5 Landing, 6106 RTR (May 14, 2010) After getting suited up, Tasha and Layth join Gabriel to try and contact the Expedition back on Abaddon.
(Legacy of the Fenris) (Layth) (Space) (Tasha)
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Bellerophon Medical Bay
Much larger than the one on the Fenris, Bellerophon's med-bay needs to handle a larger and more diverse crew. Different sections reflect this in how they are laid out and what equipment they contain, set for dealing with Terran, Silent-One and Imperial physiologies respectively. Even the hibernation systems are segregated.

When Tasha and Layth are finally disconnected from the PersoCom system and woken up, they find that they've been asleep for nearly twelve hours! Not that things haven't been busy while they were undergoing their virtual education: PC Caravelli informs them that Fred wants to see them across the corridor in the Mech Bay.

Layth grumbles to himself as he comes out of the drug-induced sleep and educational 'training'. It takes him a minute for his eyes to focus and brain clear enough that he can sit up. Once up he rubs absently at his neck, his fingers brushing over the metallic device effectively locked on, and into, his neck. "Nothing like an old nightmare," he mutters as he swings his legs off the bed. "The mech bay? Right."

Tasha, now sitting up, rubs at her neck and the life collar attached there. "Oi," she breathes, in a somewhat overwhelmed tone. "That was something; a lot more dreaming that time around." She then gives a gaping, many-toothed yawn as she moves her arms in to a stretch.

"I take it your time in the virtual training system wasn't too stressful?" the doctor asks.

"I wouldn't claim that entirely," Layth admits, "It triggered a nightmare." He then waves his hand as he adds, "But it is past and the other aspects were enjoyable."

"It had its ups and downs," Tasha answers, evasively. She swings her legs off the table and slides off, taking a moment to look herself over before looking up. "I think I'm getting used to being connected to a virtual world, at least. This is, what, the third species-specific mind-computer interface system I've been attached to?" She glances towards her friend Layth, and asks, "Ready bunny?"

"As much as I can be," Layth agrees and heads towards the door. "Let's see what trouble Fred has gotten into."

Bellerophon Mech Bay
As big as the Med Bay, this section of the ship is devoted to the maintenance of the complex machines that complement the crew. Half workshop and half garage, the space if packed full of tools and strange devices, along with lifts and mobile cranes and complicated looking workstations.

Tasha's Vartan armor is standing up, sans head and hands, which are lying in pieces on a nearby table. Next to it is a more flexible looking suit of white armor, also headless and with an extra section added to extend the length of the feet. Fred and Mariel are working on something at a table, still being close enough to the Sifran device that they can use tools.

"I'm proud of you, Fred. Your hand isn't on Mariel's butt," Layth quips as he enters and heads towards what he assumes is their reason for summons, the in-process armor.

"Ahoy Elites," Tasha greets the two lupines as she enters, waving a wing in greeting. She grins at Layth, then steps towards the two at work at asks, "Wha'cha up to?"

"Both hands are busy!" Fred claims, and holds up what was once a helmet for a Karnor, but has been heavily modified to be more suitable for a Lapi. The ear domes are gone, replaced with smaller versions of the flexible impact-resistant material used for the bio suits and tail-sleeves of other armor. The muzzle has been reduced by half, and the sides replaced with transparent material to widen the field of view. Mariel smiles, and moves to show that she's working on another Karnor helmet and suit gauntlets. The gauntlets are painted gold, while the helmet is mostly black.

Layth takes the helmet and turns it this way and that in his hands. "This is … impressive," the buck concedes. "Mind if I try it on? It'll also give a chance to see if it needs to be modified any further to accommodate this," he adds as he taps against the metal band around his neck.

Tasha's ears perk and eyes widen. "Oooo," she murmurs, stepping forward to join Mariel at the bench. "So, you reverse engineered the Vartan-Khattan gauntlets and helmet, to apply it to Terran Karnor technology?" She leans forward to look, especially at the connectors and locks. "Was the hardware and software particularly different?"

While Fred helps Layth try the helmet on (there just isn't any quick way to deal with the ears), Mariel smiles to Tasha and nods. "I… didn't know you'd learned that term. But 'reverse engineering' and cybernetics are my specialty. I was able to configure one of our interfaces to match the ones in the Vartan armor, by salvaging some of the digital radio components."

"Thank you," Layth tells Fred after the fourth attempt of getting his ears in the sleeves actually work, "It would probably be simpler if ears didn't lop. But … having lop ears do have one advantage… "

"They don't get caught in overhead fans?" Fred guesses.

"People aren't as inclined to grab them in the heat of the moment," Layth counters and even flashes a brief grin. The buck takes a step away from Fred and rolls his head in a slow circle. "No issues with the neural collar," he declares.

"I had Fred teach me, the cybernetics way," Tasha informs Mariel, pointing over at the man helping Layth. "He's a good teacher, you know?" She then slings her free arm around Mariel's shoulders, giving the other woman a little hug. "What would we do without all of you? You know, I'm a cyborg, right? Just ask Nora for the manual, it has all the Melchior's neural interface details, oi you're curious. Oh, and, … ," here Tasha meets Mariel's eyes, giving her a big smile, "Thank you for helping me yesterday."

"Once you're fully suited, the collar's short-range radio should sync with the suit," Fred notes. "You'll be able to control some of the functions by thinking about them, for convenience."

"Functions? Which functions?" Layth asks as he walks over to the odd, flexible, suit to get a closer look at it.

"Oh, that… don't mention it," Mariel notes, her ears blushing. "I peeked at the scans of your head, too. We can't probe wires that deep into the brain ourselves."

"Well, amplification and communications, mainly," Fred explains. "Normally, feedback from your biosuit would be used to determine how much strength-amplification to apply, but you can also think about how much to engage now as well, so you have the ability to increase resistance if you wanted to. Say to do something very delicate, where a twitch could ruin it."

"Well, hopefully I don't have any programming in there. Doctor C. says it's likely just there because instinctual, reflexive action is faster than the more complex thinking, of the two modes of thought." Tasha removes her arm and reaches down to pick up her helmet, turning it this way and that. "I like it. Very shiny." She then glances at the omega officer and adds, "You know I'm you're friend, right? I just thought maybe if you needed someone to talk, at any time at all, you can always talk to me."

