Orpheus Base, Sheol
Formerly the Joint Expedition Carrier Orpheus, this kilometer long vessel is covered in the dust of Sheol, but has otherwise undergone very little weathering in the mild, dry climate of this moon of Abaddon. The mixed nature of its construction shows, with Terran style statuary and Silent-Ones architectural elements, along with a touch of the Celestial Empire. It squats on the red plane of sand, probably the tallest structure on the tiny world.
There are piles of technological debris near the lower access hatches, composed of wire and glass and metal and technologies both alien and familiar. The ground is churned up in this area, and one of the large hatches has been torn completely away. The frame is warped and torn, and the hullmetal is stretched and frayed, covered with tooth-like marks.
The airlock is completely open, exposing the inner passages of the ship. The powerful electric torches show that the walls have been stripped out to leave the support beams with only scraps of material and hanging bundles of electrical and optical conduit. The floor is buried in debris to several inches as well.
"I assume it was not like this when you left it. How strong would a creature need to be to do this much damage?" Layth asks of the Karnors, though he doesn't look back. His eyes are fixed forward, in the airlock, along with his gun.
"It wasn't, no," Gabriel notes.
Zerachiel examines the marks and damage to the airlock, and says, "It needs to be either very big and powerful, or else very patient. After so much time, this could have been done by a tree that has since turned to dust."
"The Amazonians said the metal from the Fenris was the strongest metal they had ever found," says Tasha in equal parts wonder and apprehension. She checks her gun again, glancing at it and perhaps wondering if the small sidearm is really enough to stop something so strong. At the mention of a tree doing this, the woman's ears perk, some of the stress leaving her face. "Well, let's hope it's a tree then."
"How old are the marks?" Layth asks next. As an experiment, he actually raps the barrel of his gun against a metal support, then listens for any movement within the ship.
The impact of metal on metal sets off a single echo, but the loose debris and chaotic surfaces dampen it out quickly. Lapi ears are able to detect a possible delayed response, but it could just be debris shifting on its own.
"You know, wasn't that thing Blammo found made of glass? Maybe the whole ship is like a meal to the things on this planet, if they're all made of materials like glass," suggests the Vartan. "What do you think?"
"I really don't know," Zerachiel notes, looking at the scars. "I'd need to test the metal in a lab. As for those glass things… well, I didn't get a good look at the one you boys brought back. There are theories that say silicon based life might be made of living glass or something similar… "
"Blammo," Blammo whispers (well, doesn't shout, which is the same for a Titanian). "Lots o' junk. Mebbe Titanians, yah?"
"Well, then decision time. Do we continue deeper, or retreat?" Layth inquires.
"Maybe," Tasha answers Blammo, eyeing the door like she's doubting that idea very much. She glances at Layth, and tells him, "I made a promise. One way or another, I need to get inside."
"Then let's go," Layth notes and waves everyone forward. The Lapi then heads in slowly, ears, and eyes alert … and gun ready.
Tasha holds her gun like she was taught, barrel tilted towards the ground, base gripped with her offhand. "Blammo, stand with Layth. Gabriel and I will watch the rear, doctor, please stand between us."
"Hokay!" the Titanian says, heading in after Layth. He's got his hammer in his hands, rather than Gunzilla. The debris on the floor seems largely to be chunks of lightweight, foamed plastic which (from the bits still stuck to the support beams) must have made up the walls and ceiling. The corridor extends beyond the airlock another ten yards before reaching a bulkhead intersection where is branches off to the left, right and forward. The walls are more intact here, although severely gouged and full of holes, and there is a partial sign with odd iconography still attached to a corner.
"Which direction to the section Tasha needs to reach?" Layth calls back, then takes a moment to examine the partial sign.
"Do you recognize that sign, Gabriel?" The Vartan eyes it as well, trying to make heads or tails of it, comparing it to her knowledge of Silent Sign.
"Imperial," Gabriel says after shining his light on the sign. "We must be in the Nagai section of the ship, which means… uh… we want to go straight a bit more. We should hit the hangar if we keep going straight."
"What is the possibility the crew mutated into monsters?" Layth just has to ask. He does have some experience with the Nobakim in the desert, so …
"Straight it is then." Tasha covers the left corridor as the party advances forward, leaving Gabriel to cover the right, ready to fall in once the party has moved on.
