It isn't much, but it's spread out. There are piles of pieces of machinery set about seemingly at random, forming a sort of boundary around a bedroll and some other supplies, including a campfire. Looming over it all is a Titan nearly 20 feet tall although it seems to be missing its head.
It isn't hard to find Blammo's camp, but Tasha would have no idea if the Titanian was there if not for the banging sounds coming from within the Titan.
Tasha, all suited up in her shiny black Vartan powered armor, her helmet hooked on her belt, approaches Blammo's Titan and leans over to rap on it with her armored knuckles. "Helllllooooo?"
The banging stops, and the Titanian's head pops up out of the neck hole of the Titan. The machine's right arm rises up… and waves. "Tasha!" Blammo barks.
"Hi Blammo!" Tasha waves her own machine-encrusted arm, smiling. "Would you come down here for a second, I want to talk to you about something important." As she steps more in to view, it can be seen she's carrying not her usual monstrously large Gauss rifle, but a device for another kind of shooting: a camera.
The Titanian clambers out and down the side of the robotic monster, his fur darkened and stained with grease (more so than usual, anyway). "What Tasha want? Tune up? Lunch?" he asks after loping over.
"Lunch sounds good, but that's not what I'm here for. What I am here for, is to ask if you have any interest in joining us permanently as a member of the Joint Expedition Force," explains Tasha. She holds up a hand to forestall immediate answering, adding, "There will be a lot of responsibilities attached; you should understand this before you say yes. But what we plan to do is explore the Sinai System just as our ancestors had, and try and complete the mission they could not. You don't have to answer immediately, but I'd like you to think about it."
"Uh, think 'bout it… ya," Blammo says, uncertainly. It may be that nobody has ever asked him to think about something before. This might explain the confused look. Then he points back to the Titan, and says, "Almost done! Will ride it out, meet Dainter Mauler, everyone be impressed with Blammo!"
"You'll have to decide before we leave, Blammo. Otherwise, you can try and find us on Abaddon if you want to join." Tasha smiles again, reaching over and patting Blammo's arm reassuringly. "And I won't like you any less if you say no." She then gazes up at the Titan, nodding appreciatively. "I'm really impressed you managed to get this machine working. Some day, I'd like to know enough to accomplish something like this myself. Which reminds me … " Shifting to glance at the man almost conspiratorially, Tasha raises a brow and asks, "Did you know the ancient Khattans think Titanians Vartans were made by the same race?"
"Yah, mebbe, dunno," Blammo says. "Pro-gene-ee-taurs make everyone, yah." He nods a lot, eagerly.
"Want to find out if it's true while I wander around and take pictures? If the technology designed for Vartans is anything like what would work for Titanians, there may be something to it. These are the sort of mysteries the JEF should answer, after all." Tasha turns to look down the bay to the entrance way to the interior, nodding that direction. "We can go when you're ready. I also plan to talk to the Imperial triadic AI cores on the way, maybe get some pictures if they don't mind. They have a lot of data at their disposal, and processing power, so if anyone can answer they can."
"Hokay," Blammo agrees amiably. "Nagas old, one of first. Say they First Ones, but not. Don't tell them so though. Get hissy."
"Sounds just like our Nagas," Tasha agrees with a grin. She takes a step forward, then suddenly stops and smacks her forehead which produces a loud clang and makes the woman recoil! "Ow!" She squints, blinking away the stars. "Hokay, must never do that … again … ow. Ow. Ow." Shaking it off, she turns, holding up the camera, "Before we leave or I kill myself, mind if I get a picture of you with your Titan?"
"Hokay!" Blammo says, and runs back to the Titan and clambers up into it. A moment later one hand moves to the chest, palm up, and then Blammo climbs back out and stands on it, throwing his chest out and waving his hammer in the air. "Blammo's Titan!"
Tasha lifts the camera, reducing her suit's powered assistance to almost nil as she steadies the device. "Annnnnd … ," she grabs the flash squeeze trigger, and squeezes! "Picture!" A brilliant flash erupts from the device Tasha had once considered amazingly advanced, and now sees as somewhat anachronistic; a testament to her bizarre and time-disturbed education. "Hokay, let's go!"
