You know, before it goes bad. Of course. Here you go Bottoms up. Are you making a pass at me? Its a human saying... Now, in whatever manner Niscous say it, enjoy your drink. Later on we can discuss the other potential connotations. Now a big sip and the fun should begin right about now Ouch. I hope she didnt hit her head too hard on the floor Actually, yes I do That looked like it hurt, RaeSha. Are you all right? Alandres, you miserable piece of filth! What did you do to me?! I thought youd figured that out by now, seeing as how you probably cant move your arms or legs. Its a paralysis-inducing substance from a very nasty sea slither. And guess how surprised I was when I found I was immune to it. It made for quite a useful finding. So I imagine you

Aaaah! You scum suc! Please save your breath, as you should be more concerned with your immediate well-being. And I dont know what you are so angry about. As you told me so many times, technically I didnt lie. I just withheld some key pieces of information from you. I only implied that the drink did not have anything in it that would kill you. Which is what I am going to do to you if you get any closer! Temper, temper And here I thought you liked Namerg ale. Last time I do you a favor. But before we get to the true business at hand Exar, are you finished? Yes, Master. After a search of her ships computer system, I was able to drain her cred accounts and confiscate several remnants of crystals she removed from the cave. Thats sure to piss her off even more What?! Where did he come from?! And what have you done with my creds?! Yes, very pissed For your first question, hes been here with me all along. Those stealth suits work great on bots as well. As for the second, I just had him make a not-so-small transfer to cover my extensive medical expenses. Too bad they were not burial expenses, you sleaze. Ha! I forgot how much fun its having you around, RaeSha Now Exar, was there anything else of interest? Yes there was. I found this holo-image of you inside. I believe it shows you leaving the Cybex Rehab Center. Aaww, I didnt know you cared so much. It doesnt capture my good side though Go on and trash it. As you command, Master. You are an even more worthless excrement sa! Be quiet already! Geez, Im standing right here and I can hear you fine without you having to yell Now since you are so intent on provoking me further, answer me this. Why should I not slice your neck right now, right where you lay and let you experience first hand what I went through? Because you find me incredible irresistible? Yeah, maybe thats why But lets try this instead. Exar, if you would Lets she how she likes the other package we brought Here you are, Master. Remember this bad boy, sweetheart? I believe that last time we were alone together with one of these rifles, you told me What was it? To bear down because it was going to hurt? So do it already. Your scent might be sweet, but your breath stinks. She talks tough, but I can tell from her eyes she is really scared. This is going to be sweet Oh no. You think I am going to make this quick for you? You are not getting off that easy. Not by a long shot. I plan on enjoying this. A lot... So why dont we begin now? Please do not move, because I dont want to get anything on me. Ready, aim soak! Ha, ha, ha! The look on her face is priceless! I think she is really going to kill me now Hell, who wouldve thought somebody actually made an electrolaser-style water gun! Ha! Alandres, you incorrigible child! Is this your idea of a joke?! For the most part, yes. Although I dont see you laughing. Ill save that for when I am able to move my arms and break that blasted thing over your head! You are so cute when youre angry and bloodthirsty. Especially with that little wrinkle that you get right over your nose.

And I will concede there is a certain charm in your immaturity, which keep in mind, will not stop me from strangling you for torturing me like that. Well I would agree tha,t this time, I did bring that on myself As long as we agree on that And for the record, I really did not mean those things I said. I know But I really must be going. And since we are adding to the record, the water blast was the only joke. We actually did take your creds and the crystals. You what?! Just what I said. We took your creds and crystals. Besides medical expenses, the fuel for the Phantoms engines is very expensive as you well know. All right, now I am really confused. Why are you doing this? You know that unless you kill me, which you do not seem intent on doing, I am coming after you to get my property back and cause you severe bodily harm in the process. I am certain you will try... So whats your point? Oh, I get it now You think you are really slick, right? Well enjoy them while you can, because I am an expert at collecting debts and tracking down thieves. One septec you will turn around and I will be there. Im quivering with fear. So in the meantime, enjoy your view from down there. I think the paralysis should last another delmic or so. Your engine drives are also offline and your docking payment to the port should be getting rejected right about now. I don't imagine the Administrator will be very happy about that. He is very likely to send someone big and unfriendly to convey his displeasure to you. Thanks for making sure my remaining time here will be so entertaining. You're welcome. Just think of it as returning the favor for twice leaving me behind, lying on the floor in pain and unconscious. Three times. I guess youre right. I just wasnt counting voluntary occasions. And it will be four when I see you again. I look forward to it If you ever get out of here, look me up sometime. Bye, bye Lets roll Exar. Yes, yes, I know Be careful what you wish for. I should just take the easy way out and remove her from existence while I have the chance, instead of starting a game of intergalactic cat-and-mouse, never knowing when the next potentially fatal stab or mind-blowing physical experience will be coming from, if at all But wheres the fun in that?

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