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Thread: [M] Galactic Empires II

  1. #131
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    Good weather today; moderate temperature, recent rainfall but nothing too severe, only a slight breeze…perhaps a little cool, but that wasn’t a concern. Even as sensitive as its wearer had become, the skinsuit was as protective against the elements as it was in combat. Tightly woven like the wet-suits that were so popular on beaches back home, it was set flush against the skin and made to move with its wearer, expanding and contracting as necessary but only enough to allow for the body to “breathe” without actually hampering the wearer or decreasing its protection. It was state-of-the-art and had kept Specialist Tristan Phoenix alive and in relative good health for a very long time.

    Unseen behind the helmet he wore, Tris’ lips shifted into a small smile. He had been following the local herds for some time now, but most of them simply consisted of small families like this one. There seemed to be a kind of tribal mentality to the animals, as though they were more intelligent than the herbivores back home but not quite smart enough to master their surroundings and develop them as mankind often did. After years of scouting hostile locations for various military reasons, it was nice to look upon something that didn’t immediately want him dead - something that honestly didn’t want anyone dead. They were just trying to survive - much like Tris.

    They also had far keener senses than those of the horses, deer, and the like back home. When Ella came over the comm, Tris’ smile had faded before she had even started speaking. He hadn’t been contacted much on this planet when he was in the field unless his expertise was needed, either in linguistics or with his pistols. But it sounded like this was far more pressing a matter.

    +Tris, where the heck are you?+

    Still, he was sad to see the creatures go. He had been as startled as the creature before him, almost losing a tracer but pulling his trigger finger away just in time. The leader of the family before him wasn’t at all pleased by the interruption, and to be honest, neither was Tris. For a second, the male fixed him with its glowing eyes, almost daring him to do anything, before it too and turned and followed its family at a more stately pace. Tris stared right back, his eyes locking onto those of the male, a steadfast and calm gazed matching a fierce and intimidating one. Then Tris quickly drew in a breath and let it out in a soft sigh. He activated the comm only briefly following her next message.

    +Tris, there has been a serious development. Get your ass back to base camp now.+

    +Copy,+ was all he said, his voice just high and soft enough to sound like a girl’s to those who didn’t know him, especially in the loud whisper he was currently using to avoid startling any other nearby wildlife.

    It was a wonder he hadn’t been born a girl, though gender expression had always been a fluid thing for him. Certainly, he had taken the more submissive role in his relationship with Ryan, for that’s what had come naturally; and he enjoyed wearing earrings and the choker that he never took off. But on the other hand, there was something distinctly masculine about firing off a shit-ton of rounds of ammo from the perspective of others. He had felt the power of his pistols many times and even enjoyed it; they were comfortable, they were familiar, and they often became an extension of himself in a fight. But he had never really seriously considered his own gender beyond wondering what the hell he actually was. Ryan had never seemed to care much, either.

    And in the military, it didn’t matter at all. The current situation, for example, was clearly bigger than him. If Ella was calling him back without telling him what was going on, it must have been big. A brief explanation had been completely left out, which meant that this wasn’t something that could be explained quickly over the radio. No, something was definitely going on. He shook his head slightly and sighed again, calling back the drone. He could go over the recording later (what little of it there was).

    The return journey took a while even for Tris, who had grown accustomed to moving quickly across the landscape here. He wasn’t exactly just across the river; he was across a couple of rivers, over several hills, and just on the other side of a small mountain. It was a bit more than a quick jaunt. But when he got back, he shut off the now-nearly-empty O2 #4 canister and disconnected the coil; it was a simple twist-and-pull with a click that was as much felt as it was heard, though Tris’ helmet blocked out most ambient sound unless he wanted to hear it. He popped the latches on his helmet, slipped it off, and ran a hand through his hair.

    The briefing was short, and to the point. Not only had survivors come down from the Elcano but one of the crazy-ass scientists had struck some kind of deal with Chronus, bonding deeply with the aliens tech and being given the tools for a plan to deal with the monster in orbit.

    Tris was floored. The situation in orbit had been one of the worst that he’d ever been in. Those things, the way they moved…it was like being in a massive spiders’ nest, and he hated spiders almost as much as he hated bees and wasps. These things, though, were so much worse. And now they had a way to deal with them…because Chronus had bonded with someone? That meant that the others had awoken…and survived. This was definitely big.

    ”And we're sending you back with the first team. You are our resident expert on this planet, and they'll need your insight back in the milky way. Pack your gear, and get ready for a shuttle ride.”

    He was going back…the dismay probably showed in his baby blues, if not in the down-turning of his lips in a deep frown. But he schooled his features quickly and gave a curt nod. He had to get ready. He had already showered this morning, so there was only a need to change. He did so quickly, slipping into his black outfit. The mottled dark-green and gray was good for the wilderness, but black would help conceal him better in the darkness off-world. They would have to move quickly and quietly, and his pistols would be ready when it came time to not be quiet.