The Titanian catches up, and asks, "You Vartan right? Got horse butt?"
"Yep!" The woman grins, glad someone finally noticed. "Sure do!" She reaches back and swats her own rear, making another clang. "Didn't get the beak though, and my tail's more Karnor. Head too. I'm a hybrid, a half-breed."
"So… how?" Blammo asks as they walk.
"Wellllll, me dad gave it to me mum some time back, and here I am, I guess? But, that's not what you mean, right? You mean how did a Karnor get a Vartan pregnant?" Tilting her head, Tasha doesn't look upset at the question; her now scrunches instead in a look of consideration. She hadn't really considered the how of it, just assuming that it 'was'.
"Yah, prisoner?" Blammo asks. "Takes lots trying!" he asserts.
"What?" Tasha blinks several times, leaning back until it sinks in. "Oh … That's the same guess the Karnors made back in Expedition City. No, my mum's from the planet Sinai, and so, I'd assume is my dad. My mum was airship crew and just ran in to my dad, I guess. Then, I happened a few months later. My mum was really surprised!" The young woman laughs, head shaking. "Ha, I can just imagine … But, I've never met another hybrid like me, so I guess it's rare. You ever meet another Karnor/Vartan hybrid?"
"No," Blammo says. "Titanian-Vartan, yah. Mebbe. Hard say. Mum say Dad was Vartan. Or ham. Big ham."
"Really?" Tasha peers at Blammo, finding the fact his dad may be a Vartan a little hard to swallow, to say nothing of a ham! Of course, the idea of swallowing and ham makes the woman hungry in short order, but she presses on. "That's … That would need some genetic testing, I think. I'm pretty sure my father's a Karnor though, but maybe I should check, too. We can both ask Dr. Caravelli to look, some time."
"Vartans have good ham," Blammo notes. "Fight lots. Capture sometimes. Sometimes captured. Trade back when meet and not fight. Mom come back fat, from ham. I pop out! So… ham or Vartan, mebbe."
"Wow," is all Tasha can manage to say to that. It takes her a moment to cleanse her mind of the imagery that pops up, but she then asks, "Can I have some of your blood, later?"
The big wolf scrunches up his brow. "Or… huh… mebbe other Titanian prisoner… Oh Mum!" He takes a moment to process the blood request. "You want to shoot me?" he asks.
"Oi, no! I just want your blood to have Titanian DNA on file. I can give you the results before we leave, if you want. I'm curious now, if maybe my father was a Titanian, as well." She grins, then elbows the big man which comes up to about his hip. "Either way, it'll help sort out this Progenitor idea. If they were in this system, best to start researching their constructions including us." Up ahead is the door to the Imperial zone, which Tasha pauses at. "No shoot the big snakes! They're on our side now." And then, she heads in.
The corridors are all lit now, as well as being dry and clean. There are gaps in the paneling where something had rotted through or worn out, exposing the occasional crab acting as an electrical relay.
"Snakes are tasty," Blammo notes, but it isn't clear if he's referring to actual snakes or to Nagas.
"Oh," is Tasha attempt-to-sound-very-neutral reply. As she passes the crystalline crabs, she turns to examine them. "The AI cores seemed to have overrode whatever AI logic the crabs and worms were using and have subjugated it for their own use. Hmm," the woman's muzzle twists with a touch of distaste, and she corrects, "Subjugate may be too harsh … They genuinely seem to want to include Orpheus's AIs. Incorporate? Either way, they're no longer hostile or damaging to the ship."
"Awww," Blammo laments, as they continue on, slinging his hammer over his shoulder. It isn't long before they reach the shrine.
