7 Landing, 6106 RTR (Apr 09, 2010) Tasha and Blammo face off against the crystalline aliens, only to be intercepted by something even more daunting: her angry friends.
(Legacy of the Fenris) (Layth) (Space) (Tasha)
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Titanians aren't all about hammers – there's also duct tape. And Blammo carries a good supply of it, which results in Tasha's 'pretty' Gauss rifle being wrapped in silvery-gray bands as extra equipment is attached. The flame thrower's the main addition, but there are others; gizmos meant to be worn on the high-tech underwear, but which are now carried separate since Tasha needed to be smooth to fit into the Vartan space armor. The environmental and motion sensors (along with a battery for them) are also taped onto the rifle, angled so Tasha can easily see their displays. The data pad with the map was also going to be attached, but the map didn't work outside of the Khattan zone, and so far they haven't come across a convenient Imperial one.

The initial foray into the Imperial corridors gives the impression that the snakes preferred corridors that curved around with only the wider avenues being straight. The twisty route Tasha and Blammo have taken eventually ends in a huge chamber though. The floor is damp and soft, and strange shapes and machines fill the area. There's mist, which scatters the light from their lamps too much to see very far, but the air circulators still cause breezes and eddies that give false impressions of movement. There is also a clinking sound, as many huge metal chains sway in the breeze, hanging down from the unseen ceiling and only loosely attached to rings in the floor.

"You think they're 'ere, Blammo? I can't feel it, bu' I know fog and mist when I see it," Tasha inquires, expressionless helmet turning as she scans the room. The barrel of her 'new and improved' Gauss rifle-flamethrower-sensor-array follows along, a red spot sliding across the darkness like the baleful eye of some angry monster.

The aiming laser helps, since it pierces deeper and one can see the line interrupted by objects. Blammo says, "Squishy floor," and then squeezes his toes to make a squishy sound in illustration. "What room for?" he wonders.

"Don' ask me – if it doesn' 'ave a manual I don' know wha' it's for an' I'll pro'ly get yelled at for breakin' it," says the red, yet now armored in black and gold, woman. Reaching over, she spreads the Gauss rifle's scatter so that a larger spread of red dots cover the area, then she sweeps them floor to ceiling, left to right, as she walks with Blammo. "Wha's a flamethrower do, anyway? Throw flame?"

"Yah! Sticky flame," the big wolf explains. "Like glue! But on fire!"

The beams don't penetrate far enough to make out, say, the far wall. There is the forest of hanging chains, though, which should be in the center of the room if it follows any sort of logical symmetry.

Tasha laughs at that, the sound hollow and a bit mechanical as it comes from her helmet. Being beakless, the interior of Tasha's helmet is especially roomy around her muzzle, making her voice sound strange. "Sticky flame! Well, better not get that on us – no bath 'ere," she says, grinning privately. Turning, she advances on the chains, but avoids making any sort of contact. "Wha' are these, metal ropes? I think they called 'chains,' why would these be 'ere?" Curious, Tasha swings her laser straight up. "Did the manual say anythin' abou' 'aving a light on this armor?"

"Dunno, don' unnerstand Vartan," Blammo notes. The lasers show some sort of irregular shapes up at the top of the chains.

"If only we 'ad more time." The flashlights taped to her weapon are systematically turned on, but it does little good – the light simply won't penetrate very far in all the fog. A bit of swinging the light back and forth laser, Tasha shakes her head. "If only I … Oi, wait!" The weapon is shouldered so the woman can tap at her left-arm control pad, opening the menu again. "I saw somethin' abou' a word Nora knew … "

The suit controls are soon displayed, including options for lighting – including head-lamps and something called 'suit visibility' and 'emergency beacon'.

"Let's see 'ere … 'Head-lamp,' 'Suit Visibility,' an' … 'Emergency Beacon.' Well, it's no' an emergency yet, so lets try … 'Head-Lamp,'" murmurs the armored Vartan. She touches the selection, then looks up for whatever effect may show itself.

The only effect is that another set of options appears. Under 'Spectrum' are various mysterious terms, like 'ultraviolet', 'infrared' and 'full'. A second column is labeled 'Filter' and includes options for 'active', 'passive' and 'heads up'.

Tasha's brow furrows. Another benefit of the suit's concealment is that no one can see her look perplexed, either. "Errrrm." They can certainly hear her sound perplexed, though. "I think these are colors? 'Ultraviolet,' tha's mus' be … Really violet." Shrugging, Tasha pokes 'full' and then 'active,' figuring she'll get the whole experience and that it'll be 'on.' Her head, she decides, is already up.

There's a click as something pops up on top of Tasha's helmet, and a bright beam of white light shines out to make the fog glow. The glare is brief, though, as the visor changes somehow to cut out the glare and shine.

"Bright!" Blammo barks, and looks away, up towards the top of the chains. "Smells funny. Dead smell."

"Too bright? There's other options 'ere," inquires the Vartan, who's now looking up and around. Deciding it probably is too bright, suspecting her helmet is helping her and Blammo is distinctly helmetless, Tasha tries other selections. 'Passive' gets pressed, then 'Infrared.' "Does it? I can' smell anythin' in 'ere. Is this a grave? Maybe we should get out of 'ere?"

