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0.5 LY from Stellar Khanate Borders

November 2014 (Terran Calendar)


Even under the best of circumstances, this was probably the last place most people in galaxy wanted to be. And then, somehow, it had gotten worse. 


With the knowledge that the Star-Khan had been made the new mouthpiece of the Communion, that raised an obvious question - what had happened to the worlds of the Khanate, that great cluster of wild, despotic states held so tight by Kinan Khan? Nobody knew. All state-run media, which at times could have made the North Korean press corps look like The Daily Show, was down. Traffic in and out of the sector, already sporadic, seemed to be shut down entirely. With half the galaxy on defensive footing, nobody really wanted to spare the resources or manpower to figure out what had happened within the Khanate. 


But just because nobody wanted to didn't mean that nobody should. Cavalier was blazing through the empty sector, keeping his eye out for surveillance satellites and Khanate drones. Intelligence said that they would be lightly cloaked but still discernible, providing minimal challenge but serving to signal the guys with bigger guns. But as far as he could tell, there was nothing watching this part of space. Which just meant he'd have to deal with the inevitable when it came.


After the push at Lor-Van, he'd had... well, he could be charitable and call it "a rough time." Once Seven had managed to drop him off somewhere near Citadel, he'd made it back to the planet for debriefing. The next twelve hours after that were... mixed. There had been screaming. There had been desperate attempts to sleep, the images of broken armor and blinding light seared behind his eyelids. There had been drinking to forget, and then glasses thrown against the wall because the drinking had done nothing.


Somewhere after those twelve hours, he'd actually managed to pull himself out of the void and focus. He couldn't just curl into a ball while the galaxy bled. And that was when Mentor had come to him with orders - preceded by more bad news.


"What do you mean the intelligence is gone?"


"The attack that compromised my systems during the assault of Lor-Van left several prevalent agents within my system. They have been quarantined in order to prevent further damage. Until these agents can be purged, the affected data cannot be accessed - and, in what was likely planned, one of these subsets is all files pertaining to the Communion entity."


Cavalier bit his tongue. The very fact that Mentor had been compromised was not a happy thought. He did not want to yell at the intelligence for trying to work around the cybernetic equivalent of an embolism. "So we need intelligence. Where do we gather it?"


"What little we have unflagged makes tertiary references to machine gods and cybernetic archaeology - potential resources of note for down the line. As of right now, however, the best possible resource would be beyond Khanate borders. If the Star-Khan has been claimed, odds are several of his worlds have followed."


Cavalier shook his head. "This really is the best idea, isn't it?"


"I am examined several permutations, and this one yields the best results. Sri Steward. Your background has been extensively catalogued in my banks. I know you have some experience on border runs. With the Knights regrouping, we must make use of unorthodox talents, wherever they may lay."


And the worst part was, he knew it was true. All of it. "I'm likely going to need backup. And not the kind trained to knock nicely before entering contested air space..."


"We have already isolated potential assets. A meeting has been arranged..."


And so, some time later, Cavalier was flying outside of the Horizon, maintaining vigil while the ship soared across the stars. He patched into the ship's comms. "All clear out here so far. How's it looking on your end?"

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"Looking pretty good on my end, Knight. You have any idea what they cashed in to get us out here?"

Talisyn Alar sat at the navigation bridge of her ship: a scant few seats and some well-maintained consoles emerging from the walls, comfortable and unassuming - a lot like the rest of the ship, really. With her feet propped up on another chair and her tail idly flicking back and forth in a gesture of impatience, one would almost think she wasn't taking the trip seriously...though with every available screen and projection playing out the radio and video feeds the Horizon was passively picking up as it went, she wasn't quite as idle as she looked.

"They called in so many debts through so many people I think they owe me now," she continued, sounding more than a little pleased. "I'm really hoping I get to live long enough to collect. Unless you meant how space is looking from in here, in which case probably about the same as you - recent events are still all over the news but that's about it, unless my intrepid crew has seen something."