Like a small cathedral, this chamber has vaulted ceilings although the vaults themselves curve so that it seems the room is modeled after the inside of a giant spiral seashell. The chamber is trisected into three wedges, separated by narrow rivers and joined by arched bridges, and other structures and stone paths suggest the floor was once a vast, cultivated garden. At the center of each wedge, a giant metal statue looms, each slightly different from the other in materials one silver, holding a silver orb, one gold with a golden orb, and one bronze holding a similar bowl. They have Naga-like bodies, but the limbs and heads are not like any living Naga, having a more draconian than serpentine aspect.
The water is all drained away now, and several servitor devices are busy clearing away the remains of the gardens. More machinery has been set up at the base of each of the statues, which have more-or-less been restored to their pristine conditions. The pile of crab remains is gone, converted into pseudo-Nagas.
"Ahoy, Triad!" Tasha greets the massive reptilian statues. "Ahoy, Neo-Naga!" The pseudo-Naga get a wave; Tasha's adopted a very pro-AI stance ever since her experiences on Orpheus, what with PersoComs, Fallen Star, the triadic AIs, and of course the Melchior, which is an AI connected and formed from her own mind. "Do you mind if we stop by and talk a bit? I didn't have a chance to say much last time, and hadn't really had the chance to apologize. I also have questions, but that's besides the point."
The three metal gods turn their great heads to look down at Tasha. "What do you wish to discussss?" the gold one asks.
"Well first: I'm sorry about shooting you. I wasn't sure if the security system was targeting all of us: xenomorphs, half-Vartans, and Titanians alike. Blammo and I aren't exactly on the crew species manifest, after all. So: I'm sorry, I should have been more cautious in my targeting." The woman then places her camera aside, before bowing at the waist and staying there until the statues speak again.
"We have never underessstimated the capacity for panic in other racesss," the gold god says. "Apology accepted."
"Thank you." Tasha rises, deciding that's good enough. "The other questions are more complicated, and rely on the data network you've been able to establish across Orpheus. Am I wrong in thinking you possess both wide-ranging access to Orpheus's stored data, and superior power to process this information because of your size and resources?"
"We are superior to the other computer sssystems, yes," gold says. "Network integration is progressing. There are many dead or shut-down systems to route around."
"Well, it's something anyway. Nothing on this ship is as linked-in as you all. While I'm also here to see how you're all doing, and have a general interest in AIs I link with an AI after all," Tasha taps her head, showing the neural plugs, "I also have specific questions. And, speaking of the Melchior, my first interest is this: do you have any records pertaining to the removal of the Vartan mercenaries to the Ark from this ship, and or to the purpose of the Melchior? Standard records will suggest it's a scout vehicle, but I think we both know how unlikely a truth that is."
"They Gryphon is designated as a Scout," gold notes. "The orders for reassignment of the Harbinger Clan came from Fleet Command on the Ark, just before the fleet launched from New Zion."
"Hmm." Tasha tilts her head, running a hand back through her hair. "Based on your analysis, do you think using a TL2 Gryphon as a scout is wise, considering the mission? Also," the woman's head tilts the other way, "Fleet Command gave the order? You see, I suspect a Progenitor Cult may be connected to the Melchior's presence."
"It would have to be very well hidden, as the cult is outlawed by the Khattas," the gold head replies. "An atmospheric Scout with Level 2 technology may be a useful tool for testing the effects of the SPM, but it would need to be delivered by a carrier ship. The location of the hangar suggests that Orpheus was the sole carrier. There are no records accessible to us that suggest the reason for this."
"That is odd … I wonder if there's another ship involved, a carrier unlisted in the fleet database or intended to intercept this vessel and acquire the Melchior. Speculation, of course, but … ," Tasha lets her hand fall, exhaling. "My interest is due to my being Melchior's pilot, as well as a general interest. Hm. Another piece of the puzzle is the version of the Wise Man tale suggesting that the wise men cannot return the way they came, and that each would carry a 'gift.' I don't suppose there's a record of a specific item ever being linked to the Melchior in the manifest?"
It takes a bit longer than usual before the statue replies. "We can find no further entries regarding items to be carried by the Gryphon, other than the pilot," it says.