"Oh, I'm always available to anyone who needs me," Mariel says, perhaps misinterpreting. "But… uh… if you want to just hang out, that's fine."

"Oh, hmm. Interesting. I definitely see the value in that," Layth agrees and nods. Without any sort of shame at all, Layth begins removing his current clothing down to the undersuit he was fitted with earlier. "May I try it on? Or do further adjustments need to be made?" he asks and motions towards the white suit.

"Well, we need you to try it on before we can make adjustments!" Fred says, and opens the suit. It seems to be one that is entered from the back. Legs slide in first, then the arms.

"Not one for hanging out, Mariel?" Tasha lowers the helmet on to her head, then removes a hand from it to wave in front of her face. "This is much better! I can look to the sides without seeing the interior of my helmet. Plus, the visor isn't distorting my vision any more because my eyes are centered differently," she remarks, somewhat muffled by the enclosure.

"Well, I spend most of my free time down in the Artifact bay with Fallen Star right now," Mariel notes.

Layth peers at the suit for a bit before he carefully slips one leg in, then the other. "How is Fallen Star doing? I had to leave her rather abruptly when we had to go fetch … someone," the buck asks as his legs settle in place. The buck now leans forward and slides his arms into the suit.

"Oh?" Tasha lifts the helmet off, ears revealed to be perked. "Well, good! I'm sure she can use the company, besides the technical work that needs to be done." Smiling, the red woman then hands Mariel the helmet and turns to watch Layth. "It looks like he's suiting up, so I'd better get ready, too." She gives Mariel another smile, then walks to her own armor and begins the process of equipping it. Stepping in to her suit, Tasha shoots Layth a look. "Someone was just fine alone, you know," she insists. Turning to Mariel, Tasha says, "I think Fallen Star was able to perceive my own interface with the artifact, somehow. She may be more deeply connected to it."

"Still haven't been able to link her through to the Bellerophon computer or PersoCom system," Mariel notes. "But I'm going to try and hook up a direct connection to the artifact itself."

The only thing Tasha needs help with is adjusting the gorget and putting on the gauntlets, which Fred assists with. Layth's suit has less auto-mechanical parts (since he doesn't have wings to wrap armor around) and his manages to close up once he actually thinks that he's ready for it to.

"Is there anything I can do to help? Would the collar I wear be able to help any with connecting her since it links to my … neural system and I can link to the persocom system," Layth asks as he stands up straight in the suit. His brow rolls and ripples oddly at how it feels. "The loss of sensation will take some getting used to," he admits.

"Try standing on your toes," Fred tells Layth, leaning down to check the extended feet.

Layth's feet rolls forward as he tries to go up on his toes. It doesn't last very long before the buck drops back down. "The left foot pinches a bit at the second joint. I can feel it press into the top of my foot," he says and holds up his left foot, waggling it a bit.

"I think having a live person there will make a difference," Mariel notes, nodding to the buck. "Fallen Star is pure analog signal, but we PersoComs are quantum-digital, and I think that is the issue."

Tasha watches Fred assist her, moving as he requests to get the fit just right. "I don't know if you heard us, but the same goes for you, Fred. If you want someone to talk to, I'm always here somewhere. And thank you for helping me, I know you both put yourself on the line to do that." She reaches her now-armored hand up to her face, clenching and unclenching it to test the fit. "Ahh, my fingers no longer squish together … "

Adjustments are made to the suits with an odd humming tool with a flashing light at the tip, until everything is comfortable and motion isn't restricted in any directions (which for Tasha means she actually has more freedom of movement in her neck than the suit had originally).

"I guess I'm willing to give my brain in the name of resurrection," Layth remarks to Mariel. The buck then blinks at that and adds, "That sounded like a line from a book about zombies I once read. A small bit of advice, book trading in rare Sylvanian stories is … bizarre. They are an odd people."

"I'll remember to take you up on that," Fred says, and gives Tasha a wink.

"I think you just asked Fred for a date, Tasha," Layth laughs!

"I'd like to hear more about this Sylvania place sometime," Mariel says quietly, and seems subtly pleased that the modified parts are working with Tasha's suit.

"This is much better," Tasha agrees. Her head is in mid-roll when Fred responds, and she pauses to grin and wink back. "Oh, Fred's not that bad,," she insists, reaching for her helmet, she takes one last look at it before lowering it on to her head slowly. "Oh, and speaking of functions, I never got a chance to test all of mine. Do either of you know about magnification, or the flight system?"

"Oh, right, a few last items," Fred says, and grabs two strange-looking devices. They have oversized, pistol-grip looking handles, but the bodies are like circular pucks, with the grip coming from one curved side and extended 'lips' coming from where a muzzle might be on a weapon.

"You should be able to just spread your wings now to kick in the flight-assist motors," Mariel notes.

"Optical effects should be working via thought-control too, same as the comm system," Fred says as he hands over the odd devices. "Just think the person's name you want to talk to, and it'll set up the link."

Layth pats Fred's shoulder and takes a few steps away from the large Karnor without taking the odd tool. "Stand back for a moment, I am going to check movement," the buck warns. He then goes through a few practice patterns for hand to hand fighting he learned back in Abu Dhabi. "Movement is good. I doubt you can fix it now, but I have one small request. Can you build something to go into my ears to dampen the suit sound? I can hear all the little motors and fake muscles moving when I do. In the persocom training there was a helmet that helped with engine noise."

"I'll have to try that – off ship, that is." Tasha drops the helmet on to her neck, then waits while the suit locks it in place. That done, she lifts her left arm and begins tapping the control panel with the right hand. "Oh, I don't need to use the wrist interface then?" She pauses in her setup work, looking up again.

"Oh, a noise-canceling system," Fred says, "that should be easy to program. But you don't want to damp it all out – those noises will tell you when something is wrong too."

"Yes, though you can still use it to display information," Mariel notes, and opens a panel on the back of Layth's helmet with another tool.

"Well, in non-emergency situations the noise is irritating," Layth admits as he finally reaches over to take the weird tool that Fred is holding. "What is it?" he asks and nods towards the device.