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"Rock." Eclipse's first mate made a flat sound from his position in the bridge, like tectonic plates scraping against one another. Rock's chair was less a piece of furniture and more a slab of hull grade metal welded and shaped into an approximation of a bench with a tall back and even then it creaked warningly as the stoney titan folded his arms over his prodigious chest and gave his captain a disapproving look. Historically Rock hadn't been on the best terms with the Star Knights he'd met here and there but given the reports coming from the survivors of Lor-Van it seemed a little soon to be giving one of the armored law enforcers a hard time.

A wet raspberry sound came over the shipwide intercom as Nae-Dae weighed in from the engine room. "Aw, come off it, Rock. We ain't seen a karked thing yet, what does he expect her to say?" the furry mechanic opined, hanging upside down from the synthetic mesh that covered the ceiling of her workspace. "He's the one probably got all sorts of fancy Star Knight sensors in his helmet that they won't let anybody else take a butcher's at even if they promise to give it back after!"

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Cavalier felt a little bit guilty trying to pull the "law and order" act. He'd been where Talisyn and her crew were once - in between jobs, skipping across space, and deeply distrustful of local authorities (and often for good reasons). While they'd been given hefty incentive to take this job, he still felt like he'd been putting pressure on them. But here they were. They would make the most of that. "Just making sure," he said, trying to sound as casual as he could, given the circumstances. "We're almost at the Zone of Exclusion. If any Khanate border guards are going to meet us, it'll be there. We'll also have visual range with Tarza, so we can plot our course from then out."


The Zone of Exclusion was well-known across the Lor Republic and other galactic principalities. A decentralized DMZ, it was made up of waypoint stations with absolutely iron-clad customs rules, and officers with big and awful guns all too ready to enforce them. The approved entry points were filled in with three-D minefields and subspace jump ships that could weave between them and get anywhere in the sector fast. There were places to breach the barrier, but it required a lot of speed and utter precision. 


Which is why it was both reassuring and disheartening that there was absolutely nothing standing in their way. There was a customs station 50 klicks out, just barely registering on Cavalier's sensors - and neither he nor the Horizon could pick up the customary "Welcome to the glorious and eternal Khanate, now submit or be atomized" broadcasts that came with attempting entry to the system. Of more concern to Cavalier was the storm of microdebris a quarter of a klick out. It wasn't a concern of health - his armor and the Horizon were both heavily treated to withstand such fragments - but the fragments did appear to be the remains of those acclaimed mines. 


"The path looks clear. I really don't know if that's better or worse, but we're not being shot at yet. Tarza should be entering visual range just about... now."


Tarza had a reputation even outside of the Khanate, as the kind of place Kyle had once taken to like water. It was almost a stress release valve for the entirety of the Khanate, a place of lawlessness, vice, and wild times where anything could be had and any sort of business could be done. All the authorities were on the take, but it was a very highly specified kind of take. If your violence and anarchy was less aimed at a rival gang lord and more at, say, a low-ranking officer of the Khanate... well, nobody would find you, ever, and most of your associates would end up taking permanent vacations to parts unknown. It was like Vegas cross-bred with North Korea. But it had its reputation - its glittering towers, its back-alley wonders, its glittering blue seas --


Which were popping up on visual as a dark shade of gray. 


"Not sure I like what they've done with the place..."

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Eclipse sat up in her seat as the planet came into view, leaning forward to inspect the image on her main screen. "That's...Echo, please tell me my eyes need adjusting or something."

"Afraid not, ma'am," her AI replied, blinking into existence as a glowing circle on a flat, black background, symbol pulsing as he talked. "I confess I don't know quite how it's been done, but the scope of the change is...significant."

"...okay." Eclipse reached out to flip a few switches, her ship dimming as power was routed way from unnecessary lighting and support functions, the engine idly filling secondary batteries and capacitors for some of the Horizon's nastier surprises. Not battle-ready, not quite...but carefully battle-conscious. "....yeah, okay. I'm thinking Rock might have been right, here. This isn't very funny."

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The pile of animated boulders leaned forward in his seat to get a better look at the grey-tinged planet on the monitor before pulling back slowly and placing a hand over the place where a more conventional humanoid's stomach would have been in a gesture of nausea. "Rooock..." News of the enemy's nigh unimaginable firepower had been enough to give pause to even a being with the life experience and philosophical outlook of the mineral mercenary but something about the lifeless pallor in front of them filled him with considerably more unease.
"What? Oi, what's everybody talking about?" Nae-Dae asked impatiently over the intercom, followed by the familiar sound of her wrench tapping against something metallic. "Forget it, I'm coming up there!"