"Who was the pilot of the Melchior,?" Tasha asks, brows raising. The pilot can't be the gift … can it? A bit late either way, she thinks.
"Unknown," the giant snake says. "Vartan," Blammo offers, wagging his tail. "Vartan gift?"
"Uhh," Tasha utters, glancing at Blammo, "You know about a Vartan gift, Blammo.
"No," Blammo says. "But pilot part of Titan, yah? Mebbe that mean it still work? Mebbe pilot can plug in to somethin' else too."
"That's … " Tasha pauses, ears perking and eyes widening, " … That's pretty astute of you! But the question is … what would the pilot plug in to? And would that even be safe?" She glances at the golden AI, and places the question its way too. "Do you have on record anything the Melchior's pilot may connect to? I have a full neural connection array."
"Khattan neural connection systems are unfamiliar to us," the god explains. "If the assumption that the pilot system can link to another machine besides the Gryphon is correct, it would have to be a Khattan machine."
"Hrrrrm. Are there any Khattan machines left on Orpheus? Actually … I have a question about Khattan technology now that we're on that topic. Do you have access to the Khattan advanced technology educational system? Specifically, as related the environmental and anti-gravity systems? As the senior Khattan representative on board, and as a member of the restructured JEF, I would like to acquire that knowledge," says Tasha.
"That knowledge is not stored in computer readable formats," the gold statue claims. "It is encoded directly into the brains of the technicians. The secrets of the gravity control systems are very closely guarded, and the Khattan Trade Coalition has destroyed their own colony worlds who attempted to leak the information."
"Eee," Tasha breaths. "That's a bit … rough. Well, there's no suggestion that the Khattan Trade Coalition even continues to exist, and even if they did, they have not attempted to reach this system. That said, I suppose it's moot without access to the memories in the first place. A shame, since, while I would want to limit the spread of the information to at least try and maintain the spirit of their intent, I'd have been willing to employ it to our mutual benefit in restoring our systems." Tasha snaps her fingers or tries to, the metal not really having the proper surface. "So we're back to Khattan machines. Let me try Artemis, unless you've already connected with her?"
"Integration is ongoing," the gold statue states. "If you are interested in gravity control systems, however, the Khattas are not the only race that possess such technology."
"Really? I saw that Blammo's ship has some, but I assumed they were salvaged, and if not, that Titanian learning methods are incompatible with Karnor and Vartan styles," inquires the red woman, head tilting.
"None of the other starfaring races knows how Titanian technology works," the statue says from a 6000-year-old perspective of course. "For those who believe in the Progenitor myth, it is claimed that Titanians were the last race to be created before the Progenitors vanished, leaving behind their technology with the Titanians."
"You're suggesting I learn from the Titanians then?" Tasha's modern opinion is no different than the AI's ancient one she has no idea how Titanian technology works, either!
"We are not suggesting that such is possible, or that the Titanians themselves are capable of teaching or even understanding the technology," the snake notes. "But the technology exists, and it seems unlikely that all of it is original. Somebody must be creating more of it, although nobody has located the Titanian homeworld as of the launch of the Joint Expedition Fleet."
"I should note the Khattan AI 'Artemis' was extremely reluctant to allow Blammo here," she gestures at the man, "to approach Khattan technology. You say the Progenitor cult was outlawed by the Khattans, yet she was aware if it, and even suggests that Blammo be kept from accessing systems because she feared he would discover that those systems are highly suggestive of a Vartan-Titanian link. And further, she said quite clearly that the Khattans or at least whoever programmed her believed this is true and that they feared a Khattan and Vartan alliance." Tasha tilts her head mystery after mystery! She drums her fingers along her suit leg, thinking. "Can you analyze or offer insight in to the similarities between such technology? You have a Vartan and a Titanian right here to scan, as well."
"There is no known Vartan technology," the gold god states. "The Vartans were always outfitted by the Khattas, and have served them as mercenaries and bodyguards for many centuries. If there is a link, it would have to be cultural. The Progenitor Cult is based largely on artifacts called Origin Markers, which depict a race and appear to be part of a larger diagram."
