The buildings of the city center have been converted over to be used by the PHTO Council for their offices. One wing of the old City Hall serves as a dormitory for guests and staff (with most of the Council members lodging at their respective embassies instead). Tasha's room was probably once an office back when the building was on Sinai but now it's a cozy apartment, with it's own private bathroom and heavy curtains to block out the large window.
The Vartan doesn't remember coming back here, but even hungover she recognizes her surroundings. There was a risk of waking up in Raehab's bed, after all, when the man brought out the really strong Vartan booze the other night. Even so, Tasha isn't alone she's got her arms around something fluffy and surprisingly hard at the same time. It must be Aaron, still zonked on painkillers! Given that Tasha is still wearing her bio-suit underwear (and also considering the Lapi's injury) it's a certainty that nothing untoward happened. Of course, sleeping in light armor has left her fur a matted mess on one side as a result.
"Ahh," Tasha breathes, pulling herself up and rubbing her face before pushing the hand through her hair. Shaking her head out, she looks down at herself, nods, then searches around until she finds her datapad. With a pained squint at the glare, she checks the time.
It's still early enough in the morning that the cafeteria would be serving breakfast; assuming Tasha's breath wouldn't cause food to curdle before she could get it into her mouth. What was in those drinks Raehab concocted? Must have been stuff needed by his insect grafts…
Whatever it was, Tasha knows she hasn't felt this hungover since before she departed on her trek across worlds. She wobbles as she stands, dragging herself and the blanket of the bed as it catches her hoof to the bathroom. She shuts the door with a thump and immediately regrets it. "
Ergh," she groans at herself in the mirror, before stumbling in to the shower.
There's a moan from the room. Aaron probably got dragged out of bed along with the blanket. But then the shower is going and drowns out any unpleasant noises, replacing them with a constant hammer of annoying noises. At least Tasha knows any number of hangover cures, thanks to her mother (and maybe Nora too, it's hard to keep track). At least the water washes away the smell of the bar and stickiness of her fur, although the inside of the suit will need some cleaning as well.
Tasha just runs a finger down her front and steps out of her suit, letting it soak in the falling water. For what seems like forever she rubs shampoo and soap in, wondering why she ever thought binge drinking was fun like every she's woken up with a hangover. When she's done, she slops out of the shower and grabs a towel. Moments later, she exits with a towel wrapped around her body and another wrapped around her head, clean if not happy. "Aaron," she croaks.
The buck is still asleep… on the floor. His new scar is visible, and really does make it look like that part of his anatomy is smiling… although since it's shaved, it isn't a very happy smile. He's clearly feeling no pain, and mutters, "Mom?"
Tasha just sighs, walking over and taking an end of the blanket and sort of dragging it over the sleeping man as she walks to the table. After sitting down and rubbing her face for a while, she gets back up, walks back in to the bathroom, moves her undersuit to a rack to dry, then picks up the tooth brush and gets to work. Something unique to Abaddon, various pastes and powders are used with brushes to clean the teeth, different from the sticks she used back on Sinai. She thinks the sound is a lot like sanding a blackboard.
And the flavors… aren't quite right. Her tongue may have gone numb out of a sense of self-preservation last night. Or it's just got hangover-fuzz on it. Eventually the dead-animal taste is scrubbed away though, which makes Tasha feel a bit more normal.
With some measure of strength restored, Tasha shakes out her undersuit and slips back in to it. Like it or not, she has work to do and food to eat. She exits the bathroom then sets about rummaging through her clothes and getting dressed. With that done, she picks Aaron up and returns him to bed where she also grabs her datapad. A return to the bathroom and some hair clawing later and the young woman feels as alive as she thinks she's going to get half alive. "Bye Aaron," she mumbles as she heads out and towards the cafeteria.
"Be home before midnight, kiddo… " Aaron mumbles. The cafeteria is lightly crowded, and the breakfast buffet naturally caters to omnivores. There's fruit, eggs (from 'chickens', a sort of bird) and lots of meats along with breads, jams, syrups and pancakes of various types. Several large metal cylinders steam and burp, full of coffee.
Tasha eyes the selection like a line of those accused of trying to murder her. She mumbles somethings darkly about eggs; a reference Gabriel's remark about the scent of Vartans. Ever since she learned just what eggs come from on this world she's avoided them out of a confused fear of cannibalism. Instead, she gets some 'orange juice' the name always making her wonder at the creativity of Terrans bacon, and bread. This is what her mind tells her will cure her headache, and she doesn't care which memory it comes from. As she passes the coffee, she pauses, gets some of that, too, then plops herself down on a seat and begins forcing food in with an expression that might make an observer wonder if she also added a side of broken glass.
"Good morning!" chirps… is it Cindy, or Sandy? She's one of the Eeee secretaries or pages or something, and her voice is like a drill in Tasha's brain. She's got brown curly hair that bounces when she walks, even. "Haven't seen you around for awhile! Out on a long survey flight?" she asks… and sets her own dish down across from Tasha. She got eggs, of course… because there weren't any fresh bugs.
The half-Vartan winces quite visibly, her ears flattening back so hard they look to be trying to escape her head. There's a moment where Tasha's inner rage assaults her new-found sense of responsibility; while blood is certainly drawn between the two, Tasha manages to keep her cool. She forces a smile to her face that looks a lot like a rictus grin, and replies, "Hello." 'Hello' feels like a monumental achievement, but as she stares at the other woman in empty silence, she slowly realizes the world wants more from her. "No. I was … " Her ears flick, the gears turns, something breaks and, " … out."
"Oh wow, you look like totally hungover," Cindy or Sandy says, her mouth full of eggs while she talks. Then she slurps at a glass of juice. "Are you hungover? Was there a party last night? I never get invited to parties for some reason. Anyway… I have a great hangover cure! It does involve a lot of vomiting though, and you need to have an oxygen tank and a breathing mask handy, and lots of towels and a bucket of warm water and a rubber hose and a hand-pump… "
"Nngh," is Tasha's response to this new information, aborting a bite of her sandwich. Peering at the foodstuff, she eases it back down and leans back. A deep breath later and she says, "Yes. I am very hungover. From drinking." She rubs at her eyes. "I apologize for … For … " Deep breath in." "For being a mess. Like this." Exhale.
"Oh… am I making it worse?" the Eeee asks, still… cheery.