    He gathered his few possessions, checked his gear, and donned his helmet once more. He took several extra canisters of O2 this time, all full, but opened the cycling vents for now to avoid wasting oxygen unnecessarily. He would need all the O2 he could carry when he ascended once more, and despite his load, that was quite a lot; the O2 canisters were compact by design to prevent encumbering their carrier without sacrificing a significant quantity of oxygen. They would last for some time, so as soon as he was ready, he moved out. Time to go meet the survivors.
    “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory...if we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can.”
    J. R. R. Tolkien

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  2. #132
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    The Buzzsaur roared in anger as Iona splashed over its back. Her nanites stripped layers of hardened organicly grown ceramics and got to the tough, leathery skin below. The Buzzsaurs roars turned into howls of pain, and it dropped onto its side, then rolled onto its back, clearly trying to rub the burning crawling liquid off its back.

    "Now! Its underbelly!" Davrry yelled. He fired again, and this time his round punched a bloody tunnel of meat through the underside of the creature. Fire from Winters, and the Dragonoids, drummed into it, and the creatures massive barrel chest collapsed in a spray of blood and acid. For a minute it thrashed piteously, until Davrry put a round into its eye, emptying its armoured braincase across the jungle.

    "Good job Iona." Davrry gestured to the dropship, still untouched nearby under its camo net. "Now lets get on with what we came to do."

    +++++

    As the deadline approached, the camp broke up and moved out, the international crew forming into two ragged columns as it headed into the jungle. Both columns snaked down the mountainside, loaded with equipment.

    "We'll be relocating the remaining team to a new location, in case Zeus decides to drop a megaton present down the gravity well." Ella explained to Sayori. "I've uploaded the coordinates into the stealth shuttles computer, if everything goes to plan it can use its autopilot to come get us if need be."

    Finally, the ragged group, hardened survivors and newly awakened, gathered in the shuttle clearing. Severt gave a brief speech, wishing the boarding team luck and reminding them that the most important thing was getting the warning back to the milky way. There was some stiff saluting, and the marines filed aboard the stealth shuttle.

    As the awakened turned to board, Davrry stood from where he had been leaning against the shuttles ramp.

    "I'm not going back. If these poor bastards get stuck down here, they are going to need a woodsman to keep them safe, and they are sending their best back with you." He jerked his head at Tris as the slight pathfinder strapped himself into a crash couch. "Anyway, I'd almost want us to get stuck down here. This planet is a big game hunters wet dream." He smiled. "Tell Gaea to look after herself, and stay safe up there. You won't have this devil on your shoulder keeping an eye on you. Whatever happens, I'm glad we woke you guys up when we did."

    +++++

    The shuttle ride back to orbit was tense. None of the marines seemed particularly talkative.

    "Its so quiet." Ella muttered at one point, and there was a lot of nodding and muted words of agreement from the other surface survivors.

    As Miranda rolled the stealth ship and lined up for final approach, they all got a good look at Zeus. Its vast spiny bulk seemed to impale the Elcano.

    Sayori had to grip her seat, knuckles turning white, as a surge of hatred boiled up in her brain from the Chronus Instance. At almost the same moment, there were small pinpricks of light from the spines that detached and raced towards the ground.

    "Weapons fire. It must have detected at least part of our approach and worked back to where we lifted off from." Ella switched the view to the ground. A few minutes later, the surface was engulfed in balls of fire, vast thermonuclear explosions that ripped through the jungle and shook the artificial mountains to their cores.
    "They would have got under cover in time." Ella said, as much to herself. She stood in one fluid movement and started to walk up and down the ships cramped gangway.

    "Alright pukes, this is it! Prep for hostiles! If its got more metal than flesh, you cap its fucking ass! Its time for some payback!"

    The roar of the marines was teeth rattling.
    I have seen the future. The future is dead.
    We killed it


    Spoiler: How to get me to commit to your game 

  3. #133
    The Replicant
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    As the awakened turned to board, Davrry stood from where he had been leaning against the shuttle’s ramp.

    “I'm not going back.” he explained.


    Sayori paused, one hand already on the hazard-striped handhold. “You’re not?”

    “If these poor bastards get stuck down here, they are going to need a woodsman to keep them safe, and they are sending their best back with you.” Davrry jerked his head at Tris, as the slight pathfinder strapped himself into a crash couch.

    Sayori searched the hunter’s face. He still had all of a Lyran’s stubborn pride, it seemed. Her new eyes registered everything about him, from the soft infrared glow of his teak skin to the way the ultraviolet sunlight scattered off his tangled dreadlocks. She held onto the image, suddenly struck by the thought that this might be the last time they spoke.

    “We’ll send shuttles back for you all as soon as we can.” she said, in a reassurance that was as much for herself as the hunter. And that’s your stubborn pride, Sayori Warrick.

