Gryphon Launch Bay
At the very top of the Orpheus, this separate military hangar is currently open to the air of Sheol. Still closed is the roof-door above the Gryphon bay. Twin sets of rails run from floor to ceiling to mark the catapult system below the hatch, and mounted upright on the catapult is the Gryphon 'Melchior' a rare Khatta-made flying Titan.
The walk from Medical One back to the hangar (well, to the elevator) was without incident. The hangar was also much as they had left it, with the only exception being the absence of Blammo the Titanian hadn't been seen since they first left the Khattan Zone to bring Tasha to Bellerophon for testing.
The display on the reactor was showing all green, meaning the diagnostic had completed and Melchior was fully powered. The power cables were still connected to the machine, though, and much of the Titan was encased in plastic film. Gabriel seemed to take a lot of interest in the launch hatch and the control building, but otherwise didn't say much.
Tasha carries Melchior's data slate as she makes a slow walk around the towering machine, occasionally glancing at it or asking it a question. When she nears the giant locker-like storage device, nearly as tall as the gryphon itself, she pauses and considers it. "You know, I never looked in here. Do we have time for an inventory, Captain?" She glances back, over her shoulder.
"It looks like a child in a placenta," Layth helpfully remarks once he actually notices the plastic film over much of the machine.
"There's always time for inventory," Gabriel notes. "And never time to wonder what you do or don't have when you need it." He too looks to the giant locker, which is easy to overlook if you just think it's part of the Orpheus superstructure.
"I wonder how you open it?" Tasha steps towards the structure, not looking back possibly trying to pretend she didn't hear Layth's commentary. "Khattan lady, how do I open the Melchior storage locker?"
"While not piloting Melchior," Tasha clarifies.
"You usually do it by opening a door," Layth also helpfully points out. He goes to look for exactly that.
"Hold this slate against the locker," the hologram helper replies.
"The door is as tall as a Titan," Tasha insists, sticking her tongue out at Layth. When the slate responds, she gives him a self-satisfied grin before placing the slate against the locker. "Stand back!"
"Like I said, opening a door. Some things don't require overcomplication," Layth says and backs away from the large container. "Of course it may also be full of glass monsters, you realize. Or corpses."
"You need to learn to drink," Tasha informs Layth, shaking her head. "You're so tense."
There is a series of clicks and clacks that sound just like the tumblers of a giant mechanical lock would sound like. Then comes the rumble of motors, or possibly hydraulics. "The Khattas are overly dramatic," Gabriel comments during this process. "Vartans like stuff to be noisy."
Finally the door rolls aside to reveal a giant tapered black-and-gold shield and several stacked storage crates.
The only Vartan present wags at the display of sound and drama. "Well, I appreciate it!"
"And they like things to be huge and unwieldy," Layth remarks as he cranes his head to look up at the titan-sized shield. "I suppose enough show and you can avoid a fight entirely. It's an often used tactic, anyway."
"Well, would you want to fight a monster like that?" Gabriel asks Layth, gesturing to the huge Titan.
Layth appraises the machine. "I would want to drop a mountain on it," he offers.
With the door aside, Tasha steps forward and gestures to the massive shield. "This," she says, pausing to add additional drama to the scene, "is the shaard." She pauses again to eye Layth disapprovingly, then continues. "It's a multi-use Titan melee weapon that functions as both a blade and a shield. It can be broken down in to various other shapes." At Gabriel's question to Layth, Tasha adds, "I can arrange that!"
"If it gets scratched, we don't have any matching paint," Gabriel warns, and looks over the crates. "Although there may be some in these. They should be replacement parts."
"I suggest painting it pink," Layth ever so helpfully offers.
"Just like with the Themis-Skoll," the Vartan agrees. She glances at Gabriel and asks, "I guess different Titan parts don't mix between Titans? Oh," she lifts her data slate and asks, "Khattan lady, I noticed Melchior checked some systems repeatedly was that some kind of repair?"
"Certain control systems are capable of self repair," the projection explains. "Some adapt to the abilities of the pilot over time."
"That's good to know." Tilting her head, the woman continues to talk to the slate a primarily one-sided conversation for everyone else. "So, what are in these crates, Khattan lady? Replacement parts?"