The view changes, as suddenly everything seen through Tasha's visor is in shades of gray. Objects close up look brighter and clearer, and the fog is pushed back a bit, but is still there.

"Dunno, up top," Blammo notes, pointing towards the top of the chains.

"Now everythin' is gray," Tasha says with an air of surprise, her head slowly lifting to peer upwards, "Why would my ancestors wan' gray? Bu' I can see better … " She cocks her head to the side, trying to make out what's above, "Why don' you tug this chain a bit?"

The ceiling is too far above to be seen as more than a jumble of shapes, but there's also a little movement, as if the artificial breezes were stirring something. Blammo takes Tasha's advice, and shakes one of the chains. Something dislodges and falls right onto Tasha's upturned helmet. For a moment, it's like she's caught in a net!

"AHHHH!"

Tasha's scream echoes through the chamber, made all the more hollow sounding from her helmet's distortion. She grabs at her head with her free left hand, her weapon arm useless while it carries the heavy cannon. "Blammo!"

The big wolf helps pull the stuff off, and before it's entirely shredded Tasha makes out the telltale shape of a scale. It's a shed Naga skin, now turning to slime in the moisture.

Tasha holds out the skin and grimaces. "It's a Naga skin, I've seen these," she explains, shaking her hand until the last remnants pull fly off. "This is some kind 'o shedding chamber, the 'crabs' probably aren't 'ere anyway, bu' it'll be good to remember with all this water. Think we should move on? Or still wan' to see what's up there?" The woman points at the gloom-enshrouded ceiling.

"Eh, go," Blammo says, covering his nose. Some of the odd machines in here take on a new light, as well; exercise equipment, once you take into account the need to work serpentine muscles instead of legs.

"It's wha' Nora would call 'culture,'" Tasha tells the Titanian in a knowing voice. Heading out, she begins tapping all the various helmet combinations, trying to figure them out and find something usable. "C'mon then, my sister would jus' say we looked a' this room wrong anyway." There's a hint of a growl there; Tasha's not about to get over her fight with her sister quickly.

There's another doorway leading deeper into the Imperial zone – which must be huge, given that it seems to be nothing but a warren of rooms and tunnels without the large open spaces of the Terran and Silent-Ones areas. Tasha learns that the 'active' filter along with 'infrared' turns everything from gray to brightly colored, with each color showing how hot something is. This lets her spot the air vents where the cool mist is billowing out from. Using 'ultraviolet' with 'active' makes the mist all but vanish, and lets her see a long way in the dark at the cost of everything being grayscale again. The 'heads up' just shows things like battery and oxygen levels with readouts that hover like ghosts at the top of the visor.

For now, Tasha leaves 'ultraviolet' and 'active' on, needing to see, and 'heads-up' on, wanting to be informed of such important things such as running out of oxygen. To better help her search, she informs Blammo about her vision status, telling him he'll need to report colors and smells, while she'll report sights and heat signatures, although not both at once.

"Are you sure we're goin' the righ' way, Blammo? I'm gettin' worried, they might 'ave reached the other section by now," the Vartan asks, nervously.

"Curvy, but… yah, going right way," the Titanian claims, just as they reach a main corridor. To the right, it only goes about a hundred feet before ending in a bulkhead, but to the left there is a lit chamber not far down that interrupts the tunnel.

"I 'ope you're righ'." Turning, Tasha advances on the lit chamber and flicks her vision to infrared. The room looks over-bright under amplification, necessitating something more useful. With nothing to do but walk and look around, the woman touches her arm control again, flipping to channels, and selecting 'Chann 0.' "Mariel?"

"Oh, hi Tasha! Do you have anything to report yet?" the too-chipper young voice asks.

Tasha considers sighing, but doesn't – Mariel doesn't deserve it and she's a little too tired to sound exasperated. "The Imperial exercise area isn't worth visiting, an' Fred is righ' abou' manuals," is the armored Vartan's reply. Tilting her head to try and get a look in the approaching room, the woman goes on to ask, "So there was … yelling?"

The room is… well, bright, in infrared, which means it's warm. The corridor is distinctly lacking in cool fog as well. Blammo, with his unfiltered vision, reports, "Shiny stuff. Gods."

"Well… uh, do you really want to talk about that now?" Mariel asks, a bit uncertainly. "It's not really my place to gossip."

"Shiny stuff?" In afterthought, the woman also asks, "Gods?" It takes some flipping of controls for Tasha to turn her vision off and not lose Mariel, but she's getting better at menu navigation, at least. "Would it 'elp if I growled at you? An' I'm in a room with shinies an', accordin' to Blammo, 'Gods.'"

A few more steps brings them inside the chamber itself…

Celestial Shrine
Like a small cathedral, this chamber has vaulted ceilings – although the vaults themselves curve so that it seems the room is modeled after the inside of a giant spiral seashell. The chamber is trisected into three wedges, separated by narrow rivers and joined by arched bridges, and other structures and stone paths suggest the floor was once a vast, cultivated garden. At the center of each wedge, a giant metal statue looms, each slightly different from the other in materials – one silver, holding a silver orb, one gold with a golden orb, and one bronze holding a similar bowl. They have Naga-like bodies, but the limbs and heads are not like any living Naga, having a more draconian than serpentine aspect.