    Davrry shrugged laconically. “I'd almost want us to get stuck down here. This planet is a big game hunter’s wet dream.”

    Sayori found herself grinning. “Alright, fine.” She shot back. “This time I’ll be the one coming back to save your ungrateful ass.”

    Davrry smiled at the callback. “Tell Gaea to look after herself, and stay safe up there. You won't have this devil on your shoulder keeping an eye on you. Whatever happens, I'm glad we woke you guys up when we did.”

    “Yeah.” Sayori agreed, letting go of the handhold and swinging back down to the ground to offer her hand. “Me too.”

    Davrry took it, and Terran and Lyran clasped hands - in unity, in friendship, and in farewell.

    +++++

    The shuttle ride back to orbit was tense. None of the marines seemed particularly talkative. Even the shuttle itself was silent save for the quiet whisper of electronics and coolant pumps. Their course was a simple, rising arc, barely corrected by soft breaths of air from the maneuvering jets. Any flare of thrusters would have lit them up like a spotlight to the watchful Berserkers.

    “It’s so quiet.” Ella muttered at one point, and there was a lot of nodding and muted words of agreement from the other surface survivors.

    Sayori didn’t concur. She could still hear the cacophonic orchestra of the planet, fading with distance until it was just a murmur, and then a soft hiss at the edge of her augmented hearing. But as they climbed higher and higher, a new sound replaced it. A low, steady pulse, like a drumbeat; the fusion heart of a machine far bigger and far more vindictive than the Elcano. It was pervasive and inescapable, shuddering through her until it felt like her own heart was beating in time to it.

    And over it, growing steadily louder, a chorus of chittering screeches.

    It was like the song of the planet and yet unlike it, a static cackle of AIs who were working and repurposing, searching and marking, hunting and feeding, but all bound to a single implacable will. The heartbeat thrummed out, and the Berserkers called back - hissing; snarling; hungering.

    As Miranda rolled the stealth ship and lined up for final approach, they all got a good look at Zeus. Its vast spiny bulk seemed to impale the Elcano. One spar was broken clean off, wrenched apart when Davrry’s hull breach rolled the vessel. The end was still embedded in the Elcano’s flank, like a black metal dagger.

    The Berserker ship thrummed.

    Sayori had to grip her seat, knuckles turning white, as a surge of hatred boiled up in her brain from the Chronus Instance. At almost the same moment, there were small pinpricks of light from Zeus’ spines, that detached and raced towards the ground.

    “Weapons fire. It must have detected at least part of our approach and worked back to where we lifted off from.” Ella switched the view to the ground. A few minutes later, the surface was engulfed in balls of fire, vast thermonuclear explosions that ripped through the jungle and shook the artificial mountains to their cores.


    Sayori’s lips formed a curse that she didn’t have the breath to voice. Davrry...Severt…Chronus.

    “They would have got under cover in time.” Ella said, half to herself, though almost as if she had read Sayori’s thoughts.

    Sayori clenched her jaw. The survivors might have gotten clear - but Chronus was still staked to the ground at the bottom of the alien hive. Could the blast from the missiles penetrate that deep? The instance in her head was silent, but Sayori couldn’t help wondering if she was now carrying around the last remnant of that vast alien AI.

    Maybe not the only last remnants. She thumbed the data chip in her exo-suit pocket.

    Ella stood in one fluid movement and started to walk up and down the ships cramped gangway.

    “Alright pukes, this is it! Prep for hostiles! If its got more metal than flesh, you cap its fucking ass! It’s time for some payback!”

    The roar of the marines was teeth rattling.
    The ultrasonic hissing of the Berserkers within the Elcano’s hull was louder. Sayori could not stop grinning, nervous muscles pulling her cheeks back into a fearful rictus.

    “And if you cap a Collector,” she added (why did her voice sound so calm?). “Bring me the computer stack in its neck. There’s something in there that’s gonna help us blow that Berserker overmind straight to hell.”
    Spoiler: My RP links 

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  4. #134
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    Iona had shed all the Buzzsaur matter, but the memory of its taste lingered. What would the organics say? Disgusting.

    It was only now on their return trip that she could see the source of their torment that had killed so much of the crew, including the Sentinax among them. Like her plan for the Buzzsaur, this enemy had penetrated the hull, impaling the ship.

    An Alpha, feeding like a crude Epsilon Seeker. Like a rebellious child.

    Like a Seeker....
    Mining Evaluation-----------------------------------------------
    1024 Seekers required with 128 Beta Factory modules
    128 Seekers with 32 Beta Factory modules, 1 Alpha Factory
    Estimated processing time - 207.36 megaseconds

    Too big for one scout to eat by itself.
    Last edited by Enigma; 09-13-2019 at 11:52 PM.
    Spoiler: ¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤ √Ăłł Єѵïł ¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤¤ 

  5. #135
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    Setting out, Tris had gone directly to the shuttle clearing. Unfortunately, not everyone was ready. They were apparently stripping the shuttle to lighten the load. They wouldn't be ready for another couple of minutes, so Tris went back to the cantina. It was usually a good place to think. He could sit in his usual corner, check his equipment, and mentally prepare himself for the horror that was about to unfold.