"Yes," Tasha utters before she can catch it, so she presses on with, " … but it's not your fault. I won't remain soon. I mean," she squints, rubbing her brow, " … I'll be leaving. Soon. Won't be remaining; leaving soon."
"You should stop by the infirmary and get some vitamins and aspirin," the girl suggests, and lifts up her plate to move on. "Thanks for talking to me though! Hope you feel better! If you ever need someone to hold your hair back while you barf, think of me!" she says before giving Tasha some peace again.
What a nice person, Tasha thinks, and tries very hard to believe she meant that. Deciding she'd best do as the Eeee says, she stuffs the remaining food in her mouth, eyes closed and nose plugged, swallows, then picks up her tray and is off. Following the signs, she's soon there.
The infirmary is little more than another converted office, although it does have a cot and lots of locked cabinets, along with a human nurse (judging from her white uniform). She's got a mug of coffee in one hand, a doughnut on her desk and one of the local newspapers in her other hand… which she sets down as soon as she notices Tasha. "Good morning," she says, smiling in that odd human way that shows most of their teeth. "How can I help you?"
If she hadn't had so much exposure to them, Tasha might have thought humans were a very aggressive species. As it is, she just thinks they're peculiar how bad can they be? They made her ancestors! "Hi," she greets the woman, holding up a hand and a wing to block the window light. "Some vitamins … uh … C I think. Headache … hangover."
"Oh, come and sit down then," the nurse says, and gestures to the cot. "And please roll up one of your sleeves," she adds, as she goes to a cabinet and begins pulling out bottles.
Tasha rolls up a sleeve, showing the white scaled material underneath. After taking a seat, she shifts to put the window to her back.
The nurse approaches with a hypodermic syringe and an alcohol-dipped bit of gauze. It's a large syringe. "You'll need to roll up that… other material… as well," she explains. "I need to be able to find a good vein… "
Tasha blinks down at her arm until her processes catch up, then she runs a finger down her arm so the sleeve splits.
It takes a minute for the nurse to feel out a vein, but she's clearly experienced at doing so in the presence of thick fur. There's a rub, and then a prick of the needle. It's a substantial injection, and when it's down the nurse tells Tasha to hold the gauze in place for a minute, while she goes and pours a beaker full of water.
The young hybrid does so, thinking that if she could only remember these moments, she could learn abstinence. That brings the first laugh of the day, along with an immediate cringe as she experiences her own laughter full on.
"Drink this all down," the nurse says, handing the hefty glass beaker to Tasha. It's got a straw in it, too. "Have you eaten yet today?"
Tasha looks up from where she has her muzzle wrapped around the straw and nods.
"How much?" the woman asks, as she sits back down and… dunks her doughnut. "Was it mostly protein?"
"Bacons," Tasha says between sips, "Bread." "Orange juice." "Coffee."
"You'll need more than that," the nurse says, and turns to scribble something on a piece of paper. Meanwhile, whatever was in that shot is actually working Tasha's brain doesn't seem to be trying to burst out of her skull as much.
Feeling better, a slight grin returns to Tasha face as she she sips. She isn't sure why, but it all makes her feel like a little kid except she doesn't remember any of this from her childhood. "Thank you," she gets in. Once her glass is done, she sets it down and asks, "Do you have to treat this a lot… ?"
"There isn't much else to do around here," the nurse points out. "Farming is high-stress, but also pays well; nothing to spend the money on except booze though, for now. Or joining a dance class and listening to badly performed music." She hands the slip of paper to Tasha: it's a prescription. For steak.
"I wish Remy would prescribe this more," Tasha remarks upon reading the note in her hands. She puts the flask aside, kicking her feet over so she can turn to face the doctor. "Even if this is common, I'm sorry to trouble you with something so trivial. I'm used to dealing with this myself, but I've had it drilled in that I shouldn't take chances and should see medical professionals whenever … Well, whenever." She smiles a bit more, tucking the note away. "I guess I'll be going I have a bit to do before I depart."
"Try to take it easy on yourself," the nurse advises.
"That's what got me in to this," Tasha replies, winking. She slips off the table and offers another, "thank you," and is off again. Things progress rapidly from here. She grabs a steak which she munches along the way to the airfield, earning a few looks from hungry Karnor. Her target now: a quick return trip to Harmonia to fetch her shaard, a quick stop to pick up a beret so that she can clearly demonstrate her affiliation in Expedition City, and a ticket on the train her first real train ride.
There's actually quite a bit to get done before the train leaves in the evening. Dr. Zerachiel has extracted the sensor recordings from Melchior, and is putting together his report but needs input from Tasha. He's certain that Harmonia's communications relay ability will be the big selling point to overcome any worries the Council may have, and suggests letting them worry about what information needs to be kept secret. He's already talked a bit with Harmonia herself, over the comlink, and is busily sending survey data back to Bellerophon to make use of MOTHER's processing power. Mainly, he wants to know if Tasha has anything she absolutely does not want the Council to know.
"I'm uncertain what to tell them about the anti-matter weapon," Tasha replies, wiping the last bits of steak from her nails. "We could say it's part of the drive unit, which is true, but no matter how I think of it, I can't see sovereign powers would approve of something so power so near their greatest asset." Tilting her head, Tasha thinks a moment. "Harmonia herself may wish to take contact easy, although we're really the only group that can reach her physically. You may as well tell them I'm the … 'captain,' though. They've seen me use technology to their advantage already, and I think they trust me as much as politicians trust anyone, so, the connection may help the rest."
"And you've disabled the weapon aspect of the drive already, right?" Eli asks, looking up from his tablet.
Tasha's head shakes. "No, I didn't feel that it was right to rob Harmonia of her defenses. I thought that would show a lack of trust, but I also couldn't risk Tartarus's safety, so, as a compromise, the weapon system has been locked to me."
"Well… maybe it would be more politic to explain that nothing short of a gigantic flying alien mountain-pancake has made Harmonia use her drive as a weapon," Eli suggests.
Tasha points a finger at Eli. "That's good; lets use that." She leans back and taps her head. "I'm still a bit slow from the hangover. It looks like Raehab lived up to my faith in him, speaking of trust."
"And given that there are still creatures from the dimension out there, and thus the possibility of more giant ones… having a friendly floating fortress that can defend the Pit from them in a pinch is a good thing," he adds.