The Karnors pause to consider this. "There's some precedent, at least with the Nagai," Zerachiel notes. "On Sinai, they have mutated into a large number of forms, and on Ashtorreth the crew of the Saturanakh used technology to alter themselves to suit their new environment. But here… unless the biodomes are still intact, I don't know how any population could have survived so long."
"There's a whole biodome in this ship? Did you say domes," the incredulously voice of Tasha inquires as she stands, pointing her gun down the left corridor.
"No smell snake," Blammo announces as they move on. Layth still hears the occasional odd sound though. This section of corridor is relatively intact, but that could be due to the large number of pressure doors set along it, all marked in what is presumably the Nagai written language.
"They're necessary," Zerachiel explains. "Of the starfaring races, only the humans and Khatta seem comfortable in completely artificial surroundings for any length of time. The biodomes are like big enclosed parks, usually with several levels to accommodate the different aesthetics of the homeworlds."
Tasha listens to the doctor's explanation, then smiles a little. "Gabriel wants me to not be dazzled by your science, but … Anyway, we should keep moving," the Vartan prompts. "If there's something dangerous here, we don't want it or them to find us in a four-way corridor."
"There is something else alive in here besides us," Layth notes as he peers around, then continues forward. "I can hear it. Movement, and not just settling of debris."
Further along the corridor, a section of the ceiling has been torn free, with a pile of debris below a chewed-out hole leading up to another level.
"Did this ship have … what is the term … a zoo on it? A place where animals were kept to be admired?" Layth asks as he pauses to peer up at the hole in the ceiling. "Blammo, lift me, I want to see what is up there."
Tasha points her weapon up into the hole as she eyes it. "I think we can rule out Titanians, they at least break doors, not eat through ceilings," she remarks. When Layth moves to look through the hole, the Vartan angles her weapon away and tells him, "Be careful."
"There was some livestock for us carnivores," Gabriel notes. Blammo sets his hammer down and lifts Layth up though the hole. His arms are long enough that the Lapi's head is able to poke up through into the next corridor. It looks like the airlock corridor did; completely stripped. But there are little flickerings of light behind the support beams this time. And they move.
"Stripped … and there are somethings alive up here. I see their eyes, I think. Or at least the reflection of light on perhaps something glassy," Layth remarks in a disturbing calm. "Down. I can only hope they don't consider us food."
The Lapi is lowered, and there's more sound now from up above. Skittering and clicking sounds, more and more of them, coming towards that hole.
"Does this ship have any sort of defenses we can use? MOTHER was able to turn the ship against us; can we do something like that if we find the- … Did you say you saw eyes, Layth?" Tasha checks her grip on her weapon, frowning deeply and eyeing the hole. "Maybe we should go now."
"There's no sign of power… " Gabriel starts to say, but draws his weapon at the sound of the skittering. "Find another entrance or push on?"
"Would reaching the power plant be worth our time? If we can restore power maybe we can have the ship do the work for us. We don't have enough clips to hold off a whole ship full of monsters," inquires Tasha, who's even now staring down the sight of her gun as she aims at the hole.
"Blammo, see if you can find something to shove in that opening quickly. "Everyone be ready. If we can't block it fast, we had best move forward," Layth says.
Since the hole is about three feet across, the Titanian doesn't have a lot of luck. He tries throwing the debris back up, but most if it just falls right back down on his head.
"Forget it, move on," Layth says quickly … and continues forward. Nodding, Tasha follows after Layth, circling around the hole and keeping her weapon aimed at it until everyone except her and Gabriel have passed.
More debris seems to be falling than was thrown now, once the floating supply hammock passes the hole. Some of that debris gets up and moves around too! Blue flashes of light show through bits of metal and wire as the things follow the supplies.
"Ah, everyone, the junk is … moving," Tasha warns, keeping herself facing the debris as she walks backwards. To her credit, she hasn't started blasting it yet a change from the Tasha of months ago. "It's also glowing blue. Does that mean anything?"
"Is it making a grab for the supplies?" Layth asks as he keeps his attention forward. "Is it keeping distance or getting closer to us?"
"They're certainly attracted to the carrier, whatever they are," Gabriel notes. There are more of the junk bits now, and a constant stream of them are flowing through the hole. Blammo has his hammer ready, and goes to defend the carrier.
"I wonder if they're attracted to whatever powers the supplies," Layth offers as he finally turns to look. "Which … might explain why they chewed into the walls. They wanted the power?"