"Layth reminds me, I also have a request – and please don't share this if we ever get other Vartan crew!" Taking a deep breath, Tasha exhales, then nods as if having reached a decision. "I need something to, well, um … Oi, I can't believe I'm even saying this! And, I wouldn't be if I hadn't nearly died twice because of this! But, I need something to … help with … ," another pause, then she spits out, Vartanshinydistractions," fast enough it sounds like one word.

"My own special invention," Fred says proudly. "The ultimate all-purpose mechanical engineering tool!" He then holds up one of the devices, and pulls the trigger! A strip of thin gray tape extrudes from the lips. "It's an automatic duct tape dispenser with built-in tape-cutter."

Layth takes the odd device and stares at it. He knows what duct tape is, thanks to the hours of lessons from earlier … not to mention the copious explanations of its unconventional uses. "You are a strange, strange, man," he tells Fred and actually grins the entire time. "And we can use it to help Tasha with her problem. We just wrap her head in tape so she can't see… "

Mariel finishes her adjustment to Layth's helmet, and incidental noises drop to about half their normal volume. "Oh, just think 'Glare filter on' and 'Glare filter off', Tasha," she recommends.

Tasha peers at the device in Fred's hands, staring at it for a long moment. "I think I … I need one of those," she says. As it happens, Tasha's glares are somewhat less fearsome when she has an expressionless helmet over her head. "Right, glare filter on. Glare filter off. Layth off. Layth off." She eyes him, then laughs. "It's not working."

"Much better. I can still hear them, but they aren't as grating," Layth thanks Mariel. "That's because you haven't turned me on, Tasha," the buck counters to Tasha and even waggles his brow … which is readily visible behind the wide visor.

Mariel sticks her tongue out for a moment, then picks up the sonic screwdriver that Fred was using to make adjustments. She aims the glowing end at Tasha, where the blue-green light looks very shiny and dazzling.

Tasha just sighs, which echoes in her helmet. Her suit finally snaps together, interlocking like scallop-plates and sliding together seamlessly until she's fully enclosed and looking like a miniature, female model of her Titan. When she looks back, she stares at Mariel waving the wand. "Do you need to do more adjustments? Why are you waving that at me?"

"Well, is it distracting or not?" Mariel asks. "With the filter on, it should look like a bright dot, instead of shiny or glowing."

"That's shiny? Here, let me turn it o-" Then Tasha just stands there staring at the shiny, shiny device.

"You broke her," Layth says.

"I think the filter works," Mariel says, turning off the tool and setting it back down. Fred affixes the tape dispenser to the hips of the suits, where they just… stick.

"Hnn?" Tasha's helmet swivels back and forth in a disoriented fashion after the shiny light is turned off. "Did I miss something?" She looks down. "Oh, hey! Duct tape!"

"Leave the filter on," is Fred's advice for Tasha.

"What fil- … Oh, right. That explains that." A pause, then Tasha nods. "Filter on. Hm." Another pause, and Tasha adds, "HUD on. Layth," and here Tasha's voice comes through his helmet speakers as well as from the room, "You'll want to activate your HUD – Heads Up Display – to keep track of vital systems and battery charge."

"How much amplification does this suit provide to my natural strength?" Layth asks. He's still experimenting the movement, apparently fascinated by the intricate suit. "Oh, right," he says when Tasha reminds him about turning on the monitoring system … and so he tries to use the collar to do just that with a thought.

"You should be able to get five-times amplification for short bursts, and two-times for extended use," Fred explains. "Also, you have a lots of built-in illuminators, including lights on the backs of your hands. Your visor will adapt automatically to the spectrum you're using, but you can also use passive thermal to see hot and cold spots – very handy when looking for electrical faults."

"Your suit may also have infra-red and light amplification, although I can't be sure given our suits are from two different cultures," Tasha adds. She turns and walks over to join Layth, the clip-clop of her hooves now a thunk-thunk as she makes her way suited up. "I'll explain those, too, although I'm not sure I have them down yet. There should also be a channel scan, for finding active comm. channels, a emergency beacon, and life support."

Tasha nods to Fred after they give much the same information. "I read the manual," she informs him.

"Oh, we've changed the charging outlet on your armor too, Tasha," Fred says. "It's compatible with our own systems now, which means you can both recharge from the truck's power system if you need to."

"I'm sure it'll make more sense as we go when I can relate it to things you covered in class," Layth says after listening to both Fred and Tasha. "How long will the suit power last? And what happens if it runs out? Will it open or are we trapped?"

The black-and-gold suit nods. "That's good, having to run all the way down to the Khattan/Vartan area to recharge would have made this suit impractical." She glances at Layth, then looks back to Fred and asks, "I have a similar question: how will these suits function when faced with higher SPFs? I've seen suits like these on Sinai, but that wouldn't make sense for them to be functional so long, even at sky island altitude – did I miss something?"

"There's always an emergency reserve charge for opening the suit," Fred says. "Each major section has its own local power backup as well. If you're just walking around, you should have twelve hours of movement and forty-eight of life support. Strength boosting will drain it faster, but the rate will vary – so watch your readouts."

"Okay, so for our current situation, power should be adequate," Layth says and nods. "Good. One less thing to worry about. Do you or the other persocoms have any direct links to these suits to monitor what we encounter?"

"As for dealing with the Sifran Field issue… uh, they seem to hold up okay," Fred says, rubbing the back of his neck. "At least… high up. The field that brought down Fenris didn't affect our suits much, because we based them on distributed, mostly mechanical systems I think. It helps that they're lightweight, and don't have concentrated power cells."

"Fourty-eight hours of life support … " The reiteration is spoken with perceivable unease, which might as well have been yelled to Layth's ears. "That's … That's good to … To know." Tasha takes a deep, deep breath and exhales, then nods to Fred again. "R-right, that's good. Well, we should … Should probably get going."

"You can turn on the helmet and wrist cameras if you want, and control who gets the feeds from them," Mariel notes, tapping the camera points on the helmets and gloves. "You could try sending your camera views to one another to test them."

"Oh, you can use the cameras for zooming in on things as well," Fred adds. "So it's not just for others."

"Cameras on, then," Layth tells the suit, "Direct output to shinybutt."