Tasha shoots Blammo a glance before returning to the AI. "Why would Artemis say that we're connected, then? Why say anything at all? If it's all just supposition, why hide it? Why fear it?" It feels like the answer is right there, just out of reach. An ancient mystery of her race and Blammo's, of her Titan, and even the legacy of the original JEF and the Khattans themselves! "Unless … You don't suppose all this was left here to just be found some day, that Orpheus was sabotaged, or some other event left it here? The lack of carrier suggests either a mix-up or some alternate plan."
"Conjecture: the Harbingers possessed an Origin Marker," the gold god suggests. "It may be why they were reassigned. In terms of the myth, the marker may have been the gift, especially if it was the Vartan Origin Marker."
"Hmm!" Tasha rubs her chin, nodding as she considers this information. "And you think they were reassigned to avoid them making use of their Origin Marker? To get them away from the Origin Marker? Let's see what Artemis says." Tasha wills her communications to life, and says, "Tasha to Artemis do you have any reference of special storage, or something called an 'Origin Marker,' aboard Orpheus? Or transferred off?"
"Tasha, I have already transferred all related data to memory crystal for you," Artemis replies. "No such item was delivered to Orpheus."
"Thank you Artemis." Closing the communication channel, Tasha lets her hand thump against her leg, frowning in thought. "If Origin Marker is here, then it's hidden, or just a copy in a databank somewhere. It seems more likely it was transferred to the Ark, if it was ever here. Ugh, frustrating!"
Blammo wags his tail and grins helpfully. "Wassit look like?" he asks.
"Umm … " Tasha's brow twitches. "That's a good question? I'd imagine it'd look like something ancient, like a piece of technology, but with pictograms suggesting Vartan origins. The Triad would know more." She glances to the machines, seeing if they have any input.
"There are variations, which each marker appearing to be unique in shape, while all being of comparable size and made of an unknown stone-like material," the golden statue says.
"There you go, Blammo. Seen it?" The woman watches her Titanian companion curiously.
"Ugh… no?" Blammo replies with a shrug.
Tasha throws her hands up in the air. "Well, slag it! I guess this isn't something we can solve right now. If Artemis is hiding anything, it'd be difficult to know, and Orpheus, let alone the fleet, is huge. I'll have to examine the records later." The woman stands there, foot tapping, thinking. She's run out of leads, and with the machine connection lead also seemingly a dead end, she isn't sure where to proceed.
"It's important, yeah?" Blammo asks. "Mebbe they pose with it," he suggests, pointing to Tasha's camera.
"Maybe they did," Tasha agrees. "But that would be in their records, which will take me some time to dig through."
"I got foldin' shovel!" the Titanian offers.
"Unless … " Tasha initiates her comm. again, "Mariel, have a moment?" She eyes Blammo as she waits, thinking he'd be great for the crew just for the humor alone!
"Yes, Tasha?" Mariel replies over the comm channel.
"The Imperial Triadic AI cores and I are discussing Origin Markers and the Progenitors," Tasha explains in her head, "and we've come to a theory that the Melchior is here under mysterious circumstance and may tie in to a Progenitor cult myth. What I need from you is to scan the Khattan/Vartan data crystal I brought and see if any records or pictures of a important looking stone-like structure is listed or shown."
"Scanning through the… oh, this could be it," Mariel says. An image forms on Tasha's helmet display, showing a large group of uniformed Vartans. Right in the center, with the front row kneeling next to it, is a hexagonal greenish-gray stone nearly a yard across, with the naked figures of a male and female Vartan etched into the surface.
Tasha unhooks her helmet and drops it over her head to get the signal, eyes widening under that expressionless canine mask. "YES!" Here exclamation is so loud it's not only both mental and vocal, but also forces her own ears back! "That's it! You're wonderful, Mariel! Does it mention where that Origin Marker is?"
"What? No… it doesn't say it's anything like that. There's no direct mention in the records," Mariel notes. "I assume it is wherever the Harbingers went."