    Despite the need to reduce weight on the shuttle, the analytics in his helmet detected no plausible reduction of equipment with the exception of his jewelry box; that was not something he was willing to drop. He sat quietly and watched the clock, but he realized he was slightly more nervous than he probably should have been. He had been through this before. He knew what to expect.

    Didn't mean he had to like it. Things here were...peaceful. Despite the uncomfortable connection he had developed with the planet, he had a better post here than he'd ever had. His task here was disconnected from politics, disconnected from war, and disconnected from the sort of extreme survival he had been extensively trained for. Here, survival was simply a matter of studying one's environment and that which dwelt within it, and integrating appropriately. He supposed, then, that the nanobots were little different from him - pathfinders seeking to survive and thrive.

    He disconnected his helmet and took it off after looking at the clock for the thousandth time, revealing his short hair and extremely fair features. He decided to do another check of his equipment. Perhaps with his own eyes, he could figure out something the tech in his helmet could not. But after a quick check, he determined that his gear was as perfect as it was going to get. He let out a long sigh and realized exactly how much he did not want to go back.

    But he had orders.

    In his head, Tris was going over everything he knew about the creatures. It wasn't much. Here, he had much more time to study horrible things - like the squish-bugs; some called them balloon bugs or pus-bugs. Whatever they were actually called, they were...odd and disgusting. Eyelash-thin tendrils snaking out from what looked like a large black balloon filled with a caustic liquid that burned skin and eyes on contact, they moved at a glacial pace most of the time - but it was a steady pace, and they were completely silent. They were mostly harmless, unless they found an open wound or orifice; then they would shove their "balloon" inside until it popped. It was disgusting and painful and caused radical changes to the body's inner workings, altering things like blood pressure and body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate...all for the purpose of killing the host so as to prepare the perfect environment in which to breed.

    Tris, thankfully, almost always wore his skinsuit and helmet on this planet. On the one hand, he didn't want to know anything more about the creatures that had slain so many of them; he knew more than he wanted about the damned things as it was. On the other hand, he wished he knew more for the purposes of survival and extermination. And Tris wasn't the type to want to exterminate anything. It was a mark of how much the military - and the situation - had changed him.

    Standing up Miranda walked across the room and sat down next to him, wrapping her arm around his shoulder and pressing a light kiss to his cheek. "Morning beautiful." She said, despite the fact that it wasn't actually morning. Neither the kiss or the comment were sexual in nature it was just how Miranda had always acted around the young pathfinder.

    At first, Tris didn't notice the arm. But then the light brushing of soft lips pressing against his cheek broke him out of his reverie. He started and looked to the side, eyes wide and blinking, before settling into a more neutral expression as he tried to place the strangely familiar woman.

    "Officer Clarke," he replied after a moment, recalling. She was a pilot.

    Miranda Clarke, if he recalled correctly. Back when he'd first completed his training, he was assigned as a translator for a bunch of high-collar stuffed-shirt types. He honestly couldn't care less about politics, but a job was a job and orders were orders. It had been a long time since he had seen her. He remembered her as being overly friendly and a little sarcastic, but not in a mean way. Or perhaps he was misremembering her - it was a long time ago - though, considering her greeting...

    She settled down on the bench next to him. ”Miranda.”

    So he was correct. Miranda Clarke. The escortees had called her…Sinclair. He knew he should know the significance, but his aversion to the eternal game of three-dimensional chess that people like that constantly played often led to him knowing less about - well, anything - than everyone else did. There had been bombings around that time; he recalled that much. But beyond associating it with the Lyre First and a shift to a more open connection with the aliens, he probably knew about as much as any civvie did.

    "I didn't know you had been selected for this mission." Miranda said, reaching up and pushing her bangs out of her eyes unintentionally giving Tris a good look at the bruise forming around her eye and a cut on her forehead both from the beating she had taken from the grieving Kel'cyre.

    Tris’ eyes briefly darted to the head wound, but she seemed fine. It had probably been received during ingress. They lowered to her own eyes, and then shifted toward his helmet as he somewhat awkwardly shrugged. He was about as much of a social butterfly as a politician was honest. He glanced at the clock again. Three minutes until he was due back in the shuttle bay. He had everything he needed. It was the waiting that was bothering him at the moment, sort of like when someone was forced to sit in a room until a doctor could examine them. It was a different sort of waiting than patiently and quietly hunkering down to observe the wildlife on a strange planet. That was…not soothing or peaceful, necessarily. But…

    Comfortable. Yeah, that was the word.