"They're, ah, power-hungry?" Tasha eyes the little crawling scrapheaps curiously, shaking her head a little. "Maybe turning on the power would be a bad idea then, or dangerous. We'd have to check."
"Turn off the torches," Zerachiel says, turning off his own flashlight. "If they are looking for electrical energy, they'll come after light sources."
Layth flicks off his light source as well. "It is good that they glow," Layth mutters.
"Mine's off," Tasha says, having used both her hands to steady her weapon. Her light remains on her belt. "I wonder if they're intelligent? First Ones, I hope they're friendly this time."
"Gish!" Blammo declares, as he smashes the bugs with his hammer. There is a lot of glass in the results, suggesting a link to the glass crab-thing they found outside.
Tasha gasps as Blammo crushes one, then gives him a glare. "So much for being friendly," she says, exasperated. "I guess we better take a look?"
As for intelligence, the critters mill about under the hovering supply carrier but can't seem to reach it, since it's about three feet off of the ground. Maybe they can't jump.
"The crab wasn't friendly," Layth remarks. "At least his approach saves ammo … but I doubt we can squish them all. Continue on and ignore them until they attack?"
"We may have to abandon or power down the carrier," Gabriel notes. "Let's just carry the stuff ourselves."
There are certainly more than Blammo can possibly deal with, and more appearing every moment. They're starting to pile up under the hole now, but the new ones aren't moving out from under it yet.
"I wonder… " Tasha leans down and watches the creatures a moment, then tries to grab one by an appendage and haul it into the air where, hopefully, it's unable to attack her.
Spidery legs whip about as Tasha holds the thing up. The underside is all glass, with patterns of light racing through it. Metal and other bits of junk are attached to its back somehow. There's a ring-like mouth with a very mechanical look to it, and a stubby tail. It doesn't seem to have a head at all.
"What it Dagh's name is that? Some sort of junk eater?" Layth asks as he moves to peer at it.
"Well, it doesn't look organic, so shouldn't be interested in us," Zerachiel notes, just as Gabriel says, "Forget that, they're linking together!"
Tasha shows the creature to Zerachiel and the others, holding it away from where it might bite at her or the others. "It reminds me of the light patterns MOTHER had," she tells everyone, eyeing it. "I think it might be some kind of mini-MOTHER; a, oh … Optical computer, I think it was. Perhaps the Silent-Ones technology produ-" The woman's thoughts are cut off as Gabriel calls his warning. She turns around to look, beginning to back away.
"We had best grab our supplies and get out of here," Layth says decisively. He moves to the crate and starts pulling out the supplies!
"Right!" Tasha clicks the safety of her weapon and holsters it, then shoves the memory case under her left arm. After a brief pause, she opens a plastic container filled with cameras, tossing them out, and shoves the creature inside. "I hope it doesn't like plastic and the Expedition likes live samples."
"Awwwww," Blammo bemoans, slinging his hammer to pick up the biggest supply crate.
The critter struggles and quickly shreds the plastic, falling on Tasha's foot.
"Ahh!" Tasha tries to kick the creature off, shaking her leg rapidly!
It then grabs a camera and scurries back to the mass under the hole, which is heaving and shuddering as the glass-creatures link up to form something worm-like.
"Hurry, grab everything essential, then cut all power!" Layth nearly barks as he's pulling out stuff, handing it off to the Karnors, and shouldering what he can.
Blammo is still by the nearly empty carrier now. As Akkers and Zerachiel grab up artifact cases, the Titanian starts turning off his bizarre gizmos. He manages to get two of them clipped to his belt before the composite creature lunges forward and devours the remaining ones, along with the carrier.
"You'd better take a picture you metal monstrosity," Tasha yells after the creature. She seems about to yell something even less flattering, but thinks better of it and starts grabbing essentials: two artifact cases, a case full of food and water, and their communication supplies. It seems several long years of loading an airship has finally paid off for the Vartan.
"Move" Layth actually orders, then heads forward. He's shouldering as much of the supplies as can manage. His side-arm is holstered at his side, along with the portable light. "Those things were probably Silent-One origin, were they not?" he says.
None of the supplies (other than half of the camera equipment) is lost, and the mass of glass and metal doesn't seem interested in chasing the organic beings just yet or else it's just having trouble digesting the Titanian technology.
"They hate robots," Zerachiel wheezes as he hurries to keep up. "Technology is an art form for them. And these things are pretty ugly."