"Can you forward that image to the Triad? They seem to have reference to the Origin Markers and Progenitor cult history records," Tasha asks the Omega.
"Alright, transferring," Mariel replies. "I have a second hit, but… it's different. It looks like an older photo, with no context around it, and it isn't the same stone… "
"Wait, another stone?" Tasha shoots Blammo a meaningful look, even though he can't hear or see any of this. "Can you forward it to us both?"
The new image appears, showing the same type of stone, but with seven sides this time, and imagery of Titanians on it. There's nothing else in the photo though the stone is leaned against a bland white wall, so there's a slight shadow, but nothing else.
"That could be anywhere … " Tasha waves Blammo forward, then leans up until his nose smushes against her helmet. "Can you see this? I know it's backwards, but I'll lose feed if I disconnect my helmet. These are what we're looking for."
"Oh… " the Titanian says, and then has to step back because his ears are blushing.
"Why are you … " Tasha blinks in her helmet, suddenly realizing she helmet-smooched Blammo by accident! "Er, well, um … As I was saying, it seems there are two of these stones and the Harbinger clan knew where at least one was. Further, this must be why the Khattan's were afraid. They discovered this, and maybe this is why the transfer occurred at all." She glances up at the AIs and asks, "What do you think? Interesting isn't it?"
"We have no interest in the myths of mortal beings," claims the golden deity statue, completely non-self-consciously.
"Well, … How about this: if you can manage a connection, and if the Captain approves, I or one of the others will keep in contact with you to share technology and other discoveries, as we, the new JEF, will be quite busy in that department. Since we're neighbors, we might as well be helpful ones." She smiles, then elbows Blammo. "I guess we've done what we can here, barring a new discovery. Want to look around?"
"We will notify Bellerophon when we have created a suitable communications device," the god promises.
Blammo nods, then goes and strikes a pose under the silver statue of Saturanakh, pointing to the head with a finger while grinning goofily.
"Thank you," Tasha says. She steps forward and offers a hand to … one of the faux-Naga! "I hope we can work together, to build a better future for organics and inorganics. For everyone."
The crystal-looking Naga allows its hand to be shaken, then points to the camera, Tasha, itself and then Blammo.
"You bet'cha." Tasha hands the camera over, then pats the AI's shoulder as she walks past to join Blammo. Tasha stands next to the Titanian, then, in a very unTashalike move, snaps to attention and salutes the camera, grinning!
The flash goes off, and the Naga comes forward to hand it over… to Blammo. It poses with Tasha next.
"Take off helmet," the Titanian suggests to Tasha as he frames the shot.
Tasha laughs merrily when the synthoid slithers beside her, then wraps an arm around its shoulders as she takes her place. "AI and organics, standing together." She pauses, then takes her helmet off, laying it at her feet before resuming her pose. "I guess they want to see my face? I can't blame them, my face is great." She grins at the synthoid beside her, shifting to stand chummily next to it, resuming her grin at the camera. "I knew you were good people," she asides to the faux-Naga.
"That's it!" Blammo yells, and then takes the picture. The dead flash bulb is ejected with a pop, and the wolf inserts a fresh one.
Tasha stretches, then turns to the Triad and their servant. "Did you manage to get your ambassador prepared? We can escort it with us, as we'll eventually return to the Bellerophon once we finish our picture gathering." Inside her head, Tasha also offers, "Thanks Mariel. Those stones are important to me. Also look, diplomacy!" The red woman activates her external camera, showing her arm wrapped around the translucent faux-Naga.
"We will send word when it is ready for travel," the gold one speaks. "There are integration issues still being worked out, as well as cyber-biological requirements."
"Well if we can help any, let us know. Mariel in particular is good with cybernetics." Tasha smiles up at the AIs. "Is there anything else you'd like to discuss before we depart? I admit, I'm surprised your … Nagabot? … child posed with me, and definitely happy about it."
"We wish to present a friendly image to the Imperial remnants on Abaddon," the golden serpent claims.
