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All Aboard the Nightmare Ship! (IC)


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Aboard the Pale Rider in the Naraka System

Early February, 2020



The Stigmata hung in view on the Pale Rider’s cockpit video screen. A great, cyclopean vessel, it spanned at least two miles in length and almost resembled a greatly displaced ancient Mayan temple in construction. Strange geometric patterns ran across its surface, glowing in what seemed to be a strange equivalent to running lights. Rather than steel, its exterior seemed to be made of some strange, orange ceramic or stone. And around it, there was some sort of aura of portent, as though it were a prophet of ill-omens to come.


Moving in front of the screen was a young Lor woman, short but solidly built, dressed for an expedition with a skintight space-suit and a pack full of analytic tools. She was Dr. Ea’Po, an archaeologist specializing in the lost civilizations in the Galaxy, and she was the reason both Starlok and Dirge were there. She smiled at both of them, showing off her perfect white teeth, and gestured.


“So, this is the Stigmata. It belonged to the Atchpa civilization, which went extinct some 1200 years ago. Like the Noktoni,” she said, shooting a glance to Starlok, “they looked humanoid but had several key features that separated them.Four-chambered stomachs like most ruminants, flat teeth, a supernumerary eye at the centre of the forehead, and a strange variation on the pineal gland that allowed them to perceive things most sapient species cannot.”


“Now, the Stigmata was from the end of their civilization. As we understand it, it was supposed to make a warp to the Andromeda Galaxy to find a new homeland for their species. Their own planet was going through ecological collapse for uncertain reasons and for reasons we don’t know, they seemed to want to get as far away from the Milky Way as they could,” she said. “Instead, it’s ended up here, about 60 000 LY from their home planet and 1200 years later, but definitely not in Andromeda. However, weirdly enough, it seems to be working fine. Life support’s running with specs similar to Lor-Van, so’s anti-gravity, and power’s active at least in portions of the ship. No visible damage on the outside…”


Starlok stared from her position in the captain’s chair, legs crossed. All around her were electro-candelabras, her preferred method of lighting, which complemented the steel gothic look that the interior of the ship had.


“And how many weapons would you say it has?” Starlok asked.


“Oh, plenty,” the doctor said. “We’re talking some potent stuff, too. I’ve identified several class-1 torpedo bays - those could punch a hole even in a state-of-the-art Khanate ship-of-the-line, and at least a hundred laser batteries. They were expecting some pretty serious resistance in Andromeda.”


Starlok steepled her fingers. “Excellent,” she said, sounding pleased.


The doctor then turned to Dirge. “Now, from what I can tell… None of the ship is metal. It seems to be some kind of… I don’t even know how to explain it. But just in case I am wrong, I need you to not. Destroy. Anything. Everything on that ship is priceless. Once I have a look at what I need to look at, you can do what you want with it, but I need to study this thing.”


Starlok tapped her chin. “And we know the ship can still be controlled?”


“I mean, everything else is working, and as long as you have me around with you in the control room, I know their tech enough to teach you how to pilot this thing.”


Starlok grinned. “Goooood.”

Edited by Shofet
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A blip suddenly appeared on the Pale Rider's scanners, indicating a ship was approaching.  Which was definitely not expected by Dr. Ea'Po, or anyone else.  It was much smaller than Starlok's vessel, barely 20 meters long, and of a fairly aerodynamic triangular shape, as if intended primarily for atmospheric flight.  Its coloration was also decidedly odd: matte black with metallic gold trim, and numerous red lights all across the surface.


And now it was hailing them!  Audio only, but in multiple languages!  "<Hello!  I detected some strange readings from the massive... thing that you are parked in front of.  I am an explorer and scientist, from, well, quite far away, and was hoping to get a look.  Of course, if you don't want outsiders here, I would be understanding, and leave you to it.  But I dearly hope that we might work together on exploring this fascinating structure!>"


Too bad none of them understood German, or English, or Russian, or Arabic.  But Viktor Archeville was just getting started.

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“They looked humanoid but had several key features that separated them. Four-chambered stomachs like most ruminants, flat teeth..."


"HMPH. PROPER teeth and stomach WOULD set them apart in this galaxy TEEMING WITH DEGENERATE FLESH-EATERS."



“Now, from what I can tell… None of the ship is metal. It seems to be some kind of… I don’t even know how to explain it."