"They sure look like Silent-Ones technology!" Tasha is racing after Layth, carrying as much as she can hold, which turns out to be quite a bit for such a short woman. "They act like it too!"
"I wonder where they came from and what happened to all the people once here," Layth remarks worriedly. "I know it has been a long time … but can new creatures develop during that time?"
"Hopefully that means they haven't tried to eat the MOTHER we had here," Gabriel says. It's awkward running through the dark, messy corridor, but there's slight bright outline up ahead. "I don't even want to think about that," Tasha tells Gabriel. "But that does remind me, will your codes and tags work in this vessel?" She's keeping pace easily enough, her hooves clip-clopping whenever they land on the composite floor. "Oh, and I think I see a light ahead."
"We'll have to get to it and find out," Gabriel notes. They all reach a partially closed door, with what can only be sunlight glaring past the edge. After the darkness of the corridor, it's almost blinding.
Layth sets down the supplies he has been carrying. "Stand guard, I'll pull it open," he tells the others, then tries to get a firm grip on the partially closed door, in case it's stuck.
Tasha puts the memory case and artifact behind herself, and the rest of the supplies in front, after turning around to face the darkened corridor. She draws her weapon and kneels down, aiming the barrel at the darkness. "Should we fire if that thing comes?"
The door isn't jammed, but then it also has a mechanism for opening and closing it. Without power, that means pushing against that as well. It takes Blammo's help, using his hammer as a prybar, to finally get it open. Light pours in, tinted green, and illuminates the corridor where Tasha can see the worm in the distance, filling the passage but not moving yet.
"Nngh," grunts Layth as he times his exertion of force along with Blammo's prying. The Lapi then takes a moment to rest and catch his breath before he picks up his supplies. "Everyone through. We'll close the door behind us," he says.
"The worm is here," Tasha warns, "but it's not following us. It seems like it's waiting or watching. Is the door open then?" She doesn't turn her gaze from the creature, keeping her aim and waiting just in case.
The door is indeed open. Beyond it is a green mass of vegetation: vines, creepers, mosses, ferns and other plants in a large space, completely overgrown and wild. Green scum hugs the transparent dome hundreds of feet above, and it's difficult to see the far end through the chaos. There are insect sounds, along with the sound and smell of running water and jungle rot.
"Did anyone bring a jungle knife?" Layth says dryly. "This is going to be slow going."
Tasha slowly holsters her weapon, then gathers all the supplies she had put down before following. "Maybe they don't like organic materials? The spider didn't attack my foot, or even my boot, which is leather." The woman has to shield her eyes, ducking to block the light using her arm, her keen eyes reacting to the harsh illumination difference. "This is amazing," she breathes as she enters the biodome, looking around and stepping aside so the larger men can close the door.
"Gots!" Blammo says, and yanks off one of Gunzilla's bayonets. There are still two more attached.
Something moves in the underbrush, and a bunny rabbit pokes its head out to wiggle a pink nose at the Vartan.
"Figures," Layth comments. Once everyone is through the door, Layth starts forcing the door closed again. "This door is almost as hard to close as it is to get Aisha out of a clothing shop," the buck grumbles.
Tasha stares at the bunny for a long moment, then steps away. "Bunnies," she breathes. "That can't be good."
At least on this side of the door is a hand wheel that helps close it with less effort. The rabbit is joined by another, almost identical looking one. They don't show any fear of the strangers.
"How could we have come from something so … cute," Layth comments when he finally spots the rabbit. "We are not that cute anymore, thank the Gods… "
"I don't think we should trust these creatures. It looks adorable and harmless, so it must be dangerous. Following Calligenia is how I ended up here!" The Vartan watches the bunnies pop up in increasing numbers, and shakes her head, "Then again, that's how I met you all, so maybe it can't be that bad."
"Really fascinating," Zerachiel comments, ignoring the rabbits as he looks around. "The automated mechanical systems are still going… well, at the least the water pumps. The oxygen density seems high here too, so avoid taking deep breaths too often. We'll have to be careful about fires… if we can find anything dry enough to burn."
"Hello!" Layth calls out into the jungle. Just because, well … because.
This single act makes the rabbits panic and flee. Wolves they're fine with, but giant rabbits is another thing. Layth's voice is swallowed by the vegetation, and nothing calls back.
