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82 Eridani System

Thursday, September 28, 2016

 

Cavalier flew along side Sea Devil through the inky void, taking in the unfamiliar sights. There was an index full of the various planets, moons, and asteroids of the system, but he had never actually seen them with his eyes. Still, Mentor had recommended this as a nice peaceful system for a trial run. And surveillance.

 

Mentor hadn't been so direct in calling it surveillance. But when Cavalier had asked why he was being asked to take Sea Devil on a ridealong - especially when she hadn't gotten off on good terms with the young Deep One, and her time in space had been far from a walk in the park - Mentor had relented and given him the full scope. "The individuals who tampered with our armor to make the Spectrum Knight design were powerful, intelligent, and given to deception. Although we have examined the altered armor in detail and found no obvious tampering, we know from our own designs that the armor can adapt under proper circumstances. It may be best to see if Ms. Innsmouth has managed to develop new... hidden talents in use of the armor. Talents that were hidden just so they could be... discovered at the right time."

 

A full analysis would be too invasive; however, if Cavalier rode along, Mentor could analyze the code of the Spectrum Knight armor to see if there were any nasty surprises lying in wait. Of course, convincing Sea Devil to go along all on her lonesome might be tricky. Hence why Cavalier had been given dispensation to hire the Voidrunners, with whom Sea Devil had a somewhat better relationship. And hence why he'd had the request approved to let Sea Devil bring along Jessie, who'd also been dragged about half the galaxy alongside her. And hence why he felt like the fifth wheel on this whole trip.

 

But he was the one in charge, so he had to make sure he was everyone's fun uncle rather than their drill sergeant dad. "How do you like the sights?" he asked Sea Devil. "Anything catching your eye?" 

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Aquaria had been quiet most of the trip, her protuberant gaze difficult to read, at least for humans and other Surface creatures, through the translucent helm of her armor.  "We swim in the sea of stars," she croaked back across the borrowed commlink to her Star Knight companion, the bass rumble distinctly odd across the radio line. Even Aquaria had understood why Spectrum Knight armor came with no such easy communications devices - the creators of the armor, foul creatures that they were, had chosen to build an army that couldn't easily coordinates even with itself. "All around us are the eyes of the...universe, watching and judging us." She ignited her trident, not for the first time, and waved it around. "You are at home here. This must be familiar waters.

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Flying not far above the pair was The Voidrunner, with Ruby as always in the pilots seat. Autopilot was engaged so the Bounty Hunter was free to observe scans for any anomalies. In all honestly is did not expect Aquaria to be willing to set out into the final frontier so soon. Most would have preferred to stay planet side for at least a few years minimum. But here they were again watching over her for a payday. Also she got to work with one of the Star Knights and she was certain her mentor Zorla would have liked that news. The ships comm unit flared to life, picking up communications between the two fly in space. She chose to remain silent on the line, instead opting to switch on the ships intercom systems. 

 

"Everything alright down there?" She inquired. Considering the last time she was on board, it seemed reasonable to at least get a status report on Jessie.

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Down below in the passenger compartment, Jessie hesitated a moment before deciding that she was probably being addressed. "I think so?" she offered, looking around suspiciously at the bulkhead walls. Nothing seemed to be in imminent danger of failure. She was doing her part to ensure safe space travel by staying curled up in her seat with her arms around her knees, not touching anything and thinking good thoughts about being back on Earth where there was so much air and so little vacuum. "Is everything all right up there?" 

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"No.  Everything is not alright.  Ruby, refused to pay for upgrades on the imager of this rustbucket.  We could all be enjoying a much better view of the Star Knight right now."  Roulette joked.  In fact he wasn't actually touching any of the terminals of the cockpit.  Occasionally tracing his hands over a panel here and there, but stopping short of actually contributing to Ruby's workload.

 

This job is a bit fishy.  And I don't mean the smell of Bliss and Aquaria's lunch.  A Star Knight asking help on a patrol?  Roulette wasn't on guard.  Despite all reservation, even if there was a hidden agenda as to why they were out there.  It was certain that it wasn't an agenda that would actually harm any of them.  Money with a hidden goal, was worth the same amount as credits from anywhere else.  He figured the most likely outcome is that Cavalier was trying to build a positive reputation for Aquaria and Jessie. After the whole 'murdered a star knight' holovideo controversy and subsequent chase around the stars, it made sense.