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"A geographical survey of the planet shows the water's not much different from Earth," said Cavalier in as flat or measured a voice as possible. He did not want to consider the possibilities that another planet had been desecrated down to its core. "Same saline content. Salt water's one hell of a conductor. Assuming this wasn't chemical weapons --" Which it very well could have been, but he wanted to take this one horrifying possibility at at time. "-- they may have turned the seas into a superconductor. What the hell would they be pulling down that would need that much power? How could --"


His thoughts were interrupted by a flash in the corner of his eye. Khanate subspace jump ships were known for their angular design, like somebody had strapped a couple of engines to a big stiletto. But the ships pushing out at frightening speed were like somebody hadn't known when to quit. The prow was covered with thin and silvery spines, twisting in the currents of normal space - and as the three ships fully emerged, their spines lashed out towards Cavalier and the Horizon, solidifying into spiky battering rams crackling with red lightning. 


"We've got incoming!" 

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Eclipse had something to say about the sudden appearance of Khanate ships - it was clipped and Alarian, and seemed to translate into something like "pluck my wings", if "pluck my wings" came with a sidebar full of epithets. Still, she wasn't Captain Eclipse for nothing: no sooner had the flashes shown up on one of her screens than she'd grabbed a pair of floating metal spheres from where they'd been hovering, idle; the devices barely had time to light up with some kind of holographic interface before the ship lurched.

The number one error, to hear it from some old flight instructors she'd known, was to fly in space like you'd move on a planet. Space was not an ocean, or a surface - space was vast in all directions, with only the insignificant gravity of local bodies to keep you down. When the Horizon moved, it wasn't anything so pedestrian as aside or ahead or behind; it went up, straight up, like some mighty, unknown force had delivered a kick straight to its underside.

"I need you in the engine room, Nae-Dae!" she announced through clenched teeth, tail reaching out to flick another switch. "We need everything we can spare to sub-light. Shut FTL down completely if you've gotta. Rock, be a dear and warm up the main gun for me - whatever power Nae-Dae has left over. They brought a ram to a dogfight."

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"Oh, sure, first from support systems to weapons then dump it all into sublight just like that," Nae-Dae's voice chittered over the intercom, accompanied by the snapping of one of her four hands. "No problem. It's not like this is a karking delicate process or anything!" Despite the Irreran's aggravated protests the readouts in front of Eclipse surged as the ships power conduits gracefully shifted energy where it had been requested.

A moment later there was a sharp, explosive crack from deep in the bowels of the ship followed by a resounding clang of metal hitting metal. "It's fine! S'fine! ...that bit's mostly just for looks anyhow."

Next to Eclipse on the bridge Rock acknowledged the order with a terse,"Rock," before getting to his feet with a motion that looked something like an avalanche. The U-shaped handles that emerged from the console he approached were mounted on a reinforced shock absorber repurposed from a land-based all terrain vehicle, sturdy enough to survive the grip of an angry mountain. Flexing stoney fingers once, then twice, he took hold of the controls and positioned his thumbs atop the big round firing studs. Eyes of molten magma narrowed at the tactical readout in front of him before he brought down the hammer, red hot darts of energy erupting from the Horizon in two staggered streams.

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Outside the ship, Cavalier was returning fire as well. The subspace ship may have been swift, covered in lightning, and armored like it was designed by a metal fetishist, but he was smaller, swifter, and just about as well-armed. He pumped most of his suit's excess energy into his blaster, launching into a volley of energy bolts that pierced the sides of the ships. But just as he seared a hole in the metal, the hull breaches slowly knitted themselves back together, the silver shell weaving back over the wound. 


The Horizon, however, was having more luck. Weaving and dodging around the volleys of the other ship, it returned fire with great force, making somewhat more lasting dents in the Khanate ship's hull. It, too, was working on reweaving the hull, but that effort seemed to be drawing power away from the ship's offensive capabilities. That left it mainly trying to close with the Horizon, shattering into its hull with its spiky cowcatcher of a front, but the Horizon was just too fast. 