Noticing everyone else seems less worried than she does, Tasha breathes a sigh, then kneels down to look at one of the bunnies … before Layth causes them all to run away. "Did I hand you my recklessness at some part during our journey, Layth," she inquires, glancing at him.
Layth sighs. "So much for the rabbits," he mutters and shakes his head. "Do these biodomes have living quarters? If so, we should claim one as a base camp."
"The domes had a gardener's shed," Zerachiel notes. "But we should be safe out in the open. The only predators were crewmen."
"Back then," Layth points out, "Remember: metal eating worm."
"How far are we from the hangar, Gabriel?" Tasha rises to her feet and moves to join the others, looking around slowly and the wonder of ancient technology. She sniffs, pulling in the alien scents; her ears swivel, catching the sounds of life born of alien worlds so distant as to make Sheol a step from Sinai. "The dome would be in the center of arm, so we're about half-way," Gabriel says.
"I don't see any signs of glass-creature presence in here," Zerachiel says, looking at the walls and vents and nearby doors. "Something in the nature of this place must be dangerous for them. Moisture, perhaps? Sheol has no open water… "
"If that were the case, we can just pee on them next time," Layth remarks dryly. "We should keep moving." And so … he takes the bayonet from Blammo and tries to hack the start of a path.
"Then let's keep going. If we fire our weapons here we may cause the whole place to explode, and without them we have only Blammo's hammer to defend ourselves." Tasha steps beside Layth, looking for a door. "Now, where would the exit be?" The vegetative obstacles aren't any harder than bamboo at their worst, if one ignores the trees completely. A path is hacked towards the center of the park, where there is a picnic area and a small lake. The floor material here is some sort of rubber compound that's gotten crumbly, but it's still relatively free of plants.
"To think, ages ago humans, Karnor, Naga and Silent-Ones would have gathered here and shared a meal," Tasha says, her voice quiet and contemplative. She can feel the weight of years on this ancient place, can almost see the people who might have once walked here. It makes her ears wilt.
"Fishies!" Blammo declares, and wades into the lake to his knees… and starts hitting it with his hammer.
"Well, not all together, usually," Gabriel notes. "The ship's chief officers might get together socially, but the general crew tended to keep to their own."
"Ah, why is Blammo whacking at fish?" Layth asks, "We have supplies… " He shakes his head, then calls to the Titanian, "No fishy!"
Tasha just shakes her head at the Titanian's antics before turning to Gabriel. "How are you holding together? This must be hard on you, seeing your home like this," she asks him, her voice low and worried.
"My home was the Fenris," Akkers says, and goes about organizing the supplies.
"Awww!" Blammo complains, and heads back… but not before grabbing a fat carp out of the water. "Haha! Mighty hunter, just like fishing for biguns in Star Sea!"
"We have one camera left, how about a group photo?" Zerachiel asks, holding the boxy device in one hand.
"Well, the Fenris' home was this ship," Tasha points out. She goes to pat the man's shoulder, but pauses, letting her hand fall. "Nevermind. I'm sorry to mention it." She takes a step away from the man, then turns to walk off a ways, looking around again.
There are lots of flying insects that Tasha notices, including bees, and plenty of flowering and fruit-bearing plants. She nearly trips on a melon.
"Photo?" Layth asks, then remembers the explanation of what the device does. "A photo would be fine," he agrees and moves towards Tasha and Gabriel.
Tasha's hoof skids as it lands from narrowly pulping the melon. She peers down at the large fruit, taking a moment to study it. Her ears perk when the Doctor suggests a group photo, and she calls back, "Just a moment," before wrapping her hands around the melon and trying to pull it loose.
The melon is attached to a network of vines, but finally comes loose without landing Tasha on her rear. It's green with pink stripes, and bigger than the Vartan's head.
And Tasha can't resist comparing it to her head a moment. "This place could feed us for a long time," she murmurs as she eyes the fruit on her shoulder. Shrugging, she walks back with her prize balanced beside her head, and asks, "Did someone say something about a group photo?"
Eli makes various gestures to direct people to move here or there, up or down. So magical is the 'camera' device that nobody seems to question the directions. The doctor winds something on the camera (which is set atop a picnic table) and the hurries to take his place… were water from the fish held proudly in Blammo's mouth drips on him. He smiles anyway.
Layth smiles and waves to the weird box-thing.
The flash bulb goes off, and dazzles everyone for a moment. "Now we just have to get it back to new Zion to have the film developed," Zerachiel notes.