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She came stomping in, did Bliss.  The cybernetics and biomechanical augmentation showing as she chittered angrily, something resembling pants and a t-shirt.  "Rustbucket!?She was upset, understandably, as something of a mechanic here.  Evidenced by the smears of dirt and the burns from some discharges.  Her stomping was surprising effective, as she looked willowy, but was more solid in form.  Even if, as a non-mammal, guessing what gender her people were could be a headache.

 

If she had any further thoughts about their situation, or what was coming, they didn't show.  Of course her expressions seem to only vary on the depths and levels of annoyance, frustration, and anger.

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Cavalier was about to say something about how one got used to the stars after traveling among them for so long... but stopped himself. It seemed like a bad idea to shortchange something that must have seemed like holy communion to the young Deep One. "Yeah," he said. "I've been out here for years now. Different branches of the galaxy... different galaxies... haven't quite wandered out of the supercluster, but it may just be a matter of time until that happens. It gets somewhat familiar, but... you never get used to it. There's an endless amount of wonders out there, just waiting to be discovered. Out here... you can feel lonely. But you also feel like you're part of something greater. You may be small, but you're small with others, and you know what that means."

 

He was quiet for a bit, letting the grandeur of the galaxy flow over them. He wanted Aquaria to take this all in. She'd likely seen it before, of course, but that was different than just meditating on it. Once the anxiety bled away, there was a lot of wonder to take in.

 

Before it got positively overwhelming, there was a ping on the comms network - both on his and Aquaria's armor, and on the Voidrunner. "Distress... crippled... Lor-Van science vessel Korata... assistance... coordinates to follow..."

 

The coordinates were less than 5 AUs from their current location. Cavalier opened his broadband. "Think they're playing our song..." 

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Aquaria knew she should have re-entered the ship - though she'd bathed in the sea of stars in this mighty armor that kept out the cold and airless void, it wasn't nearly fast enough to do more than make slow loops around the Voidrunner. And that if the latter was standing still. But she was loathe to abandon her time out among the stars, or to show weakness in front of the Star Knight. She knew this Surfacer was a friend, but she was yet reluctant to show him her belly. "Come, let us swim," she said, reaching out to take Cavalier's hand. Her three-fingered grip around his was sturdy, with strength behind it beyond even the automatic magnalocking systems that bonded Knights together when they touched. She'd instinctively stumbled on something programmed into most Star Knight armors - the original source of the armor she herself was now wearing. "The ship will follow!

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"Ignore him Bliss." Ruby said, rolling her eyes. It was moments like this that made her wonder how he survived this long with Bliss. "Just making sure you are alright Jessie."  Holographic alerts started to light up on the pilots dashboard. A few quick touches of the interface and the message started to play. Her eyes narrowed as she contemplated the possibilities. Grue infiltrators to pirates to to god knows what went through her mind, along with the possibility that it might be genuine. Cavalier seemed to think it was at least. 

 

"Auto-Cannons at the ready if you need them." She broadcasted to the two. The Voidrunner kept pace with them, staying above them while sensors looked for anything remotely suspicious. Panels and ports across the ship opened to reveal the ships armaments, ready to dissuade any attempt to harm them.

Edited by Darksider42

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It was a small jaunt, all things considered, but soon, the Lor vessel came into sight. From the look of it, Cavalier made it as exactly what they said it was - a science vessel, with a crew that could be anywhere from 50 to 100, depending on the scope of the mission. It did not appear to be on fire, and all the lights seemed on. It just seemed to hang suspended in orbit around a small planet - somewhat Earth-like, though the foliage did not have colors Kyle would associate with Earth. Well, maybe in the fall...

 

"Distress... arrest... crippled..."

 

The signal kept dropping in and out, even at this range. Cavalier tapped his comms. "Weird," he said. "Sea Devil, you and I will go ahead. Everyone on the Voidrunner, stay back until I call you in. We may be dealing with some pure weirdness, and I'd rather get the one-on-one approach first."

 

He sped ahead, entering the range on the ship. As he got closer, he noticed the ship stood stock still - not even drifting. That was reasonable for vacuum, but this close to the planet... gravity should have been acting on it. Then, as if he'd crossed an invisible line, the message came in full on his comms. 