"Yes," is the simple reply. "Would you like a complete listing?"
"Why not?" The Vartan turns her gaze to the screen, expecting it might be a bit like the last inventory she got like this.
"There are over 5,000 individual entries," the Khatta warns.
Tasha blinks at the response. "Oh. Well, I'd better just let our engineer go over that, then. I wouldn't know what they do, anyway." Stepping back, the red woman touches the slate to the locker to close it. "Khattan lady, if a neural net is unfixed, will Melchior attempt to use that? Imprint memories?"
There is a longer pause than usual before the little helper returns and replies, "That information is outside of the parameters I am programmed to speculate upon."
"Oh. I'll just ask, then. Thank you, that'll be all!" After beaming a smile at the projection, Tasha turns to the others and holds her hands out, saying, "The summary of all that is yes, the locker is filled with parts and no, the data slate doesn't know if Melchior would modify my mind. I could ask him, or would you two rather keep going?"
"I'd worry about the answer either way," Gabriel notes, and then points up at the hatch. "There has to be a personnel airlock that leads to the upper hull, if for no other reason than to inspect that hatch. I'd like to find it."
"Do you me to go scout the upper scaffolding then?" Layth offers from where he has been sitting back, silent.
Following Gabriel's gaze, Tasha peers upward with her near raptor-like vision. "You're worried the catapult might just throw the both of us in to tons of rock? Or do you have another idea? Either way, I'm ready." She puts the data slate in to one of her belt pockets, nodding.
"I'm think there will be an airlock in the top of the control tower building," the Karnor offers. "Tasha, you'd mentioned that some of the monitors were working in there, right?"
"They do. That's how Blammo showed me the approach of the crabs, the monitors were displaying what I think were area without power," answers the Vartan. "Here, I'll show you follow me." Turning to head on, Tasha waves over her shoulder for the others to follow.
The Lapi shrugs a bit and follows after Tasha.
Back up another elevator to the windowed floor of the building, and they find themselves in the dark control room with rows of powered down workstations, with two of them still working. The windows have a commanding view of the hangar, and looking to the right puts one at eye level with the Melchior.
Tasha waves a hand at the working screens. "I think Blammo fixed these? He's very smart, in his own way," she explains. Heading inside, the young woman turns right to give the giant machine a wave. "Ahoy, Melchior!"
Layth heads over to one of the working stations and peers into the screen. "It wasn't long ago you were talking about how Blammo couldn't be trusted," he notes.
The big bird-headed machine does not respond, of course. One monitor is still showing a section of Orpheus, where both the Imperial and Khatta sections meet. There is a swath of red showing what is most likely the path of the glass-crab composite 'worm' as it made its way toward the Khattan zone. This stops in a circular chamber that is also lit up not with red but with green. Green tendrils are also spreading out from it into the surrounding area.
"I was wrong," Tasha replies without hesitation. "I'm learning that I'm wrong about a lot of things, but it's not a bad thing. I'm glad I learned the truth Blammo didn't deserve how I treated him." She steps forward and leans against the monitor array, peering out at Melchior. "I told him so, I like to think we're friends now. To be honest, I was just scared of losing everything all this, that made me 'important.'" The young woman snorts, showing just how much she appreciate that stance these days.
"Were there green tendrils on the screen last time you looked, Tasha?" Layth asks as he tilts his head, an act to try and get a better view, even if pointless. "Is it just vegetation?"
The woman looks back, blinking. "Green what? Vegetation? No?" She straightens, turning fully and walking towards the monitor at a purposeful clip. "There was a black line tipped in red; The path they were taking towards us. Let me look at that."
Gabriel looks at the display as well. "If red represents a power loss, then green should mean power restoration," he suggests. "I don't recognize the text being used. It's not Vartan or Khattan, so maybe a military code the Vartans had?"
"It could be trouble. Do you want me to go check it out and report back?" Layth asks.
"Ummmm … " The young woman eyes the display a long moment, brows raising. "Well this is different. There was a black line, here," she touches the screen, " … connecting here … " she taps where the green area is expanding from, " … I think, because that's where we fought them. Our battle, the fires and such, made the statues and fire suppression system come online. Maybe that's what we're seeing?" She turns to eye the lines of code, brow narrowing.