That left Cavalier dealing with his own ship, which hadn't taken enough damage to keep from firing on him. That red lightning arced through space, and it was only by a second's grace that he was not struck by it. After a few close misses, he realized there was a pattern to it. This was not a direct projectile, but something meant to latch on to a nearby target. So... he'd give it one. 


He flew at top speed towards the ship the Horizon was engaging. It was still taking a heavy battering, and was nowhere close to firing. Behind him, he saw the red lightning crackle across the other ship's hull. It launched towards him - and he sped as fast as he could, firing all power into his thrusters. It arced towards him like a bullwhip, ready to strike, coming down full-force --


-- just as he darted under the other ship. The lightning crashed down upon the hull, sending a pulse through the ship's systems. The plating on the outside began to tear apart, shedding like skin. Soon, the ship was a burnt husk, with all the silver coating dissipating in the higher reaches of Tarza's atmosphere.


And another target had presented itself. Cavalier turned his fire on the remaining ship, and the Horizon followed. Soon, it, too, was breaking apart - but it wasn't done. As the silvery hull began to peel away, lightning crackled across its exterior. With its last breath, the Communion ship brought the lightning crashing down on the Horizon, temporarily shorting its engines.


Which would have been fine, were the ship not at the tip of Tarza's gravitational pull. Slowly, the crippled ship plunged towards the planet's atmosphere, drawn ever downwards into the alien sky... 

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"No no no no no no no," Eclipse insisted, frantically adjusting the assorted switches, knobs, and touch-screen interfaces within reach in the hopes of getting engine power from somewhere. Anywhere. "Come back to me, wings. I haven't lost a ship to planetfall yet and I'm not going to start today. Tell me this is an easy fix, Nae-Dae!"

She wasn't even entirely sure comms were still up, but that last bit was directed back toward the engines anyway - too much ship between her and there to make it without aid, but that wasn't going to stop her from shouting. "Horizon's not at atmosphere fighter, she's not built for lift! I can probably depressurize something to give us a push toward a softer landing, but 'soft' is gonna be pretty #### relative at the speed we're going, if there are even soft targets left down there!"

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"Why don't I tell you I'm a seven foot Zultasian prince here to shower you in high grade gemstones and nonsequential credsticks while I'm at it!" Nae-Dae shot back over the intercom, frantically leaping from place to place in the engine room. Two of her arms attempted to cover as much area as possible with her fire extinguisher while she used the wrench in another to loosen key points to vent building pressure. "Oh nooooo...!" she moaned plaintively even as she turned into a cobalt blue blur of motion, just barely keeping one step ahead of a catastrophic failure.

With a glum look out the forward facing displays, Rock returned to his seat. There was no crash webbing or safety belts to hold him in place in the event of a crash; they wouldn't have held his weight anyway. Instead he simply placed his engulfing hands one over the other atop his head and slouched a bit before waiting in silence for any instructions from the captain.

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The ship plunged into Tarza's atmosphere, and Cavalier dived after it. As the ship plummeted through the sky, the friction of reentry causing the sides of heat immensely, he tried not to think about the last time this happened. At least then, the ship had been empty, and they'd be plunging towards somewhere as comforting as Earth. He pressed his hands against the Horizon's undercarriage, forcing as much energy into his suit's strength protocol as he could. He pressed as hard as he could, but there was only so much force one man could exert against a plummeting spaceship.


Fortunately, Nae-Dae had more success. Although the damage to the engines was catastrophic, there was still a spark of life or two to be harnessed. There was only so long the engines could run before the pressure of atmosphere would harrow the ship and the circuits burst, but these brief bursts did manage to right the ship and slow the descent. By then, however, they were closer to surface than atmosphere... and the Horizon would likely need more work to get back to piercing atmosphere and re-entering void. 


Cavalier looked down, sparing a moment to stop looking at the Horizon's chassis. Below was a city, glittering towers reaching to the sky... and a glass green patch of park, right at the heart of it. "We may have a landing zone, if we need it!"


And that prospect just fills me with joy. 