"Ugh, must it be so bright?" Layth complains and rubs his eyes to clear the spots. The buck then waves Tasha to come over for a moment.
Tasha nearly drops the melon after the flash blinds her, leaving her squinting beside Gabriel. She offers him the melon, and says, "Here, maybe food will cheer you up a little? It looks edible I'll even try it first." She waggles the melon enticingly.
Gabriel takes the melon with a raised eyebrow, and carries it to a table.
"And Layth is ruining our moment, so I'd better see what he wants before he gets gloomy and he can be very gloomy. Try and cheer up though, Gabriel? You're worrying me." This time, Tasha does pat the man's shoulder, then turns to go join Layth. "Whaaaat? Can't you see I'm trying to cheer my boyfriend up?"
"He won't cheer up if you keep reminding him of what he lost. The more you ask him about his home and this place, the more he will dwell on it," Layth remarks quietly as he leans to the side to glance towards Gabriel. "Perhaps I'm wrong on this, but I believe he wants to move forward … so let him. That's all I wanted to say. Now go enjoy your melon."
"Nnnngh," Tasha mutters after listening to Layth's explanation, then she nods slowly. "I hadn't thought of it that way. Now I feel like an idiot." She runs her hand through her hair, shaking her head. "But, you're right. I don't know what I was thinking. Some girlfriend I am." She glances over her shoulder, frowning as she looks back at Layth. "Thank you for telling me, Layth. I'll see what I can do to fix the mess I made. You're a good friend." She gives him a little smile, then forces a larger one as she turns and heads back towards Gabriel. "Did I ever tell you about the floating gardens of Sinai?"
"Floating gardens? I don't think so," Gabriel says from were he's cutting up the melon. Zerachiel has some sandwiches out from the supply crate, and Blammo seems content to dine on raw fish for now.
Layth nods and smiles as Tasha starts a new line of talk with the Karnor. So now it's his turn to go about organizing the supplies a bit (and seeing what they may have lost to the worm other than the camera gear).
Tasha takes a seat beside the older Karnor, folding her hand son the table and looking at him. "Yes, floating gardens! There are whole gardens of lighter-than-air plants that float with the clouds, like a leaf in the wind. Sometimes the Waashu eat them, and sometimes airship crews do too. I once tried to bite down on one when I was little, but it was just an air bladder, and the sound it and I made, made the crew laugh for days."
Everything important seems to be in place, including the heavy batteries for the radio equipment. Zerachiel notes that they still have another six hours of strong daylight if they want to try to reach the hangar before setting camp.
Gabriel laughs over the story, and asks a few more pertinent questions about the gardens and Waashu. He's certainly more relaxed than he was a few minutes before, as he spits watermelon seeds out into the jungle.
"As long as one of the ships there is still intact enough and secure, then we should make camp there," Layth remarks to Zerachiel. "As a backup, we should note any locations along the way in case we cannot make a secure camp in the hanger. What areas will we still pass along the way?"
Blammo also offers Layth a fish (well, half of a fish) while wagging his tail. Maybe he doesn't realize Layth is a buck. Or doesn't care.
"Waashu are big tentacle things that float like the plants," Tasha explains, holding her hands up and making wiggling tentacle-like fingers in the air. "Sometimes they match on to airships! One time, one pulled Captain Eyeshine's rum barrel right over the side of the ship. He was distraught for weeks."
"Ah, forgive me, but no thank you," Layth politely declines the fish. He ponders for a reasonable excuse as to why that a Titanian would understand … and comes up with, "Make very bad gas."
"From this point, we should be going through the engineering region for this arm," Zerachiel notes. "We might be able to restore some power, if the glass-crabs haven't gotten to it first."
"Pull finger? Yeah, bad!" Blammo agrees, and eats the fish himself.
"What are the advantages and disadvantages of restoring power? Does the ship have any defense systems like the Fenris that would deal with the creatures invading it? Other than ourselves, of course," Layth says.
"Well, I don't know," Zerachiel notes. "Orpheus had soldiers for defense. It was never meant to land and be exposed to aliens, after all. But we may want to restore power to the hangar deck if there are salvageable craft."
"I'll help however I can. Just … be sure to explain slowly and completely. I don't understand this technology," Layth admits.