The path is still as Tasha remembers, although it stops in the cathedral. But the green is new. As they watch, another section of the map lights up green.
The text on the scree is all… dots and dashes, literally, with some floating commas. An alphabet made of punctuation marks.
"I have no idea what this is. BUT, I should have Harbinger-clan access. If I can find a translation, maybe I can read this." The woman shakes her head, then glances at Layth. "I wouldn't go alone. Blammo and I were well armed, and I was in armor, and we still had to retreat against the statues. If those are moving, they're very dangerous."
"I'll survive," Layth notes, "I have no intention of being seen."
"What was the situation when you and Blammo left that sector?" Gabriel asks.
"I don't think they see as we do. But, they seemed to be stuck where they are, so maybe. It depends if they're linked in to the area scanners," Tasha explains to Layth. She pulls out her data slate and activates it again, frowning down at it. "It could be water, too. But, power seems most likely. It's like we woke the Imperial sector up." She waits for the help feline to appear, and asks, "Khattan lady, do you know where in Orpheus I can figure what this is?" She faces the slate towards the screen, pointing at the code.
To Gabriel, Tasha says with a glance, "Complete chaos! The crabs were attacking us and the god-statues, which were attacking them back but ignoring us which is good, because they're Titan-sized and maybe just as armed! The fire control system had activated, too, so there was water, fire, even clouds and lightning towards the end."
"It is Synth Code," the helper replies. "A special high-density optical data format for Synthetic Crew."
"Oh." Tasha blinks, then her eyes widen. "OH, I understand. Thank you Khattan lady. Do you know what it's saying?" Glancing between Gabriel and Layth, Tasha explains, "That's Synth Code, a "high-density optical data format." It's for robots and such? Whatever you thought I was in my armor?"
"It may mean those weird ball/goo people from the bar," Layth suggests. "People 'not real'."
Tasha nods to Layth. "Something like that, I think. And see, if I was a Synth, I could have read that."
"There should be one assigned to this room then," Gabriel notes. "I would make sense that after an evacuation any systems would revert to Synth operating mode."
Nodding to Gabriel as well, Tasha asks, "Well, what should we do then? Go investigate, look for that hatch?"
"Maybe it is in a box somewhere?" Layth suggests and starts looking around for anything vaguely 'person' sized. "Or are they squeezed out of a tube?" he asks. "Burped out?"
Tasha just shakes her head as she waits for her data slate to finish analyzing the code and answer, of it can.
"The others all came out of doors," Gabriel notes, looking back to the rear of the room, where the elevator door is. "Check for doors on the back wall. I'm still hoping one leads to a service airlock."
"I cannot decode this," the data slate finally replies. "My visual resolution is not high enough."
"Checking," Layth says and heads towards the back wall to look for a door other than the visible elevator one.
The Vartan frowns, but nods and thanks the device before putting it away. "The data slate can't do it. I'll keep an eye on the display while you two look." She pulls over a nearby stool, sitting down. "Maybe the Imperial security will push those things off the ship. I feel a little bad about that, it is their home, but it was ours first and they're not friendly neighbors."
"Correction, it was not ours first. Neither of us were born here. Gabriel is the only one present who can claim ownership," Layth points out from the far side.
"Well, Harbinger clan and all. You know what I mean, Layth. I'm not saying I own Orpheus." The woman leans back, keeping an eye on the display. "Really, Orpheus belongs to the Joint Expedition and all its peoples. This ship was built to explore this system. That's what its resources should be used for the betterment of that mission and all our peoples."
During the search, Layth finds a nearly flush panel in the wall with a recessed switch next to it. On the opposite side of the elevator, Gabriel finds a much larger door with a manual crank. "I've found the airlock," the Karnor announces.
"I may have found the 'synth'," Layth announces, "Perhaps it can tell us what the message means." So … the Lapi pokes the button and then quickly hops backwards. Just in case.
While the others look, Tasha eyes the screen, left leg folded over her right and bouncing as she taps it against her left's shin over and over. She has a look of concentration or maybe consideration as she watches the display with a frown. It's an unusual look for the young woman; Pensive is not a common Tasha trait. When her friends speak up, she glances between them and nods. "Be careful. If the Synth is dangerous, tell it you're here with a Harbinger clan member. It should recognize me through the bartender."