"If there is metal to be found, I will SENSE it, as clearly as I can see my own SNOUT."



"But just in case I am wrong, I need you to not. Destroy. Anything. Everything on that ship is priceless. Once I have a look at what I need to look at, you can do what you want with it, but I need to study this thing.”


Dirge snorted. "I can recite SEVENTEEN GENERATIONS of my family FROM MEMORY, LOR. You need not teach ME the importance of knowing HISTORY."



A blip suddenly appeared on the Pale Rider's scanners, indicating a ship was approaching. And now it was hailing them!  Audio only, but in multiple languages! Too bad none of them understood German, or English, or Russian, or Arabic.


The Fryxian rose from his seat, reached down, and pressed the button on his belt buckle, obscured by his loin cloth. With an audible *POP* his body was covered in a golden enviro-field. "I will go to meet their challenge, and defend your claim to this site." The chair he'd been sitting in a moment ago melted, broke free from its fixture to the inner hull, floated to his hand, and re-solidified into a large disc as he headed toward the nearest airlock.


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Starlok watched in horror as Dirge mutilated one of her chairs, turning it into a weapon. "This ship was my grandmother's! The metalwork was done by Nokton's finest artisans!" she cried, eyes wide. Her tone, for once, was not that of the normally composed countess but instead a very distressed Ori-Bath. 


She regained her composure quickly, however. "Hold! One of those broadcasts was in English, the tongue of Terra's ruling empire! Before anything happens, allow me to communicate with him. And we shall talk about the chair later!"


She quickly flicked on the communicator, switching to speaking English. She spoke with an incredibly refined dialect, sounding most similar to the British royal family or a Shakespearean actor. "Hail. I am Ori-Bath, Countess of Lugo, alias Starlok! You speak in the tongue of the American Empire. I assume this means you are Terran," she said. "I should warn you that there are potentially many dangers unsuited to your species' soft physiology, but should you truly wish to risk yourself..."


She looked at the others. "I refuse to ally with anyone I have not parlayed with in person. If you wish to cooperate, you are to approach with hardpoints withdrawn and board. UNARMED. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

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Oh thank goodness.


"Ah, delightful!" the voice replied, in English.  "I am still learning GalStandard, so I am quite relieved to hear a language with which I am already familiar!"  Static filled one of the communication screens, soon replaced by the image of a Terran, with pale skin and long golden hair, seated in a plush chair.  His craft obviously had some sort of artificial gravity, as his long hair was loose, yet not floating about him, but Terrans didn't have that technology yet... did they?


"I do appreciate your concern, Countess Starlok, but I am quite a bit more capable than most of my people back home.  As for your... wholly reasonable request," he toggled several switches -- actual, physical switches! -- and a pod at the nose of the ship and several along the front edge of the wings opened up, "I freely approach with arms open and empty, and await a signal to guide me into your hangar."


And so, the strange Terran craft boarded the Pale Rider, and waited to see who would come to greet it.  Whoever arrived first would see it was still sealed up, and the cockpit window was pitch black.

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The blue-furred behemoth spoke, as always, in thickly-accented Galstandard. "'TERRA'? BAH!" He guffawed. "THE TRAVELLER has spoken of them. She described a lost Lor colony, where the hairless apes SQUABBLE AMONG THEMSELVES, with no single ruling body to UNITE them. A people bound to A SINGLE WORLD, without even the means to reach the other PLANETS in their own SYSTEM. To call such IGNORANT SAVAGES an 'EMPIRE' is to render the word MEANINGLESS. Were this TERRA part of the HARSAF, THE FRYXUS would have conquered them for their own good DECADES ago. MY people would have dragged them KICKING AND SCREAMING into the MODERN AGE, and in time, they would have been GRATEFUL. But the Lor LACK our MERCY, instead ABANDONING their fellow apes to FLOUNDER IN THE DARK."


Dirge followed Starlok to the air lock to meet the Terran visitor, his improvised metal disc hovering beside him the whole way. When they reached their destination, the disc melted into dozens of spikes, each about 30 centimeters long, all of them crackling with electricity and aimed at the visitor's point of entry. "If this APE betrays you, it will be HIS LAST ACT IN THIS LIFE."