Tasha keeps an ear on the conversation between Layth and Zerachiel, but does not contribute. Instead, she focuses on telling Gabriel about stories from her home. Tales of airship travels and the towns she's visited, and about all the fantastic creatures she's sure he has never seen.
"Aerial Krakens," Gabriel notes with a grin. "That would be a sight to see."
"I'm no engineer, myself," Zerachiel admits. "So… uh, I guess it would be up to… Blammo… "
"They really are," Tasha agrees, smiling. "At least from a distance. Up close, they're more grabby than a tavern full of drunken sailors! You have to cut or burn them off, and Captain Eyeshine would never hand me a weapon, so I'd have to clean all the goop off when I wasn't navigating."
"That is … scary," Layth admits, "I question his sanity… "
"Oooooo," Blammo howls softly, listening on Tasha's tales of flying monsters. "Biguns… "
Layth finally makes himself a veggie sandwich. He perches his butt on the edge of one of the crates and munches, taking a short, but deserved, break. "Tasha, Gabriel, for a completely different experience, you two should take a ride on a sand-ship sometime. It is a unique experience … and the crew are often odder than, well, even Titanians."
"Is it anything like the sand on Abaddon? I think I still have some in my wings. And how do you even sail on sand? The air, that's where the sailing is best," Tasha insists. "I heard there's Waashu-like monsters in the ocean, but that sounds like nonsense to me. And, you can eat sea-plants too? More nonsense."
"It is finer than the sand on Abaddon. It moves more like water," Layth notes, "And yes, you can sink and drown in it."
The group enjoy their lunch and conversation, trading tales of strange encounters and creatures (which, given their current situation, may serve to feed their imaginations unnecessarily). After a brief rest, they pack up and move on, having to go around the lake since the piers and bridges have long since rotted away. The hatch at the far end is easier to open, and after moving through a few corridors they reach the engineering section. This is a vast, mostly open area filled with gigantic structures of unknown purpose, but which seem to need a lot of plumbing. There are also abundant signs of the glass-critters having been here, with bites taken out of things but no huge swaths of destruction to suggest the composite worm form was involved.
"There shouldn't be any serious radiation after all this time," Zerachiel says reassuringly, while Blammo looks about for stuff he can claim as loot.
"What is radiation?" Layth asks as he also peers around; though he's mainly looking (and listening for), more of those nasty salvage-bugs.
"Invisible light and particles that can pass through your body and cause damage," Gabriel explains.
"Gremlins!" Blammo declares as his explanation.
"What's rad-" Tasha pauses as she finds Layth asking the same question, letting him finish. Instead she grins, and turns to examine one of the nearby pipes instead. "Whatever this is, it sure has a lot of pipes."
"Mostly for cooling," Gabriel notes.
"Sounds unpleasant," Layth remarks. After Blammo's explanation, he asks Zerachiel, "Are you sure he can fix the power?"
"Not in the slightest," Zerachiel notes, panning his light around. "Let's hurry through to the hangar."
"My mother once claimed shininess was next to godliness," Tasha offers on the subject of invisible light and particles. "She also said magic would steal my soul, and that older men are bad for me … And, that if I meet any older men I like I should bring them to her first." Tasha tilts her head, then puts an ear to the pipe as she adds, "My mother is very sneaky."
Akkers aims his torch along the floor. There are some colored lines leading here and there, and he points to the orange one as the one to follow. "Remind me not to flirt with your mother, also."
"Can I flirt with her mother?" Layth asks.
"You're safe," Tasha assures Gabriel as she leans away from the pipe and moves to follow. "I made sure of that. At least, mom didn't fight me over it. Once, when I tried to get her to let me join another crew, she said I could if I beat her in a drinking contest. I woke up in vom- … It was a very bad idea. Very. Bad."
Glancing at Layth, Tasha nods. "Of course! But don't expect me to save you afterwards," she says.
"I bet the feathers would tickle," Zerachiel mutters, so that only Layth is likely to hear him.
"I hope you had time to, ah, sample the priestesses while in Amazonia," the buck mutters in return, "If not, then you missed out." Looking ahead, for a bit, he then asks louder, "Blammo! Is any of this repairable?"
"What repair?" the Titanian asks, as he tries to pull a pipe as big around as he is out of its mountings.
"This ship is much more convenient than ours," Tasha remarks, following the line. "I'm going to have to remember this line-idea for drunk crewmen trying to board, and for the day after when they have to load cargo. Just follow the line!"