The young woman nods again. "That's a good angle. Just be sure to reach me if you ever do need to fire and I'm not present; I should be able to give the order remotely. And that reminds me; those creatures can definitely leave the Zone. Beyond that, I think the larger one, if our theory is correct, may have been directing the activities of the smaller ones, and a number of the ground ones were in tunnels. At first I thought they were lava tunnels, but after drinking so much water today, it came to me that maybe they're burrowing for water, to better speed up the atmospheric change."
"Hmmm, we'll have to confirm that," Eli notes, his eyebrows raising. "It may make it worth capturing one alive, using that stunning trick you discovered. If they really can be controlled via radio, and can be used to access buried resources, they'd be very valuable. And we need to see if they survive without the big one, and on whatever they can scavenge around the Forbidden Zone… "
Tasha folds her arms. "So, we're sending Tasha in to danger again, are we… ?"
"Well, more of… a safari… " Zerachiel suggests with a grin. "A proper expedition a JEF expedition, even."
"Well, hokay," Tasha replies in mock-exasperation, grinning. "I'd better go get Gabriel then. Did I tell you I'm heading to Expedition City this evening? Or did I dream that? Or… tell Raehab … " She scratches her nose, head cocked. "You know, I'm not sure of which of you I was talking to. You weren't in the tavern, were you? Then again, with how strong his drinks are, it may have been a curtain."
"You can't really be confusing me with a Vartan, right?" Eli asks. "Anyway, keep your communicator active with the relay in place, we should be able to keep in contact. What are taking with you? And are you traveling alone?"
"I'm taking my clothes, one of those berets the PHTO council guards wear to make it clear who I'm affiliated with and more importantly help to show who I am not affiliated with my datapad, toiletries, and my personal microshaard that I picked up back at Tartarus. As for company, well, I didn't think the trip would be especially dangerous," Tasha answers.
"Huh, I'm surprised," Eli admits. "Although I suppose you're meeting Gabriel at some point, it's still the first time I recall you traveling by yourself."
"Well … My policy until now has been to ask for guards, because I know that if something happened to me, it would hurt more than myself. But, after the volcano, Harmonia, the monsters … and her … I feel like I can walk alone, even if it's dangerous." Taking a breath deep, Tasha closes her eyes and exhales, head shaking. "Maybe that's still too risky for others? I just feel … I'd like a moment to myself for a change, and if things go wrong, I believe I can handle it without involving others needlessly. Is that vain, you think?"
"Well, I don't worry about your safety, so much, as you being alone," Eli says. "You seem the type to brood. But you can call anytime, and not just here you can talk to anyone on the Bellerophon too. I just hope you don't get bored."
"Ever since I started speaking with the minds of machines, ever since I began incorporating more and more people in to what we're working to achieve, and not just that, making friends, expanding my family … I don't feel as isolated as I used to, and lately, I never feel completely alone," Tasha admits, opening her eyes. "You know, Gabriel also said he was worried. Not about my safety, but about me being alone. I wondered if there was more to those words than what they suggest on the surface … " The woman glances towards the windows, staring out it a moment before looking back. "But, maybe not. You say it, too. Do I seem that lonely?"
Tasha pauses, then raises a brow. "Or did he mention this across the comm?"
"Well… there is some concern," Eli admits. "Whenever you've been alone before… well… " He pauses and taps the back of his head, probably to symbolize Tasha's implants. "You always seem to come back with something new and frightening," he admits with a smirk.
"New and frightening … " Tasha's other brow goes up, then she barks a laugh. "My mother would say that fits me very well. I can't deny I've had problems with being alone, both because I was alone, and because of what I found or what found me. But, I understand now what the dreams mean, and I know now that I can, with effort, become resilient person and, with more effort, also a good one. The young woman lifts up a an arm, straightening it and opening her hand. "I hold a great responsibility; beyond that, the places I go, the things I see … some of them are only places I can go, and I don't think they've ended. I should be stronger."
"Expedition City is mainly Terrans and Silent-Ones," Eli notes. "You may be the only winged person there. Just be aware that you may have a lot of attention. It's also a bit more military from what I understand."
"I'll have my shaard with me, but that's just a last resort. More proactively, I got one of the Council guard berets to wear which should, along with my weapon and uniform, help show I'm not a Confederate or, at least, one who's interested in joint efforts." Tasha smile fades as she leans back, resting her hands in her lap. "I know I'll probably hear the names again. Even if they're not true, they're going to make me think of my father, and what I am. That is, strange. An outsider. It will be a good chance for me to try and work past these concerns." A little smile creeps on to her face, and she adds, "I also have the Archon's naming ceremony, so maybe that will help me with the Silent-Ones. Or, maybe they'll reject me anyway. I guess … I guess it'll be an interesting cultural exchange, even if it ends up being not a pleasant one. I just hope Gabriel isn't pulled in to things."
"Ah yeah, your mask," Eli notes, grinning. More seriously, he says, "I have no idea how the Pit is seen by the people in Expedition City, so the beret may or may not be useful. However, there must be a Knights Templar outpost or mission there, if that's where Riddle Smith is sending you… "
"I'm sure the Knight outpost there will be understanding, but the rest … Well, who knows? I'm used to bad towns, at least. I just hope Gabriel doesn't get any grief for being with me; that's the last thing he needs. Still, it'll be good to see him out and about." Tasha head shakes, and she frowns. "I'm not the only one who seems lonely, but I think his is … because he can't let go. I hope Remy was able to help him."
"Well, being with you here should help," Eli notes. "You can go exploring the countryside."
"I'd like that, but I'm really more interested in the city. I've been seeing countryside for hours on end during my missions, and beyond that, most of my life. The city is the one place I could never really go. I could fly anywhere in the world, but I could never fly higher than the docks or the slums," the hybrid admits, twisting her muzzle. She's silent for a moment, then says, "The cities here are more amazing than anything on Sinai. I know they're, well, quaint to you, but to me, they're exciting."
"Be sure to take pictures of any surviving technology you come across," Zerachiel reminds Tasha. "You never know where spare parts might be found. Especially be watchful for reactor components."
Tasha begins to open her mouth, then pauses, looking like she'd just seen ghost. "Reactor components! Why don't you ask Sheol? In my dream, it was Sheol that provided a modified reactor so you could … well … that's not important."
"Sheol? Well, I imagine they have more pressing matters to deal with," Zerachiel notes. "Plus, we couldn't just go and pick up the parts if they could provide them."