"I hope," adds the Vartan, grinning back at Layth.
"Nothing recognizes me here," Layth points out and grins right back. "I don't exist in their database. It would likely just ignore me."
"Or see you as one of those delicious pink bunnies." The woman smiles toothily. "Do you think telling Aaron I ate one of those would give him nightmares for years?"
"Wait, I ate two no, three," Tasha corrects.
"Mm, not likely. Look at the two does he has to deal with," Layth points out.
"Good point," Tasha agrees, head bobbing. "Aisha and Cali would give me nightmares. I have a hard enough time managing myself."
"To their credit, they are good at bathing," Layth adds. "It makes up for being incredibly frustrating."
"I … " Tasha kicks off, turning her stool to face Layth, taking a deep breath as she does and releasing it before she continues. "I can't really say anything about them. One of the things Dr. C help me understand is that I don't get along with other women because I see them as competition, so, keeping that in mind, I shouldn't put them down. I guess they have their up sides and down sides, just like me. They probably feel the same way, too."
The panel door only manages to slide open a few inches before jamming or running out of power. "Trying kicking it," Gabriel suggests, as we continues to work at getting his own door open with the hand crank.
Layth punches the door instead. "Hitting I understand," he says.
"Do either of you need help?" Tasha swivels to watch the two men work, glancing back at the monitor now and then. She grins at the comment about understanding hitting, as well.
The door slides the rest of the way open after the punch loosens it, and a little blue light illuminates a humanoid form within. The figure is a featureless gray at first. It slowly begins to take on the features of a Khatta though.
"Manly," Tasha remarks at the hitting, grinning more.
"It's one of those blob people," Layth declares to the rest of the room. As it slowly shifts … he just can't resist the urge to poke it. poke.
The poke is like pressing into rubber or gelatin, until Layth actually breaks the surface. The color and texture change to match his around the point of contact, and spread out to begin contaminating the rest of the body.
"They're made of tiny spheres with energy beamed to them, not usually found off Khattan Trade Emirate vessels. They're controlled by a central computer," Tasha recites as she watches the blob-person take shape. She blinks as the person begins to change, asking, "Are they supposed to do that? Copy you?"
"Ut oh," Layth says, "I think I broke it." He takes a step back to watch just what this thing ends up being. "Oops?"
"I've never actually dealt with one before coming to that lounge," Gabriel admits and comes over to watch as well. The things 'eyes' open next, and it uses them to stare at Layth while is face starts to match his. "Select Gender and Designation," it asks in a monotone, but in Standard.
Tasha just shakes her head. "I'm going to be quiet and not make fun of you, or say how I could have done that, now," she remarks as she watches, grinning all the more. Apparently Tasha has graduated from direct mocking and discovered sarcasm!
Just for that, Layth decides to punish Tasha. "Gender female, designation Artemis," he says and crosses his arms. Time to test Tasha's ability to deal with other women.
"I always wondered if Layth didn't secretly desire to be a woman. He's like an old one, some times," the Vartan quips. "And this isn't direct commentary, it's … speculation."
The Synth makes a pretty good attempt at a doe based just on Layth's appearance. 'Her' ears are floppy, and she has the same golden markings as Layth. It's like he suddenly had a sister show up, and Artemis even has a soft voice. "Greetings," she says. "How may I be of assistance?"
"Ask it to put on some clothes, for my sake at least," Gabriel whispers to Layth.
"Ah, well, there is some sort of code on the display that it would be helpful if you read for us. We are not sure if there is something dangerous going on," Layth tells the Synth. To Gabriel he says, "It will be good training for you to not have issues around other women and Tasha."
Tasha eyes the naked woman suspiciously, glancing between the two men. "Is this where I'm supposed to feel jealous? I could go talk to Melchior … " Despite her words, she sounds fairly amused although she does keep a eye on Gabriel.
"Since when do I have to suffer like this?" the Karnor mutters as the newly-minted bunny goes over and leans across Tasha's shoulder to look at the screen. "Power and communications links are being restored within the Celestial Empire Zone," Artemis reports, and then reaches over and does something to the station that expands the diagram into a three-dimensional one, showing the spread of the repairs reaching up through several other decks. "Telemetry is limited. The means of repair are unknown."
