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"I had no idea nebulae glowed!" Leroy said, eyes wide as if trying to take in the whole sight at once, "And all this traffic! Just for one station on one-" his elegant face scrunched up, "-period of time? How do they know when to rise, when to rest? They must have timekeeping devices, but so many people from so many planets, it seems impossible that all of them could be attuned to the same schedule!"

 

"Well you don't need to sleep, how about trying out another species' day in the life?" Dio flicked his wings in a shrug, "We won't be there too long, and likely won't be out this far into space again. Good a time as any."

 

"That reminds me, Paradigm Amara," the Dragon Prince asked their hostess, "will we have the freedom of the habitat, or a more restricted access?" he smiled winningly "I cannot speak to anyone else, but I promise to be very good! Admittedly, I have a selfish motive: a girl I know is part-alien, and I hope to find some lore about her people and their nature. It would set her much at ease!"

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Paradigm

 

The Devotion flew amongst the many other spacecraft that appeared to be either coming or going towards the wormhole from which the Praetorian craft had just emerged. As they drew closer to the moon sized metal object, more and more spacecraft came into view, gathered around the massive object that appeared to be the Devotion's destination.

 

At Leroy's question, Amara looked over at the teenager as she replied, "You will certainly have free access to all public spaces on the station." The Naram began. "But like many places, Terra as well from what I understand, there are naturally private residents and governmental facilities which are not readily accessible."

 

As the massive, moon sized space station drew closer, the gathered students could see they were headed toward a section of the surface of the station that seemed heavily remodified compared to much of the rest. There were dozens of tall structures that appeared to be similar to skyscrapers, expect many rouse more than a mile from the surface of the station. In other places large sections of the exterior had been removed, creating vast openings, some appearing to stretch miles that led into the inner structure of the station, and, given the amount of spacecraft moving in and out of those opening, appeared to lead to docking facilities.

 

The Devotion continued toward one of the smaller open sections along the surface of the station, entering into a large inner chamber that contained numerous small openings along the wall. The Praetorian vessel entered into one of those openings, passing through a forcefield before touching down in what was clearly some sort of hanger.

 

"Now my young friends, welcome to CoVic Station." Paradigm stated as she looked over at the Claremont teens with a small smile.

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As they stepped off the ship, Eira broke away from her peers and strode out into the middle of the hangar. Once there she let the unstable molecules of her space-faring costume recede into nothingness as her skin and mechanical flesh turned transparent, revealing the chrome-steel robot underneath. When that was done, she proceeded to do something her classmates had never seen before. Closing her white mechanical eyes, she made a sound of effort, a throaty hiss, and a thin, metallic frame erupted from what had previously looked like mechanical scars in her back. Then another erupted from the other side,  unfolding behind her, crackling a transformation into skeletal metallic wings covered in crackling blue electricity. 

 

With a satisfied smile just visible on her mercury-smooth face, Eira flexed her wings with a thrum as her body attuned to the magnetic signature inside the station. And then, the angelic robot took flight in front of her fellow students. She flew overhead of the group, her voice a low, throaty purr distinctly different from her usual timbre as she said, "Magnificent.

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Soliton

 

Mia smiled weakly at Lulu, nodding. "I think... If you're there with me, I'll be able to handle it," she said softly. Slowly, Mia got up to her feet unsteadily, and got herself ready for the next leg of their journey. She knew things weren't going to get any easier for her from here, but at this point she didn't think they were going to get any harder, either. She just had to acclimate.

 

Once CoVic came into view, she did actually find some level of comfort in the sheer size of the thing. It was almost as though she could trick herself into believing that something that big was too big to actually run into the dangers of other, smaller stations. It wasn't much comfort, admittedly, but it was something and she needed to latch onto that. 

 

Walking out into the hangar, Mia looked as Eira changed and suppressed an eye-roll. She did not understand why the mechanical girl was this way, but Mia supposed she had to give her credit on theatrics? Whatever. Not her problem. Looking around the hangar, she took note of the enormity of everything. Was this what humanity was missing out on? Ugh, and they probably couldn't share due to some Prime Directive nonsense. Then again, the Lor Republic was pretty weird from what she had heard. This could be a more 'Terrans aren't good enough' sort of thing. 