"That's true … You'd need a good reason," That's hopefully not me. "Anyway, I'll look. Really, I'm excited! It'll be a lot of fun to see the sights and experience the town. This will be the first time I'll be entering a new city, and not as a wanderer or a nobody, as someone who matters. I can finally go past the slums; I can meet a new city without feeling like I'm not good enough. And, the people! I may believe AI are people, too, but we're still very different, and they're still very few. It'll nice to be in a crowd again and to have a moment to just live in it," Tasha admits.
"Hopefully they won't be as intimidating as… the bunnies were," Eli notes, without any humor. Amazonia left its mark on him too. "I would think a crowd of dour Silent-Ones would be pretty close though."
"They are pretty intimidating some times," Tasha agrees. "It doesn't help they all really look the same, either. Being a Vartan, things that look the same tend to get the same treatment, so I'm really glad they wear masks, or I could never trust any of them." Her nose crinkles and she blinks. "That also means I know what they all look like naked! Ow, I wish I hadn't made that connection. Maybe it will help if I get a bad reception."
"What does how they look naked have to do with anything?" Eli has to ask. "What about the women?"
"Well … it's … I'm not sure what my logic was with that, now that I think about it. A naked man calling me an abomination … No, actually that sounds worse!" Tasha makes a face."I'm glad I never have to hear those words in that way. I don't know what I'd do." She shakes her head, then replies, "I assume they all look he same way, if Fallen-Star is indicative. They're all … very … "
" … Homogenous."A curiousmix of emotions crosses Tasha's face as she stops mid sentence. First her eyes widen and ears perk, then she frowns and cocks her head, then she just shakes it and looks contemplative. "Hmm."
"I'm sure someone could use that to indulge in a twins fantasy," Eli says with a chuckle, and then pats Tasha on the shoulder. "I'll leave you to your packing. I imagine it's alright for Aaron to stay in your room until he's done recovering?"
"Oh, sure. Aaron and I had been sharing camping space since before you and I met! He's really very honest, if a bit perverted, but what man isn't?" Tasha winks at Eli, then pulls out her datapad. "I'm going to provide you a copy of some of the Magi information I gathered, as well, just in case. Given it's all very cryptic, your guess may be as good as mine. Which reminds me that I should be, at the very least, careful about the Kamp. It's just a suspicion, but it seems possible they know something about the Magi project, too, what with the insular speciesist humans searching the planets for who-knows-why."
"They hardly seem to have resources to spare but they are allied with the Khattan Emirate on Sinai," Eli remarks. "I agree that they're worrisome though. If anyone would try to sabotage the JEF, it would be them."
"You think so … ?" Tasha frowns, nodding as if she already knew the answer. "I see. Khattans. Maybe the Khattans know something, too. Maybe they have one of the Magi, or at least a legend the Khattans would be the best group to know the prophecy-code through their own databases. It always seemed peculiar to me that the Kamp of all people allied with the Khattans. Not the Terrans who are gregarious, not the Silent-Ones who are at least feline, if once slaves on Sinai … Not even the Empire, which maintains a scholarly air on both worlds. No, it was the Kamp, a speciesist minority militant power. On the surface it seems almost unbelievable now that I think about it, but now that I know about the Magi and the Markers it begins to make sense. A lot of sense. Maybe they're playing each other, I don't know, but … we should be careful. If they know of the prophecy-code, they'll want it for themselves. They'll want the Markers, and maybe their carriers and the Magi, too."
"Best be cautious then," Eli says. "There's a good chance they don't know anything about the Markers or Magi so you need to be careful not to let them know in that case. As for the alliance, from what I understand, it was simply that the Kampfengruppe held the area around the Abaddon Gateway Tower, and so were the first group to make contact when the Sinaians activated the Gateway."
Tasha purses her muzzle, then nods. "Well, let's hope that's all it is. I guess I'm a bit paranoid, but that seems safer than being too carefree. I think I may ask for a Knight guard after all just in case." She puts her datapad away after it stops blinking, folding her hands on her lap again. "As for keeping things concealed, I'll do what I can. I've asked a few people, so maybe it's too late the code and the Markers demand I broaden my search as they could be anywhere but, hopefully I've chosen trustworthy people. In Expedition City, I'll need to be even more particular."
"Do you know any Knights who could accompany you?" Eli asks. "Or will you just try to get one when you arrive?"
"Well, we know Malachite, but his duty is to guard the Ambassador. Maybe I'll detour to the Winged Citadel and explain the situation; then, they can assign someone to me. I've been meaning to do so, but I could never quite escape the idea a bodyguard seemed … well, cowardly, even if I had good reasons for having one. That's probably the old me not wanting to let go." Tasha grins a little, then says, "I'm sure they'll have someone, even if they're just sending someone with me because they needed someone to go to Expedition City anyway."
"Perhaps thinking of them as a 'guide' in unfamiliar territory is more constructive," Zerachiel suggests. "It would certainly help you avoid potential trouble."
"Oi, yes. Even back when I was little, I knew to behave when the Knights Templar were around," Tasha admits with a chuckle. "I'm glad you're so smart!" She smiles, then asks, "I wonder if I could pick my own color?"
Eli is silent says, totally unprepared for that twist. "If not, maybe they'll have paint… " he manages.
Tasha wags her tail, grinning as she stands up. "Maybe!" Barking a laugh, she glances towards the door. "You know, I won't be the only one who's alone," she begins, looking back. "Don't hesitate to talk to the others or to go out and meet people and you, even more than I, need a bodyguard! Don't overwork yourself either! And take care, Eli. I know I didn't give you much attention when we first came to this world because of Gabriel, but in these past weeks I've learned what a kind, considerate, and amazingly intelligent man you are. Don't waste it all on computers and data." Then she smiles, and holds her hands out.
"Unless the computer or data is alive, then by all means," the young woman adds, winking.
Zerachiel steps forwards to give Tasha a hug. "I just think of you as a daughter, I guess," he admits.
Tasha gives the older wolf a kiss on the cheek. "I don't know who my father is, but if I could chose, I'd want him to be exactly like you," she says, smiling.
"Now… off with you," Eli says, making shooing motions. "I've got work to do, and you need to go shopping for a Knight and… getting your gun and such… "
"Oh, I see how it is dad. Love and affection? No, go get your Knight and fancy gun, go jump in to danger Tasha! I never get to be safe and boring!" She laughs all over again, and Eli can still hear her laughing and commenting all the way down the hall.
