Harvest 20, 6106 RTR (Sep 11, 2009) The group finally arrives at the Expedition city of New Zion, and meets with the military.
(Aaron) (Planet Abaddon) (Legacy of the Fenris) (Layth) (Space) (Tasha)

Major Zebulon (call me Zeb) Thom introduces himself as an officer for New Zion Military Intelligence (and thankfully doesn't understand Skeek, given the comment Xander whispers to the other Lapi about oxymorons) and leads the travelers to the carriage car right behind (or in front of, depending on the direction of travel) the massive locomotive engine. The car is little more than a metal box with fixed shutter windows providing view-slits to the outside – but without any glass. Wooden benches have been fastened to the floor in a clearly makeshift manner as well. "I must apologize for the rough nature of travel," Major Thom notes. "We only recently 'acquired' this train from the Confederates, who had been using it for prisoner transport. More comfortable coaches are in the works, I assure you."

It is possibly ironic that the Trans-Nordikan Railroad on technologically stunted Sinai is far more comfortable (and sound proofed) of a ride, but the train at least moves quickly. Caravans and wagons on the road along the tracks practically zoom past, but staying close to the window-slits risks getting a face full of gritty wind as well. There isn't much to see anyway, aside from the occasional wagon train and local monstrosity. The noise of the ride also makes conversation difficult, and Aaron has once again passed out earplugs.

What would have taken a day by caravan, the train manages in just a few bone-rattling hours. The New Zion station is similar to the Gateway One, with some fortified buildings and ramps for wagons to exit the flatcars from. There's also a huge fenced in area where a sort of Bazaar is going on – local merchants trading with the caravans from distant Sinai, with very few apparent civilian shoppers. This too goes past in a bit of a blur as Major Thom commandeers a motorized wagon to take them quickly to the city proper.

New Zion
A city of steel and glass stands in the midst of an expanse of rusty desert, its skyscrapers stretching several stories up to end in artistically tapered curves in some places, and more brutally angular and less sophisticated angles in others, as many different architectural styles have developed over the ages, and left their legacies standing for generations to come. Zeppelins and gyroplanes work their ways between and over the buildings here and there, and monorails chug along on suspended railways, while the lower streets teem with pedestrians as well as riders on strange and hardy beasts, and the occasional automobile.

Only a few of the pedestrians seem to notice the aliens in their midst, although that could be because the only unusual things to be noticed are Tasha's wings, and the vehicle rides high enough to make those difficult to see. The wagon heads for an oddly flat, stone-sided building with few windows or doors. Given the towers around it, its attempt to look nondescript tends to make it stand out.

"The methods of travel here are entirely too loud," Layth remarks as he disembarks from the train. He takes a moment to stretch and look about his new surroundings. "And the buildings seem overly tall," he adds after observing the buildings that stretch skyward. "The does would hate those rail systems in the sky… " There's a pause before he adds, "And those strange things that move without aid … do they have miniature animals underneath them?"

"This is the bes' city I 'ave ever seen," Tasha remarks in wonder as she busies herself with looking around. "Flyin' things I can' even figure ou', buildin's made o' shiny glass taller than any on Sinai, technology tha' makes me pteras seem barbaric, an' tha's all just from the first hour." The Vartan never complained much about the loudness, but then again, she is also not nearly so keen of hearing – or as quiet. She shakes her head towards Layth and explains, "Them's engines, Layth. I can tell by the smoke an' sound, they're li' airship engines jus' … no' explodin' and tiny."

"If the capitol of Chronotopia could dream, this is what it would dream of," Aisha notes, risking neck strain by looking up at everything.

"This is the first defensible building we have seen in this city," Calligenia notes of the squat edifice before them. She hides it well, but is probably extremely nervous about all of the strangeness and wonder.

"I remember seeing the blueprints for this building," Akkers says. "Our first foothold on Abaddon. What do you call it now?" he asks Major Thom.

"We call it… The Rectangle," the human proclaims, with a sweeping gesture of his arm. "The oldest building in New Zion, and the strongest. We use the roof as an airstrip."

"It's sort o' plain." The red-furred woman sits up and leans forward to get good look at the building, having largely overlooked it as she gazed at more fantastic architectural wonders. "Oi, though, as an actual airstrip? I don' see any airships 'ere, or are they further on?"

"Oh, there are probably some gyros up there, you just can't see from this angle," Thom notes, but points to one of the odd aircraft passing between two of the towers – and actually below a suspended walkway. "But I'm sure you're anxious to visit the restrooms and make use of some seats with actual cushions on them, so we should move along inside!" He then starts up the broad stairs to the entrance, which is flanked by heavily-armed Karnor soldiers.

"So long as those soldiers don't shoot us," Layth comments to himself as he follows along. "Entirely too loud," he again mutters as a motorcar rumbles by.