"Blammo?" Layth suggests as he heads over to peer over the faux-rabbit's shoulder. "Though isn't it moving a bit rapidly for him? We should investigate. It suggests another intelligent creature or creatures at work… "
Tasha wraps an arm around the faux-doe and tries to rub her head as she listens, nodding. When she gets to the part about means unknown, her brows shoot up. "A Khattan Synth doesn't know what's happening to a Khattan ship? Yes, I think we'd better go look," she agrees.
"Do you have further instructions for me?" Artemis asks.
"Can you come with us?" Layth asks the Synth. "We may need your expertise. And … you should put some clothing on to avoid … distracting the crew."
A blue unitard sort of… grows… out of the Synth's fur. "I cannot move beyond my designated area of operation, which is this hangar," she says apologetically.
"What are you capabilities?" Layth asks Artemis. "We may have tasks for you here while we investigate."
"My specialties are in systems maintenance and repair," the SynthDoe notes.
"I'd like you to ensure the Melchior's launch catapult is functional, including that there's no damage to the hatches or any material between it an the sky," Tasha puts in, glancing over at her new, weird feeling pettable. "Also warn us if there's anyone or anything in the hangar after we're gone you can reach us on the only active Terran channel."
"Then perhaps you should check over the Titan in the bay and ensure it is capable of flight. Perhaps remove it from its placenta?" Layth suggests and nods to Tasha.
"It's protective wrap," insists the red woman.
"Placenta," Layth insists.
"I can disconnect the umbilical cables and remove the protective wrap," Artemis says. "I will monitor the communication channels as requested, and begin a maintenance sweep of the hangar."
"Oh! Also, contact Chief Engineer Fred Kohler and explain to him wha-" The Vartan pauses to eye Layth, her bunny-petting becoming rough enough to create little waves in the Synth's 'flesh,'" … Answer any questions he has about the Bellerophon berthing the Melchior."
"The Bellerophon has been activated?" the Synth asks instead, showing… surprise?
"And if he asks, no I did not become a woman just for him," Layth adds with a bit of an amused grin. "And yes, it has. Is this significant to you?"
"Yep, thanks to Fallen Star and the Karnor Elite," Tasha confirms.
"Records show that the Bellerophon flight was scrubbed in order to launch Fenris ahead of schedule, and to aid in the evacuation of Orpheus," Artemis comments. "There is no new data on its activation. This indicates a failure in the hangar monitoring system that should be checked into."
Tasha nods to that. "Its been over six-thousand years since the Fenris launched, um, Artemis. A lot of the ship isn't functional," explains the Vartan woman.
"This place has been dormant for six thousand years," Layth explains, "We recovered some of the former Fenris crew from their crashed ship on the world of Sinai. Effort is underway to recover the Bellerophon. We are understaffed and some of us have no idea how to work any of the equipment, but it is progressing."
"It is. We're doing what we can." Tasha smiles to the two men beside her with sudden pride, then nods. "I'm the pilot of Melchior, this is Captain Gabriel T. Akkers, and this is Layth. He makes jokes." The woman's grin goes lopsided. "Bad jokes."
Even while the others explain the situation, the doe has gotten another workstation activated, and has started some sort of diagnostic scan. "I cannot help with additional maintenance crew," she notes. "The Synth system is near capacity in its current state."
"It is about all I am good for. My education is lacking," Layth says honestly.
"You are a native of this system?" Artemis asks Layth.
"More or less. The theory is my kind were created by the Expedition when they crashed on Sinai," Layth explains.
Tasha's grin falters, and she nods understandingly. "We're both out of place here. I hope, some day, we can be more useful," she agrees with the Lapi.
"Uplifted via the Ark's … trade library," the red woman confirms.
"Captain Akkers, are you the ranking Expedition officer aboard Orpheus now?" the Synth asks the Karnor next.
"Yes," Gabriel says. "There is myself and Dr. Eli Zerachiel who are commissioned in the original Expedition. There is also a Titanian running around, named Blammo. He's been getting most of the Orpheus systems on-line, as far as those that are up and running now."
"He's also a very sexy man," Tasha informs the Synth, smiling.
"I doubt she understands that term," Layth notes to Tasha.