    "Uh yeah, it's fine I just got into a tuff with a faerie." Miranda said, getting a dirty look from a couple Kel'cyre sitting behind them but she didn't pay attention. Most Kel'cyre didn't like being compared to characters from human children stories. Though as far as slurs went it was a mild one. "Normally I would say you should see the other guy but I took the brunt of this one."

    Tris glanced over at a couple of Kel’cyre nearby. The looks they were shooting Miranda were…not nice. Then again, neither was calling them faeries - though, to be fair, Tris had probably said a few things about aliens himself (or at least thought them) over the years. Actually, he mostly talked to himself, but he didn’t like being surrounded by all these weird, non-human…beings…either. While not as aggressive as the Lyrans First, he certainly didn’t like working with them. At least human subcultures he could understand. Still, studying them had helped him piss off as few of them as possible, thereby preventing him from being stationed on, say…Neptune.

    His eyes darted back to Miranda’s briefly as he nodded. She seemed the type to start a fight with a faerie - or to finish one, at least. Lyrans in general weren’t exactly known for their congeniality toward non-humans, or even non-Lyrans.

    There was a silence between that seemed to drag on. Miranda waited for him to say anything but it never came. After what felt like forever there was a crackle of a speaker and an artificial voice called for the away team to gather. Miranda looked over to Tris and then stood up, "Sorry I have to get going. It was good seeing you again." Miranda said.

    Tris nodded as he reached for his helmet.

    Finally.

    It wasn’t that he disliked Miranda, necessarily. Hell, they seemed to compliment one another; he was the quiet, reserved one who could do his job and just generally be ignored when he wasn’t, and she was the more outgoing type who could probably handle just about anything he couldn’t. He sealed and hooked up his helmet, checking the vents and the O2. He’d close the vents and open the valve once they were ready to take off. Standing, he checked his gear one last time. He thought about ditching his books, but they weren’t significant enough in number or weight for him to bother. He donned his pack and headed for the shuttle again.

    “Huh.”

    He was almost out of the cantina when he was stopped by someone else. He hoped this wasn’t going to be a routine. He had to get to the shuttle before it departed.

    The surprised grunt came from a slender woman who had walked into the canteen space just in time to hear Miranda’s parting words. She wore a faded First Words jumpsuit and had the glassy red eyes of nano-integration, but Tris didn’t know her face. It left him to conclude that this had to be the Crazy Ass Scientist that Ella had mentioned; the one who had brokered a deal with the alien AI and then let it chew her up and spit her out in an entirely literal sense. She had thin lips and a broad, button nose, and her peachy skin looked pink, as if freshly scrubbed.

    He had mixed feelings about that. Some of the others had wanted to destroy the monstrosity upon first seeing it - a natural reaction to the unfamiliar and unsettling, he supposed. Tris didn’t like going anywhere near the thing, though he’d had to more than once, being a linguistics expert. He wished it hadn’t integrated itself into the party that had been forced onto the planet’s surface, either, but there was a lot that he couldn’t do anything about. This, though…if she really did know a way to eliminate the berserkers - to end them by eliminating Zeus - then she was a necessary evil.

    And yet, in a way, he felt pity for her. She had been thrust into a situation no one should have been in or would have wanted to be in; she had subsequently done the only thing she could probably think of at the time: allow integration as a means by which to go home. But if they made it back, what would happen to her? Most likely, the military would lock her up. She’d be a lab rat, subjected to their experiments until they were satisfied or she was dead. Whatever she was experiencing now had to be ten times worse than what most of the current inhabitants of the planet were experiencing, though, so perhaps that was a small mercy.

    “I guess she doesn’t hate everyone after all.” the scientist’s eyes followed Miranda out towards the shuttle clearing, but she merely shrugged as the pilot disappeared. “You’re Phoenix, right?” she added, brushing her wispy black hair back behind her ear and returning her attention to Tris. “The pathfinder?”

    His features now hidden by his helmet, he nodded respectfully at the new-comer.

    “Captain Severt said you know the planet better than anyone else.” she went on. She was smiling, but the slight crinkle of her eyes told him that she was trying to categorise him at the same time - perhaps trying to work out the kind of person that Miranda Sinclair-Clarke would actually be civil to.

    “I’m Sayori.” she said, passing the ugly kitbash of a gizmo she was holding over to her left hand so that she could hold out her right towards Tris. “I’m the, uh…” A self-deprecating giggle. “I’m the one who let Cronus eat me.”

    There was a long moment of hesitation before he awkwardly took her hand in his glove. It should have been an easy thing - just shake the hand and be done with it - but nothing was ever that easy for Tris. What if he shook it wrong? Was his handshake too weak? If he put effort into it, would it be too strong? What was she thinking about him right now? She was obviously judging him - first impression. That was normal, right?