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Starlok strode purposefully towards the hangar, the Blade of the Blood Drinkers close at hand. She had no idea what to expect of the modern Terran, having so far only met Traveller, a woman several thousand years removed from the Terra of today.  The cursory research she had done suggested a primitive worship of their founding ancestors and some sort of eagle cult in the American Empire, which did not instill confidence in her.


When she made it there, she nodded to Dirge. "Your protection is appreciated, Dirge," she said simply. She had little doubt she could protect herself in this particular instance, but she had brought the warrior along for a reason. Even if he did damage a family heirloom. 700 years old!


For the good Doktor, the hangar was more of a cargo bay, albeit a strange looking one. The interior of the Pale Rider followed a consistent theme of a Gothic castle, and the hangar was no different. The steel walls were covered in electro-candelabras and bas-reliefs of ancient scenes of battle, while the floor seemed to be covered in a carpet made of a red velvet like material that was nevertheless as tough as carbon fibre.


Starlok watched the cockpit carefully. "We have arrived to welcome you, Terran," she said in English. "Please, come to meet us."

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Vaguely raptor-shaped on the outside, but all Gothic castle inside.  Wait, no, not raptor, chiropteran.  Well, they certainly have an aesthetic, and dedication.  Archeville looked over his ship's scanners, atmospheric composition and pressure well within human standard tolerable limits, gravity okay, temp on the low end of standard but far from dangerous.  Can't find any refueling stations, so this isn't a hangar, more like a cargo hold.  Not expecting visitors?  A bit unusual composition of the hull, though nothing truly surprising -- a bit disappointing, really.  Oh, hold on: that... carpet?  Hunh.  Impressive!


He glanced at the camera feeds, which showed the two approaching figures.  "So, a big blue demon crackling with power, and some sort of vampire queen with a sword.  On a creepy castle floating in space.  Near an abandoned Mesoamerican temple."  He chuckled and shook his head, "sure, why not."  He took a closer look at the sensor readouts, whoa, rammy's giving off some serious electrical and magnetic energies!  And if he can generate them, he can probably perceive a wider swath of the electromagnetic spectrum, so I'll need to be careful with where I 'look'.  And Starlok: definitely alive, but low body temp, dense muscular and bone structure, downright bizarre blood chemistry and neural activity.  Wait, are those -- wow.  I'll have to be careful when it comes to handshakes.


Dirge could feel the pulses of electromagnetic energy radiating off the vessel.  Not intense enough to be damaging, no, this was a simple scan.  Of him, of Starlok, of the entire room.  Whoever was aboard was looking at them, while remaining unseen himself.


Archeville nodded once, then set off from the cockpit to the main exit at the back of the craft.  Along the way he double-checked the sprayflesh disguise over his face, neck, hands, and forearms, making sure he looked like an Ordinary Terran, and not the technorganic hybrid of flesh, metal, and circuitry that he truly was.  "Alright, here goes...."


The cockpit of the Terran's craft remained still, but Dirge & Starlok could hear the rear of it open, the back folding down to form a cargo ramp.  Sturdy leather boots could be heard coming down the metal ramp, but were quickly muffled once they hit the Pale Rider's carpeted interior.  A figure came around front, arms spread wide, hands open, palms up.  He was a pale, and a few inches taller than her, with thin, sharp features and luxurious golden hair cascading down over his shoulders.  His clothing was simple, black boots, dark blue pants, a metallic gray & blue belt with numerous pouches -- and a holster containing some sort of wand or rod -- a deep red shirt, and a white, faintly luminous lab coat.  He stopped several feet from Dirge and Starlok, and bowed slightly to her, "I thank you, Countess Ori-Bath of Lugo," he said in English with a slight German accent, "for inviting me onto you vessel.  I enter freely and of my own will, and hope to leave something of the happiness I bring."  As he spoke, the ramp of his ship closed and sealed itself.


This Terran was not quite what Dirge expected.  His entire body was suffused with some manner of electrical energy, but he could not sense any particular source.  It was as if every cell in his body were emitting it, most especially those in his brain and nervous system.  He'd had similar sensations around some cyborgs he'd had dealings with, yet he sensed no metal implants in this Terran.  Wait, no, there is metal, minuscule amounts suffused throughout him.  Perhaps this one wasn't as soft as Starlok indicated his species was.