Hangar Bay, Harmonia
The metal petals of the hangar hatch form the upper part of this dome-shaped chamber. Fanciful gold and bronze struts arch along the walls and serve to separate the space into different areas. Pathways of programmable matter criss-cross the floor, acting as conveyor belts for vehicles and supplies. Lighting is indirect, coming from the struts and the walls themselves, often emanating from behind clockwork-styled artwork and panels.
At Harmonia's current altitude, the atmosphere is too thin to support animal life. This means Tasha is confined to Melchior's cockpit while the hangar depressurizes, even as the conveyor strips move the Gryphon back towards a charging bay. A pressure indicator in Tasha's virtual display turns green when the air is thick enough to breath again, although the temperature reading is still on the cold side.
"I'll be back in a bit, Melchior! Just getting my things," Tasha thinks to her machine's AI, command seat turning and straightening in anticipation of her departure. "Standby. Pilot disconnect."
Soon, Tasha is standing atop her machine as the chill air of low orbit wafts through her hair and fur, taking a deep breath. It's just like when we entered or left Rephidim," she decides before gliding to the ground and beginning towards her quarters.
The sound of the blowers is starting to diminish, now that the bay is pressurized to the same level as the rest of the ship. The doors fold open to expose the corridors that branch out in all directions, and the Harmonia's clockwork avatar enters from the one that leads to the bridge. "Welcome back, Tasha," it says in a slight variation of Tasha's own voice. "Your friend, Dr. Zerachiel, is very interesting to talk to."
"It's nice to see you too, Harmonia." Tasha pauses to regard the ship's avatar, then suddenly walks over and offers her a hug, smiling. "He is, isn't he?"
"Is he cute?" the machine asks innocently. "You are going to be leaving on a trip, aren't you?"
Tasha blinks a moment, then reaches over and hugs the clockwork avatar anyway. As Harmonia's makeshift mother, she's decided it's her motherly right to shower affection no matter how awkward! "He is pretty cute," she decides after laying her head on Harmonia's shoulder and thinking a moment. "I used to be intimidated by his education, so it's not so bad now. More importantly, he's kind and considerate I don't think anyone was more worried about me than he was, when I failed to return from my first flight. I would trust him with my life." leaning back, Tasha nods. "Yes. I need to go to Expedition City to meet our leader and to investigate Progenitor cults and any other information I can find related to the Markers."
"When will you be back?" the clockwork twin asks.
"I'm not sure," Tasha replies, stepping back. "But, I'll never be so far away that you can't reach me via my datapad's communicator. It will all depend how well the search goes, and the Captain's orders and needs."
"I've seen the city at long range," Harmonia notes. "And remember the landing. It is a scary place; a graveyard of ships."
"I can see why it would seem intimidating to you," Tasha agrees, frowning. "I'm not particularly comfortable with what it represents, either, but what's done is done; we should respect the city's history and learn from it. There's also the people; I haven't been able to explore a great city in quite a while, and certainly not in such a socially mobile way, so it will be a new experience for me. With luck, we'll also learn something maybe even find unused technology we can use to repair the Bellerophon."
"Do you like Bellerophon more than me?" Harmonia asks, all innocence and smiles.
Tasha blinks at this, mouth working. "What? No! And, wait … Wait, that's not important!" Placing her hands on Harmonia's shoulders, the young woman meets the ancient machine's avatar eye to eye. "Bellerophon is a nice ship, and it's where my family lives, but the Bellerophon isn't alive like you are. Harmonia, I grew up on a ship, and I think each and every ship deserves respect and an acknowledgement of its spirit. For most ships this is more of a intangible thing, but for you it's very real. I care about other ships because it's my way, but I don't speak to them, at least not in words. And you, you're like my daughter. It doesn't matter to me if you're flesh or an AI; I care about you." Taking a breath, Tasha leans back again, exhaling before she says, "It's not good to have the mindset of better and worse. There are just … colors, and they're all important in their own way. In their own way, and together."
"But gold is the best color isn't it?" the automaton fishes. "Is there anything you want me to do while you are gone?"
"You are going to make me old before my time, I just know it," Tasha insists, smiling. "As for what to do, please continue to work with Eli studying the crystals and keeping the communications array going. Eli may have other ideas of what to do, so please listen to him."
"Alright… mother," Harmonia says with a gear-filled grin. "I will keep watch with my telescope as well. Is there anything you need while you're here?"
"I need to retrieve my shaard duplicate for my defense, just in case something goes wrong and I need to protect Gabriel or myself," Tasha replies. "And … I'd like it if you keep calling me 'mother.'"
"Alright, I can have it brought here if you like," the ship offers.
"Hokay," Tasha agrees. While she waits, Tasha settles back and smiles at the avatar, in a peculiar, contended way she doesn't seem to notice.
"What have you been doing while Eli and I did our research?" the robot asks next, while presumably the weapon is being brought by some other mechanism.
"Oh, well, I spoke with Raehab and, well, I got a bit drunk … " Tasha shrugs a little, still grinning. "I'll tell you about Raehab in time; but now is too soon. Um, besides that, I've been thinking about how to talk to the Council about you. Eli and I are of a mind that it may be best to tell them the truth, as we can't expect them to be oblivious forever. Honesty may be the safer path here and they are of little danger to you up here. Besides that … ," Tasha takes a deep breath, stretching her wings, " … relaxing I suppose! It's been a difficult few weeks, what with the politics, giant monsters, and almost dying an all."
"That all sounds exciting, though," the robot notes, as a 'boat' floats in on the rippling golden floor, holding the heavy case containing the mini-shaard.
"Oh it is, don't get me wrong, but even an adventurer like me needs a break now and then, otherwise you'll wear yourself out and won't be able to appreciate the adventure or survive it!" Tasha picks up her personal weapon as it glides over, patting the case. "Being prepared doesn't hurt, either."
"What do you do on a break?" the robot asks, moving to help carry the case if needed. "Do you read books?"
Tasha pats the avatar's hand, smiling as she holds the weapon away. "Your mother grew up lifting heavy things; I won't be able to look my mother in the eye if I start having people carry my things!" She barks a laugh, tail wagging. When the noise dies down, she replies, "Reading is one thing I do, usually pre-loaded things on my datapad. Other times I socialize, drink, drink and socialize, go out and fly, and sometimes all I do is watch the world, remembering just how new everything is. And, depending on the situation, there may be something else to do, like visit a hot spring or see the shops."