There is no mist in here… nor water in the rivers or central 'spring' where they join together. The garden planters are full of dry, dead soil as well. The light comes from lamps embedded in the spiraling arches of the vaulted ceiling.

"I… I don't see how that would help," Mariel all but whines. "If you're seeing gods, you may have found one of the snakes' chapels."

As the Vartan enters, she slowly turns around as she walks, eyeing the shiny statues each in turn. "Oi, you're righ' – they're some kind o' god statues, li' dragon. Space dragons." Tasha has seen dragons before, or at least seen renditions of them. The earliest dragons she can recall were mastheads and, of course, the infamous crime lord Faraon the Friend which her mother's tavern is named after. The woman keeps walking, head up, gaze shifting between deities as she's unable to pick which one to stare at. "I … Um … Righ' I won' make you tell me." A few seconds later, Tasha even adds a distracted, "Sorry."

"Are you alright, Tasha? Do you need backup?" Mariel asks as Tasha goes into her shiny-trance voice. Unlike Faraon or other classical dragons, these gods still have snake bodies and lack wings, but their heads are certainly adorned with a lot of odd horn-like shapes and fringes and frills, making them more fancy than frightening.

Then again, each statue stands as tall as a large Titan, which at least makes them ominous.

"I … Wha'?" With effort, Tasha pulls her gaze away, looking downwards. "What?" She blinks a few times, then shakes her head rapidly, as if she were shaking water from her hair. "Oi, wut? Oh, … Sorry, they're very shiny. I better get movin' before I stare at these too long an' regret it." Mariel can hear Tasha yell, "Which way Blammo?" before her voice drops again and she asks, "They sure are big, aren' they? Li' a Titan … which reminds me: wha's the difference between Tech Level one, two an' three Mariel?"

"A lot of money, mostly," Mariel notes. "Tech One is stuff like… well, like the gravity stators on Bellerophon. Stuff that only the Khattas know how to make. Level Two is what most of our medical systems work at, and is pretty good. Level Three is known as hard-limited or non-quantum. That's what most Expedition hardware is at, to minimize the likelihood of reaction to the SPM. It's a bit cruder, but more reliable and more… expendable. There's a Level Zero, but that's First Ones Tech."

Blammo seems to be sniffing around, or looking for loose bits of salvage. Behind the bronze god is the continuation of the main corridor.

"So Tech Level Zero is … you, isn' it?" Tasha's tone is teasing, but the distraction is still there. She can't help but eye the nearest statue as she follows after Blammo, wondering. Did their gods help them in the end? Where are their gods now? Where are their people now? Is the true Celestial Empire long dead, a glory slowly crumbling like the statues before her? It brings a frown to her face, making her suddenly feel very sad, indeed. When she asks, "Mariel, do you think the Expedition gods made any difference, in the end?" the teasing voice is gone.

"What? I… have no idea how to even decide something like that," the young wolf says over the radio. It's also about then that Tasha notices that the lights on the arch around that corridor are blue instead of yellow. And… moving, very slowly. Although a glance at the motion sensor shows more movement in the corridor beyond.

"I jus won'er … Wait." Reaching out, Tasha tries to grab Blammo by the arm with her left hand. "Hsst! Blammo, shh, look." The barrel of her gun is pointed at the blue-tinged archway. "There they are. Mariel: contact."

"Can you describe what you're seeing?" Mariel requests, as Blammo stops short and squints at the lights. "Bugs?" he asks.

"I'm movin' to look – very slowly." Just as she says, Tasha inches forward trying to use her superior vision to make out the details of the blue glows.

The glows are certainly coming from glassy, crab-like bodies. They're smaller than the ones Tasha remembers running into earlier, and glow much more brightly as they appear to sit on the light sockets.

"They're … They're the glowy-crabs. Blue, crystalline, crab-things. An' I think they're … " Tasha taps the arm-mounted controls until she gets a brief look in infrared, " … Aye, they're on the lights, an' they look brighter than I remember." Infrared is switched off, then Tasha glances at her motion sensor again, ears splaying against the interior of her helmet. "The motion sensor I brought shows there's a lo' more movemen' down tha's corridor, too."

"Fred asks if there is power in that chamber then," Mariel relays. "Or water?"

"Power yes," the armored Vartan answers, " … Bu' no water." Glancing back, the woman adds, "There's water in the room we left."

"My suit's powered," Tasha decides to include, as well. Wearing a potential lure is something that she'd like to check.

"If there's no water, there may still be a fire suppression system that's working," Mariel suggests.

Tasha's ears perk at the comm reply; Well, they smush against the interior ceiling of her helmet anyway. "Fires we are prepared for," the woman reports with more of her traditional own inner fire. "Blammo! Flamethrower time!"

"Hokay!" the Titanian says, and then… sprays flame all over one of the lower crabs!

Not about to be let out of fun that involves violence, especially when still mad, Tasha joins in by flicking her own flamethrower to ignition and spraying several crabs as well. "Here's wha' you get for stealin' my camera!"

The crabs fall to the floor… and start running around, with the flaming glue still stuck to their carapaces. Three of them seem to be running towards Blammo and Tasha though.

"Errrr … ," Tasha begins back stepping, shifting her grip until a spray of red dots skims the floor. As she aims, the little red dots seem to home in on the approaching crabs until … "Die!"