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The Fryxian scoffed at the human. "<HAH! He is almost as TINY as YOU. And he doesn't even speak Galstandard. The ape is as PUNY as he is STUPID. How did THIS species ever conquer even ONE planet? And why did you waste the time to learn their tongue in the FIRST place?>" He cocked his massive horned head to the side as he studied the man. "<Strange...The Traveller said these savages were identical to the Lor, to her. Yet there are more metal traces than one would find in the blood of a purely biological entity, and more electrical activity than they have in their muscles and synapses. But also less than what one would observe in a cyborg. He has been ALTERED in some manner. Or he is a SYNTHETIC, though if so, a VERY convincing one.>"


Dirge's fiery eyes stared unbroken at the human. The dozens of metal spikes still floated in the air beside him. "<So, does he offer his ALLEGIANCE in this venture? Or does the hairless ape CHALLENGE your claim to the site? Shall I act as your champion, and SMITE HIS RUIN ACROSS THE STARS?>"


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Starlok smirked at Dirge's bravado. She had found it grating on CoVic at first, but she couldn't help but find it growing on her somewhat. Still, she had to keep the Fryxian in check. It wouldn't do to gain a reputation as a violator of hospitality.


<"I will have you know my height is higher than average for a plurality of the galaxy's sophonts,"> she said in GalStandard, mostly sounding amused. <"As for our guest, he seems friendly enough. Simply follow my lead for now, I will give you the signal if he turns out to be a threat to us.">


She turned to the newcomer, and smiled. There was power in having a conversation in front of someone who couldn't understand. But that hadn't been proven yet. It was best to remain polite for now in case he was simply playing dumb. It was a strategy she refused to engage in herself, but the galaxy was full of people who loved to feign ignorance.


Switching back to English, she addressed the Doktor. "You are welcome aboard the Pale Rider as my guest, and are subject to the galactic standard of hospitality," she said, affecting a pleasant but firm tone. She eyed him, and her smile grew wider, showing fangs. She circled him, looking at him as though he was a new animal and she was a zoologist.


"It truly is astounding how similar our species are externally. Convergent evolution can produce some amazing results," she mused, mostly to herself. "Hmn. You smell better than I expected. Clear skin. Good posture. Handsome facial features. Muscular but hands don't seem be to calloused..."


She turned to Dirge. <"I thought he would be uglier in person. I am almost disappointed.">


"It seems I was wrong about Terrans. I suppose there's no harm in having you along."

Edited by Shofet
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Do keep talking amongst yourselves, the more I hear the more I learn.  Though even without knowing your spoken language, your body language and tone convey much.


"Yes," he replied carefully, doing his best to keep one eye on his hostess and one eye on the man-ram, "I have observed that the humanoid form appears quite often in the dominant species on many worlds, or at least that ones which have visited Terra."  He held his hands out before him, splayed his fingers wide and wiggled them, "enough manipulators to achieve most tasks, but not too many to be an inefficient drain on resources."  He gestured towards his head, "two forward-facing eyes, just enough to provide adequate depth perception, and ears on opposing sides provide all-around audio perception.  I get the sense, though," he placed his hands down in front of him, folded over his abdomen, "that you are also inquisitive and keenly perceptive, and so have already made similar observations."


He looked towards the large blue figure -- and the large spikes hovering nearby -- then back to Starlok.  "Countess, I do appreciate your caution, and admire your bodyguard's alertness and... animal magnetism.  However, if we are to be working together on exploring the structure which drew us both here, I would request that you tell him I mean no harm or disrespect, and wish to be an ally."  He looked back at Dirge and smiled, showing his omnivore's teeth.


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"Oh, he's more of a friend or colleague than a bodyguard," Starlok corrected. "But I will let him know."


She turned to Dirge, making a downward gesture. <"He's promised to be good and cooperate, and I'm willing to believe him. We'll be allied with him for the time being."> Starlok said, smirking the whole time.


Dr. Ea'Po chose to make her appearance then, standing in the doorway to the cargo bay. She waved at Dirge and Starlok, and smiled strangely at Dr. Archeville. Her features were disarming - kind of babyfaced - and she was unarmed, so it was unlikely she would present a threat to Archeville.


"Ah, yes, the doctor. This is Ea'Po an archaeologist who will guide us to victory. She specializes in the culture that this ship hailed from," she said. Then she wore a sardonicly tired expression. "It seems I shall be translating for three."