    These and a thousand other questions had become almost a background hum in his mind after years of trying and failing miserably to socialize. His hand dropped quickly after the brief contact. She probably thought he was being rude, not saying anything and giving a half-assed handshake. He hated dealing with people. Why did he ever think it was a good idea to try to be more friendly with them? He sighed mentally. It was time to report for duty, anyway.

    “I…have to go,” he said quietly, though the exterior mic made his voice sound like he was talking on a radio at a more normal volume.

    Sayori gave him the expected look of puzzlement. “Um...right. Okay.”

    She gave him back his hand and withdrew a step.

    “I’ll see you on the shuttle then.” she finished, slightly stiffly.


    He left promptly after that. Following his awkward reunion with officer Clarke - with Miranda - Tris was glad for the silence that led up to him reaching the shuttle site. He came in just in time to apparently miss some important pre-board speech; the others were probably just being told to keep their arms and legs in the shuttle at all times, wear their seat belts, no smoking, and don’t piss off the pilot. He wondered briefly whether Miranda would be flying the shuttle. They had both risen to depart when the announcement came over the intercom, so it was at least slightly plausible.

    Tris reported for duty immediately, stowed his gear in the seat-rear compartment, and strapped himself in. The shuttle ride back to orbit was tense. None of the marines seemed particularly talkative.

    "Its so quiet." Ella muttered at one point, and there was a lot of nodding and muted words of agreement from the other surface survivors.


    Tris, however, was glad for the silence. It meant there was no awkward discussion of what was potentially about to happen, no even-more-awkward introductions - none of the usual chatter that seemed to be prevalent during pre-mission flights. It wasn’t long before they were approaching their destination. As Miranda rolled the stealth ship and lined up for final approach, they all got a good look at Zeus. Gargantuan didn’t even begin to describe the hideous, god-like vessel; Tris couldn’t help but think that it resembled a fat, disgusting ruler whose throne was a ship Tris wasn’t entirely certain he was glad to see intact. Its vast spiny bulk seemed to impale the Elcano, a vicious insect queen waiting for the perfect moment to devour its helpless prey.

    Morbid thought, perhaps, but it seemed to fit the situation rather aptly.

    When tiny flashes of light started hurling themselves toward the planet, only to result in massive explosions on the surface, Tris couldn’t help but stiffen suddenly. Unseen through his helmet, his eyes darted to the planet and instinctively scanned the wreckage he knew logically that he could not see from here. He might not like interacting with people much, but that didn’t mean he wanted them all annihilated in a nuclear apocalypse on a planet that wasn’t even their own.

    "Weapons fire. It must have detected at least part of our approach and worked back to where we lifted off from. They would have got under cover in time."

    Ella, bless her, was almost certainly correct. The ground forces would certainly have anticipated what was about to happen the moment they left the planet. Still, it was a moment that seemed longer than it probably was before Tris relaxed.

    Slightly.

    Ella stood in one fluid movement and started to walk up and down the ships cramped gangway.

    "Alright pukes, this is it! Prep for hostiles! If its got more metal than flesh, you cap its fucking ass! Its time for some payback!"

    The roar of the marines was teeth rattling.


    Tris set himself, shutting everything else out. He unhooked his straps, hefted and secured his pack, and checked his pistols and equipment. Everything was golden. He was good to go. He was ready.

    He had to be.
    Last edited by Sylent; 09-13-2019 at 10:56 PM.
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  6. #136
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    Sitting in the cantina, Miranda watched the people around her knowing that most of the would be staying on this rock. The likelihood of being able to come back for them was very low. She didn't know many of them and most she had just met. She felt bad about them staying but really didn't care. Her skills as a pilot meant she had a ticket back to the cursed ship. It was a snowball's chance in hell of getting home but least it was a chance. As she watched the taste of the protein paste lingered in her mouth. She took a canteen from her belt and swished the liquid around in her mouth trying to get rid of the taste.

    Setting out, Tris had gone directly to the shuttle bay. Unfortunately, not everyone was ready. They were apparently stripping the shuttle to lighten the load. They wouldn't be ready for another couple of minutes, so Tris went to the cantina. It was usually a good place to think. He could sit in his usual corner, check his equipment, and mentally prepare himself for the horror that was about to unfold.

    Despite the need to reduce weight on the shuttle, the analytics in his helmet detected no plausible reduction of equipment with the exception his his jewelry box; that was not something he was willing to drop. He sat quietly and watched the clock, but he realized he was slightly more nervous than he probably should have been. He had been through this before. He knew what to expect.

    Didn't mean he had to like it. Things here were...peaceful. Despite the uncomfortable connection he had developed with the planet, he had a better post here than he'd ever had. His task here was disconnected from politics, disconnected from war, and disconnected from the sort of extreme survival he had been extensively trained for. Here, survival was simply a matter of studying one's environment and that which dwelt within it, and integrating appropriately. He supposed, then, that the nanobots were little different from him - pathfinders seeking to survive and thrive.

