Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Hekazu
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On Universal Nova, a certain member of the council was enjoying some time for themselves at a club when ACASIAS contacted them out of the blue. "Please excuse the interruption Duke, but as the representative of Internal security..." The voice modulated message of the supercomputer was shushed by Virne waving his hand and rising up from his chair, leaving those who had joined the celebrations in his table briefly wondering what had happened.

"I am sorry ladies and gentlemen, but my duties call. Another time, perhaps?" he excused himself and headed outside. Once the sign of the club he had left from was no longer in sight, he reopened the discussion with ACASIAS. "So what is it? What has happened now? Has the leak spread yet? And was it a freelancer unit?" he bombarded the AI with questions, who easily kept up by responding to each as it received them. Soldiers dead. Killed by allies. Contained. In a way. The combination of them suggested a certain option, something that had him stop in his tracks for a moment. "You are telling me...", he began, not even bothering to finish. The answer was yes.



As soon as the vessel the group of diplomats were using to return from Vasishka had passed the third surveillance and counter-surveillance vessel, their radio burst to life. It came as a surprise to none of the council: The perimeter that had just been passed was the outermost layer council level confidential material could be sent over communications... the one all returning vessels knew to dread if there had been any protocol breaches. Creft opened the link and was unsurprised to find a familiar metal man staring at him from the video feed on the screen.

"I had heard that there are now two dead guards on your vessel, the cause of which being from inside the ranks of our Fleet. You must be aware that this means I will be starting and leading this investigation, yes?" Duke Virne requested confirmation in a tone much sterner than in which one usually heard the man speak in. If they could not explain this well, they could be in trouble.

"I deny nothing of the sort, Duke. The attacker has been identified and contained-" Creft began his reply, only to see the Duke respond by turning his head to the side and raising a finger to the screen.

"I am not asking about what happened after, ACASIAS has filled me in. What I am wondering is just how this came to be. How did you let an individual you well know to be unpredictable and violent to their own devices? Have all my regulations rang to deaf ears?" Virne asked, lowering the finger after the question and pressing his fist against the table. "I expect a full report of what happened and how you are going to be fixing that by the time you return. You have two standard hours after your arrival to show up at my office. With the perpetrator. I will be hearing all sides involved. Duke Rexes Virne, over and out."

The video screen shut down, returning the terminal to its usual state of showing monitored statistics of their flight. Creft turned to the other Fleet members in the cabin and made a request: "You heard the man. Please, speak up. What went wrong?"

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Following the frustrations of the political posturing, Ceraun found a quiet corner of the shuttle where she plugged into the massive supercomputer ACASIAS for the most necessary of resource drains possible: listening to music while she felt the natural energy of the planet course through her. Even though the city felt about as artificial as a starship, somewhere beneath the buildings and streets lay soil and the molten core of a living planet. It was all she needed to be at peace, and she basked in her meditative rituals.

That was, of course, until she was interrupted by the message from Virne. Ceraun remained silent until the General had cut communications and had begun bellowing as he was wont to do. "Security is not the concern of the medical team, Creft," she replied pointedly. "I have suggested before that we secure all potentially dangerous equipment with more stringent biometric locks, but that was waved off as being too 'invasive.' The test subjects are not my security concern once they are out of my control, and you know this. I can only work with the tools given to me."

This wasn't the first time one of her suggestions had been ignored, resulting in injury to another. Of course, both she and Creft knew that she generally overshot on her recommendations, as compromise was required on a resource-limited vessel. However, with Zelthis, there was no overstating either the danger he posed or the difficulty in containing him. It was one reason he made such an excellent test subject.
Hidden 3 mos ago 8 days ago Post by Gordian Nought
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Yes, he was an excellent test subject. Just like the quarry next to her.

Gavin.

Their vessel had raced, at a near tenth of light speed, hopefully before Virne would catch word, during his illustrious scheduled revelry on Universal Nova. However, she knew this to be impossible. ACASIAS readily took advantage of transferring trillions of qubits to all the necessary recipients, sending via quantum entanglement, information born upon protons and atoms, by exchanging a myriad of electron orbital states precisely from one position in space to another. However, this physical massage of galactic data etched as a massive morse-like code to which each Scrounger’s suit could intercept, decrypt, and compile as local audiovisual files, if they had clearance and/or said info was declassified; the numbers ferried out fortunately were not superluminal despite resolution of the EPR paradox of special relativity, centuries before.

They still relied on the presumption of harmonic shell perceptions.

An appropriate analogy would be a telegraph employing subatomic preservation without hyperfine splitting, but relishing in the logical gates of relativistic swapping. As long as one could decipher such anticipated exchanges intentionally, information in a local galaxy was faster than the classical transmission of a spoken dialogue. Yet, biological life forms were too complex to translate over such a vast ether, due to risk of disrupting the Pioneer plaque limits of astrophysics.