Dr. Ea'Po smiled and rushed over. She began speaking in a deeply accented English that sounded something like: "No, az hokeh! Ah spake Aynglaz, an ah bane wantan to praktaz!"


Starlok stared at the doctor as though she were a car crash. <"Are you sure? I can easily continue my translation.">


"No! Az fahn!"

Edited by Shofet
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"<As you wish.>" The Fryxian reached out with a meaty blue three-fingered hand, and the floating spikes melted together into an amorphous metallic blob, which reformed itself into a coiled chain. Tendrils of electricity and ripples of heat shimmer surrounded both his arm and the metal throughout the process. The coils slid up over his arm and the massive rack of horns atop his head, resting on his shoulder and across his chest. He slowly lumbered toward the human until he was within arm's reach, then bent down and sniffed. His bright orange eyes with their peculiar rectangular pupils bored into Archeville's as he spoke to Starlok, as though the man he held eye contact with wasn't even in the room. "<He doesn't smell any WORSE than the rest of you hairless apes do. But he doesn't smell BETTER, either. NONE of you have a PROPER MUSK. With no fleece to soak it up, you just let it FLOAT AWAY. It's a wonder how any of you find mates to breed with at all.>" He shook his giant head, then turned back toward Starlok. "<So, what 'AID' does the PUNY APE think he can provide to justify his presence? Or is he merely a CURIOSITY the two of you wish to keep around for ENTERTAINMENT value?>"


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Archeville continued smiling at the man-goat as Starlok conveyed his message to her companion, then looked over to the newcomer.  "Dr. Ea'Po - she is Lor?" he asked Starlok.  "Terra has had some dealings with them, though I myself have not had much contact."


Then to the archaeologist, "hello!"  He held out a hand to her, "I am Doktor Archeville, from Terra.  I look forward to working with you."  He spoke a bit slower and enunciated a bit more clearly with her than he had with Starlok.  "So, the structure outside, it is not of your culture?  Or of hers?," he gestured towards Starlok, then to the man-goat, "or of his?  I thought that it might have been of hers," he gestured to Starlok again, then switched to addressing both of them, "there are some ancient cultures on Terra that built structures similar to that one, and who associate a certain native animal -- a bat, a flying mammal which bears a resemblance to this starship -- with night and death and sacrifice.  So I thought you might be here to reclaim a lost part of your past.  But if it is as alien to you as, well," he chuckled, "as I am, then we should all be in for some excitement!"


He had not been ignoring the man-ram during all this.  An impressive level of control, implying a great deal of practice.  A natural ability?  Born with it?  And that's a... potent aroma he's got.  Likely a highly developed olfactory sense, too. 


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<"The Doktor, based on observations, is a hyper-intellect for his species. He might make observations that pass by even me. Even if not, having an extra person to bounce ideas off of is useful in its own right.">


The young doctor giggled, clearly excited at getting to talk to a true Terran. "No, at az from da Atchpa sa-va-la-zaychun. Dey, ah..." she turned to Starlok. <"Disappeared?">


Starlok sighed. "Disappeared."


Ea'Po smiled "Diz-ah-beh-rred from da Galazee 1200 yayrs ago. Oh! An af Ah ham bro-nownzin anydayn wron, bleez lemme know!"


Starlok smiled patiently, having many flashbacjs to her own learning process with the language. It was a highly unintuitive language, with long words and rules that were constantly in flux, but she would be damned if she pronounced it anything less than perfectly. She would not be the object of ridicule.


Ea'Po turned to the others. <"Am I doing well?">


Starlok paused for a moment. She watched the doctor's smile, and for some reason couldn't bear to be harsh with her. <"You're doing your best, and that is what matters.">


Before Ea'Po could continue, she gestured to the Doktor. "We were about to head down to the ship. Though..."


<"Any chance you could put that chair back where it was? You're going to need to buckle in as we enter its gravity well, weak as it is,"> Starlok said to Dirge.