A thunderous report seems to shake the chamber, burning streaks racing from Tasha's gun to the approaching xenomorphic life forms. Faster than a mind can track, the pressure wave alone is enough to blow Blammo's fur backwards!

The crabs – which do not register as living things by any measure the gun might consider – explode, along with the floor. This kicks up more flammable material though, and spreads the burning glue further. The fire spreads, and the floor… vibrates. Something is waking up as a result of the activity.

"I think we made the floor mad," Tasha asides Blammo nervously, the barrel of her gun smoking and red-hot as its heat sinks do their job. Edging back more, Tasha waves the man to join her. "Get ready!"

"AWOOOO!" Blammo howls, as the shotgun on Gunzilla starts roaring as well, and more of the crabs (and lights) get blasted. He doesn't seem to hear Tasha… but then, he doesn't have any sort of hearing protection.

The floor continues to vibrate, until the center of the room erupts with a fountain of water that quickly floods the artificial rivers. This doesn't do much for the fire though, which has been spread by burning debris. At least until a blast of foamy water begins to sweep across the affected areas from overhead.

The helmet on Tasha's armor turns towards Blammo. Inside, the woman's eyes widen – did she just deafen her friend? Not seeing she had much of a choice, she grits her teeth and focuses on the here and now, turning forward and taking aim again. This time, she limits the weapon to single targets to conserve ammo. Crab after crab pop in a shower of sparks and smoldering metal until the fountain erupts! Pausing to take stock, she realigns her aiming and begins firing not only at crabs, but to try and etch a trench between the rivers and the corridor.

Water spills over into the damaged areas… and drains into the chewed up flooring as well. More water sprays down from overhead to extinguish the fire, and a shadow falls across Blammo and Tasha.

At first, Tasha wonders if the lights had simple gone out from all the water. On board The Rake, heavy winds or storm rains darkened more than one lamp on her watch. She fiddles with her visual spectrum until she notices at least some lights still work. Blinking, she angles her weapon and looks up …

A dome is descending. Tasha can see bits of glass, probably lenses, inside the curve, along with various ominous looking nozzles. The rest is bronze, since it's being held by the bronze god, who has twisted around and is spraying the fire-fighting water from an open mouth that sports huge fangs. It looks like it's intent on catching the intruders in its bowl!

Knowing Blammo can't hear her, Tasha reaches over and begins shaking Blammo, pointing her gun barrel at the fire-control deity!

"Huh?" the Titanian goes, then looks up. "Uh-oh!" he barks, and starts running back towards the center of the chamber.

"Uh oh," Tasha agrees right before turning tail and running right along after the Titanian! Her body protests; She on borrowed time, and she knows it. All her earlier exertion, piloting efforts, lack of sleep and fighting have left her more than sore. It's only her suit that keeps her standing, and she isn't sure how long that will last at her current rate.

Angry water splashes across the ground, and a wind starts up as well, as if a storm were brewing in the chamber. By the time they reach the center, with its geysering fountain, they notice that gold and silver statues are animated now… and look angry.

"Oh … Dagh!" Deciding the gods are already angry, Tasha jerks the barrel of her weapon around and begins shooting them, too! The high velocity projectile creates tunnels through water spouts before casting them away in less than a heartbeat. Below, ground water races away as the overpressure wave of each blasts parts the growing lake. "I was a god, too!" Boom! "An' I'm not stoppin' for you!" Boom! "Go back to sleep!" Boom!

Molten metal runs down the sides of the statues, but doesn't seem to affect them much otherwise. The vaporized metal does seem to saturate the air however, and little bolts of lightning start to flash through the chamber. The bronze god seems to be ignoring Tasha and Blammo now as it tries to bite the long glass-crab-composite-worm that is pushing through the archway next to it. Flame licks within its bowl, and bits of metal and other debris are being shed from the worm as it struggles.

Tasha decides at least one god must be on her side, so focuses on the ones intent on her and her friend – and running away! "This is the firs' time I've made gods angry, I swear," she yells back to Blammo as they try and escape the chamber. "Shot at one too! Abaddon wouldn' 'ave tried to kill me with a statue!"

As animated as the gods are, they still seem to be anchored to the floor. They have pretty good reach, but seem to be focused less on the bipeds now than on the crabs – and storm clouds are actually starting to form inside the dome!

Once it looks like the gods are leaving her and Blammo alone, Tasha aborts attacking entirely. Weapon shouldered so she can run faster, she flees as fast as her legs will carry her across the room. A part of her just has to grin at all this, though. She thinks her ancestors might have loved this. A crack of electricity above her head makes her duck even as a smile splits her muzzle.

Blammo keeps howling, even as they cross the last bridge to reach the corridor they came in from. The room really lights behind them now, as the bronze god starts throwing fireballs around!

"You show 'em, Bronzy!" Tasha cheers as she looks back, nearly skidding across the bridge! "Kick those crabs out of your home!" While the grinning part of her would also like to stay and watch, the practical, life-loving part of her keeps her feet moving.

The personnel corridors seem clear of mist now, since whatever water was stuck in the air systems seems to have been diverted to the shrine. The floor is still slick, but not enough to matter. The exercise room is ahead, and beyond that the engineering section…

"Keep running, let's go back to the Khattan hangar!" Adrenaline helps keep the Vartan moving; Nothing quite storming, angry gods to keep someone on their feet! Half way down the corridor, Tasha opens up Comm Channel 0. "Aliens wet, crushed, shot, exploded, on fire an' abou' to be stormed up, too!" And for some reason, Tasha tacks on, "Terran scum!" at the end – a quote from one of movie night's many selections.