"If it was quiet, you might not know it was about to run you over," Aaron quips.

Tasha disembarks, punching Layth lightly in the arm as she passes him. "You ought an' get some o' those ear-things I saw a man wearin', or a 'at." She grins at him, then makes towards the door with Gabriel and Major.

The soldiers don't seem to react, beyond turning their heads slightly at the sight of Tasha's wings – likely because the Lapis still have their cloak hoods up to help mitigate the urban noise. The main entry hall of The Rectangle is… large. There are two levels, and a lot of activity. Thom leads them all to a large circular desk in the center, manned by several human women of various ages with strange devices strapped to the sides of their heads.

"Mm, I hope those hats do not become fashionable," Layth remarks when he spots the odd headgear and then shoots Aisha a look. The Lapi then can't help but look about, watching the large amount of activity. "It is as I would imagine a Zelak hive to be … constant motion."

"Perhaps the devices help them hear," Calligenia guesses. "They hardly have ears at all."

Thom talks to one of the secretaries, who then turns her head slightly and talks to… thin air. From her expression though, it appears that she received a reply all the same, and directs the Major to a numbered room.

"It's a lo' li' the Temple of Rephidim," Tasha tells Layth while looking around, herself. She makes a point of tucking her wings in a bit more after drawing several glancing looks, tossing her hood back to further cover her wings, though complete coverage is impossible. As they walk, she side-steps over to Gabriel and asks him, "Is this anythin' li' you remember, Gabriel?"

"The foundation hadn't even been laid when we left on the Fenris," Akkers notes. To bolster the impression of the Temple of Rephidim, there is a giant bronze Star and Anchor hanging on the far wall of the hall.

"If you'll follow me, we'll get you out of the hub-bub," Thom notes, and gestures for them to follow as well as he heads towards one of the walls.

Tasha glances at the strange Star and Anchor, slightly different from the one she is familiar, and shakes her head. "A bi' familiar, a bi' not. I'm feelin' the same way," she tells her Karnor boyfriend. To show her sympathy, she reaches over and squeezes his hand, then turns and follows after the major once again.

"What terrible names for women, Hub-Bub," Layth comments, quite straight faced, to Aaron. Folding his hands behind his back now, he follows after the Major.

As they walk, Layth can distinctly hear Tasha make a snerking sound at his remark.

The Major stops at the wall, where wide handle-less door waits. Instead of knocking, he pushes a button next to it, and the ringing of a bell can be heard. This is soon followed by a different sort of chime, and the door splits and slides away to each side, revealing a very small room or a very large closet, with a uniformed Karnor standing next to some sort of lever. The human shows the wolf something – maybe a badge? - and then enters the room. "We can all squeeze in, I'm sure," he tells the others.

"That does not look like a comfortable room," Aisha whispers, taking Layth's hand.

"No seats," Layth observes, "Still I suppose we must go." And so, in the large Lapi goes. To the uniformed Karnor he says, "Hello. Do not mind the Lapis."

"Even the doors are impressive, bu' the rooms are kind o' small," says Tasha as she steps inside. Being even more bulky than Layth due to the sheer space hear wings occupy, the woman has to shift and, with an embarrassed grin, apologies for nearly backing them into the on-duty Karnor's face.

"The… " the guard begins to say, only then really registering the aliens. He ends up just swallowing whatever he was going to say, and faces forward. Zerachiel squeezes in last, with the lighter of the artifact cases (since Layth carries the big one, and Tasha has the case full of the data crystals). The doors close, the guard does something with his lever, and the whole room shudders and seems to drop slowly.

Calligenia squeaks in brief alarm when the room vibrates, and that odd chime goes off every few seconds.

"Wasn' there somethin' li' this on The Fenris?" Tasha looks to Gabriel in askance, then adds, "An' think I should work on me accent? No one ever soun's li' me."

"Try to sound more like Nora if you can," Gabriel says. "It will… help."

Tasha eyes Gabriel suspiciously, in only the way a new girlfriend trying to live up to an old one can. "Maybe I ought an' 'ave worn one o' 'er outfits, too? Aye?" She eyeballs a bit more, then rolls her eyes and sighs, shifting to lean on the man, to show she isn't really upset. "I mean: maybe I ought to wear one o' … one 'o' … one OF 'er … HER outfits, because we both look good in em. Them."

After five chimes, the room stops shaking and the doors open up onto a completely different area than the one they entered in. There's another desk, but the wall behind it is much closer and has 'B5' painted onto it. There's only one secretary, who seems to have been expecting them. "Room 7 is ready," she tells Major Thom.

"That would be… weird," Gabriel whispers to Tasha, as everyone spills out of the elevators.