Alas, all these actions could still be carried about with such rapid communication, even without, quantum teleportation, by ACASIAS before the pair even set foot inside.

With the aid of the gravity manipulator, Vropda and her new found shipmate finally met again the perpetrator. The other two carcasses had since been removed from the quarantined field and stringent biometric locks that were already placed on the frozen, rotisserie body. His corpus appeared packaged as a potential gifted specimen for her Xenoendoplantation lab, primed for dissection as a scion for future grafting and embedding among the Scrounger race. The Duke had denied her request before, but may now be more malleable with this third altercation being the incident racked on Nick’s rapsheet.

In his proverbial famous words: Three strikes. And you’re out.

The Captain still knew that Zelthis remained cognizant; he was more elusive than uncontrolled nanobots, and he would need not only physical restraints but mental ones. Since his cochlear cells were the most resistant to damage, Creft’s sister realized he could still hear.

Perfect.

She pressed a few buttons on her suit, which engaged several speakers, readied for their musical debut. Vropda had since cultivated such complex, self-perpetuating melodic fractals into sound, repeating a musical theme in a large symphonic framework. Similar to a cant or an elegy, her dirge would secretly, unbeknownst to Lobrom, appease and pacify the frigid man's disturbed mood, assuming their captive’s nervous systems utilized electric potentials and depolarization. The soothing tunes were low pitched, only consciously detectable with the correct diverting strata. All she needed was to reach the subconscious id that mounted upon the ego of this shapeshifter, altering his brain to reciprocally dance to their suggestions and orders. The Captain realized this could only last for an optimal twenty to thirty standard hours, before Nick would purposely negate the auditory signaling to release himself from these cerebral fetters.

Vropda, once satisfied that the bispectral index score from Zelthis equated and related to quiescent sedation, bellowed in a shrill voice.

“ACASIAS, bring the containment unit. Once he's imprisoned, please instill gravity once more, so our friend, Gavin, here, does not have to.”

> UNDERSTOOD

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The General shook his head at Ceraun's remarks, spreading his arms as if to show he couldn't help it. "It is not feasible to build ship interiors out of quad-plating. You are aware they used an improvised weapon, yes? The problem is not security in things that should be secured, it's in the fact that we cannot, let me stress that, cannot spend so much resources on transportation vessels as to make them completely idiot and/or psychopath proof. What we can consider now is not what to do with our ships, but what to do with Zelthis. To keep him in your control, so to say", he argued. While being able to make any- and everything safe from manipulation would be ideal, the Fleet could not burn that many resources for it. They needed more in quantity, everything could not go to quality.

Next thing he did was look around the room, trying to find the person whose insight in this matter might be the greatest: The one that purged the threat in the first place. To his surprise, he couldn't see his sister anywhere nearby. "Hm, tell me, have you seen Captain Vropda lately, any one of you? They should have the most detailed knowledge of this... And yet I know one thing I can already blame: The guards had failed in doing their work. Had they followed their orders, we'd not be here now."

With Vropda missing, he pointed his metallic arms towards the opposing walls of the room and requested input from the rest: "But please, don't leave me in the dark about your opinions. I'm sure there is something you can say? Duke Virne will want to hear it anyway, best rehearse it now." His artificial face betrayed his feelings about this investigation, with a telltale wince appearing as he mentioned Duke Virne. The man was strict and thorough, great qualities when you were not under suspicion yourself. Thoroughly unpleasant when you were.

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Hidden 26 days ago 26 days ago Post by Hekazu
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Much, much later

Creft sat in his office, his head leaned against his right hand. More safety briefs. Of course. Duke Virne did not spare even his friends from his watching eye. Meeting his professional side was something he could have well have done without... the jolly man that was present in the meetings of the council, even if he did not specifically find things a laughing matter, was a much more tolerable person than the strict wall he was when concerned about the internal safety of the Fleet. But at least he had been reminded why he was in charge of that. And the General, if anyone, knew how important it was to have trustworthy men operating under one's command.

He sat up straighter and called upon ACASIAS to repeat the message he had received earlier once more. On sector Delta 14 as UFP called it the Fleet had picked up a drifting escape pod. It had been nabbed for investigation, but instead of a valuable person worth trading anywhere they had obtained somebody who, according to their own words, would not want anything to do with the Federation any longer. A shame, until the crew had realised that this man might well have insider information they would freely share with the Fleet. Of course, it could all well be a trap for all the General knew. But at least the man could not make an attack on his person. The pickaxe of his had been confiscated once the vessel he had been sent to Universal Nova on had docked. The General briefly considered reprimanding the troops for letting him keep it until here, but then again if they were to trust the man enough to bring him in here, to chat with the General himself, perhaps they could also hand the tool back later.