"And do not think about Nora, Tasha. The situation is different, we do not have a mad crystal trying to kill us," the buck adds.

Floating in Tasha's visor, in a little transparent window… is Layth's view of Tasha.

"What?" Tasha, who had been looking towards the exit longingly, looks back and glances between the assembled persons. When her HUD displays a little window showing Layth's view, she barks suddenly, surprised! It takes her a moment, but she nods, accepting Layth's words. "I know," she replies, directing the words directly to his helmet, "It's just one of those issues I have; I'll get over it some day." She flicks her gaze to the view of herself again, and adds, this time to the whole room, "Hey, I look good!"

"Camera, amplify shininess," Layth tries to tell the suit. Probably either to annoy or to distract Tasha…

"Does my suit have built-in weapons yet?" Tasha inquires with mock-annoyance, turning in askance to look at Fred.

Alas, this doesn't appear to be a function the camera has. Fred shakes his head, saying, "Who would want to have weapons integrated into their suit? That just seems to be asking for an accident. Oh, which reminds me: don't take the charged Gauss rifle into a deep SPF, since the power pack will probably explode."

"Tasha would want weapons built in," Layth points out. "The strength assist by itself could be used as a weapon."

"Not exploding is an important operational consideration," Tasha agrees, finally giving in and barking a laugh. Walking over to Layth, she stands beside him, switching her camera view so he can see himself, too. "Oh, and speaking of weapons, can you make a weapon called a 'shaard,' Fred? Nora has the operational and technical details details. It's a … multi-function shield and sonic cutting edge."

"A shaard?" Fred asks, smirking. "Why not a light-saber or variable-blade or other fantasy weapon? I could make a replica but not something that works. That's higher tech than I have access to here."

"I look … surprisingly sexy," Layth concludes after seeing himself and even moves around a bit. "Nice touch with the tail-plating; it does imply proper Lapi," he concludes.

"Oh well," Tasha relents, with no small hint of a sigh. "I just figured if I'm going to use the real thing, I should reuse what I learn outside of being the Melchior's organic operator." She tilts her head, then steps around Layth to look at his butt. "I see what you mean."

"Fear the tail," Layth teases and shakes his butt, laughing.

Tasha just laughs, leaning back. "I guess we're pretty much done here then. Are we needed anywhere else?" She looks to the two Karnors.

"I do good work on butts," Fred admits. "Also, your armored call-signs are 'White Knight' and 'Black Rook'. If you're ready, the Captain should be waiting down in the Vehicle Bay for you."

"I would say you could work on mine any time, but I think you might take me seriously," Layth laughs, shaking his armored head. "Let's go. I'm sure there is a lot to do and little time to do it in."

"Right, Black Rook," Tasha confirms. She glances at Layth and asks, "Ready to go, my White Knight?" She nods when he agrees, then turns towards the exit and marches on out. "Let's swing by the weapon lockers and get our gear – don't want to keep Gabriel waiting."

"Indeed. For a Good Knight, call me?" Layth quips back at the two Karnors as he heads out after Tasha. "Onward!"

Bellerophon Vehicle Bay
This long bay rests in the belly of the great ship, and has six vehicle deployment airlocks and a plethora of mobile cranes on rails and service equipment. Only one vehicle is docked at the moment, making the long room seem eerily empty.

The single docked vehicle is still rather imposing, and is simply dubbed 'the truck' despite its size and multiple wheeled legs. Next to it is another armored suit, although one that seems just the tiniest bit more imposing than most: Gabriel's combat armor does have obvious weapons built into it. It's also done in gray and silver camouflage patterns for some reason.

"Oh, you're both awake and kitted out, good," Akkers notes when the Vartan and Lapi arrive.

What Gabriel gets rather than a traditional hello, is his HUD suddenly displaying a internal camera shot of Tasha's face, who gives him a big smile and (along with her suit's hand motion) blows him a kiss. Then, in a more formal greeting which is probably intended for Layth, adds, "Hello, Gabriel!"

"My armored call-sign is 'Big Bad'," Gabriel points out.

"Indeed, and we escaped Fred and Mariel's clutches with little damage," Layth claims. The buck then gestures to himself and notes, "White Knight."

The two men can hear Tasha cackle over the comm. "Big Bad, is it? I was expecting you to be the Grey King. Big Bad … I like it." She then gestures to herself, as well, "I'm the Black Rook."

"I hope your education went well, because it's time to hook up the radio and see if we can't contact New Zion," Akkers says, making an 'after gesture' to the cab of the truck. "And then we can see what's going on with our neighbors."

"I guess that means I'm driving again," Tasha says, already heading for the driver's side door. "Is the radio already loaded, or do you need me to work the manipulator arm?"

"It's loaded, along with other stuff we might need," Akkers notes.

"After the nightmare, the education went fine," Layth remarks as he climbs up into the cab behind Gabriel. "And I believe we know enough to be effective in its installation."

"That's good, because I'm a poor engineer," the Karnor points out, and then remotely triggers the airlock below them and the crane motors that lower the truck to the hangar floor below Bellerophon.

"Roger that, Captain." The Vartan breaks in to a run when the vehicle begins being lifted, jumping and grabbing on to the driver's side ladder and riding it as the truck is swung across the room. "See you two down below!"

"Have you seen much combat, Captain?" Layth asks as the truck is lowered. "Your armor seems fitted for extensive combat, at least."

"Yes, I've been in a few skirmishes," Akkers notes. "Colonial disputes, mostly. The various races of the Expedition like the same sorts of planets, so when a new one was found everyone would rush to put down settlers. And those settlers had a 'fight instead of share' sort of attitude most of the time."

Tasha's view of the swaying hangar pops up in to view on the two men's HUDs, followed by another view of Tasha's head. From what can be made out, it looks like she's climbing inside the vehicle. "I'll start the truck up so it's ready when you two arrive. I need to work out the fit, anyway. Let me know if you need me back up," she sends over the comm.

"You also look handsome in that suit, Captain," Tasha adds, grinning over the camera link.

"Good. You will not be rattled if it comes to it, then," Layth remarks. "And do you expect trouble in the other section of the ship? Forgive me if I am wrong, but your body language hints you expect trouble."