"So, the little room does move," Aisha notes, nodding to herself. "I didn't think people would climb those towers using the stairs. It would take a day."

"But it would be excellent exercise. It would help keep your rump toned," Layth actually teases Aisha as he squeezes out of the elevator and is mindful to not whack someone with the case he carries.

"Bad fit weird or spooky weird?" The Vartan peers over the Lapi heads out at the room, her brows raising. "It's a movin' room! I-I mean, it's a room. Tha' … That moves. Through, oi, machines. I mean, machines without the oi."

"Oh, we keep the elevators oiled, don't worry," Major Thom assures Tasha, and leads them all down the hall to a door marked '7' with an armed guard outside of it. "Right in here," the Major says, opening the door to a large room full of couches, tables and lamps, along with some stranger things, including glossy magazines, fake potted plants and some sort of water cooler. There are two doors on the far wall, separated by a large glass mirror right in the middle of the wall.

"Hm, a place to sit," Layth observes as he enters room seven. He doesn't actually sit, though. Instead he leads Aisha to one of the couches and has her sit. He merely sets down the case he caries and stands near the sofa. For a bunny, he does manage to look moderately intimidating.

Tasha blinks at the Major's remark, and only catches on several steps later, when she laughs out loud. She then looks guilty, ears flattening, as she glances at Gabriel. "Nora laughed righ- … Right?" After entering the room, she takes a moment to look around – straightening her hair and clothes when she spots herself in the mirror – then walks over and takes a seat at the table in front of Layth and Aisha.

"Oh, my aching buns," Aisha says as she sinks into the cushion. Calligenia pauses before entering, and then goes straight to one of the lamps and sniffs at it.

"She laughed at everything, but mainly I just meant for you to try and talk without an accent, you know," Gabriel tells Tasha with a grin.

Aaron also investigates the odd lamp, and pronounces, "It doesn't use oil or gas."

Tasha pushes out a chair for Gabriel with a hoof, patting it for him to sit beside her as she grins at him. "I bet she did, we seemed a lot alike – even she though' so."

"Solid state, of course," Major Thom tells the two Lapis, before pointing out that the left door leads to a restroom, and that something called 'donuts' would be delivered soon. "Right now, however, I must take Captain Akkers and the two Doctors to meet some people. Will you be alright here by yourselves, or would you like someone to attend to you?"

"Do not worry, Lapis can pass time effectively," Layth states. As to how, well, he may be trying to test what stereotypes these humans may have about them.

"I guess I h-ave to wait h-ere," inquires Tasha, frowning a little. "I did speak with Nora through, what was the word, a mind … interface?" She looks to Gabriel to see if she got that right.

"Well, if you do need anything, just ask the guard outside," Major Thom says, and gestures for the Karnors to follow him. Gabriel gives Tasha's hand a squeeze, and winks at her. "That's right. You probably won't be waiting long before someone comes to talk to you though, so just tell them whatever you can," he says, before following the Major. The right door closes, leaving the Vartan and Lapis to themselves for the moment.

"The Rain In Half Valley Is What Washes The Alley," Aaron recites to Tasha, carefully pronouncing each word.

"Well, this is odd," Layth says, "And moderately uncomfortable. I am still not sure I trust them."

"They are careless," Calligenia claims, as she hangs up her cloak on the provided coat rack, and then adds her short sword as well. "They did not search us for weapons."

"Not so. Any weapons we may carry would not compare to theirs," Layth points out.

"Look at these drawings," Aisha says, holding up a clothing magazine. "They are very lifelike."

Tasha breathes a sigh when the others leave, shifting to lean forward on her hand and drumming her nails along the table. "I'm no' … NOT, Dagh take it, NOT … sure I do either, but I think I might be worrying too much." Turning her head to look back, she tells Calligenia, "They h- … HAVE guns, and they look better than flintlocks. They could kill us all. Maybe just one of them could. But, they're 'is … Dagh, his, people, and I trust him. So, I wait."

"Well, his people are thousands of years dead, technically," Aaron points out, and picks up a magazine as well. His ears go up, and he shows the cover to Tasha. It's titled 'Historia' the 'official magazine of the Museum of Antiquities.' Below that is a photograph of a tall, armored machine, with the caption, 'The Age of Titans.'

Layth sighs. "You're giving her ideas, Xavier," he remarks to the other male Lapi. "She'll run around the room, then want to go see them… "

"Well, this other magazine has human women in it posing with machinery for some reason," Aaron notes. It take a few moments before he realizes it's a calendar.

"Maybe they are, but they, and us, are all 'e … He has." Tasha turns her chair around to get a better look at the magazine, leaning forward to look at the featured titan. "I'm not going anywhere," she tells Layth without averting her gaze. "Gabriel said to sound li- … Like Nora, and I should probably act like her, too. Nora would wait." She takes the magazine and flips through a few pages, shaking her head with a slightly annoyed jerk that probably isn't from seeing ancient machines.