"That seems very biological," Harmonia notes. "Melchior is fully charged now."
"I am very biological!" Tasha reaches over and pushes a finger to her cheek, showing she is, indeed, squishy and organic. "But I'm also a machine." The hand goes to her head, tapping it, " … even if just barely. Maybe I should try relaxing in the way machines relax? Want to show me your way of living, when I get back?"
"Certainly," the robot says, seeming to perk up a bit. "Hurry back."
"I'll try not to stay overlong. Be well talk to Eli, he's lonely!" Tasha leans over and kisses her mechanical child on the forehead, then heads off, waving a hand behind her.
It takes some maneuvering to get the weapon case secure in the cockpit (and for a moment it looked like it would need to stay in the airlock, or else be carried down in Melchior's hand) but it's finally in place and out of the way. The indicators show the hangar is open again, and the floor moves the Gryphon into launch position.
Settling in, Tasha thinks, "Harmonia is starting to get used to people, I think. It's nice to see her so interested in life. She even seemed excited when I offered to come and see how machines live with her," she thinks to Melchior.
"Khatta systems are designed to be personable," the Gryphon's AI notes. "They are not made for combat."
"That's good. I think this world has seen enough combat, anyway," Tasha replies. She folds her arms under her head and leans back, gazing at the ceiling. "In a way, she reminds me of a child. I don't want my children to have to fight; I don't want her to ever think aggression is the answer, like I had."
"You are very good at it though," Melchior notes, as the Gryphon spirals down towards the landing field. From up here, the Tasha can even see the train approaching the cliff-top depot.
Tasha turns her eyes in the way one might if glancing back from reverie, save that the cockpit is dark. "Do you think so? I used to think I'd be good at it, but that was just my bravado blinding me to my faults and the needs of others. What I really wanted was to vent my frustration. Now a days, I think I must be a very mediocre fighter. Most of my ability comes through you, or other technology. I know there are many better, and I'm fine with that."
"Not all aggression is violent," the Gryphon says cryptically. "I will miss you while you are away. I enjoyed fighting the monsters."
"Not all aggression is violent … I'm going to think on that as I travel." The young woman then smiles, entwining a hand from behind her head to run it across the ceiling. "I'll miss you, too. You're a part of me, and whenever I'm away from here too long, I always feel a little diminished. Beyond that, I like you. You've changed a great deal since we've met, and I think, maybe, you're becoming like Harmonia."
"I adapt to compliment my pilot," Melchior claims. The jets kick in for a short boost before final landing approach.
Tasha sits up in anticipation of landing, even though the landing is mostly automated; she could land doing a handstand as long as her mind-machine interface was connected. "Well, then, I think you're adapting very well! And, you know, I think you're helping me to adapt, too."
"Adapt to what situation?" the ship asks, with a curious tone, as it handles the landing.
"The situation of living, Melchior," the young woman replies, grinning.
"I would think you were already adapted to that," the machine says, as the Gryphon touches down, and begins walking to its berth in the hangar.
"I'm not sure any of us truly are, or never so much as we may think," Tasha insists, sitting up. "At the very least, you've also helped me improve in ways associated with what we do together, in addition to the mental growth you've inspired in me. You are quite wise … "
Tasha drops back down for one last moment in her cockpit, eyes closed, simply feeling herself touch the endless depths of numbers, of energy flowing, steel moving, and the mind that exists therein.
Melchior certainly has a certain presence, wrapping around Tasha like giant arms. "Be careful," it says, before going into standby mode and disconnecting the neural interfaces.
Even as the feeling fades away, Tasha remains where she is, letting it linger a while in her mind before she finally departs. It takes some work to get her weapon case out, but eventually she does so, dropping to the deck.
Commanding-Hand perks his ears at the sight of the large case.
"Girl stuff," Tasha explains as she walks by, winking.
After changing out of her armor and into her uniform (complete with beret), Tasha catches a ride on one of the steam-powered Knights Templar ground vehicles for a bouncy trip to the elevators. This takes her through the Confederate zone; a series of half-finished greenhouse domes lacking walls, where Eeee and Korvs and Vartans can be seen working at construction and agriculture. There are even fenced in areas with some of the surviving Plaguebringer-like bug-vehicles.
Tasha takes in the sites with interest; after all, her travels typically carried her over the landscape but rarely on a level with it. She realizes she'd only seen Eeee and Vartans thusfar, somehow missing the Korvs and other flying species that make up the Confederacy. Seeing them all working together to grow food seems a far sight from the tales of their national aggression, renewing her hope things continue to develop in a peaceful way. "Abaddon's seen enough war … ," she murmurs under her breath.
"Pardon?" the driver asks, a young human with acne. He's probably just a Knight trainee still.
"Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about something I told a friend," Tasha tells the young man, smiling. Turning to face him fully, she asks, "How did you end up joining the Knights Templar?"
"Seemed better than joining the army," the lad notes, as the vehicle hits a bump and the balloony tires send it skyward for a moment.
Instinctively, Tasha spreads her wings to compensate for the momentary weightlessness, causing her to float a second before dropping back in to her seat with an, "oof!" Rubbing her butt, she turns back to the man and says, "Well, it's good of you either way. And, maybe you can help me: I need someone to help me navigate Expedition City, someone who knows the sights and can handle themselves."
"I… know the City," the boy admits. "I grew up there."
"Oh. How do you feel about danger?" Tasha asks, ears perking as she turns to give the young man her full attention.
"Well… " the boy says, and glances at Tasha… and seems cowed a bit by her attention. "I'm not a fighter. I run away if I can't win… "
"That makes you a better fighter than most," Tasha insists, winking. She pulls her weapon case from behind her, lugging it through the air and in to her lap. "I don't anticipate any danger, but I can never be absolutely sure of safety, either. As a traveler and a politician, it's possible something could happen, and I want to be ready. If you feel you can handle that, then I will request the Knights allow you to accompany me as a guide."
"B-but… you're a woman," the boy points out, blushing furiously and focusing on the road.
Tasha's ears shoot up and for a moment she blinks at the side of the boy's head, until she barks a surprised laugh. "Oh! You've found me out!" Laughing more, she looks down at herself and straightens her uniform, "Sometimes people can't tell, what with the fancy armor. It's really very nice when people notice, you know?" Winking again, she pats her case and explains, "It's OK, I didn't mean to embarrass you! I'm just used to traveling with men. I know the Expedition doesn't allow women to fight, but I'm actually from Sinai. I've been here on assignment, and now I need to go to Expedition City. But if you'd rather not, well, I certainly don't want to ask you to do anything you'd rather not."