"I always expect trouble and hope for disappointment," Akkers notes. "But there was a firefight in the Imperial section, and instead of showing damage the monitors show repairs. It's an unknown. Here, time to test your suit." And with that, Akkers leaps out and grabs one of the crane cables, then slides down to the truck below.

"Why do I feel like I should yodel now?" Layth asks as he jumps out after Gabriel and grabs onto one of the cables and slides down after the Karnor. "So much for the new paint!" the Lapi realizes.

Down below, the truck is already purring in anticipation of the expedition. Inside, Tasha seems to be moving seats around to make more room for personnel and weapons. "If that's your stance, Captain, how did we get together?" She grins over the comm. again, then sits up so her head can be seen watching them descend from the driver's side window. "Taking the fun way down? It's hard to resist, isn't it?"

The paint turns out to be scratch resistant! The two men join Tasha in the cab after the truck is disconnected from winch lines. "You mean the Expedition itself? Frontier skirmishes aren't the same thing as war. They're just ways to test out defenses and weapons, really, which is why they were allowed to occur at all."

"My experience was mainly in dealing with brigands," Layth remarks as he climbs into the truck behind Gabriel. "Crossbows, spears, and blood. Nothing on the scale your weaponry is capable of."

"I meant you and me, but I'll take that answer too," Tasha clarifies. She settles back in to the driver's seat again, and places her hands on the controls. "And come to think of it, we Vartans would have been anywhere there was somewhere to pay for our mercenary services."

"It all comes down to rocks, and better ways of throwing them," Gabriel notes. "You took out the Grendel armor with rocks and sticks, didn't you?" he asks as he straps into a seat. "I'm pretty sure most Vartans weren't mercenaries… I mean, there had to be farmers and such!"

Layth straps himself in as well and stows his extra gear. Well, except for the duct tape dispenser. The bloody thing is still stuck to his side.

"You may have a point there, Captain. We may never know," says the half-Vartan. She punches a few buttons, then eases the control stick forward, sending the vehicle off on its way. "It's not as if I didn't see other Vartans doing other jobs. I remember meeting a few merchants, a lot of dock workers, and so on. The one thing I never saw, though, were Vartans in authority beyond our ships. That was discouraging, and, well, I hate to admit it, but probably a good reason why I tried so hard to be Karnor." Tasha's duct tape dispenser, as it turns out, has been stuck to the vehicle interior near her door.

The drive to the only known entrance to the Khattan-Vartan zone is uneventful, with a wisp of smoke marking the location of Blammo's camp on the opposite wall. After attaching some toolkits to their armor, they all unload the radio and its disassembled dish antenna. With the power-assist, moving the radio equipment is much easier than when they had to lug it around after the first encounter with the glass crabs, where Blammo's compact anti-gravity gizmos were lost.

The hangar deck looks different when they reach it. All sorts of gear and equipment is nearly spread out across the floor, and arranged in some sort of special pattern that doesn't make immediate sense. Artemis has been busy turning out the stores, as per Gabriel's earlier request.

"That is quite the collection of … stuff," Layth observes when he finally gets a chance to look at the pile. "I think I recognize some of it. That's … scary." Louder, he calls out, "Artemis, are you there?"

Tasha enters behind Layth, lugging part of the radio system. "Wow," she observes, pausing just inside the hangar to take a look at all the equipment laid out. "I'm glad we brought the truck." She glances at Gabriel and asks, "Do we carry this all up, or do you want me to move it with Melchior?"

"We'll have to carry it up through the building," Gabriel notes, although a quick check shows that Melchior has at least been disconnected from the reactor and the rest of the plastic removed from it. Soon enough, the faux bunny-bot appears and reports that all potentially useful gear has been brought out.

"Hokay," Tasha agrees, sounding a little disappointed. She gives her Titan a wistful sigh as she turns and looks at it, but she follows along regardless.

"Are you sure we cannot take you with us?" Layth asks the faux-lapi. "I'm sure we have use for someone skilled at removing artificial placenta. We do have a series of clones that may need care… "

"There are no portable synth systems, and I cannot recommend removing one from the facility," Artemis says.

"What would happen if we did remove one?" Layth asks.

Tasha's eyes widen in the HUD box at the mention of taking care of the clones. She looks like she's about to make a remark, too, but seems to stifle it. "After you, Captain," she mumbles.

The trio make their way up to the operations room, and then into the airlock. It's a bit awkward moving things up through it, until they realize they can use the duct tape to make a harness to just haul it up with from above. The herd of flower-crabs is quite a ways off, giving them plenty of room to work and a great view of Abaddon looming above.

"Don't forget the anti-glare filter," Layth reminds Tasha as crew deal with moving the cumbersome gear into place on the outer hull of the ship. "We don't want you following the flowers."

Once unpacked, they have the original heavy radio box (modified by Fred and Mariel so that it can run off of Orpheus's power grid instead of the heavy batteries) and the curved sections of the dish antennae and its support.

With everything up on the surface, Tasha kneels to check the equipment for any damage. "It's on," she reports re: her anti-glare filter. "I'm still tempted to go get one later, though. Aren't they great?" A few more seconds and she reports, "No external damage, anyway. Layth, do you want to arrange the dish or hook up the connections?"

"My armor is more flexible, so running the connections will be easier for me to do. Why don't you handle arranging and securing the dish?" Layth suggests.

"You got it." Standing, Tasha relocates to the unassembled dish array and kneels down to begin putting that together. "I hope they don't mistake this for the flower king, it does sort of look like one of them," she observes.

Once he's sure the area is secure, Gabriel helps out by open the access panels next to the airlock that provide the power and data connections. "Fred made this… thing," he notes, holding out what looks like a mechanical finger attached to a frame with a fixed camera.

"What is it?" Layth asks as he heads over to Gabriel to both see what the heck the device is, as well as to hook up one of the power cable ends.

"A thing?" Tasha looks up, then can be seen blinking at the device over the comm. connection. She doesn't get up, instead focusing on her job of arranging the dish plates.

"He said it was an interface so we could use the radio," Gabriel admits. "It looks like a mechanical finger. How exactly is this radio supposed to work, anyway?"

"Are we supposed to give command the finger?" Tasha's cackling can be very loud.