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"We need it," Eclipse grimly confirmed. "Nae-Dae's a miracle worker, but there are limits. The strongest bird can't fly without wings....come on, baby. I believe in you."

That last bit seemed to be directed at the ship itself, as she tried to direct the sputtering engines into slowing their fall as efficiently as possible with what little she had. "Come on, come on....don't quit on me now, we're too close. Just gotta---aw, aw no. Rock!" She glanced over at him, though only for a moment before her attention was back on the descent vector that was still entirely too fast for her tastes. "Rock, we either lost landing gear or our connection to it - putting her down isn't gonna do us any good if we try to rest our weight on our belly or crush the Star Knight under us. There oughta be some kind of manual release or maintenance panel closer to the hatch at midship; rip the hydraulics, if you've got to, but we need those things down!"

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"Rock!" Lumbering to his feet, the first mate dashed off into the belly of the ship with indelicate, resounding footfalls that would have been more concerning if the sounds from outside the Horizon hadn't been louder. Reaching the lowest point in the vessel in short order he located the hefty lever that manually dropped the ships landing gear and pulled down on it hard.

The first thing Rock noticed was that the landing gear still hadn't deployed. The second thing he noticed was that the metal lever had torn in half under the force of his enthusiasm, the larger part of it now sitting in his stony grip.

Pausing for a moment, nonplussed, he tossed the broken lever over his shoulder and instead stooped over lower deck plating above the heavy machinery. Digging his sizable digits into the floor he pulled with a gravelly huff, ripping up the deck with a protesting creak of curling metal. Spotting the hydraulic piston below him, Rock adjusted his weight and delivered a swift kick into the exposed mechanical workings, stomping once, then twice. With a great shudder the abused pistons shifted downward, forcing out the landing gear from the bottom of the Horizon Keyed a nearby intercom, the triumphant titan announced, "Rock!"

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It was not exactly a landing for the books - but it was still a landing. The landing gear of the Horizon touched down on the wide stretch of green, grassy park, sending blades flying into the air as it skidded across the surface. The soil seemed firm - much firmer than your usual park topsoil would be - but it still wasn't the kind of material a spaceship was expected to taxi on. Cavalier zoomed in and tried to help guide the ship by force, but he knew applying too much effort might cause the Horizon to jackknife - or worse. Still, every bit helped, as soon, the ship quaked and quivered as it slipped along the soil, coming right to a stop before a lake clear as glass. 
He breathed a sigh of relief. "Everyone okay in there?" he said. As he did, he touched down on the grass - which snapped under his armored feet. He looked closer - the green-glass grass was, in fact, glass. Or at least, the same sheen and consistency as it. 
Please tell me we just landed in the planet's biggest modern art exhibit...

Meanwhile, inside the Horizon, nothing had been permanently damaged - but more than a few circuits and backup engines had blown thanks to the Communion ship's assault. It would take some effort to get everything back online.

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Eclipse had to take a moment to let out a deep breath she hadn't known she was holding, and it took another two moments still for her to make her hands let go of the controls. "Okay. Nobody dead? Injured?" She stood up, tail unspooling from around the base of her chair as she shook the stress and ache out of her limbs. "Good job, if you're conscious to hear it," she offered her crew, with genuine approval and gratitude. "You too, Star Knight."

Frowning, she grabbed her sword and cloak off their spots at the back of the room, donning them smoothly as she made her way to the hatch. Her gun, as ever, was already on her person. "I don't like what we saw on the way down, though. If we're stuck here anyway, may as well take a look. Rock, you're with me. Think you can get things going on your own, Nae-Dae? Anything you need for repairs, while we're checking things out?"

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Nae-Dae's response was mostly unintelligible moaning but Eclipse was able to make out something that sounded like, "Oooh, my poor baby, what have they done to yooouuu?!" On the upside, if the Irreran was passing up the offer to put together a shopping list it meant that her substantial treasure trove of horded components and baubles was up to the task of repairing what the Horizon needed repaired.

Extricating himself from the Rock-shaped dent he'd left in the bulkhead when they'd finally hit solid ground, Rock placed a hand on either side of his head and worked his neck back and forth with alarming popping and cracking sounds. With that done he took another moment to flex his equivalent of muscles, lines of red hot magma flaring up between the uneven chunks of stone that made up his body. Satisfied, he shook himself in a motion somewhere between a wet dog and the contents of a rock tumbler before meeting up with Eclipse at the loading ramp. "Rock?"