    He disconnected his helmet and took it off after looking at the clock for the thousandth time, revealing his short hair and extremely fair features. He decided to do another check of his equipment. Perhaps with his own eyes, he could figure out something the tech in his helmet could not. But after a quick check, he determined that his gear was as perfect as it was going to get. He let out a long sigh and realized exactly how much he did not want to go back.

    But he had orders.

    The people seemed to come and go while she was sitting there most paying her no attention aside from a few people giving her dirty looks. Not that she was expecting anyone to care about her but she half expected someone to come at her like the Kel'Cyre had. She longed for the days before the bombing where most people didn't have a clue who she was. When the only time people recognized her was as the president's sister. She missed the times when it was just her and her ship. That was when she felt most at home even when she was just busing people back and forth. Out there in space she could tune everything else out and it was just her and the stars. Some pilots hated the long hauls but not Miranda she loved them. Never falling into the boredom that so many did.

    She looked over to the entrance watching someone walk into the cantina in skin suit and helmet. At first she didn't think anything of them as they sat down in the corner opposite of her seeming to prefer to be alone and not grabbing any food. Miranda didn't know why she was watching the figure so intently. When the helmet came off she let out a chuckle at the feminine man. Not that she had socialized with the crew much before leading up to the launch but she hadn't know Tris had been assigned to the Elcano.


    In his head, Tris was going over everything he knew about the creatures. It wasn't much. Here, he had much more time to study horrible things - like the squish-bugs; some called them balloon bugs or pus-bugs. Whatever they were actually called, they were...odd and disgusting. Eyelash-thin tendrils snaking out from what looked like a large black balloon filled with a caustic liquid that burned skin and eyes on contact, they moved at a glacial pace most of the time - but it was a steady pace, and they were completely silent. They were mostly harmless, unless they found an open wound or orifice; then they would shove their "balloon" inside until it popped. It was disgusting and painful and caused radical changes to the body's inner workings, altering things like blood pressure and body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate...all for the purpose of killing the host so as to prepare the perfect environment in which to breed.

    Tris, thankfully, almost always wore his skinsuit and helmet on this planet. On the one hand, he didn't want to know anything more about the creatures that had slain so many of them; he knew more than he wanted about the damned things as it was. On the other hand, he wished he knew more for the purposes of survival and extermination. And Tris wasn't the type to want to exterminate anything. It was a mark of how much the military - and the situation - had changed him.

    Standing up she walked across the room and sat down next to him wrapping her arm around his shoulder and pressing a light kiss to his cheek. "Morning beautiful." She said, despite it wasn't actually morning. Neither the kiss or the comment were sexual in nature it was just how Miranda had always acted around the young pathfinder.

    At first, Tris didn't notice the arm. But then the light brushing of soft lips pressing against his cheek broke him out of his reverie. He started and looked to the side, eyes wide and blinking, before settling into a more neutral expression as he tried to place the strangely familiar woman.

    "Officer Clarke," he replied after a moment, recalling. She was a pilot.

    Miranda Clarke, if he recalled correctly. Back when he'd first completed his training, he was assigned as a translator for a bunch of high-collar stuffed-shirt types. He honestly couldn't care less about politics, but a job was a job and orders were orders. It had been a long time since he had seen her. He remembered her as being overly friendly and a little sarcastic, but not in a mean way. Or perhaps he was misremembering her - it was a long time ago - though, considering her greeting...

    She settled down on the bench next to him thinking it was good to see a friendly face or rather just one that didn't hate her. She didn't know if Tris had heard about the bombings and her implication in them. If he had she didn't know how he would feel about her now. Their time together with the diplomats had been dull and boring not quite what either of them had signed up for. Tris was a pathfinder wanting to be out there exploring new worlds while Miranda would have been much happier flying him there or even enrolling in fighter pilot school. She had eventually made it to fighter pilot school and had loved every moment of being in the fighter crafts but hadn't spent much time assigned to a fighter squadron, with peace in the Lyran Alliance they didn't see much action and spent most of the time in deep space on standby waiting for one of the rare moments they squared up against pirates. It had been too boring for Miranda and she had transferred back to a helmsman position. While assigned to the diplomats she had been a glorified taxi driver to a bunch of pompous blowhards. She hadn't liked socializing with the diplomats or their entourage so she had spent most of the downtime between locations hanging out with Tris enjoying his company though she wasn't all that sure if he enjoyed hers.

    "Miranda." She said, thinking there was no need to be so formal despite her outranking him both militarily and socially. Being stuck on that little transport ship with him and the diplomats it just didn't seem to matter to her. The diplomas couldn't read rank and often called them by the wrong rank. They never seemed to get Tris' name right either not bothering to learn it. The diplomats always got her name correct however they called her Sinclair rather than Clarke she mostly figured they were thinking of winning favor by impressing the Secretary General's little sister. Boy had they been wrong on that front. Quentin didn't care about what Miranda thought of people and they certainly didn't talk enough for Miranda to even share her opinion.