 

OH MAN! What if the US government refused it so it wouldn't shake up their status as superpower? That was totally something it would do.

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Lulu gave Mia a smile and a nod, and was just a quiet nearby presence for the rest of the journey. Once they got to the station and entered the hanger, she get out all her breath in a whoosh.

 

"Dayum! This is...amazin'!" She opened her mind up for a few moments to all the alien thoughts that surrounded them, and was pleased and relieved by the universal truth she encountered: even light years away from home, everyone still wanted to eat, sleep, get wasted, play and f###.

 

"How many residents are there on CoVic Base," she asked no one in particular, still taking it all in.

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Paradigm

 

"Well, within all the habitat zones currently in operation, as well as the archology zones, there are approximately two hundred and fifty million sentients on CoVic Station." Paradigm stated in response to Lulu's question. "Within the habitation zone we are currently in, there are about thirty million of those individuals."

 

The leader of the Praetorians and Seresk led the Claremont teenagers out of the hanger and into a wide hallway with arched ceilings which rose about two dozen feet into the air. There were other smaller hallways and various doors off the one they were walking through, which apparently was all part of the Praetorians' headquarters on the station. The hallway eventually ended in a balcony overlooking a large room containing a number of seating areas gathered together, decorated with various plants and what appeared to be holographic sculptures. The far wall of the room was made entirely of transparent material, rising up to the ceiling. Beyond could be seen what appeared to be an outside space. Taking a set of stairs down to the lower section of the room and through a pair of glass doors the Praetorians led the group of students to the area beyond the glass wall.

 

The exterior of the Praetorians' headquarters opened into a large spacious area that stretched out further than any of the gathered teens could see in each direction. Multistory buildings, most averaging around four or five stories high, ringed various open plazas and park areas, though in the distances the Claremont students could see some buildings at least a dozen stories high or more. Looking up, the teens saw a high domed ceiling covered the entire space, in which many large sections (easily as big as several city blocks each) had been replaced with some sort of translucent material, through which they could see the glowing nebula cloud which floated near the station.

 

The wide sidewalks which crisscrossed through the buildings, plazas and parks were filled with a wide assortment of beings of all shapes and sizes. Some of the nearby beings passing by stopped briefly at the sight of the two Paretorians as they stood in the small plaza in front of the Praetorian headquarters with the Claremont students. "This is the Main Plaza." Paradigm stated as she turned back towards the teens. "There are numerous sights on this level, as well as transit tubes and passages to other sections of the zone should you wish to visit them. Eira is familiar with the zone, so for the moment we will leave you to take in the sights on your own."

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"Such a glorious place!" Leroy was all smiles, practically bouncing down the halls, with Dio lumbering moodily at his side. Something about the metal composition in the walls was putting the dragon on edge, and they'd nearly had a nasty accident when he spooked at nothing and leapt claws-first onto the ceiling, taking several heavy vanity plates with him on the way down. Parhelion's solemn word that nothing like that would happen again, and his very strong arm around Dio's neck, had won a very narrow reprieve from the draconic acolyte going back to the ship.

 

"The time, the labour, the coordination, why Paradigm Amara, I should be amazed if this was not one of the greatest building projects in recorded history!" He inclined his head solemnly "It is an honour to see what becomes possible when unity takes precedent over pride."

 

"Why one big station?" Dio eyed the miniature world beyond the window with no little suspicion, as if it might suddenly bite him, "The big attack was so bad because it took out your centralized leadership, right? Something punctured this place, wouldn't that be the same mistake?"

 

Leroy suppressed a grin, nuzzling his dragon's neck. "Many small stations are easier to overwhelm and destroy than one big one, Dio. This is not Earth forts, there is more power here to defend more people."