Layth thinks and rubs his head. "Oh! Didn't the radio make little long and short beeps back in New Zion? They were tapping on little metal buttons," the Lapi says.

Sure enough, once the panel is opened on the radio… there's a little spring-loaded lever that hits a contact. "Oh, that… makes sense," Gabriel admits. "So… a robot finger to send, and the camera to see the response? A finger? It could have been a plunger or something, or… just replace the mechanical contacts altogether. I think he's just twisted, at times."

Dish assembled, Tasha inserts the central structure through a hole in the bottom, then sets it in her suit's lap to secure the bolts. "Don't tell them I said that, please. I'm still trying to be accepted there," she adds once she stops laughing. She lowers the assembled dish, then extends the tripod arms and begins attaching the dish to that. "Aww, Fred's fun," she insists."

"Fred? He's strange, yes. Good kisser, though," Layth remarks as he leans in to peer closer at the 'radio' hookups and mentally try to trace what he thinks are the power lines.

It doesn't take long to finish the connections between the radio and the dish, and then to the power system (thanks to the little tool that actually determines which way power is meant to flow in a circuit). There's no obvious way to mount the robot-control frame onto the radio though. Which probably means they'll need to use actual tools somehow.

"Now … knowing Fred … it is time to use the duct tape," Layth wisely observes. "We tape it on."

"It's not like it's going to rain," Gabriel agrees.

Tasha remains by the dish, standing by to aim it when the time comes. With two people already hovering over the radio itself, there's little reason for her to crowd in. As she waits, she gazes upwards, looking out across the stars.

"Tasha should do it … in case there is a terrible tape accident," Layth offers.

"Wha?" The Vartan's head lowers, and she looks over.

"Or … just hold it straight and I'll strap it down," Layth adds and pulls out his mechanical tape-dispenser. "I feel like this machine is some sort of strange Khatta auto-licking device," he admits, "It looks like a tongue."

"That's Fred for you," observes the Vartan.

"Tape… Tasha… " Gabriel mutters, then shakes his head. "Stop trying to distract me!" he says while holding the 'gizmo' in place. "Besides, if any of use are going to catch a glimpse of a city on the surface, it'll be Tasha."

Layth's brow arches a bit at Gabriel's comment. "Remind me to show you how to do the Khattan four corners knot sometime," the Lapi tells Gabriel as he starts strapping the finger in place with the duct tape. "You can use it on Tasha… "

"Oh speaking of tape, … " Tasha's channel selection suddenly switches to Gabriel only, and she tells him, "I have this … Idea. For later." She winks, then her communications return to universal broadcast again. "Now, did either of you need me, or can I return to watching the flowers?"

Was that a flash of reflected sunlight off of the red, dead looking surface of Abaddon?

Tasha's brows suddenly shoot up, and she seems to be squinting now. "Speaking of seeing things, I think I am. Standby for dish alignment test." She kneels back down next to the shiny bowl-like device, then begins adjusting it, turning her glare reduction off. "Hold on … It may have been anything … This is far, even for me … "

"I'd hope they were shining a mirror AT us as a guide," Gabriel notes. "I should probably ask Dr. Zerachiel, he's the one who arranged this part… "

Blip-blip-blip. Pause. Blip-blip-blip. Whatever is shining up there is doing it in a pattern.

"That must be a big mirror," Tasha thinks aloud. Her eyes suddenly widen, and she says, "I'm seeing a pattern, it's … " And so, she begins relating the flashing light pattern in dots and pauses.

Layth taps his suit. "Mariel, can you hear us?" he calls into the comm.

It's the same pattern, over and over. Three-dots and a pause.

"I hear you, White Knight," Mariel says over the comm system. "What can Bellerophon do for you?"

"It repeats," Tasha confirms. "Three dots and a pause."

"We may be getting a signal from New Zion. Please check with the Doctor if he arranged for them to flash a pattern of three dots, then a pause at us," Layth says into the comm

"Just a moment!" Mariel replies. "Are you getting anything on the radio set itself yet?"

The little telegraph lever is still motionless.

"Let me know if you need adjustment, I'm holding this as best I can, but from what Fred taught us the angle and distance on this is almost incomprehensible," Tasha reports. She also adds, "Hi, Mariel!"

"No. Let's try aiming the camera at the flash?" Layth suggests.

"Dr. Z confirms they will be flashing a signal from the receiver sight, which I'm told is not New Zion itself," Mariel reports. "You need to aim the dish at it when it is directly overhead."

"Directly overhead … ," murmurs Tasha. She looks up, then releases the dish in order to make various angles with her hands against the horizon. "I wish I had Captain Eyeshine's navigation tools for this," she admits.

"What sort of tools?" Gabriel asks. "I'm not sure a sextant and compass would do much good here. We're in an 8-hour orbit."

"Well, all you have is a Karnor, a Lapi, and yourself," Layth remarks, grinning. "And I don't think any of us are flexible enough to mimic navigation tools. Or … could one of the flowers help here?"

Gabriel hmms, and looks at the flowers. "They track the sun, don't they?" he asks.

"I was thinking the sextant, but you're right, it'd have to be specially made." Staring up at the sky, she tilts her head this way and that, thinking. "They do, it seems. But I don't know enough to fabricate a device or estimation from them. Won't the receiver point be directly overhead eventually, anyway?"

"The flowers track the sun, yes," Layth says. "Can't we use that somehow?"

"Well, if we can get one over here, we can probably shade the sun from it and see if it aligns to the flashes," Gabriel suggests.

"Well, Tasha likes the flowers … she could go get one?" Layth suggests. "Or am I going to have to do it… ?

"I guess that's my queue," says the Vartan, rising. She returns her glare-guard to on, then turns to watch the flowers in the distance. "This is a good time to test the flight system, anyway. If I crash, well, it's your turn Layth!" Moving away, she clears herself and the spreads her wings. "Here goes!"

"Don't break your wings!" Gabriel says. "We'll need them to cast a shadow on the flower."

Layth heads over to keep an eye on the dish while Tasha is off picking flowers. "Have you spoken much with Fallen-Star, Big-Bad?" the buck asks.

The flight system for the suit doesn't seem to offer anything specific, once activated, other than a little notice in the HUD that it is, indeed, activated.