"But I do, and so does Gabriel," the living woman tells Layth, smiling more.
Artemis seems to freeze for a moment, before saying, "I don't show any record of a Titanian. Has he been inside this section?"
"Yes?" Layth says.
"What?" Gabriel asks. "What do you mean, he's sexy?"
"She means you, Captain," Layth explains to Gabriel.
"Oh, I thought she meant Blammo for a moment!" Akkers says, a bit relieved.
Tasha's smile twitches when its mentioned Blammo isn't in the database, then she turns and blinks at Gabriel. "W-what? I meant … ," she points at Layth, "YOU!"
"Me?" Layth asks.
"Blammo has his good qualities, but-" Tasha pauses again, staring at Layth. "Oh, don't confuse him! OR me! You know I mean Gabriel!" She throws her hands up in the air, flopping the Synth's ears. "Artemis, what do you mean you haven't seen Blammo he was with me in the Talon Lounge AND the hangar!"
Another workstation is brought up, and this one shows pictures from around the hangar and other areas, split into a grid. One of them clearly shows Blammo tinkering with some sort of… fountain? "There is no evidence of a Titanian," Artemis repeats, despite the picture showing him.
"He's clearly visible on that screen in front of you," Layth says and even points.
"But … he's … right there," Tasha insists, pointing right at the man on screen.
"I… I don't see… " the Synth notes, forehead actually furrowing. She manipulates something, and the images change into bizarre rainbow colors. In this view, Blammo's head and hands show up as bright yellow. "He is wearing override tags," Artemis accuses.
"What are override tags?" Layth asks, "And why would he be wearing them?"
"Over … what?" The red woman just blinks at the Synth.
"Small stamps with Synth Visual Code on them, which tells us to forget that we saw them," Artemis notes. "Raiding parties use them to bypass Synth based security systems."
"He may not even know he is wearing them," Layth suggests. "It is hard to tell how aware they actually are."
"Blammo did mention he's seen ProgMat before. This must mean that the Dainty Mauler, or at least the crew, has found a few," Tasha points out. "Come to think of it, Nora thinks the Titanians might have found a way to reach Terran trade lanes." The woman leans back, folding her arms and looking pensive again.
"Found a few Khattan ships, I mean," the Vartan clarifies, sounding distracted.
"Please keep the Titanian from stealing critical systems components," Artemis requests. "How did you all arrive here?"
"If he has found the trade routes, then why have they not pursued them here?" Layth points out, "The traders, that is. It is not a matter to worry to much on at this time. There are more pressing issues. As for how we arrived, we arrived on a Titanian ship."
"By the Titanian ship, the Dainty Mauler, and its apparently First One technology," explains Tasha. She glances at Layth, but just purses her muzzle, apparently still thinking.
"Are they returning?" Artemis asks, turning to look at everyone with a worried expression.
"Eventually?" Layth says and looks to the other two.
"Yes," answers Tasha. She turns and regards the Synth, head tilting as she begins to frown. "You don't think they're a danger, do you? They agreed to not plunder Orpheus." She glances at Layth and tells him, "They'll be here in a few days."
"Titanians should not be exposed to systems designed for Vartans," Artemis warns, even raising a finger to do so.
"Why, what will happen?" Layth asks.
"They… they… Are there still Vartans in the Primus system?" the robot asks, instead of fully replying.
"Um, I'm a system designed for Vartans," Tasha points out. "Is that bad?" She blinks. "I'm a Vartan! I'm not just a funny looking Karnor with wings, you know!"
"Yes," Layth answers. "Now. What will happen? Captain, order her to answer."
"Please answer," Gabriel asks the Synth.
Despite her calm until now, Tasha looks distinctly disgruntled at not having been see as a Vartan. She lays her ears back, sitting tensely in her chair as she eyes the Synth beside her. "I'm a Vartan, and I'm asking you to answer too," she insists in a low growl.
"We… cannot risk a Vartan-Titanian alliance forming," Artemis notes. "If either side uncovers the truth, it could result in a backlash against the Khattas… "
"What is the truth?" Layth asks next and crosses his arms. "Are they the same species?"
"What … truth?" Tasha's ears flick forward, her eyes narrowing all the more.
"They have the same origins," the Synthetic Lapi answers. "They were both created by the same race."