"Uh, Tasha?" Mariel says over the channel, "You should know that… " Of course, it doesn't matter what Mariel was going to say, because Tasha can see it once she and Blammo get to the main hangar and before they can escape to the Khattan zone: one of the six-wheeled utility carts is zooming right for them, driven by Layth. Next to him, arms crossed and face severe, is Gabriel. He looks less happy than the god statues.

The woman slows to a staggered halt when she catches sight of the approaching cart. "Oh, slag it." Although clad in glossy (and wet) black and gold armor and carrying enough additional weapons tapped/glued to her Gauss rifle to tackle a small army, Tasha feels as vulnerable in front of the approaching Gabriel as if she were chained before an angry Titan. "Um … Um … I … I see him, Mariel … Tasha … " The woman takes a deep breath, then exhales. "Tasha out. Blammo," she glances at the soaking wolf, grimace hidden by her beaked helmet, "You might wan' to get away while you can. The storm is … following us."

"WUT?" Blammo yells. His hearing may not have completely recovered yet.

"Potential hostile ahead bearing the Gauss rifle. It may be Tasha, it may not, establishing defensive shield," the Lapi driver barks. He jerks the controls to the side, sending the vehicle into a sideways skid, setting up its side as a potential shield. "Behind the vehicle, weapons ready," Layth adds as he scrambles out of the seat.

Gabriel's glare is probably more cutting than the sidearm he holds, but he still hunkers down next to the Lapi and aims his weapon. "Identify yourself!" he barks.

While she was beginning to reach to deactivate her weaponry, the gun goes right back up again when the woman sees her friends aim their sidearms at her! "What are they doing??" She asides to Blammo, her head – and the weapon barrel, still steaming from earlier firing – shifts back and forth. "Are they goin' to shoot me jus' for tha'?! Nora??!" When Gabriel barks out his demand, Tasha's ears flick under her helmet. "I'm the bloody Goddess of Destruction, who do you think I am!??" She yells right back.

"Remove your helmet!" Gabriel demands.

"You'll be bloody if you do not," Layth adds to that with the barrel of his machine-pistol trained on the armored figure.

"I'm no' lowerin' anythin' if you're goin' to point those things at me," the armored figure responds. She glances at Layth and his weapon, then suddenly laughs at him. "I could shoot your vehicle battery an' blow you to pieces! An' this is Vartan mercenary armor!" All the accusations and pointed weapons, on top of adrenaline, exhaustion, and a feeling of alienation does not calm the woman in the slightest. There's a growl in her voice as fierce as the glare of the red dot that issues from her gun.

"WUT WRONG?" Blammo asks, looking confused at all of the drawn weapons.

"On your command, Captain," Layth remarks to Gabriel.

Gabriel stands up, and points his weapon away from everyone. "Really? Well, until I can smell you, I don't know who you are. You sound like Tasha, but could be a synth. So are you going to shoot us, or act like a rational, adult being?"

"Get away Blammo, somethin' wrong," Tasha warns Blammo after Layth's comment, waving him off. "I don' think they care abou' you, bu' … " The armored woman begins to edge back towards the entrance to the Khattan wing until Gabriel speaks, then she pauses. Her weapon shifts between the two men, lingering on Layth and his pointed gun … and then lowers.

The Gauss rifle combination weapon is shouldered, then allowed to slide to the floor. The woman reaches over and begins tapping something on her left arm. "Jus' 'old on," she grumbles.

"Hold steady, Layth," Gabriel whispers. "That's an environment suit, not a battle suit. It won't have weapons built in."

Layth's head nods slightly at that. His expression remains impassive and and focused. He may as well be a statue for as little as he moves.

A few more touches on her arm display, and then the armored figure leans back. She reaches to her helmet and with a click-whsh noise, the covering comes off. Underneath is a haggard looking red-furred Karnor face with blond hair, her expression sour and eyes glaring. "'Appy now? Goin' to shoot me? Better make i' a good shot," she growls.

Layth glances to Gabriel and waits for confirmation.

Gabriel holsters his weapon. Scent works both ways, and Tasha can smell just how scared and upset the Karnor is. "Now then… can you please tell me just what the hell is going on? I go to the bridge and you're gone, Nora won't say anything, your comlink is in the hall… "

Seeing Gabriel holster his weapon, Layth also lowers his weapon back and puts it away. His attention then turns to the direction Tasha was apparently running from to keep watch for any pursuers.

Blammo waves to Layth with a goofy grin. Wet Titanians smell terrible.

The woman visibly exhales; Layth can hear it quite well. Whatever she expected might happen in those scant few seconds, being shot seems to have definitely been on her list. Her gaze shifts to Gabriel and she nods slowly. "Nora an' I 'ad a … ," the hesitation in her voice, her scent, and the agitated tone speaks volumes even as she seems reluctant to speak, " … We 'ad a … Disagreement." Tasha says the word disagreement with such distaste it's almost scoffing.

"Are you being pursued?" Layth asks the stinking Titanian. "If so, by what?"