"I don't think the Titanians repair things," Gabriel notes. "They just tear it apart and rebuild it into something new."
Layth rubs his forehead. "Make it work," he simplifies.
"Work! What want it do?" Blammo asks Layth, his tongue lolling.
"Power hanger," Layth explains.
"Yah, hokay!" the big wolf says, and starts whamming stuff with his hammer.
"I don't think we should wait for him," Zerachiel suggests.
"Why do I feel like we're now going to die?" Layth asks.
"Oh, a cargo dolly," Gabriel notes, pointing his light at a simple wheeled platform. "We can use that for the crates… "
Tasha pauses in another story to watch the Titanian work, her eyes wide with what almost looks like horror. "Because you may be right. I remember what happened when the Themis-Skoll's power core detonated when I … Rrr, crashed it into … a mountain," the Vartan offers, sheepishly.
"Great, let's load it and continue on. I will pull it," Layth offers as he heads for the dolly.
The hammering echoes through the tubes, giving further impetus to hurry along the orange line.
Tasha glances at Gabriel, undoubtedly wondering if she shouldn't have mentioned the ancient Titan. She hurries along the orange line, putting her supplies on the cart as it moves. "Did I mention my mother taught me how to mix drinks?"
"Why did I ask that gigantic … thing to fix it?" Layth complains. His head is starting to hurt from all the banging.
"Now that is a marvelously useful skill," Gabriel says, following the orange line at a jog. "I'll have to test it out when we have the chance!"
"I don't even use a hammer," the woman adds, hurrying on even faster as people begin to speed up.
The orange line ends at an open set of very large doors, which open on a vast, dark space. The beams from the torches don't even reach the far walls, and the floor is littered with large tanks, cables and wheeled vehicles in the area immediately around them. Tasha's light sweeps across a giant metal foot as well.
Tasha's ears shoot up so fast they might well shoot off her head. "I recognize that foot!" She points a finger at the metal appendage, turning her light to focus on it. "Or, at least it looks very familiar! Look!"
"A Titan," Zerachiel notes. "But… the Titan bays are on the hangar door wall… so… they must have been using this one for something else."
"She's your problem now … " Layth remarks as an aside to Gabriel, "Better calm her down… " He shines his light around looking for a hull reminiscent of the Fenris.
"I'm not going to run over to it, it's just nice to see," Tasha insists, glaring at Layth. Her eyes shift towards Gabriel, and then her ears flatten, and she adds, "I'm not that interested in it anyway. There are more important things for us to be doing. I was also a terrible pilot, and … Let's look for the Bellerophon."
Thinking of something, Layth shines the light up to see if the Titan is holding something over its head.
Only when Layth's light is pointed upwards does he see something a huge system of metal beams and girders and cranes suspended almost seventy feet above. There are giant clamps that might be able to hold something the size of the Fenris. The nearby Titan is actually kneeling down, with one leg forward as if bowing before royalty. The fact that it looks like an armored knight enhances this.
Tasha, who now seems to be pointedly looking anywhere but the Titan in her own form of boyfriend damage control, says, "It might be doing something important. I don't know. It's not like I'm interested," she insists.
"Size doesn't matter, is that what you mean?" Gabriel asks with a hint of jest.
"It's bowing before something. Tasha, shine your lamp in the direction it faces and see what it is bowing to, please," Layth asks.
Tasha's ears flick, and in the light Gabriel might swear the inner parts are actually reddening a feat, considering how red she already is. "I'm looking, but only because you asked!" The woman turns her electric torch, swinging the beam through the shadows until it's shining where the Titan looks.
There are series of clonking noises that echo and ring through the hangar, and one by one several spotlights flare to life. Some point at nothing in particular, or flicker sporadically. But several illuminate a form suspended high above. The light seems to flow along the metallic surface like a liquid, highlighting the sleek silver and gold lines. Vast wings are inlaid with golden, stylized feathers and merge into a swanlike body. The neck stretches forward into an oval head, which has been sculpted to resemble that of a Rhian (or a 'horse' as the Expedition would call it). A red Pegasus is emblazoned on the 'cheek' of the head, with the name BELLEROPHON engraved below it.
"I think we found your ship … " Layth remarks. This may be the first time the buck's voice has a hint of awe in it.
The Vartan's jaw drops, and the light in her hand almost follows it. She blinks several times, staring at the ancient ship. For a long time after, she can do nothing but gaze on in silent awe.