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<"The Doktor, based on observations, is a hyper-intellect for his species. He might make observations that pass by even me. Even if not, having an extra person to bounce ideas off of is useful in its own right.">


"<OFTEN I have heard the lesser races CLAIM that they COMPENSATE for their FRAILTY with CUNNING. MOST of the time, in MY experience, they merely survive on LUCK. But this HAIRLESS BRANCH-SWINGER now INTRIGUES me, if ONLY because he has ALREADY inspired HUMILITY enough to temper even YOUR grand boasts.>"



"<Any chance you could put that chair back where it was? You're going to need to buckle in as we enter its gravity well, weak as it is.>"


The woolly warrior snorted as he accompanied Starlok back to the bridge of the Pale Rider. "<At ANY moment I could fuse my feet where they stand with an electromagnetic charge SO POWERFUL that GRAVITY or ANY OTHER FORCE would REND THIS SHIP ASUNDER before I budged A SINGLE MICRON. With the PRESS of a BUTTON, the generator in my belt buckle can create an environmental force field strong enough to spare me even MILD DISCOMFORT whether I float through THE VACUUM OF SPACE or swim under THE CRUSHING DEPTHS OF A GAS GIANT. Still, I suppose it is wise to avoid draining the battery without necessity. And as for your PROPERTY...>" He hoisted the coiled chain from his torso and tossed it toward its former resting place. The links melted together into a blob again during their flight, and as they touched down they took their original shape, down to the smallest detail. The chair was completely restored. "<It would violate every code of sacred hospitality in the galaxy for me to deprive you of it once your defense no longer took priority. A TRUE Fryxian would rather DIE than DISHONOR himself so.>"


Edited by Grumblefloof
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Archeville could not help but chuckle a bit at Ea'Po, "your pro-nun-see-AY-shun is very good, Doctor.  Better than mine was when I was first learning English!" 


Though the reason for that was partly an 'obfuscating stupidity' thing.  I don't sense that that's happening here, though.  Then again...


"So these Atchpa," he continued as they made their way to the bridge, "disappeared twelve centuries ago?  So they just... vanished?  Or were they attacked?  Did they have enemies?  Will the structure have defenses, traps that we will have to deal with?"


On the bridge, he half-listened to the exchange between Starlok and the man-ram (lots of bass in his voice, more than simply his size would indicate - bravado?  Yet he seems to obey her every utterance.  'Friend' or 'colleague' may not quite be accurate, but what?  Does he owe her something?) as he looked over the bridge.  He made a big show of being impressed by the layout, as any "simple backwoods Terran" might.  "Very impressive, Countess!  A most elegant layout, as one would expect from a being of your refinement and grace."


No other staff, centralized command station, so it can be operated by just one pilot despite its size.  Must be a good deal of behind-the-panel automation.


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Doctor Ea'Po had stars in her eyes. "Hwell, hwe dunno hwy da Atchpa..." she looked to Starlok again.




"From da Galazee. Dayr planet hwaz dayin, but day seemed t'wanna get az far from da Malky Hway as pozibuh. Ah dunno abow any enamees, dayr records don say anydin abow'em," she said. "Az for defences'n traps... Only bazic security. Defn'ley no traps. Was an ezkep vezel, notta dungeon."


Starlok, meanwhile, was more pre-occupied with Dirge. <"It seems as though I was wrong to doubt you. I shall not make the same mistake again,"> she said, sounding pleasant enough. 


What she didn't realize was that as she spoke to Dirge in GalStandard, Doktor Archeville finally cracked enough of the language to understand what was being said in front of him. So she simply continued.


<"At least it seems like the doctor is hitting it off with our guest,"> she said, turning to Ea'Po. <"You almost seem taken with him.">


Dr. Ea'Po rolled her eyes. <"It is rude to talk about someone who cannot understand.">

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<"It is rude to talk about someone who cannot understand.">


Dirge snorted. "Nonsense. The dogs you Lor keep as pets cannot understand your words, but no one would call you 'rude' while speaking of them in their presence, just as they would not call the dog 'rude' for voiding its bladder upon the floor while you did so. It is the same with Terrans, and other lesser races." The blue-furred giant laughed. "Let me know if this one performs some trick worthy of amusement, and I will run to the mess hall to fetch it a treat!"