The big Titanian looks back through the door to the engineering section, doesn't see anything, and then looks back to Layth and shakes his head. Perhaps his hearing is coming back.

"It smelled like more than that," Gabriel mutters. "Why did you leave me?" he asks a bit more softly.

"Pursued!" The woman shouts the word in a panic, suddenly turning to stare down the hallway she had been heading towards. "Abaddon, I'm no' done yet! I … I have to go!" She begins moving towards that direction, then jerks to a halt when Gabriel asks why she left him. A few seconds later, and she turns back around. her eyes, still wide, look glossy, mouth parted in disbelief and horror, "I didn't leave you, Gabriel. I jus' needed to get away … And I hated her. I hated me? But, I need to go … I have a promise to keep."

Layth reaches up to activate his com-collar. What he says is quiet, but presumably it was some sort of 'stand-down' statement to those back in the ship. When he's done he looks up and says to Gabriel, "If I may say something, Captain?"

"You promised me you'd stay by my side too," Gabriel notes. "Where did you get that armor? What've you been doing for the past few hours? What… oh, go ahead, Layth. You're the only one that doesn't smell upset."

"I didn' wan' to … to see anyone. I … I hit Nora," Tasha admits in a soft voice. She looks between Gabriel and the hall, torn, ears flattening to her head. The motion sways the woman's hair, and it's here that something else shows to be different about the woman: A wide, equilateral area of her neck is shaved, and as one looks up, the shaved area can be seen to split across the back of her head. Centered in each area is a strip of glossy, silvery material buried just beneath the surface of her skin, much like a tattoo. Arranged at the tip of these lengths are four silver studs, embedded in her skull. "I've been in Orpheus, in the Khattan wing … In the hangar. I found something … I need to go to it. Please?" Her request is pleading, but she doesn't run off, at least.

"Thank you, captain. I just want to leave Tasha with a few thoughts. Promise or not to some task at hand, you also have a promise and duty to those who came with you and those who remain back on that ship. Each member of a travel party, be it guard, medic, mage, or what have you all have a role that keeps the group alive and functioning. For the party to survive, personal feelings have to be kept controlled. If a guard runs away terrified, people die. If a leader wavers, the hope of those who follow fail. Consider that. Consider what Gabriel just said. You have made many promises. The choice of which you keep now will decide your future as well as the future of everyone back on that ship," Layth says, though it isn't unkind in tone. "You can choose to go alone; but then you must accept that you have chosen to walk a path in life alone. Or, you can choose to take those who care about you, such as Gabriel, with you."

"In that spirit, I think we should all go to this hangar of yours," Gabriel says, sounding worried when he sees the modifications to Tasha's skull. "I still want to know what's happened."

The woman listens to Layth, grimacing all the more. "It sounds a lot like what Nora would say," she complains, but her head lowers, and she nods. "Bu' I know you're righ', at leas' in part. An' Nora was righ', in a way. And … so was I." She takes a breath, then blinks when Gabriel remarks on her skull, reaching to rub at the back of her head self-consciously. "Oi, righ', tha'. Well, let's get goin' then. I'll explain on the way."

After all but dropping herself in the back of the cart, Tasha begins to relate what happened to send her from the ship as well as the events afterward. While she doesn't elaborate much, it seems that she had been speaking to Nora when something – she won't explain – happened that upset her so badly she decked her sister and then stormed off the vessel. If she's to be believed, she did so because she didn't want to storm into the crystal bay in a fury, burdening everyone with her problems and not trusting herself not to get more violent. Instead she left, and met Blammo, who calmed her down somewhat and lead her to his discoveries.

Deep in Orpheus, Blammo lead Tasha to the Khattan Trade Coalition section, she explains, and that section began with a "wonderfully shiny bar." She drank and spoke with a bartender-program made of something called, "Prog-mat," which informed her the bar wasn't for Khattan's – but for her people, the Vartans. She learned a great deal about the history of Expedition Vartans, that the Clan of Vartans she seems to belong to was moved to the Ark, and that the supplies for them remain on Orpheus. In addition, she learned of her nearest detectable ancient ancestor: Apollyon Strombreaker, who Tasha speaks fondly of.

With this information in hand, Tasha explains she left the bar and found the hangar, and that's where she found this suit. She insists she used the manual, which she also found there, but then dismisses the suit as unimportant compared to what she's returning to apparently protect. Abandoned, yet still secured in its sealant, she found the TL2 Magi-Class Gryphon: Melchior.

"It's Melchior I need to protect," the woman explains as the vehicle rumbles on, "That's wha' these tattoos are – they're how I pilot Melchior. I said I wouldn't leave him alone, I promised. That's when those things started coming – and why we were fightin' them."

"Medical One did the surgery," the woman adds, possibly trying to stave off any suggestions she did it recklessly – or herself, "I read the manual, we followed that."

Layth listens quietly. As for his opinions of Tasha's actions from running off to inflicting self-mutilation, well, he keeps those to himself. "What is done is done," he says instead, "What matters is the current course of actions. Specifically, what things? Describe them? Have we encountered them already on this ship? Have you determined any weaknesses? Have you determined what attracts them?"

Gabriel has remained quiet, and now that they're at the unassuming entry to the Khattan zone, he says, "I'm not happy that you went through with a complicated brain surgery without even telling me." He doesn't sound angry though. Of all of them, he would know the most about the reliability of Khattan technology, though.