"Ha, ha," Tasha barks in to the comm., grinning. "Your concern is so warming, Gabriel!" The Vartan stands there for a moment, perhaps expecting something might happen with her suit, then she just shakes her head. With a sudden burst of speed, she increases her suit's strength output and dashes forward until, after a crouch, launches herself in to the air!

"I don't understand her unless someone's there to translate," Gabriel notes. "Last I recall is a camera being set up so Nora's digital PersoCom could provide that. It's… a bit creepy, talking to a real ghost."

Once in the air, Tasha's wings do what they've been doing for over a decade… and this actually seems to be working! She can fly, despite the heavy suit… but not noticeably better than she could without it. It just seems to require less effort.

"I suppose it is a matter of perspective. Talking to a persocom is creepy to me, as is having this thing around my neck and knowing it has wires going into my spine," Layth notes.

"Omeara hated the collars," Akkers notes, as he watches Tasha's flight carefully. "That's why her PersoCom is just… data. She never used it enough to impart any personality to her PC."

"Hey, this is nice," reports the black-and-silver armored woman. "Flying isn't any harder in the suit." She flies her way towards the pack of flowers with fairly impressive speed for a wing-powered machine. "Maybe I can dive and catch one before they notice. I better come in low, actually – they're looking up." "It looks like it will be on me for a while, so I will have to get used to it," Layth remarks as he idly watches the dish.

"Wasn't Omeara the original Themis-Skoll pilot, and something about being an … observer?" Tasha enters in to a glide, making her virtually silent as she begins her descent approach on the flowers.

Perhaps there are no airborne predators on Sheol, since the flowers don't react to Tasha's approach very quickly… but when they do, it is in a very unexpected manner: the petals of the 'flowers' begin to flap and undulate until the herd launches into the air itself, safe for a few stragglers that are apparently two small yet to manage the helicopter trick.

"Yes, she preferred the simpler induction helmets," Akkers replies, then grabs for his sidearm when the glass flowers start rising into the air like a cloud.

"Calm. There is no threat yet," Layth notes as he watches the dizzying array of flower-power.

"What the-" Tasha has to angle her flight path so as not to slam head first in to aerial crystals, weaving in and out between them until she spots a small cluster of the flightless variety dead ahead. Descending with her hands lowered, she swings in and … makes a grab for one!

The tall stalks make for handy handles, and are thick enough to hold the weight of the flower. The petals fold in to form a bulb, but it isn't enough to keep Tasha from carrying the flower away!

After gaining some height, Tasha performs a wingover maneuver and can be seen to be returning with her cargo. "Mission accomplished!" She reports, holding up the glittering crystalline flora she she comes in for a landing.

The pads of her hoof-boots seem to cling to the hull more than Tasha expected, so she nearly topples, but doesn't drop the critter!

"Hm, you should offer it to Big-Bad," Layth remarks and motions back towards the armored Karnor. "That way he can claim to have deflowered you."

"Ugh, I think you both have had too much exposure to Fred," Akkers comments, then says, "I think we'll need the duct tape to keep it from running off. Get in position near the antenna… and… make some shade."

"Uuuugh," echoes Tasha, who peers at her feet as she slows down. Walking forward with a strange, seemingly excessive raising of her legs, she carries the creature to Gabriel and then puts it down – but not without keeping a hand on it. She waits for someone to nab it, then heads towards the dish. "On it, Captain!"

"Also, why are my feet sticking to the deck," inquires the Vartan as she walks awkwardly back to the dish.

"So you don't slip off?" Gabriel guesses. "Hooves have less surface area for gripping."

Layth readies the tape to secure the impending flora of holy … light-following-stuff. Once Tasha has the flower in place, Layth duct-tapes the bugger in place! "Magnetic boots, Tasha," Layth answers. "Used for working on exterior surfaces. Fred mentioned such in class."

"That makes sense," Tasha agrees, kneeling down to take up the array again. "It must activate while flight mode is engaged." She closes her wings now, deactivating the mode.

"Now, just stand… uh… over here," Gabriel says, maneuvering Tasha by her hips. "And cast a big shadow!"

"Well, she has put on some weight lately… " Layth says.

"Rowr," Tasha says, laughing. She has to spread her wings again, causing 'flight mode' to pop right back up on her HUD. Eyeing Layth, she insists, "What, it's all muscle – I'm a big girl!"

Once Layth finishes securing the flower's legs, it does unfold its petals again. Maybe the presence of the antennae makes it feel more comfortable.

"Mmmmhmmm," Layth says, "And nothing to do with all that beer… "

The bulb on the end of the stalk circles around, looking for light in Tasha's shadow… and then seems to start tracking the flashes from the surface of Abaddon. It shifts and adjusts its petals to focus the meager rays, but it does show the proper angle to use, as the site comes closer to being directly overhead.

Unable to move, Tasha can't continue to glare at Layth once he moves out of head-turning range. So instead, she glares over the broadcast. "I wish we had beer," she complains. "Captain, we are going to take all the Vartan beer, aren't we?"

"Sure, we need propellant for the rocket engines still," Gabriel says in a completely straight manner.

Layth heads to the dish and eyes the flower. Now he adjusts its position to mimic the flower. "Somehow adventure always seemed grander than moving a giant bowl in time with a flower," he notes. "I suppose it is all in how it is described in verse."

"That is … That is the most horrible idea I have ever heard," the Vartan replies, looking like she does mean it. "I mean, how else will I endure Layth's jokes?"

"Well, when you write your memoirs you can give the flowers chainsaw petals or something," Gabriel suggests.

"I feel like I need a drink right now." Tasha continues to stand there, wings out. "This was not the technical assistance I was expecting to provide, you know? I have all the immediate qualifications of a large piece of anything."

"Except silence!" Layth quips, grinning.

"I'm going back to my Titan now," the Vartan insists.

Just then, the radio starts clacking away as the dish comes in range.

"We have clicking! It's staying … tick, tick, tick, tiiiick, tick," Layth helpfully observes as he tries to stabalize the dish. "Mariel, we have signal!"

"We're getting the cipher here," Mariel reports over the comm. "It's the carrier. What do you want to say back to them?"