A knock comes at the outer door which then opens to allow a middle-aged human woman to enter, rolling a wheeled cart holding a tea service and a large pink box. "Oh my… aren't you all just adorable!" she comments.

"Pardon?" Layth inquires of the woman.

Tasha turns in her chair, blinking over her magazine. "Wha'? Me?"

The woman smiles and makes as if to reach for one of Layth's ears, but then seems to come to her senses. "Ah, I'm Mary," she says. "I brought you some snacks and tea. The ice machine is on the fritz, so I don't have any cold beverages to offer I'm afraid."

"You have a machine tha' … " Tasha twitches as she makes another accent slip, " … that makes ice? And I'm Nora." She holds up the magazine, adding, "And I pilot titans badly."

Layth actually reaches over, takes the woman's hand, then brings it up and puts his ear in it. "We don't bite and you wanted to," the buck remarks, though not unkindly.

"Oh, very soft," the woman says, and then blinks and looks at Tasha. "Did you say Nora? Really?" she asks.

Aisha reaches up and rubs Layth's other ear, while keeping her perfectly-serious-businesswoman face on.

"Is that strange," Tasha asks the woman, head tilting.

"Well, yes," Mary says, and removes a notebook of some kind from a shelf of the trolley. She opens it and skims through it, saying, "Nora was the name of the Fenris' Number Two. You are the ones who discovered the ship on Sinai, aren't you?"

"Apparently we have been the talk of the building," Layth observes, "I am surprised it has been discussed openly."

"Yes, that's right. I'm not actually Nora, I just look a lot like her – younger and more Vartany. We share a lot in common, though she's smarter than I am." Tasha lowers the magazine to her lap, and adds, "I'm Tasha, actually. I just try to be Nora."

"Oh no, it's quite secret," Mary says. "Although I suppose I should introduce myself properly: I am Lieutenant-Colonel Marilyn Montague, Military Intelligence. I'm here to debrief you. After I fix your tea. How do you take it?"

"That is an unusual position, is it not? Both a tea carrier and a high-ranking military officer?" Layth has to ask.

"She wants our pants?" Calli whispers to Aaron, who just shakes his head quickly.

"Well, I'm very good at making tea," the woman claims. "And the donuts are fresh as well. Few are able to guard donuts as well as I." She sets the pink box on the table and opens it, revealing a collection of ring shaped cakes.

Tasha gives Calligenia a odd look, then nods a little to the military officer. "I think she's trying to make us feel comfortable, Layth," she explains, then closes the magazine in her lap and puts it aside. "Captain Akkers said you might be by. We're 'er … here to answer your questions."

After a bout of rapid nose-twitching, Aaron nods to the others. "It's just tea. Himaatian for that matter, so imported and expensive."

"I do hope the doh's that you cut those from were sedated first," Layth says and yet still manages a straight face as he reaches for one. "And we should apologize ahead of time if our answers seem lacking. It is not as if we understand everything we found."

"Well, no reason you shouldn't be comfortable," Mary notes, silver tea stirrer in hand.

"Cream and sugar please," Aisha requests. For a Lapi, she always did have a sweet tooth.

"Should we start, then? Do you want the whole story, or just our discovery of the Fenris, and how we helped the survivors to recover and reach here?" Tasha watches the woman, then seems to remember herself and adds, "Black." After another, shorter, pause she adds, "Please."

The woman prepares the tea to everyone's liking, and makes sure they each have a napkin and a donut before settling into a chair and taking out her notebook again. "Oh, I imagine I will be the one like a fish out of water during this, don't fret. I think I would like to start with how you even thought to look for it."

"Some mechanized thing from it was attacking a small settlement that grew up near it and had been unknowingly mining some of the fragments of its hull for years to make armor," Layth offers as explanation. "Tasha can better explain the monster as it tended to disable all of us with some horrible noise producer."

"This'll sound strange, but at first we came looking for it after I was declared a Herald of Abaddon – that's the God of War for the Amazonians and Olympians back on Sinai – which only happened because I thought it'd be fun to follow the shiny bunny there," she points at Calligenia, "to her homeland. And what Layth says is true: after I was declared Herald the oracle sent us to deal with the problem up north, said it was my destiny or some-such, and that's when we encountered Nora's hardsuit: walking, animated armor. The suit was using its noise thing to disable the Lapi villagers and capture them, to feed into the medical system as … materials."

"Oh my," Mary comments as she takes notes. "An Oracle too? I don't suppose an actual message for help was involved?"