"The blue crystal crabs," Tasha clarifies. "Their weakness is water, which was why I also wen' to the bridge an' tried to flood the ship tha' way, bu' I didn' know enough, so we did it the 'ard way. They're also weak to bein' shot with the Gauss rifle, bu' no' bein' set on fire. Oh, an' giant angry automated god statues kill them jus' fine."

Whatever Tasha has done, it's left the woman physically drained. She seemed to be barely standing when she boarded the vehicle, and when she begins to get up, she groans, taking it very slowly. "I'm glad for this armor, I'll say tha'," she murmurs. When Gabriel speaks up, she looks at him, laying her ears back. "I knew you wouldn' like it," she admits, nodding slowly, "Bu' I did it because I wanted … " She flicks an ear, shaking her head. "It's hard to explain. C'mon." The woman slides off the bed with a thud of armor, then begins walk-limping towards the door.

"They may also be vulnerable to high-pitched sound. Glass and crystal can sometimes be shattered by it," Layth offers as he gets out of the cart and follows along. "It's an old street trick done by performers, usually women. Sing the right note, break a glass. If this place has a those boxes that can create sound, then there might be a way to get those back in the ship to connect to it and find the right tones to break them."

"We have some sonar guns for doing geology," Gabriel notes. He goes quiet when they get to the Gilded Talon Lounge though.

Talon Lounge
Wide booths and luxurious leather-like couches line the walls of this circular room. A stage is set in the center, with a long shiny metal pole connecting it to the ceiling, and small glittery decorations dot most vertical surfaces. Opposite the entry is a curved bar, flanked on either side by swinging doors. The collection of multicolored bottles on the shelves behind the bar are glowing from the lights set in the shelves they rest on, and an almost luminous mirror sits in the middle of it all.

"Good idea. If they come again we'll try tha'," Tasha agrees. Talking about the monsters seems to put some energy back in Tasha's step, even if it's nervous energy. She stands straighter, beginning to power up her weaponry. "I can' believe you almos' shot me," the woman can be heard to mumble as she enters. If she had any hard feelings about it, they vanish when the glitz strikes her. A big, goofy, tired grin crosses her face. "I love this place," she declares. Untwinning her hand from her weapon, she waves, "Hi Kitty!"

Blammo immediately heads to the bar, and reaches over it to pour himself a drink, completely ignored by the Khatta bartender.

"What can I get for you, madame," the fake Khatta purr-squawks in Vartan.

"We had no idea if it was you," Layth points out, "Or something else from this ship."

"I've heard of these lounges, but never knew there was one aboard Orpheus," Gabriel notes, shaking his head a bit at the splendor of the place, and eyeing the little stage and pole dubiously.

"Something strong to keep me on my feet before I pass out – and throw in anything that'll help me pilot. I'm exhausted," the woman bark-squawks right back. Although neither man has heard Tasha use Vartan much, she seems to speak it fluidly, and with a hint of a growl that must sound like an accent. She leans heavily against the bar for support, looking back to her friends and saying, "Fair 'nuff. I though' you knew an' 'ad come to shoot me, actually. I was surprised an' no' a little bi' on edge." She turns a grin on Gabriel and says, "The pole works. The alcohol is great. We need to hurry, bu' ask an' I'll get you two somethin'. This is real alcohol."

"A clear mind is important. Nothing for me," Layth replies as the buck looks about the bar and finding certain parts of it eerily familiar and still alien.

"One chocolate stim-fizz with protein boost," the bartender says, and puts a glass of… sludge… on the bar next to Tasha. Apparently not all ingredients have kept well.

"My mind 'as wires in it," Tasha tells Layth. She looks back to the bar, looks at her drink, then blinks. "I think it's dead, Bartender," she squawks.

Blammo takes his beer to the stage, as usual, and watches for the dancing girl to slide down through a hatch in the ceiling, which she does. Vaguely Himaatian music places and the lynx-girl begins to dance.

"Another machine-thing, I presume?" Layth asks as he spares the dancing lynx-girl a brief look.

"I think you need some real food, Tasha," Gabriel says. "We've got meat back on the Belle, and I'd feel better if you let one of the doctors examine your implants."

The Titanian grins at Layth, then reaches out and grabs the dancer's butt… and actually takes a scoop out of it. The faux-lynx squeals and bats at the wolf, until he sticks the blob of flesh back into place, where it looks as it had never been removed.

"The wires? Somethin' like that," Tasha answers Layth. Looking to Gabriel, Tasha nods. "I coul' use some food. Blammo fed me rabb- … Um, some meat 'e foun'." She looks back at her slude, then squawks, "Alchohol please," before looking back. "Did I mention the 'prog-mat?' I can' remember. Think we should take tha' with us? Couldn' the PersoComs use it to 'ave bodies?"

The bartender tries a few more mixed drinks, with equally disgusting results. It looks like beer is the only viable beverage.

"You are a very disturbing man," Layth tells the Titanian after the unusual version of grab-ass. "And a bit rude. You're supposed to at least buy her a drink before getting a piece of her … ahem." He shakes his head.

"Doubtful," Gabriel notes. "It's not available outside of the Khattan city-ships. They have to beam power and instructions to the material, I suspect, so outside of this room it would just be a lot of very tiny metal marbles."