"Big-Bad, White-Knight, and Black-Rook have landed?" Layth suggests.

Tasha, who had looked like she might have had enough standing around for one day, turns enough to look over her shoulder. "Is that it then? Can I stop standing like this?"

"You can stop, Tasha," Gabriel says. "Mariel, send back: Fenris party landed. Repeat until they send something back."

The little mechanical finger starts attacking the key.

Lowering her arms, Tasha turns around and walks over to sit next to the crystal flower. Not having much to add to the matter of communication, she activates her external camera and begins recording the flower for posterity. "Tasha to Doctors Caravelli and Zerachiel, I thought you'd like to see this."

"Well… I'm surprised this has worked," Gabriel admits. "They must have a really powerful transmitter and receiver set up down there."

"If Fred was right and my math is too … yes, wow," Layth admits after quite a bit of silence to ponder the figures. "Fred said radio signals degraded rapidly and to go distance required a lot of power."

"They may be using an old Expedition structure," Tasha suggests, finally having something to add. "We should inquire about that later, it may be something worth looking in to. A ship, perhaps."

"Well, we have some way of contacting them now at least, even if only for a few minutes per day," Gabriel says. "We can head on to the 'Green Zone' next, after we let the little flower go."

"Can't you bring it in for study?" Zerachiel asks over the comm. "They don't seem as dangerous as the crabs."

"What if Tasha wants to keep it for a pet?" Layth asks as he goes to un-tape the poor flower. "Or … that?"

"Should we?" Tasha looks down at the flower and begins smoothing over where it was taped, in a particularly maternal fashion. "I like it, it's pretty, but … Is it really right to take it away from its family?" She leans forward, tilting her head, asking the flower, "What do you think?"

"It's a flower," Layth notes.

"We can catch one after we take care of other things," Gabriel says. "Besides, those beads are seeds, aren't they Doc?"

"Err, maybe," Zerachiel admits.

Layth untapes the flower. "Fly free, little bud," he tells it. "Or scurry! Your choice."

"I know … ," Tasha admits, watching the flower do … Well, nothing really. "I guess maybe I'm feeling … Sentimental." She then turns and shoots the two men a look, "That's all your fault, you know!"

"You're accusing two men of teaching you how to be a woman?" Layth asks and gives Gabriel an odd look. "What have you been doing?"

As she stands, Tasha nudges the flower with her hands, urging it to move on. "Go on, go back to your family." She seems too intent on taking care of the flora to react; that, or she's ignoring it!

The flower scoots off a bit, but not too far. Just enough to catch the sun.

"I suppose this isn't the time to ask for a Doombeak egg then?" Zerachiel asks over the radio.

"Only if you go get it yourself. From the mother," Layth remarks into the comm.

The Vartan just pats the flower, then turns to walk towards the hatch. "I'm going before I get attached," she mumbles. She begins down, pausing only to answer, "If you want, I can get one in Melchior."

"We are not here to start a zoo," Gabriel pronounces, and heads for the airlock as well. "I don't think the flowers will accost the radio."

"WE are already a zoo," Layth points out as he follows after Gabriel. "And now … we have to head into the unknown. And … I have to figure out how to take Artemis."

"I think someone else is already attached," says the red woman, who grins teasingly in her suit. Once she gets to the floor below, she pulls out her data slate and redisplays the floorplan. "I can lead you in, but we'll lose the map once we change zones."

"Better to retrace the route you and Blammo took," Gabriel says, and checks the workstation monitoring the power systems in the Imperial zone. "Hmmm, it hasn't spread much more than before, and it's been almost eighteen hours. Oh, and I also brought a map we can use."

"Not spreading I assume is good," Layth comments as he peers around Gabriel to see the workstation. "I wonder if it is only limited to area damaged when Tasha went berserk?"

Tasha nods to that, then gestures towards the elevator, "I left the Gauss rifle in the truck. There may be more weapons down below, too, just in case we need them. Artemis would know." She begins towards the lift, going on to say, "We'll pass through several curving corridors, and what may have been a Imperial recreational facility, before arriving in the shrine. Given the reports, I have no idea what the situation is like there." She then pokes the lift button, opening the doors.

"I did not go berserk," the Vartan insists while she waits.

"Could be anything, we'll soon see," Gabriel says, and then rubs the palms of his suit's hands together for whatever reason. "It'll be just like my freshman days at college!"

"Artemis, were you able to determine anything about the Imperial area from here?" Layth calls out, looking for the goo-doe again. He looks in Tasha's direction next and asks, "So … it is normal to go shooting things and spraying water everywhere… ?"

"I have only monitored that the area of data and power systems repair has stopped growing," Artemis notes, popping up from behind a row of monitors.

"I was under advisement that that was a good idea." Tasha stands a little straighter, rather reminiscent of the Karnors whenever their own duty or eliteness is questioned. "Besides, we were facing an aggressive force – and without knowing who the security system was targeting. Plus, Blammo did too."

"Sure blame the Titanian," Layth quips. "Artemis, figure out how to become portable. We have other business to attend to," he adds and heads towards the exit.

"Artemis, are there any tools or weapons down below that would be of use in exploring that area, with potential aggressive aliens around?" Tasha glances at Layth after her inquiry, sticks her tongue out over the monitor, then backsteps in to the elevator as she waits for an answer and for the others to join her. "I should have become a pirate," she can be heard to mumble.

"We have no weapons," Artemis replies.

"I've got whatever we might need down in the truck," Gabriel notes. "Stuff I trust and understand. It'll have to do."

"I will try my best, Mr. Layth," the Synth replies to the white-armored Lapi.

"No one ever has any weapons," Tasha complains. She makes room for the others to join her in the lift, throwing her hands up in the air. "Weapons are all I'm good with!"

"You have Tasha in the truck, does that mean you understand her?" Layth asks Gabriel.

"Nobody understands women," Gabriel notes.

"Not even other women?" Layth asks as the crew heads back towards the launch bay exit and out to the truck. "Ah well."

"I think they understand other women either too well to get along, or not enough to avoid fighting," Gabriel notes. Over the comm, Nora and Mariel both chime in with, "Ha!"

---

GMed by BoingDragon

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Today is 7 days before Reckoning Day, Year 27 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6126)