"I wasn't bothered by the noise – my ears are smaller," Tasha explains, gesturing up at her head. "No, no message from the Fenris. It was Nora's hardsuit that caused the attention, and it was that we came to stop. When we had disabled it, we recovered Nora's military necklace, which I held on to, and then entered the mines where the hardsuit came from. Inside we found an ancient metal door and another suit, and they recognized Nora's tags and called me Nora, letting us inside. That's how we found the Fenris."

"And the insane crystal brain," Layth adds, "The one that tried to kill us all."

Tasha holds up a hand, "Yes, there was a bad shiny – something called a computer. It was made of crystal, taken from the Silent-Ones. That was connected to the Sifran crystals, which drove it, oi- I mean, drove it insane. It controlled the whole ship, and watched us while we searched. In our search we found the medical bay, where we were able to free the three living crew, and where I spoke to Nora for the first time. We also found the titan Themis-Skoll, which, as I said, I didn't pilot well in the … " the Vartan cocks her head as she tries to recall the word, " … simulation."

"Now then, you mention finding Lt. Argentine's tags in the hardsuit, but then later talking to her in the medical bay," Mary notes. "Was Lt. Argentine alive or dead?"

Tasha's ears wilt, and for a moment she looks down, staring at the glossy image of the titan in her lap. "Dead," she says in time, her voice sad. "The computer killed her when it thought she might separate it from the artifacts. I don't want to say how; I don't want Gabriel to find out. Just write that it did, please?" The Vartan looks up, meeting the interviewer's eyes. "He's been through enough. I never told him. It's better that way."

"Very well," Mary says, and makes the note. "Now, how exactly did you speak with her if she was already long dead?"

Aaron lightly smacks Calligenia's hand is it tries to sneak up on his donut.

"The medical tank grabbed me; I think it saw Nora's tag and thought I had come to sleep in the tank too, after all those years. But, I wasn't what it expected, it said I had … memories? … that didn't match the Nora it knew, so it took me to meet her memories inside the computer of the ship, so that it could figure out what was wrong. That's where I met Nora. She told me what happened, and what I should do – how I should stop the Silent-One computer. She taught me Silent Sign. She … " Takes bites her lip, turning her gaze again to the magazine and blinking several times before she can continue, "We're a lot alike. We look the same, almost. I liked her. She told me if I didn't tell the computer I was her, then it would make her memories mine, and I would fade. So, I had no choice but to replace her."

"I didn't want to, but she said she was just memories of a dead woman. She didn't deserve to die though. I promised her I'd see her mission through, protect the crew. That's why we're here," Tasha finishes.

"Fascinating, in a very disturbing way," Mary says, scribbling furiously. "We have little information on the Micro-Optical Tele-Heuristic Entropy Resistant Computer. The Fenris was quite unique in it's merging of technologies from all of the member races. I didn't think such a thing was possible, although I imagine it had something to do with the location and those artifacts. It's amazing that you have some of Lt. Argentine's memories, frankly."

"So she told you how to revive the rest of the crew?" Mary asks next.

"I'm trying to live up to them, though I still feel like I stole the future of someone who deserved it more than I do," says the Vartan, sounding a little gloomy. "Nora was smart, and she knew so much." Tasha just shakes her head, holding a hand to ward off any protests. "Yes. She told me the code to the Fenris' computer core, as well, and several other things, such as how to recover the crew's memory data and to take it to Sheol."

"The crew's memory?" Mary asks, looking up from her notebook. "What… sort of memory?"

"I'm not sure what sort – I think it can bring them back somehow. They're on crystal bars, with images inside. I took them from the computer core while I spoke with MOTHER.  MOTHER also thought I was Nora, even after I returned Nora's amulet to Captain Akkers. They're in the case by my feet – and I won't part with them until her request is fulfilled." Tasha glances at the case, then rests a hand on it protectively. "I'm not a soldier like Gabriel, but I consider this my mission."

"I don't recall such technology being mentioned in the Disc of Eras," Mary mutters. "I'll have to commission a deeper search, since something must have been overlooked. If any of this had happened a year earlier, we'd have no idea the Fenris ever even existed. Is MOTHER still active and reachable?"

"No. It destroyed itself in an attempt to destroy us," Layth speaks up.

"That sounds… unusual," Mary notes. "You say it was insane from prolonged contact with the Sifran artifacts aboard? Are you implying that the computer was actually alive in some way?"

Tasha nods to Layth's words. "MOTHER was insane. She said she was trying to finish her mission and needed the artifacts, but she wouldn't listen to reason, didn't care about the crew. She started the Themis-Skoll's engines and attempted to burn us all to ash, but we escaped, the mountain collapsed, and she and the Fenris were destroyed."

"One part you didn't mention, Tasha … you told me MOTHER said that it had some special orders about the artifacts and the crew, and the crew were considered expendable over completing its mission regarding the artifacts," Layth adds.