 

"-- have run at full power, but we still can't move! We think there may be some trip in this planet's orbit! Send word to the Council, but do not approach!"

 

Cavalier opened his comms. "Uh, guys? We've got a problem..." 

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There were many differences between Cavalier and Sea Devil - but perhaps the most important right now was that Aquaria Innsmouth had spent most of the early years of her life as a hunter on the edge of starvation. Not just any hunter - a hunter of fish. "Voidrunner!" she bellowed into her suit's comms, the signal carried through Cavalier's linkup in a booming, mechanical bellow that was instantly recognizable. "It's a trap! Run away!" She grabbed Cavalier's arm and pushed off, driving him towards the Voidrunner - and though her suit lacked the power of the full Star Knight armor the latter was wearing, Kyle could feel the strength of the muscles within that were better-suited for crushing ocean depths than space. "Use your speed, Star Knight!" 

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"Wait, if we can hear it clearly now wouldn't that-" Rubys eyes went wide just as The Voidrunner suddenly turned away from its course, moving away from the trapped ship and planet with all the speed the ships engines were capable of. The comm frequency was suddenly filled with a long string of curses and foul language from at least 3 different sectors. Cavalier could make out a few that sounded like they were from Britain. Her current priority was to get the ship back to a safer range immediately. Or at the very least try before they were trapped like the other vessel.

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"What's going on?" Jessie demanded from her compartment, panic quickly building in her voice. She couldn't see much of anything, but the ship was going faster, and Aquaria was yelling abut traps, and it was all starting to turn really bad and there was nothing she could do except be stuck in this room (it's not a white room, really it's not it's not) and wait to see what would happen next. "Aquaria? Are you okay?" 

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"Yeah, sounds like a plan," said Cavalier. He turned, ready to flee at top speed - only to feel his jets cutting out on him a few thousand miles out. Energy was still flowing into them; it just felt as if he was trapped in Jello. Sea Devil ran into the same problem, as if she had hit some invisible line marking a point of no return. As she did, she felt space... quiver around her, somewhat, like the vibration of water after an octopus had shot ink into it. Soon after, the Voidrunner, despite turning, ran into a similar problem - full power, but no motion. 

 

"Damnit," said Cavalier. "No going back at this time, so... is the only option forward?" Cavalier looked to the Lor science vessel, and the planet hanging beyond it. "As space traps go, this isn't the most efficient of them. Seen ship strippers, hunter-killer pulsars, telepathic pitcher plants... this is the least hostile danger I've seen in some time. Why would --"

 

He was cut off as a transmission appeared inside his visor - and likewise, in Sea Devil's monitor and on the comms of the Voidrunner. The image showed a young Zultasian man... at least, he looked fairly Zultasian. His skin had a tone somewhere between gray and pink, and he seemed to have gills running down his neck. "Is that you?" he asked. "Are you there? I'm sorry we had to meet under these circumstances, but gods, I couldn't pass up the opportunity..."

 

"Velak!" A woman with mostly human features, save for the distinctive head ridge of a Xuli'ha, entered the screen. "We can't make contact with them before the appointed time! Think of everything that could go wrong!"

 

"It's better we let them know, Javeen. Give them a chance to prepare and to understand --"

 

"Hey. We're still up here. So you'd better answer quickly. Who are you, and what are we doing suspended up here?" 

 

"Ah." Velak looked contrite. "Well, the latter will take a while to explain, but the former... uh... we're... your descendants."

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Aquaria was close to panicking herself - until she heard Jessie's voice, close to mortal terror, on her skin. She closed her great eyes and breathed, slowly, in and out, a throbbing sound that came clearly through the microphones. "Jessie, it's going to be okay. We are going to figure out what happened and then we will go home." She breathed again, finding her own calm center amid the eternal chaos of the universe, the song of Dagon and Hydra amid the vast oceanic depths clear in her mind. "Cavalier, you should go to the other ship and talk to them. I need to swim to the Voidrunner.

 

On her way back, she thought about the words of the strange creatures below, but kept her thoughts to herself. If they could tap into the voice of her suit, something she herself hardly understood, she didn't want to risk words that might serve to betray their secrets. Once inside the ship, she found Jessie and got close - not close enough to trigger her friend, but close enough that she could see her there. "What a strange mystery!" she croaked out loud.  "The sea of stars certainly has many things in it. I thought for sure we were going to be gobbled up."