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When Paradigm had left, Angelic shot a look at her group, perched on a nearby decorative obelisk like a metal gargoyle. She was definitely odd enough even in this place to get a few looks from passersby (as was the non-humanoid Dio), but for the most part they seemed to blend right in with the milling crowd of Lor, Loiroid, and other species from a thousand different worlds. "Just try not to do anything you will regret," she said, hopping down to join them and folding her wings down at her side. "And don't tell them where you're from," she added in a throaty whisper, "Terrans usually get a crowd." She led them to a stand where a white-haired, muscular fellow with distinct blue skin was selling what looked like large, fist-sized beans of various bright, primary colors. 


He seemed to light up at the sight of her, and the two of them carried on a dialogue that went something like this: 

 

"Ah, little Citizen! How you've grown! Are you back for more bean? Who are your charming...organic friends?" 

"I'm not little! And yes, these are my friends." She made introductions as Kar-ag went around, bowing respectfully with his hands folded before him. Up close, what had looked like elaborate tattoos were actually jewels embedded in his skin. 

 

She translated for their benefit and held up one of the beans. "It is good. It is...sweet, like a dessert. And you can pay him in stories."

 

"Oh, they had better be quite the story," said Kar-ag archly, switching to English with a smooth grace. "For so many hungry young customers."  

 

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd had resumed his one-faced, two-armed form before they'd left the Devotion, and had been mostly quiet while they walked about.  He 'oohed' and 'aahed' at the sights, like everyone else, and was passingly curious about the great feats of engineering that went into making this.  But he was more focused on the panoply of species that walked and talked and shopped all around them.  He felt an urge to mimic some of them, but -- not knowing how such a sight might be interpreted -- fought it and remained in his human form.

 

Eira's flight elicited a laugh and applause from him.  What else has she got in there?, he wondered.  Then she was back down with them, conversing with a vendor, and showing off some large beans.

 

"Stories?  Ooh, do you have a preference for which kind?  I'm sure we can come up with some great ones," he looked to Lulu and Mia, "right?"  And even provide special effects...

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"Well, young people like yourselves must have many kinds of stories," said Kar-ag thoughtfully as he looked over the group. "Quite the gaggle of isolates and mutates I see! Well, all kinds are welcome in the shop of a bean merchant - it is a sacred tradition," he clarified. "Perhaps we can start there." He pulled out a stool from behind his cart and studied the Claremont students expectantly. "Tell me a tale of the sacred." 

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Posted (edited)

Leroy stepped forward at once, his eyes bright. 

 

"Dio," he said, "your time is come."

 

The green dragon balked, looking nervously around the station. Seeing no obvious way out, the giant reptile cleared his throat, clacked his giant cleavers of teeth together, and began.

 

"Before the Great Joining, before the wars, a time of nothing, cold hills and shores," he croaked, fighting a serpentine smile, "the ghosts of wonders, the fountains dry. No eyes, no voices, beyond the sky."

 

"Believers slept," Leroy said, his voice deepening, "through eons gone, their minds clouded, curtains drawn."

 

Dio took it up, more certain now, rising tall above the party, a tongue of flame darting between his lips. "The Gardeners were poisoned ,from heel to crown," he chanted, "and their charges scattered, butchered and drowned!"

 

"A crumbling white city!"

 

"The outcast, she found! A god woken, her children spellbound!"

 

"A wonder!"

 

"A horror!"

 

"A place with no rules!"

 

"With chances slipping, its fate hers to choose!"

 

Together, man and dragon raised their forelimbs to the metal sky and shouted "Lo! Hedreams inspire! Lo! Ghorummaz soars! Lo! Wakethe Age of Fire! Lo! The dragon ROARS!"

 

At the last, both threw their heads back to let loose a coruscating torrent of fire, red from Dio, black from Leroy, that spiraled like spitting snakes and scorched the air. 

 

"Of course, I think it is pagan nonsense to worship a dragon," Leroy added, patting his mentor companionably on the claw, "but it can be a right rousing exercise! How did you like it, sir?" he asked their host eagerly, the tall boy grinning.