"Something about the Silent-Ones, right?" Aaron asks next.

"MOTHER seemed alive to me, to want to be with the crystals, like the men who were so needing their drugs on the docks they'd do anything for them. But, I've never talked to a computer before then." Again, Tasha nods to Layth, smiling faintly for his help. "Yes, Layth's right. I had forgotten – it's all a bad memory, MOTHER is. It said it had a special order, or orders, from a Ministry that made studying the crystals more important than the crew, and that only the Ministry had … access? … to that information. It wouldn't even tell me, who it thought was Nora."

"It seemed plain to me the crew didn't know it had special orders, either," adds the Vartan.

"Ministry?" Mary asks, and flips back several pages. "I don't have anything in here about a Ministry. Was it a group belonging to us? I mean, to the Terrans? Humans and Karnors?"

"I do not know," Layth remarks, "Perhaps it belonged to the Silent-Ones, since part of MOTHER came from them?"

"The Silent-Ones, I think. It sounded religious, and it was their computer, wasn't it? It sounded like it'd only answer to them, the Silent-Ones – but I think it no longer answered to anyone," explains Tasha, shaking her head again. "It was mad."

"By the Star, subverting our alliance even then?" Mary mutters. "Still… six thousand years is a long time. I doubt we can claim reparations for a secret mission, after all."

"I won't forget – I don't like the Silent-Ones at all," says the blonde-haired Vartan woman in a sober tone.

"It's amazing that anything still worked on that ship, after so long," Mary says. "But we do have some precedence, given what we've recently learned about Sutaranakh on Ashtoreth. Although the circumstances are nowhere near the same."

"Is that another ship?" Tasha's ears perk, and she leans forward. "And, did you have any more questions?"

"Just trying to digest all of this still," Mary notes, and pours herself some fresh tea, even if it's gone a bit lukewarm by now. "The Sutaranakh is one of the three motherships of the Celestial Empire. It sank into the ocean of Ashtoreth. Adoniranakh landed here on Abaddon, and… well, it was the core of the Imperials' life dome until just recently. The third, Gerondisanakh crash landed on Sinai. I believe it is the royal palace in Nagai City now."

Tasha's ears go fully erect at the news of the final ship's landing point. "Really!" She leans back, as if the news had physically moved her with its weight. "Tha' woul' … I mean, that would explain why they're there. And the Temple of Rephidim is the Expedition mother ship, isn't it? Does that mean there's a Confederation mother ship in Babel?"

"Oh, we believe the Confederation mothership landed on Sinai as well. From our intelligence reports we imagine it is the structure known as the Tower of Babel. We can't actually confirm it ourselves, since Sinai's debris ring makes it difficult for our telescopes to see the surface clearly." Clearing her throat, Mary says, "Now then, just a few more to go. What was the condition of the three surviving crew once they were revived?

"Very ill," Layth answers now. "Close to death. It took much magic and money to stabilize them. Their Captain was suffering from some advanced form of … ah, yes, cancer."

"We had to sell a lot of what we recovered from the Fenris to pay for it," Aaron notes.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all – I saw the Tower of Babel once, and it's huge," Tasha explains, shaking her head from sheer amazement at it all. She snaps out of it when Layth addresses the question of the crew, and quickly regains her focus, nodding. "Yes, cancer. We did everything we could to save them, and we'd have done more besides. I wasn't about to let him- … I mean them die after all that had happened."

"Remarkable," Mary says, wide-eyed now. "You can cure cancer with magic? Do any of you work magic, by chance?"

"Vartans aren't big on magic," admits the lone Vartan, who reaches up and pushes her hair over an ear. "My mum – mom – says it steals people's souls and causes 'the woogies.'"

"The Life Mage who supervised their final treatments is running the refugee clinic at the Gateway site right now," Aaron notes. "As a goodwill effort on behalf of Caroban. Heard you had some problems with mages or something."

"Woogies?" Mary asks. "Is that some sort of wasting disease? Is it contagious?"

"I … " Tasha's had pauses mid-hair pushing effort, and for a moment she seems to struggle to explain 'the woogies,' then she just shrugs. "I don't know," she admits, finally. "Mom told me about it to scare me away from magic as a child. It always sounded like a mess of drunkenness, pregnancy, baldness, and becoming a zombie."

"So, much as you often look in the mornings," Layth comments.

"It's not real," Aaron claims. "But treatment by Life Magic for severe conditions does carry certain risks. The body's natural resistance to magic is basically destroyed in order to effect the cure, so the patient is forever after more susceptible to magic than before."

"Layth's mission is to make my life harder," Tasha mock-confides to the woman after leaning forward conspiratorially.