"'E's fine," the armored woman remarks of Blammo. "We ge' along jus' fine now." The woman picks up her drink, shoulders her now-active weapon, and begins towards the rear exit. "The 'angar is this way. Medical One is below tha', an' the bride is above us an' not far," she explains as she walks.

The trip to the hangar is uneventful, just a walk down a corridor to the elevator, then up to the top. Through the glass airlock they can see the open hangar door, and the empty launch rails for transport ships that once roosted within. There is the row of shrink-wrapped Vartan spacesuits, less the one Tasha wears, and the operations building. On the other side of that is the real destination.

Gryphon Launch Bay
At the very top of the Orpheus, this separate military hangar is currently open to the air of Sheol. Still closed is the roof-door above the Gryphon bay. Twin sets of rails run from floor to ceiling to mark the catapult system below the hatch, and mounted upright on the catapult is the Gryphon 'Melchior' – a rare Khatta-made flying Titan.

The Gryphon lives up to its designation, looking like a black and gold armored Vartan, with a bird-like folded tail instead of that of a horse. Thick cables connect it to a large cylindrical nuclear generator which hums softly.

And the first thing Layth says upon seeing the mechanical beast is, "I think you have been replaced, Gabriel." As usual it is hard to tell if he's fascinated or not by what is around him; his tone is almost always even.

The Karnor lets out a sigh. "It would not be so bad if it were at least feminine looking, like Themis-Skoll was," he notes.

"Do not worry, I am sure we can start a support group for those abandoned," Layth adds on to Gabriel's comment.

Tasha eyes Layth, seemingly too tired to make a proper glare now. She lets out a sigh, just shaking her head as she heads for the Gryphon. "Bein' female wouldn' matter," the woman insists, sounding a little disgruntled. She doesn't walk to Melchior immediately, but instead stops on her path to scoop two glossy black cases off the floor, leaving her weapon, which she powers down. Opening one of the cases, she pulls out a larger than normal datapad and begins working with it as she eyes the reactor's Vartan-language readouts. "I don' know why you're worried abou' Melchior, Gabriel. You're no' a machine – no' a god. An' I don' wan' you to be either."

The readout on the generator shows all green now on the image of the Titan.

"Khattan lady, all checks display green. What do I need to do, is Melchior ready?" Tasha asks, apparently of the datapad in her hands. A small smile forms on her lips as she looks back up at the all-green display.

"We'll have to get one of the Titan launch doors open in the main hangar," Gabriel says, watching Tasha. "I'm sure she'll want to load it onto Bellerophon. If she doesn't pass out in the next five minutes from exhaustion."

"Power cells are at full charge," the hologram on the data pad replies in Vartan. "All systems are in standby mode."

"Of course she will. And once we open those bay doors we'll be more vulnerable to creatures from the outside," Layth replies, nodding. He starts to say something more then seems to think better of it and waves his hand. "A discussion for another time," he says instead.

"Aye, wonderful," Tasha tells the hologram. "We're goin' to move Melchior, do we need to bring the Arc-Pump Burst Reactor and accessory locker? Can we move those?"

"They are within the Gryphon's handling range," the little help-lynx notes.

"Do we leave her here and head back to try and get a bay door open?" Layth asks Gabriel.

"Did I mention I love Khattan technology?" Tasha says to no one in particular. "Thank you, Khattan lady. I'm departin' now. End help." The datapad is placed back within the case, Tasha then turning to her friends. "All systems are green; We are ready for launch, Gabriel – Captain."

"No, she's coming home, getting checked out and sleeping for at least eight hours before doing something like piloting that thing," Gabriel insists, both to Layth and Tasha. "Belle isn't ready to receive this thing yet, so she has to be prepped. Then we can try the hangar door, then see about moving this bird after Tasha has gone through simulation training."

"Wait, we're goin' to leave Melchior here??" The woman's eyes are wide, aghast. "I jus' spent the las' two hours tryin' to defend it from those crabs! I've already piloted it, I've been through a simulation!" She sounds more desperate than angry, and more than a measure tired.

"While I agree with you, Captain, you may have to fight Tasha for it," Layth points out, though quietly, to Gabriel, "She was already ready to leave all of us back there to come back to this machine. I will leave it to you to convince her otherwise, though. She'll more listen to you than me."

"Tasha, you can't even move without that armor assisting you right now," Gabriel points out. "Nothing is going to come up here and eat your Titan overnight – the hangar door has been wide open for 6,000 years after all. Blammo can stand guard."

"But, but … " The woman groans, looking down at herself … and relents. "Fine." She exhales, suddenly seeming to lose what energy she had left with her burden temporarily lifted from her shoulders. Reaching up, she rubs at her face with an armored hand. "Let's go back." Louder, she squawks, "Can you hear me Melchior? I need to rest, I'll be back soon."

The Titan does not respond, and simply continues to stare out at the horizon beyond the hangar door.

"I bet you two days of cleaning duty that she falls asleep in the cart on the way back," Layth remarks to Gabriel, "Let's head back before she changes her mind. And I told you we needed to bring some of the tranquilizers from the medical bay before we went hunting for her. It would have been much simpler… "

---

GMed by BoingDragon

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Today is 16 days after Harvest Tide, Year 27 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6126)