As he leaned back in his restored chair, the Fryxian's gaze drifted to the tetrahedral ship floating on the main viewscreen. He silently fantasized about the glorious doom he hoped might await him in the halls of the Stigmata. Perhaps a swarm of ferocious alien beasts have taken up residence in the ship, and the only way to destroy them before they land on an inhabited world it is for one of us to stay behind and manually overload the reactor core...Or mayhap the warp drive will malfunction, and straining my powers to the point of my death will be the only way to contain its power and prevent it from creating a black hole that would consume this entire sector...


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Ah, of course: if his species evolved from something like the sheep on Earth, then they evolved from herd animals.  Such mentality may still be part of their psychological makeup, so he'd be inclined to work with others.  Oh, and the booming voice could be tied to that -- to scare away predators, to communicate over long distances.  Ah, but be careful, Victor: assuming psychological traits based solely on anatomical and physiological structures can be a gateway to racist pseudoscience.  And besides, initial observations rarely tell the whole story.


"<An escape vessel?,>" he repeated to Dr. Ea'Po, still in English.  "<Given its size, I would wager it is much more than an escape pod, and more along the likes of an archive: something to preserve not just individual lives, but cultural records and artifacts.  Has anyone found any other structures like this?>"  He looked to the image on the screen, then back to Ea'Po, "<if they were trying to flee from something, the smart move would be to send out multiple copies of their records, in several directions.  But that would presume they had ample warning, and the resources to do so.  If it was sudden, then they may have only had time to build this one structure.>"


Ah, if I was younger and unattached, I'd probably try some line about being 'eager to study your tongue.'  Though that might make the Countess jealous, and I'm not sure I'd want her attentions.  And if she's upset, then her friend might- oh, hold on a sec... oh-ho.


He held up one hand to Ea'Po, and flashed a smile at her, "<please, Doctor, I must ask you to excuse me for a moment.>"  He bowed slightly to her, with a little flourish.


He turned to face the ram-man, locked eyes with him, and slowly replied to his insults -- all of which he now understood -- in the same language they'd been made in.  "The louder the dog barks... the less a lion feels... threatened... and you... have been... barking... very loudly."

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Dr. Ea'Po puffed up her cheeks, ready to say something to the Fryxian about how he was treating their Terran guest, but to her surprise, Doktor Archeville stood up for himself in GalStandard. Her eyes went wide, and all she managed was an "ohhhhh."


Starlok's reaction was more to the use of GalStandard rather than the content. On one hand, she was pleased she would not have to play the role of translator on this little excursion, but on the other hand...


"There are those that consider lies by omission to be less severe a transgression as to simply lie outright. I am not one of them. Make no mistake Archeville, while I am willing to forgive this insult in particular because I suspect you shall be useful to me, you shall not deceive me in the future by feigning ignorance of our tongue," she said sternly.


She then looked to Dirge, expecting he also had a response to all this, but she wanted to ensure that no fight happened on her bridge. "As for you, it seems our guest can understand us, so it seems prudent to avoid future complications."

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The Fryxian remained seated, but he leaned forward to meet Starlok's gaze. He still spoke as if the human were not present. "'Complications?' There is nothing 'COMPLICATED' happening here." As always, he augmented his words with gesticulation. A dismissive gesture accompanied his next remark. "If the HAIRLESS TREE-APE thinks I've IMPUGNED HIS HONOR, if he even UNDERSTANDS THE CONCEPT, then he can issue HIS OWN challenge." A clenched three-fingered fist accompanied the next one. "And if he likens me AGAIN to a DOG or a CAT or ANY OTHER DISGUSTING FLESH-EATING SCAVENGER, then I will issue MINE. In EITHER case, there is SPACE APLENTY in this system for us to SETTLE such matters WITHOUT endangering your ship OR your find. In fact, I am SO MAGNANIMOUS that, WERE such a challenge made, I would consent to DELAYING its resolution until AFTER the find is secured and the investigation is complete. But UNTIL then, since his CRUDE DECEPTION posed no threat to you OR your mission, I am under no obligation to SMITE him."


Dirge chuckled and leaned back in his chair again, raising his hands to rest behind his head. "Either he truly DID learn the Galactic Standard in a matter of MINUTES, or he ALREADY knew it, but FOOLED the two of you into thinking otherwise. Either way, it seems you were CORRECT. He is CONSIDERABLY more intelligent than the rest of his species, and he may INDEED be smarter than you."


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Okay, okay, tensions are a bit high, but no one's attacking.  Not yet, at least.  Still need to be on my toes, though.