"But… he's a big cute fluffy bunny," Mary replies, looking shocked.

"Titanians are big and fluffy too," Aaron notes.

"That's 'ow … HOW he hides his wickedness," expounds Tasha.

The woman just shakes her head, and says, "You are all teasing me. Now then, what do you intend to do with the Sifran artifacts? Will you turn them over to us, or do you need to bring them to Sheol as well?"

"I had assumed they would remain with us for now, but it is ultimately Tasha's decision," Layth comments.

Tasha glances at her fellows for a moment, silently inviting them to chip in before she says, "We thought you might just seize them from us?" The Vartan gives the military official a questioning look, ears forward and brows raised. "But, we were less sure of the Expedition then, and everyone seemed to want them. The truth is, we planned to hand them over anyway. I believe both Captain Akkers and Nora would have wanted that, and so that's what I want. Unless my friends disagree, that's how it'll be – we'll even tell you what we discovered."

Tasha nods to Layth, and adds, "I don't know if we need them on Sheol, but from what I remember, they belong to the Expedition and their return is Gabriel's main mission now."

"Well, we would only be able to lay claim to the one called the Weeping Woman," Mary notes. "The Star Drop belonged to the Silent-Ones, and the … well, they called it the Inverted Nest of Being… was from the Celestial Empire. We called it 'The Cheese' according to my notes… "

"And it does indeed look like a cheese," Layth remarks, "And makes it possible to taste your feet and the color purple."

"It causes synesthesia? I don't have any record of the artifacts exhibiting any properties beyond being complete Sifran crystals," Mary claims, searching her notes again.

"If you want a demonstration, I can use a bottle of water," Layth offers.

Tasha has to cover her mouth at the mention of the last artifact's Expedition name, and even then she can't contain her laughter. "Oi, I see," she slips, finding covering her laughter and her accent too much to process. After shaking her head, she says, "Then by the salvage rights of my people, and by the station invested in me by the Temple of Abaddon, I'm claiming Star Drop. I've seen their technology and spoken with their people, and I do not want the artifact returned to the Silent-Ones. They missed their chance to win my generosity."

"And there is the one that summons a demon that copies things. The star shaped one did that, I think," Layth adds.

"More reason for them not to have it," Tasha tells Layth.

"I… can't authorize something like that within The Rectangle," Mary notes. "What I am going to do is remand the crystals into Dr. Zerachiel's custody, with a notation that they not be separated from the memory crystals. I am sure Professor James at the Museum of Antiquities would love to see them though."

"That'll have to do," Tasha agrees, nodding again. "I'm fine with the Expedition having its crystal and the return of the Celestial Empire one as well, but I won't return the Star Drop unless I see a reason to. I'd rather give it to you or bury it in another mountain than give it to them."

"As you like," Layth replies.

"Such a return would need to be handled by the Diplomatic Corps in any case," Mary says with a sigh. "We are not openly in conflict with the Silent-Ones at this time, but we never enjoyed quite the same relationship with them as we do with the Imperials. Even though we've fought with them plenty of times, and currently have half our forces watching their new dome, just in case."

"They've never given me any reason to like them, either. I'd just as soon rather they never know theirs was recovered, and what to do with it can be worried about later. Maybe we'll need them some day, and I'm sure they won't help us out of the kindness of their cold, spotty hearts," says the Vartan. She tilts her head a moment, then asks, "That reminds me: the Confederation didn't send a crystal? Does the Expedition not get along with them? I've been told some will think I'm with them."

"Ah, well, they were not involved in the Fenris mission for security reasons," Mary notes. "They were also preoccupied with establishing a beachhead here on Abaddon at the time, according to the Disc of Eras."

"They seem to have something to do with us Vartans, so I'm curious." Tasha shrugs a little, managing a little smile. "Did you need anything else, Lieutenant-Colonel Montague?"

"I am not for sale," Layth offers before anything even gets asked for.

"I'm sure he has a price," Tasha insists, grinning a little.

Mary actually laughs at Layth's claim, and Aisha looks almost disappointed. "Well, the boys will be a bit longer still, and we'll want to talk to them again to go over some things from the Disc as well – nothing like having eyewitnesses to corroborate data, after all. So we'd like to offer you an apartment nearby for your stay here in New Zion, and a driver to take you anywhere you might want to visit. Also, we can provide a vault to store your crystals in if you like, although they should be fine if you leave them in your quarters too – I would not recommend just carrying them around everywhere though."

"A vault sound safer, to be honest," Layth remarks, "No one is ever very easy around them. They have a tarnished history, after all."

"Oh, of course not," Tasha agrees. Scooting her chair a little closer, the woman leans forward, "The vault sounds fine, we have no reason not to trust you. If you had wanted them, you could have taken them all by force. And, now, there's a question I wanted to ask: " The woman smiles, perking her ears, and then asks, "Can I join the Expedition?"