Edited by Ari

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Kar-ag smiled, his jewels gleaming in the light of the twin flames. "My boys, what a spectacle! Here, take these." He tossed a bean to both Leroy and Dio, both covered in a spiral of gold and green that vaguely suggested flame. "Careful, they have heat to match such a tale." Sure enough they did, the mix of fiery and sweet taste reminding Leroy a bit of the jalapeno ice cream that he'd heard Ashley describe as her favorite. "Mind, ah, the fire aboard the station, boys, the guards are...mistrustful of youthful experiments." 

 

With Leroy and Dio fed, the shopkeep turned expectantly to the other students. Eira looked at Kar-ag consideringly and said with increasing fire in her voice, "Here is the end of what I told you before: 

"I have said to the gods | and the sons of the god,
The things that whetted my thoughts;
But before thee alone | do I now go forth,
For thou fightest well, I ween.

Ale hast thou brewed, | but, Ægir, now
Such feasts shalt thou make no more;
O'er all that thou hast | which is here within
Shall play the flickering flames,
(And thy back shall be burnt with fire.)"

 

She cleared her throat and added, "Then they torture him for eternity with a snake. It is a good story." 

 

"My little synthetic, you have earned the...what you call it, coffee bean?" Eira looked pleased with her dark brown acquisition, and bit down on it at Kar-ag returned his gaze to the rest. 

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd tried to remember the Creation stories from babusya's synagogue, of the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church uncle Sasha had taken him to, and the slavic pagan stories of his father's parents.  And a few fantasy or sci fi movies, to fill any gaps.

 

"In the beginning," he intoned, "there was darkness and chaos, and in the chaos was monsters.  All was without constraint, without reason.  A churning mass of inchoate possibility," the skin of his face rippled, "formless and timeless.  Then God and His Angels came forth and brought light, and time, and bound the chaos into space, and matter.  He formed the Earth, and the heavens, and did name them, and then commanded the Earth to make trees and plants.  He filled this garden with animals, then made man, Adam, and woman, Eve, in His image, and gave to them the responsibility of naming and caring for all His other creations.  God gave them dominion over all, but forbade them to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.  One night a creature from the chaos, Chernobog, approached Adam & Eve in the form of a serpent," a creature his left arm now mimicked, "and tried to get them to break God's proscription by convincing them to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.  Eve refused, but Adam was swayed, and later he shard some of the fruit with Eve.  They gained knowledge, including knowledge of Death.  When God learned of this, He cast them out from His garden, and sent them to wander the Earth, to toil and suffer."

 

"Um," he scratched his head with his (now human) left hand, "I think that's how it went."

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Despite Eira's visible eye-twitching, hat story got Davyd a bean that tasted distinctly of apples - and a visitor. "Ka-rag, are you bothering these nice young people?" The sentient (it was hard to tell hir gender) who approached was slim and graceful, a faint reddish cast to their skin as they approached the teens. "Don't listen to _anything_ he says," the new arrival told the teens with a wry smile. Black eyes watched Davyd particularly closely as the being in green stepped between Ka-rag and the others. 

 

"My dear doctor," said Ka-rag, an air of offended dignity on his face before he pecked his interlocutor on the cheek, "you have it all wrong. I am merely engaged in practicing my honest trade, which I would think an upstanding member of our station's  medical staff would want to promote." 

 

"Hm," said the free Grue, they could be no other, before bowing cordially to the new arrivals, putting his arm around Ka-rag as he did so. "I'm Doctor Rihbash, but you can call me Doctor." It was hard to tell if he was smiling or not. though he certainly did have a great many teeth. "Ah, little Citizen!" he said, eyes seeming to light up at the sight of a suddenly-mortified Eira. "So nice to see you again! Are these your friends from Terra? Who's this fine fellow?" 

 

Somewhat awkwardly, Eira made introductions before adding, "There is much to see here, if the rest of you want to explore. We do not have to just speak with people who I saw the last time I was on the station!

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