"I'll be sure to tell them you're a nice bunch. Want me to bring them anything?" Tasha tilts her head, curiously.
"You will bring our ambassador," the statue replies.
"That we will," Tasha agrees. She takes a step back, salutes, then grabs her helmet. "Well, it's time for us to go, but thank you for all your help. Maybe we'll find those Origin Markers maybe it's still inside the Ark."
Wide booths and luxurious leather-like couches line the walls of this circular room. A stage is set in the center, with a long shiny metal pole connecting it to the ceiling, and small glittery decorations dot most vertical surfaces. Opposite the entry is a curved bar, flanked on either side by swinging doors. The collection of multicolored bottles on the shelves behind the bar are glowing from the lights set in the shelves they rest on, and an almost luminous mirror sits in the middle of it all.
After a strange tale of how Blammo's uncle Splash fell out of a hole in the side of a spaceship only to end up in another spaceship that just had a hole blown into it, Tasha and Titanian make it to the Talon Lounge, where a suspiciously large metal keg rests atop the bar.
The woman listened to the story interestedly, thinking Blammo's stories are whole lot like the sort of stories she shared with her own crew, back before she left on this wonderful adventure. "That is a suspiciously delicious looking large keg," Tasha observes, helmet off again. She steps forward and waves Blammo inside before approaching the bar. "Hello?"
The bar-synth appears, iconically washing a glass with a rag. "Hello," he purr-squawks. "Your order of Vartan Ale is ready."
"Just the way I like it too: a lot." Tasha grins, then plops herself down on the stool to settle in for a brief good-bye chat. She leans over and gives the bartender a pursed-muzzle look, then frowns. "I hate to say this, but I can't honor my promise. There's no way to bring you with us, where you could serve Vartans. This beer will be drank by Vartans, that I promise, but the best I can offer is that the Imperial AI cores have begun establishing an AI civilization here, where I'm sure you'll find new clients."
"Artemis has told me of the requests for a portable Synth unit, but all we could provide are toys, not sapient units," the barkeep says.
"I'm sorry. I really am, but I'm afraid I promised more than I could deliver. You may be happy to know, that we Vartans will learn a great deal from this mission, and that will carry on. You may also find your happiness here, among your own kind." She leans over and pats the AI's hand, wondering if she isn't just being silly. Ultimately she decides she doesn't care being kind is its own reward, however foolish or pointless it may appear. "You made … toys?"
The Synth-Khatta retrieves something from behind the bar. It's about the size of a soup bowl, but has clear vertical sides and looks most like thick metal disk with a shallow transparent rim rising up an inch. It appears to be filled with sand. "It can reproduce many things, including trees, flowers and sculptures but they cannot move."
"Oh." Tasha leans down and examines the creation, smiling. "Would you mind if I took them with us, as a memento? I'm sure the crew would appreciate it, and your hard work will at least make some people happy."
"How many would you like?" the Synth asks.
"Can we have the dancer?" Blammo asks, pointing the dancing pole. The barkeep shakes his head to that.
"Let's see … Gabriel, Layth, Blammo, Nora, Mariel, Fred, the Ambassador-" She pauses to blink at Blammo, then laughs! Shaking her head the woman continues. "Fallen-Star … Who else? Oh! Me. And a few extras, I'm sure they'll make nice gifts. So, twelve?"
"I will have them sent here. Do you require assistance moving the Ale?" the man asks.
"Only after drinking it." Tasha turns, stands up, then reaches over and grabs the barrel! "Hrk, just like … on ship … Thanks Kitty, you'll always be my … favorite bartender!" She waves her tail, since her hands are free. "And some day … maybe … we Vartans will be back!" Tasha kneels, then with a boost from her suit's motors hefts the barrel on to her shoulder to her whole body supports it, rather than just the arms. "Whew, I felt that through the suit! C'mon Blammo! Bye Kitty! Take care!"
"Fare well, miss," the barkeep says, as the wolf-and-a-half leave the Lounge…