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"Huh.  Well there seems to be a gas leak on this ship."  Roulette stated rather calmly as he looked at the ship's comms.  "I told you it was a rustbucket.  I would pick a less family friendly fantasy to go out on.  But, well as the old Zultasian saying goes.  Someone dies every day."

 

While he held the lineage claim as pretty incredulous, the former conman didn't actually think they were dying of some gas induced hallucination.  No, he considered a different angle.  They were pirates.  Using some sort of elaborate ruse to try and get traveling ships to lower their guards.  And take control of the ship after the crew has lowered their guard.

 

It was a good con.  If a bit overdone.  Or so Roulette told himself.  "Might want to get tall, dark, and metal back in the ship too.  Trap or not, if we have to jump out of here, I'd rather not leave him behind."

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Normally this would be the point Ruby would probably make some offhand joke at Roulette's expense, but right now the frustration of being trapped had hit a boiling point and was trying her best to calm down before she started punching the console out of rage. Nothing brought out her temper more than falling into traps, especially ones as strange as this. She took a deep breath. One, two, three. And let it out slowly. 

 

What tension was lost came back when the comms array started receiving a new transmission. Her eyes narrowed as she typed in commands into the command console. "Hilarious. Now why don't you tell us the real reason you trapped us here?" The bay door for the knights to get on board. Whatever tech that was keeping them trapped in orbit did not seem to be interfering with any of the ships actual systems, so the Autocannons were still scanning for a target to fire on.

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Velak looked to Javeen with confusion - and, it seemed, a pang of remorse. "I... I'm sorry," he said. "This isn't a ruse. I swear on the stars --"

 

"Great Hydra, Velak." Javeen shoved him aside. "They're stuck, they're confused, and you just decided to drop the mother of all bombshells on them. What did you think would happen? That they'd be all happy shiney?"

 

"I thought if they knew ahead of time, they'd --"

 

"Panic?"

 

"Hey!" said Cavalier. "Wonder Twins. Assuming you are being honest - which, again, I'm not - then you'd know --"

 

"Kyle Steward," Javeen said. "Ackwareeaa In-His-Mouth. Jessie White. Ruby Hawkins. Stahnze Turk. Bliss. I could go on and list the fifty names of all the people on board the Lor-Van science vessel as well, but we don't have all day."

 

"Okay. You know our names. I can think of a dozen ways that could happen. Why should we trust you?"

 

Javeen sighed and reached to her waist. She held up a blaster - no. Kyle's blaster. A relatively distinctive adaptation among the Star Knight armor; most favored energy-based melee weapons, but he favored a ranged option. A ranged option that looked exactly like that one. 

 

"Reverse-engineered from your armor, based on years of careful study. We use them on the more voracious game beasts and... other problems." She sighed. "I know this is a lot to swallow, but... the imposition that's got us all knotted has effectively crippled FTL travel and communications. In time, it will expand, and when the waveform collapses, your now becomes our then. Until that happens... we'd like you to come down to our planet. To show you that we're not lying. To help you understand. And... to show you everything that you made."

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Jessie calmed down a little once Aquaria was back on board the Voidrunner, at least to the point where she could sit down in one of the seats instead of pressing herself up against the bulkhead. They were still stuck, but she wasn't alone anymore, and if Aquaria was in any danger, it was at least going to be danger that Jessie could probably see and cope with and maybe even fight. "Tell them to let us go!" she called up to the flight deck. "Tell them we'll fight them if they don't!" 

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"They have another vessel too - one of the Grand Nauarchus' fleet." She had gotten that explanation, and understood it well enough, on the way back to their homeworld. "Perhaps their ships will come and-" At the sound of an all-too-familiar word coming from the lips of the stranger, though, Aquaria croaked suspiciously and hopped up to the front compartment of the Voidrunner, the front of her helmet still open to reveal the amphibious face underneath it. When the Surfacers on the screen started in what might have been recognition, Aquaria gave them her 'frown', great gold-and-black eyes staring and mouth hanging partially open. "What do you know of Great Hydra, Puny-Surface-Man?" she boomed. She kicked the deck plate beneath her feet, once, twice, and extended her throat sacs, emitting a challenging noise. "We will land and show you what we think of your ways!"