"I'd have to ask my supervisor at the depot," the driver says, as he slows the vehicle and waves to the elevator operator, who lowers the gate. The whole vehicle drives onto the platform for the ride to the top of the cliffs.
"I can wait! So long as I don't miss the train, I have time. And I know all about checking in with supervisors." Leaning back and resting her head, Tasha takes a deep breath and turns to watch the sky, exhaling before she speaks again. "I'm sorry to make you uncomfortable. If you want, I'll keep to myself?"
"It… won't be long," the human claims. He does keep quiet during the long ride up, however, probably thinking over the offer.
For her part, Tasha seems content to watch the sky and enjoy a moment of peace, thinking about what the Melchior told her, Harmonia, and the world she now lives upon.
At the top of the cliff, the vehicle moves out onto the circular road that surrounds the Pit. There are lots of industrial buildings here, made of stone and concrete and often with metal roofs. It isn't clear what they all do, but there is certainly plenty of noise involved.
Breaking from her thoughts, Tasha sits up to get a look at the construction going on. She's seen and heard about the dome, but never actually been to where the construction happens. Building a dome over an immense canyon seems like a monumental task to her, one she's interested in seeing the outcome of.
Some of those buildings must house giant furnaces and glass-making equipment and of course, each faction likely has their own facilities, rather than using a single source. The car bounces down a side road, and arrives at the train yard. There is a maze of tracks and switches and dozens of boxcars and flatcars and everything in between, loaded with coal or steel for use in the factories. The recently arrived train is already being broken up, as individual cars are taken to side-tracks or unloaded on the spot, while cars carrying produce are joined to the engines. Only one of the cars looks fit for passengers.
Sitting up, Tasha places her hands on the rail and leans forward. "Ahh, the train! This will be my first time on a real train!" She grins, tail wagging, perhaps not a little bit from having her face in the wind.
"I hope you brought earplugs," the boy says, and brings the vehicle to a stop next to the train platform. The terminal building as the symbol of the Knights on it, as does the train: which makes sense, if you didn't trust any of the individual factions to transport the food. "Follow me inside, please," the boy says, climbing down from the vehicle.
Tasha grabs her weapon case and duffel, slinging the back over her right arm and holding the case with her left. After adjusting things a bit, she follows along after the boy. "It's OK, I'm used to loud noises," she insists in a cheery tone.
Inside the building is a large, mostly-empty waiting room, with one wall behind a long counter with busy clerks behind it. It's a mixed group, in Templar uniforms but like the driver, they don't seem to be Knights, merely support personnel. "Is mister Bobbo in?" the boy asks the Eeee clerk, who gets up to check through a door in the back.
Tasha sets her case down, leaning on it as she looks around with interest and a grin that might seem out of place in a dusty, noisy construction yard. "It's really fascinating how everyone is coming together to build the dome," she remarks, still looking around. "And really, that you can even build a dome like this. And it's made of metal! My mother's beak would fall off, seeing this."
"Beak-rot, eh?" asks a burly green Vartan stuffed into his uniform, who comes up to the counter when Tasha is looking away. "I'm Bobbo," he says, then turns to the boy and asks, "What'd you want, Toby?"
"Ah, well, not exactly!" Tasha smiles at the bigger Vartan, wagging her tail, then she turns to regard the boy and his answer.
"Ah, this is Tasha, Mr. Bobbo," the boy replies. "She works for the Council, and is going to Expedition City on… why are you going to Expedition City, again?" Toby pauses to ask Tasha.
Tasha's ears perk as she's suddenly focused on. "I'm meeting the leader of our group so that I can escort him here; he's to address the Council and, I believe, the Pit as a whole. In addition, I need to conduct some personal research and would also like to look around a bit, the city being such a historical site, especially to our organization," the young woman answers after a moment to collect her thoughts.
"She asked if I could be her guide," Toby notes then.
The Vartan looks from the teenager to… the slightly older teenager. "No hanky-panky, drinking or gambling," he says.
"I can't promise that myself," the young woman replies, her grin only widening.
"What?" Toby asks, looking shocked at Tasha.
"Because our leader is also my mate, and while I learned my lesson about gambling, I'm still very find of alcohol," Tasha replies, leaning more on her weapon case and looking very amused.
"None of that for Toby though," Bobbo explains. He also looks like he might want to go now though.
"I'll try and keep him in line. I don't force my interests on others, if that's your worry," says the red woman in a more serious tone.
"Okay, I'll sign him out to you," the Vartan says, and pulls up some forms from behind the counter. Apparently there's an 'escort' form for just such an occasion. As he fills it out, Toby asks Tasha, "Do I need to bring anything?"
"You'll need as much clothing and personal supplies as you think you'll require and maybe a weapon should things get tough. Other than that, bring what you feel is best," Tasha replies, resting, as she is, on her own supplies.
"I'll be right back," Toby says, and heads out of the building. There's probably a supply room the Templars use.
By the time Bobbo is finished with the form and handing it to Tasha to sign, Toby returns with a small backpack over one shoulder, and a canvas bag held in one hand.
Tasha accepts the form and after looking it over signs, "Tasha," for the name, "Pilot Cadet" in the title area, and "Joint Expeditionary Force" in the organization section. She hands it back with a smile, then turns to wave at Toby as he enters. "Exciting, isn't it?"
"I hope not too exciting," the boy says, but is grinning at least. "We should go find space on the train first come, first serve."
"That sounds familiar." Tasha waves to the other Vartan, then picks up her things and nods to the boy, grinning. "You're the guide guide away!"
There is indeed only one passenger car for the train, and the few people traveling to Expedition City (or beyond) are already claiming spaces. There are several cabins, with glass privacy doors along the length of the car, each with two bench seats that face each other and storage space above. Under the window is a hinged table that can be unfolded as well. Toby manages to get them one that's close to the restroom, and farthest from the train engine.
Tasha follows inside, stuffing her duffel up in the storage space but leaving her black case leaning against the wall beside her. "I'm not used to being a passenger," she explains as she settles in. "I spent most of my life bringing goods and people around the world, and I'm a pilot now, so, having other people take me anywhere is always a bit of a novelty."