Archeville nodded towards the ram-man, then turned to face Starlok and gave a deep bow.  "Your associate has it correctly, Countess," he continued in GalStandard.  "I did not speak falsely: when we first met, I was still in the process of learning this language, and could neither understand what was being said nor express my own thoughts in it.  It was only recently -- very shortly  before my reply to him," he made the bares of gestures towards Dirge, "that I attained fluency.  And, in the interest of full disclosure, I inform you that I possess a near-perfect recall, have already reviewed what was said earlier, and have also worked out what you all said then."


"So," he glanced back to Dr. Ea'Po, gave her a wink, then back to Starlok while gesturing at the monitor screen, "now that we can all communicate more easily, may I suggest we continue on with investigating the Atchpa structure?"


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Starlok ground her teeth together. How dare the Fryxian speak to her in such a manner? Was she not the mistress of this ship, the Countess of Lugo, the woman who wore the legendary mantle of Starlok? And here he was, casually talking to her however it pleased him! She was about to bark out a response when Ea'Po tapped her on the shoulder. She wheeled around and hissed, her teeth bared.


"What do you want?" she growled.


Ea'Po recoiled for a moment, before regaining her composure. "The Doktor is right, we should head down before anyone else gets there. I happen to know a lot of salvagers know about this place too, and they're going to take everything they can fit on their ships. Ancient tech goes for a very high price."


Starlok exhaled sharply through her nose. "Very well. All of you, buckle yourselves in! Starlok shall bring you to the belly of the beast!"


With that, Starlok went to her pilot's chair and waited less than a minute for people to get ready before pulling the Pale Rider down towards the Atchpa structure. The Rider moved smoothly with Starlok at the helm, descending gracefully towards what appeared to be the entry to the ship at its base, though guarded by a pair of great doors covered in ancient logograms.


Dr. Ea'Po smiled to herself, before plugging  a device of hers into the console and inputting a few signals. Within moments, the doorway opened, revealing the dark interior. Starlok took that as her cue, and guided the ship inside. For a time, all that they could see was what was illuminated by the Pale Rider's running lights as they ascended a small tunnel. Occasionally, the lights would pick up something floating in the anti-gravity of the tunnel, sometimes a piece of floating ceramic, sometimes a piece of what looked like organic material. The vacuum around them meant that the trip was very silent, except for the occasional ding of material against their ship's hull.



Finally, there was a hiss as they passed through another doorway that closed behind him, the sound of oxygen rushing into the void. Then, another door opened, and they were in the hangar. There was a brief drop in everyone's stomach as the artificial gravity of the Atchpa vessel tool hold of them. Visible through the Pale Rider's video display in the bridge was a great chamber, bedecked in all the pomp one would expect more of a temple than a space ship. Bas reliefs and mosaics of three-eyed men and women stretched across the walls of the hangar, visible only thanks to the strobing red light that was given off by floating crystals that hovered above pedestals covered in more logograms. Around them, the ruins of what appeared to be escape pods made of the same material as the ship lay shattered on the floor, holding ancient skeletal remains of three-eyed beings that were forever frozen in poses of panic. Occasionally, one of the escape pods would bear hastily scratched in writing on the side, dappled with ancient brown blood as though someone had scratched it in with their fingers.


Dr. Ea'Po, however, was more focused on her data reader. "Alright. Air is breathable to most sophonts, gravity is at 1.1 standard units, and temperature is a little chilly at 14 degrees above freezing, but nothing unmanageable. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Stigmata."

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The Fryxian's relaxed, jovial demeanor evaporated as soon as the Pale Rider touched down. "COUNTESS. We have sailed into THE BELLY OF THE BEAST. From this moment onward, until this ship has been SECURED, we MUST assume a default state of DANGER. The DEFENSE of you and your crew is once more A PRIORITY. And I MUST have THE FULL RANGE of my abilities to MOUNT that defense." He held out a three-fingered hand toward the chair he'd been sitting in moments ago, but he did not activate his electromagnetic power. "By your LEAVE?"


Dirge shook his massive head as his eyes scanned the alien corpses littering the ground. "A GREAT DOOM such as theirs should have been PRESERVED IN SONG. But there are NONE left to SING it. The TALE is LOST. To be FORGOTTEN is the ONLY TRUE DEATH."


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