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Bliss moved languorously, deliberately.  "I don't have anything to do with the comms," she huffed, almost petulantly, pouting.  Being the defacto mechanic, when she had never done such before made her more than a little sensitive on the matter.

With that she skulked back behind everyone else, letting them talk it out as things went sideways.  Or, in other words, standard Voidrunner operating procedures.  Sideways, wheeling into insanity.  Sometimes shrieking.  Mostly with deadpanning from all three members.  Her nostril slits flared, and she looked to Ruby and Aquaria.  Not that Bliss would mind a fight, but at the moment she was debating about letting others take the lead first, before she was swinging on in.  Occasionally she could respond to something like this with a response other that a savage thrashing and/or whipping.  Occasionally.  Really it was a banner day.

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"What." The mere mention of her name got her attention, if the flat tone to her voice and the glare that could burrow a hole through the screen was any indication. Very few people in the galaxy knew that name and those that would call her by that were the sort that wanted to put a blaster to her head. Waving around a weapon reversed engineered from Star Knight Armor did little to convince her about their story. "Listen, I'm not falling for this trap, so release us and the scientists now before I personally hunt down you and your bosses to the ends of the universe." 

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"We can't," said Javeen. "Trust me, this place is not lacking for scientists who followed in your footsteps, but even they haven't been able to work out the quantum eccentricities that led to..." She shook her head. "I believe one of you had a proverb about time being a flat circle. This seems to be what you meant. But we're running out of it, so I'm just going to send up something to the Korata, and --"

 

"What?" Cavalier said. "No. Look, our ships are crippled, I'm floating here like a buoy, and if you think you're going to get us to open some of virus-laced data packet, then --"

 

A connection opened up from the Korata, running into Cavalier's armor, Sea Devil's armor, and the Voidrunner. "Star Knight," said the voice on the other end, "this is Captain He'ran Latur. I understand and empathize with the skepticism of you and your comrades. A good portion of my crew is likewise skeptical. But we have just received... we have received files on us all. Detailing everything from childhood to... well, you can imagine. Where we were born, our early lives, why we entered the service--"

 

"Telepathy's a hell of a thing, Captain. It's like Facebook stalking, only more invasive."

 

"I'll... take your word for that. But none of our mentats have detected even a trace of intrusion since we got stuck... or even before that. And... there's a video attached. From me. A much older me, but... I recognize the voice anywhere. Star Knight, we thank you for your protection, but we ask of you... we can't go backwards. We're low on supplies, and were going to jump to a station for restocking before this happened. We can stay up here and try to puzzle it out, but within a day, we'll be down to rationing. We accept the possibility that this may be a ruse... but if it's not, and what they're saying is true, we could probably use whatever assistance is available before this anomaly snaps shut."

 

Cavalier looked to Javeen. "I don't suppose you happen to have any of my home movies?"

 

"We do, but you were very... vocal on matters of mortality and the course of your life. I'm afraid doing so might be... a deterrent. If you want further proof, I suppose I could get the Great Mother on the line, but she's been off in the seas for years and is currently in the midst of a sacred retreat..."

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Aquaria went dead silent at Javeen's words, placing her tri-fingered hand against one of the Voidrunner's viewscreens for a moment, then she hopped away to reach out and directly touch one of the cockpit's small windows. She croaked softly, a small, surprised sound, and turned to the others. "I can hear her sssong," she hissed, her tone considerably more quiet than it usually was. "There are no other Deep Onesss in the Sssea of Ssstarsss. Nothing could make that sssound but...The One Below. We need to land, Ruby. We mussst land now. I will tell you where." She hopped back up to her position behind the pilot's seats, hoping Jessie was still resting comfortably below. 

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For Ruby there was still not enough evidence to convince her this was not part of some overly convoluted trap. She could already see a dozen different ways a lot of this evidence could be fabricated. But she was running out of options and falling into whatever they have planned was starting to be their sole option. She glanced at Aquaira before sighing and tapped at a few keys on the console. "Well we're stuck in orbit. Can't exactly make a rush down there." She said. The ships sensors were now focused on the planet below. Where are you?

Edited by Darksider42

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