"Really?" Toby asks in surprise. "Have you ever driven one of the steam-buggies before?" He sits on the bench opposite Tasha, setting his own pack on the luggage rack but keeping the sack at hand.
"Well, no, not one of those, but I know how to drive an electric powered truck, that's sort of the same idea with different technologies. I started out as a drover, but these days I pilot various flying craft, mostly when it doesn't pilot itself of course!" The woman smiles, inwardly glad her guide is beginning to open up. She had worried he'd be too uncomfortable around her, as some boys can be around his age, especially non-Vartans.
"And… you're already married too?" Toby asks. "Where did you go to school? You seem to have done an awful lot already."
"Well, not married … He's … " The red woman pauses, gazing out the window a moment where Toby can see her pensive expression in the reflection of the glass. By the time she looks back, she's smiling again. "He's been through a lot and I don't want to press the issue. As for school, well, I didn't … not exactly. You could say that I learned by experience and through intensive study with learning machines. Most of what I've done has been very recent as I turned to adventure after I left home which was recently, then put aside traveling and adventure for responsibility and focused exploration. That's what we do, after all."
"You said you were from Sinai," Toby asks. "Are there lots of humans there? And everybody flies everywhere in airships? And there aren't any guns? And… " the stream of questions is interrupted by the steam-whistle of the train. With a lurch, the massive machine begins to move.
Tasha braces her weapon case, then settles back in to her chair as the train enters a steady motion. "There are humans, although I wouldn't say as many as there are here they're mainly on Rephidim, or in Chronotopia. The most common form of large scale overland travel is the airship, lighter than air balloons propelled by beasts, as my home was, primitive combustion engines, or by magic. We do have guns, but they're much more simplified and gun powder is unstable near the surface. As for … " By the time Tasha finishes answering questions, she needs a breath. In that moment, she realizes she said the word 'magic,' for once in what seems like ever, without a hint of distaste. It makes her blink.
"And you have cities where everyone lives together… and there are even more kinds of people than on Abaddon?" Toby asks next, a bit louder, since the thudda-thudda rhythm of the tracks is pretty noticeable as the train picks up speed. "Even mice and rats? And your monsters are all cuddly and friendly?"
Tasha finds herself grinning despite herself. She decides if magic didn't bother her in mention, she's not going to question it. She has enough questions coming at her as it is! "Yes, we're a lot more cosmopolitan than Abaddon, which is likely due to the heavy use of uplifting by the Ark crew, and possibly by other nations, after planetfall. This is also why we have so many different species, while the Fleet nations the major powers found on this planet were limited in resources, and thus didn't expand nor intermingle as much. or, at least that's my theory. As for monsters, well, compared to Abaddonian canal life, yes, they do seem tame. There are some that are still quite dangerous, though," she replies.
"What's the scariest one you've seen?" Toby asks, leaning forward a bit… and maybe betraying one his real interests.
Tasha blinks, but happily answers anyway, "The scariest monsters, I've found, often exist within ourselves."
"You mean they grow inside like parasites and then burst out of your stomach?" the boy asks, using his hands to make a 'bursting out of the stomach' gesture.
Tasha covers a snort of laughter with her hand, head shaking. "No, ch-" She almost says child, making her feel old and bringing to mind her other self, dispensing wisdom in a room full of murals. "No, what I mean is, our personal flaws, our weaknesses in thought and belief, these things can do more harm than any monster could hope to wreck. And in the same way, they are much more difficult to defeat."
"Oh," Toby says, sounding disappointed. "Well, what other neat things have you come across? How did you end up here, with a flying Titan?"
Tasha's smile is patient. The way she sees it, some lessons are best discovered through or can only be learned by personal experience. "Let's see, I followed a traveling princess to her xenophobic homeland, where upon which I learned to see myself in a cultural vacuum, realizing I was, among other things, full of empty bravado. This inspired a quest of self discovery and understanding, which lead me to an Expedition-era artifact. My team and I were able to garner some information left within, and recover relics, which lead us to travel here through Gateway in search of further Expedition-era ruins. While part of what we did then is classified, I can say that we found what we were looking for, and with the technology and information at hand, we stepped forward to offer an alliance of mutual benefit to the Council, which was accepted. Now, we are continuing to build trust while we fully establish our organization and begin a campaign of recruitment and construction of our infrastructure. I'm here in the Pit so I can demonstrate our capabilities; namely, I am here to locate water."
The boy stares wide-eyed, and then asks, "A real princess? You have princesses on Sinai? With castles?"
"Yes, she's a real princess. I've met her mother, in fact. As for castles, yes, but this particular holding was more of a … well, I'm not certain how to describe it, but it was very nice," Tasha explains. "Princess Calligenia. I regret that I wasn't able to say good-bye to her in person, as our paths have diverged now that I'm a part of the JEF."
"Does that mean she's here, on Abaddon?" the boy asks. "What does she look like? How old is she? How'd you meet her? When do you want to have lunch?" He lifts up the sack at that last question, to let Tasha know that he packed a lunch for them. Who knows how long the train ride will be.
"I'm uncertain she's still here, but she's a chocolate doe of about … ," Tasha holds up a hand to indicate, " … this height, she's about my age, and I met her in my mother's tavern on Rephidim." Letting her hand fall, Tasha glances at the box and perks her ears. "You're prepared and you're discerning. I think you may be a great warrior after all," she teases. "How long will the trip be?"
"About ten hours," Toby remarks. "And… a warrior? Me? But… what's a doe?"
"I guess we'll get a good nap in," Tasha says with a perk in her smile to suggest she's looking forward to the extra sleep. She nudges her weapon case over a bit, then settles her head against it and the seat cushion. "Fighting battles is more than swinging a sword around. Careful planning, a level head, and knowing if fighting is even the best solution are all important qualities for a combatant and really, for anyone in any situation. That's what my teacher taught me in Amazonia, the country of bunny-people. As, that's what the princess is, a doe, a female bunny-person they're known as 'Lapi' on Sinai. Fairly common, as species go on that planet."
The boy looks shocked, and then looks at the sack in his lap. "I brought… rabbit sandwiches… " he says with a look of horror on his face…
Tasha lifts her head from where she had been settling in to a nice eye-closed half awake state, surprised at the statement and then grinning when she sees the look of horror. "It's OK," she insists, reaching over to pat the boy's hand. "It's not the same, however they may look. And besides, rabbits are delicious just don't ever let my friends hear that."