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Cavalier's translator could process everything from the song of intelligent birds to musical farting, if it was a species' primary means of communication - and yet, every time he heard Rock speak, it was just, "Rock." He seemed to understand Galstandard, though, which was a good thing - he didn't want to try saying something like it in turn and risk describing the things Rock's mother would do for half a dried coconut. "Yeah," he said, "we need intel, and if we have to do it by foot than by air, I guess we're gonna have to. Everyone, grab the biggest gun you have. I've got a feeling the locals aren't friendly."


If there are any actual locals left...


The park would have been beautiful, under most circumstances. It was sometime past mid-day, and the sun hang in an azure sky with tints of green. Purple and red trees were in full bloom, and the water of the ponds was clear and beautiful. But like the grass before it, it was all artificial. The trunks of those very trees were the same gray as the sea had been, and the capillaries of the leaves were taking on the same color. The ponds were just as glassy as the grass, made solid from surface to depth. 


Reaching the edge of the park, the group found themselves looking down a row of grand and terrible casinos. The Glittering Strand, this was called, the part of Meridian, Tarza's grand leisure city, where the lucky, the daring, and the just plain desperate could try their hands at everything from seven-card levad to amateur bloodsport. But it was a different sight with all the neon out, and that same sheen of gray clinging to the buildings. From some of the buildings, the gray poured like a small waterfall, running out of windows and frozen in time. 


But worse were the statues. At least, they looked like statues at first. They were in the middle of the Strand, looking up towards the gray ruin above. It was only when Cavalier got closer to one that he realized they were a little too life-like to be statues - and few sculptors would dare to carve those expressions of agony and terror. All he could think of was some of the remains pulled out of the dig at Pompeii.


"...what the hell happened here?"

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"I don't need big guns. I've got you and Ro---ooaaaww, c'mon," Eclipse complained, looking up at one of the casinos. "That's not-- that place was good," she insisted, gesturing futiley. Her body language didn't quite meet her tone of voice, though - for all her feigned petulance, her glowing eyes were constantly scanning their surroundings and her hand never went more than an inch from an item on her hip that was probably some kind of collapsed blaster. "They had a mixed drink that'd knock you out for a week - well, knock you out for a week, no offense - and these dancers that could do this thing...."

She trailed off, looking one of the statues in the face. "Glassed, maybe?" Just as quickly as she'd picked up the petulance, she dropped it again, one pupil subtly rotating as she inspected the body with the sad, critical eye of someone who'd seen too many dead. "Or something new. Gotta say, I'm not a big fan of how this gray stuff is everywhere. Even if it was ash, it shouldn't be coming out of buildings like that. I don't like any of this."

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Producing a pair of macroviewers from the pouch hanging at his side, Rock raised them to the twin points of smouldering magma that denoted his version of eyes. The glazed greenery beneath his feet was reduced to powder as he took a few steps away from the Horizon, high pitched tings merging into low crunching. The infrared readings of the surveillance gear drew his attention to a tower at the end of the street, the structure giving off more heat those surrounding it. With so many paths converging in one place he assumed it was important somehow, even if it was nothing more than a particularly ostentatious traffic director. "Rock..." Tucking the macroviewers away again and pointedly avoiding making eye contact with any of the disturbingly preserved corpses, he pointed to the building with a stoney forefinger. "Rock."

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Cavalier, meanwhile, was less focused on Rock's discovery and more on the buildings surrounding them. To his eyes, the cascade of steely material seemed to be thinning - ever so slightly, receding into the building. In fact... he briefly flew up to the nearest building, being very careful not to touch anything. To his eyes, the walls of the building seemed to be taking on that same metallic sheen, like the capillaries of the leaves in the park. He touched back down next to Eclipse. "It's not just coming out of the buildings," he said, "it's going in. We're standing on a nanotech dump site." He scanned the block, as if trying to reassure him of the facts. "But... if it was still fully active, we would've been gray goo'd the second we touched down. The citizens, the grass, the trees... whatever this stuff is, it must work faster on organic tissue than non-organic. They dumped it on the planet, let it absorb the life forms, then set the organic consumption protocols into recession... why? So it could focus on expansion?" 