    She supposed being marooned in this gods awful galaxy it didn't matter either. She was still of the belief that they were most likely going to die here. "I didn't know you had been selected for this mission." Miranda said, reaching up and pushing her bangs out of her eyes unintentionally giving Tris a good look at the bruise forming around her eye and a cut on her forehead both from the beating she had taken from the grieving Kel'cyre. Coming here hadn't been her choice and she had been quite upset about it so hadn't really made friends. Not that many people were interested in getting to know a criminal that most believed should be in jail or executed. Yes she had Quentin to thank for still being alive and not behind bars but was this really all that better?


    So he was correct. Miranda Clarke. The escortees had called her…Sinclair. He knew he should know the significance, but his aversion to the eternal game of three-dimensional chess that people like that constantly played often led to him knowing less about - well, anything - than everyone else did. There had been bombings around that time; he recalled that much. But beyond associating it with the Lyrans First and shift to a more open connection with the aliens, he probably knew about as much as any civvie did.

    "I didn't know you had been selected for this mission." Miranda said, reaching up and pushing her bangs out of her eyes unintentionally giving Tris a good look at the bruise forming around her eye and a cut on her forehead both from the beating she had taken from the grieving Kel'cyre.

    Tris’ eyes briefly darted to the head wound, but she seemed fine. It had probably been received during ingress. They lowered to her own eyes, and then shifted toward his helmet as he somewhat awkwardly shrugged. He was about as much of a social butterfly as a politician was honest. He glanced at the clock again. Three minutes until he was due back in the shuttle bay. He had everything he needed. It was the waiting that was bothering him at the moment, sort of like when someone was forced to sit in a room until a doctor could examine them. It was a different sort of waiting than patiently and quietly hunkering down to observe the wildlife on a strange planet. That was…not soothing or peaceful, necessarily. But…

    Comfortable. Yeah, that was the word.

    Miranda noticed him staring at her cut and for a moment had forgotten about it. "Uh yeah, it's fine I just got into a tuff with a faerie." Miranda said, getting a dirty look from a couple Kel'cyre sitting behind them but she didn't pay attention. Most Kel'cyre didn't like being compared to characters from human children stories. Though as far as slurs went it was a mild one. "Normally I would say you should see the other guy but I took the brunt of this one."

    He didn't say anything seeming to be focusing back and forth between the clock and his helmet. Miranda watched him for a little while wondering of maybe he had heard about the bombings and wanted nothing to do with her. She didn't know why she thought this would be any different. There was a silence between that seemed to drag on. Miranda waited for him to say anything but it never came. That shouldn't have surprised her, he never was a man of many word. After what felt like forever there was a crackle of a speaker and a artificial voice called for the away team to gather. It was hard to tell if the voice sounded off because of the speaker or if the owner had been changed by the planet. Miranda looked over to Tris and then stood up, "Sorry I have to get going. It was good seeing you again." Miranda said, getting up and walking to the corridor..


    Tris glanced over at a couple of Kel’cyre nearby. The looks they were shooting Miranda were…not nice. Then again, neither was calling them faeries - though, to be fair, Tris had probably said a few things about aliens himself (or at least thought them) over the years. Actually, he mostly talked to himself, but he didn’t like being surrounded by all these weird, non-human…beings…either. While not as aggressive as the Lyrans First, he certainly didn’t like working with them. At least human subcultures he could understand. Still, studying them had helped him piss off as few of them as possible, thereby preventing him from being stationed on, say…Neptune.

    His eyes darted back to Miranda’s briefly as he nodded. She seemed the type to start a fight with a faerie - or to finish one, at least. Lyrans in general weren’t exactly known for their congeniality toward non-humans, or even non-Lyrans.

    There was a silence between that seemed to drag on. Miranda waited for him to say anything but it never came. After what felt like forever there was a crackle of a speaker and a artificial voice called for the away team to gather. Miranda looked over to Tris and then stood up, "Sorry I have to get going. It was good seeing you again." Miranda said, getting up and walking to the corridor.

    Tris nodded as he reached for his helmet.

    Finally.

    It wasn’t that he disliked Miranda, necessarily. Hell, they seemed to compliment one another; he was the quiet, reserved one who could do his job and just generally be ignored when he wasn’t, and she was the more outgoing type who could probably handle just about anything he couldn’t. He sealed and hooked up his helmet, checking the vents and the O2. He’d close the vents and open the valve once they were ready to take off. Standing, he checked his gear one last time. He thought about ditching his books, but they weren’t significant enough in number or weight for him to bother. He donned his pack and headed for the shuttle again.


    Another round of bullets hits my skin. Well, fire away
    Cause today, I won't let the shame sink in. We are bursting through
    the barricades and reaching for the sun.

    We Are Warriors


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