"Are… do you mean apply for citizenship?" Mary asks, surprised.

"Yes, if that's part of it," agrees the Vartan with a nod. "I'd like to become an officer – like Gabriel and Nora. I, well, I'm tired of being looked down on because I'm stupid, I don't like feeling like I don't deserve Nora's faith and future. I want to be … " the blonde makes an expansive gesture, "More."

"I want to be respectable," adds Tasha as she leans back, slumping into her chair. "I want to know how machines work, I want to be useful for more than looking pretty and yelling."

"Oh, a military commission," Mary says, still looking a bit stunned. "I… I'll have to look into it. I don't know if it's ever been done before… "

"You can also carry stuff well," Aaron adds to Tasha's list of abilities.

"And drink most under the table," Layth adds.

"Well, Nora did give me the Fenris' mission, and I'm still on it. Als-" Tasha's impassioned plea is broken off by her friends teasing, which causes her to shake a fist at them and inform them in a raised voice, "I can also tie bunny ears in knots, you two!"

"Forgive me for not having an immediate answer," Mary apologizes. "It's just that the 'nations' of Abaddon are very much based on species. We don't all mix freely like you do on Sinai. It's a matter of our racial identities. Which is one of the reasons we of the Expedition have… less than friendly relations with the Kampfzengruppe."

"They do seem like a bunch of trouble," Tasha agrees once she wrestles her glaring gaze back from the bucks, "But they're also human, and so are you. I'm half-Jupani, which is just your Karnor, so don't I … half fit?" She wags her tail a little, hopefully.

"I don't know, Tasha," Mary admits. "If you were more alien, it would be easier, but being half-Vartan could be seen as a detriment as much as an advantage. I'll have to ask higher up the chain of command. We've just never had anyone join us from the outside before. I mean, we've had paid informants and spies, of course, but… they just wanted our money, not our culture."

"Well, if that's all that can be done, then I suppose I'll have to leave it at that. I'm used to it, anyway," Tasha says, relenting. She glances at the others and asks, "You've all been quiet, do you have any questions?"

"Not at the present time," Layth answers simply.

"You recognize rabbits," Aaron notes. "Are they a popular pet or stuffed toy or something?"

"Actually… yes," Mary notes. "Rabbits are used for a lot of things, and there are even advertising mascots that… ah… well, look like you. Humanoid, that is. And… well, I guess you'll have to experience cartoons for yourselves… "

"It looks like being a bunny is an advantage here, too," Tasha remarks. "For me, it's either boon or bust."

"Can I wear my sword on the streets?" Calligenia asks. "Are we allowed to defend ourselves?"

"Not necessarily," Layth points out, "It seems to assume we're nice and gentle, which isn't always the case."

"There will be grabby children, squeezing and ear pulling I'm sure," Aaron notes.

"Maybe we'll be asked to model fashions," Aisha suggests.

"Yes, bucks are actually difficult and troublesome. I'll have to educate New Zion to beware," says Tasha in a thoughtful tone.

"You can't sell us on the street either, Tasha," Aaron points out.

"I believe Aaron is most likely correct on the matter, we will be seen as toys and pets," Layth notes.

Glancing back to the military officer, the Vartan asks the woman in a more serious tone, "Is there any place for me in New Zion? Would you all just rather I did what I came to do, and leave?" Glancing at Aaron she says, "If they decide to lynch me for being a Vartan, I'm going to stand behind you to help my chances."

The other door opens then, and the Karnors return, along with Thom and a few other uniformed men and wolves, all still chatting. "You didn't leave us any donuts," Caravelli accuses.

"Well, ah… we'd like to get to know you first of course," Mary whispers to Tasha. "Go out, see the city and the people… "

"We're all going out to dinner," Gabriel announces with a big grin.

"Fair enough," Tasha replies, whispering back. She leans back, and though only the Lapi and human see it, she forces herself to smile before turning around. "It's about time you bought me dinner," she tells Gabriel, standing up to meet him. "You doctors, too!"

"I hope the meal won't involve a lot of meat," Layth remarks, "Or is it a meal for all of you and we are left to find something else?"

"What?" Zerachiel asks Tasha, after checking that the artifact cases are still where they left them. "I'm a scientist. I don't have any money."

"We'll find someplace we can all eat at," Gabriel promises. "Even if it's just an ice cream parlor!"

"I guess it pays less than rescuing men and carrying around ancient treasures. I'm beginning to think adventuring isn't what tavern talk said it would be. But, at least I saved the prince." Tasha stands by Gabriel, then waves her friends to stand up. "I'm hungry, let's go see what they make in this fancy city."


GMed by BoingDragon

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