At least they went out quickly...


It was only after he was done rambling that Cavalier noticed Rock had isolated the building. Even at this distance, it looked strangely out of place, like someone had decided to stick a glass skyscraper in a medieval village. "Whatever it is, looks like something's drawing power here. We'd better go see what it is."


Once they got half a block down, the dreadful similarity became clearer. The tower was that same shade of obsidian he'd associated with the patches on the claimed Khanate ships he'd seen at Lor-Van. Thin, rod-like appendages hung off of it, bent and crooked in all directions. Channels seemed carved into the sides of the tower, in shades of silver and ruby. All it needs is a big, flaming eye. 


The tower was seated in the middle of what had been a traffic circle, taking up nearly the entirety of the clearing at the middle. In the streets were more bodies, coated in the same metallic substance. Most were on their hands and knees, bent in supplication to the thing. Some of them were screaming, but still others seemed to be in awe. A few even appeared to be in some horrible mockery of prayer. And up close to the tower, the three could see that there were small arches right at ground level, leading into its depths. 


Cavalier sighed. "...we need to know," he said. He turned back to the others. "I'm going to do a perimeter sweep. Make sure this is the least of the horrors. In the meantime, it'd probably be a good idea to check with Nae-Dae and see how long until your ship is back online."

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"Oh, well, that's a good sign," Eclipse suggested, circling one of the supplicants and tapping them on the shoulder with the tip of her tail. "Lesson one, miss: don't worship anything that wants to kill you. Because, y'know, it'll kill you."

She sighed, making her way toward - thought not into, for the time being - one of the arches. "Y'know, can't help but feel we're sitting on a gold mine. I think I've seen this before...compu-whatever? It goes for a pretty good price, if you can find someone who wants the stuff. But if it does this....feh."

She put a hand to her ear, touching the commlink she was wearing. "Hey, Nae-Dae. Howzit going, miracle worker?"

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"It'd be going better if you weren't karking interrupting me!" Nae-Dae chittered back over the comm line backed by the sound of metal clanging emphatically into metal. "She'll be ready when we need her," the mechanic promised with a prideful sniff, pausing before adding, "Just, uh, maybe try not to need her for a while yet?"

Rock followed behind the other two in the away party, gingerly stepping around the frozen forms, or at least as gingerly as he could with the ground crunching with spiderweb cracks everywhere he put down his foot. Eventually reaching the tower, he gave it a long glare, looking up and trying to make out the top. He worked his crag of a jaw from one side of his face to the other, annoyed by how little he could discern from the bizarre monument. Making up his mind, he poked the side of the building with one finger. "Rock?"

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The tower did not seem to respond to Rock's touch. The metallic exterior felt rather warm, as if it had been absorbing the rays of the sun for some time, and had a density that the veteran space jockey typically associated with dreadnought plating. Up close to the tower, Rock and Eclipse could see through the darkened archways. Through the thermal sensors of Rock's binoculars, there was the motion of heat and energy in the walls, but no signatures he would associate with a warm body. Likewise, Eclipse's senses were able to pierce the darkness somewhat - there was seemingly nobody inside. Though there were the impression of alcoves the size and shape of the average humanoid...


Cavalier, meanwhile, found remarkably little on his aerial patrol. There didn't seem to be any towers like the one they found in the rest of the city... though that computronium (that was the term, as Mentor had told him) was spread all throughout, coating organic and non-organic substances alike. Just one of them... all this devastation, all of this... there must have been others, of course. That would explain the oceans. But if this one had been all it had taken to ruin a city... He knew what he had to do.


He touched down back next to Eclipse and Rock. "We need more intelligence on what this thing does, and how it thinks. I'm going in there." He turned to Rock and Eclipse. "I didn't sign either of you up for a suicide mission. I'll be in radio contact the entire time. If you want to maintain position at the Horizon... I wouldn't blame you. If you lose contact with me or hear... well, screaming, I'd guess... then get the hell off this planet as fast as you can. Make sure the word gets out."

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