The bell to his office rang and the sharpened metal digit pressed the blue button. The door opened and two Scrounger soldiers led the man in. These two were not the ones he had travelled with, just in case he might have influenced that lot. They would remain at the door while the General would motion the human to sit down on the other side of his desk. "I hope you understand just how important a person you are meeting. The reason you sit there before me is that most of the others that were on the diplomatic mission to your former home Federation are... busy. My sister may join us soon, but before we get to what she needs... could you repeat your story for me?" General Ogni Emethel Haw'kohd Dis'nahm Bi'ahni Lawga Ormo Pohmpus Da'nit Ar'edi Iz Creft asked of the new arrival.

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Jace sat quietly, examining the room briefly before making eye contact with the general. It was clear that he had best tell him the truth. At least the only way he was going from here was further from the Federation.

"I was a rancher on one of the Federation's border worlds. My town was taken by slavers to a mining planet. I led a revolution against them, stole an escape craft, and got away in whatever direction I happened to be pointing, which apparently was your territory. I have no idea if anyone else escaped, or what happened to the slavers. Not like the UPF's going to do anything about them anyway. A ranching colony is expendable, I'm sure." He sat, relaying his story once more.

"As for right now, all I really want is to get as far from UPF space as possible. As much as I hate them for abandoning us in our time of need, one man can't really do much against something spanning most of the known galaxy." He shrugged. It was true, there wasn't much he wouldn't do if it meant he could get even with the Federation, but there wasn't much that anyone, at least any human, could accomplish alone that would mean much.

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Hidden 25 days ago 20 days ago Post by Gordian Nought
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Zelthis fell.

Again and again. Because of betrayal. The Ragnarov had immense comprehension of many refugee races, but zero tolerance with rebellion.

Weeks and many deaths later, imprisoned within the weapons testing facility, the physiology manipulator succumbed to new toys, technomancered to deliver the most pain.

In the slowest feasible way. And as long as possible.

Captain Vropda had just marched away, behind a transparent barrier, from the last crimson rays of the waning subject painted again on the walls of the engineering canyon. The dark scar left by the impact reeked of mortar and brimstone. A blemish which grew thicker as Nick’s body continued to endure it. Such a will against the literal burnout of explosive torture surprised the sister of General Creft. The cliffs of flesh on either side narrowed, as the universe contracted into another detonation around the shapeshifter. The vassal appeared human in its still extant remains but with an inhuman luminosity about him, as radioactivity stemmed from the corpus as it slid slowly to the bottom of the crash well.

There were no signs of evolution. Yet.

As Vropda was hopeful that Zelthis would yield fruit, that might benefit her mother race, the scavengers of space, extricating life, in any and from any form or fashion. She ceased her experiments as the digital monitor reminded her Exosuit of a gathering with her brother. With another button, the chamber cryogenically frozen and with it the rebellious changeling.

---

Her boots barely broke the office as Jace completed a synopsis of her recent existence.

Rancher.
Slavers.
Mining Planet.
Revolution.
Escape.

Buzz words ACASIAS automatically gleaned, discerned and verified. The tale seemed to be authentic, according to the statistical boot-logging methods, the AI provided. The mechanically enhanced woman's unseen pale eyebrows beneath a cocooned visor leaped in excitement.

“What were you exactly harvesting?”

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The General rapped his exoframe's sharp fingers against his table, taking in the story of this traveller one more time. ACASIAS could confirm: The story had remained the same for the entirety of the time. It was almost too rigid, he thought, with so few details changing between tellings. Like he had memorised it from somewhere. Yet it could well be he had indeed thought what he was going to say to people in his time in the escape pod, drifting through space with no destination in mind. He could not form a solid stance yet. It was for the best for him to conclude the interview and see what this man knew in the first place.

Before he got to asking his question, the door suddenly opened. One of the two guards stepped in front of the approaching person, but simply nodded and let her pass when they realised who it was. Captain Vropda had been given a few more liberties when it came to the General and the thing he influenced than strictly necessary, but then again she was his sister. It would not be the first time siblings of ranks close enough to one another would both simply use the might of the higher station.

Creft had still been piecing together his next question when the new arrival spoke up and asked what it was that the criminals that had held the man hostage were actually harvesting from the planets. That was an excellent question and perhaps more crucial than the newcomer had any way of knowing. After all, it just might mean the Fleet would be interested in heading there before all the material was gone. Raiding the stockpiles and settling in to gather the rest. "She would be who I mentioned would arrive soon", the General introduced Vropda to the newcomer, "but as I am General, call her Captain. And please, answer her question while you are at it."

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Jace tensed as the new Scrounger entered. He was almost instantly on guard, but soon relaxed as it came apparent that she simply had more questions for him. It was to be expected, really. These people seemed very pragmatic and logical. With luck, that'd make it all the easier to reason with them.

"Pleasure to meet you, Captain. To answer your question; metal ore, gemstones, untapped aquifers, anything they thought was valuable. They had so many people and ships you'd think they'd just buy colonization rights and mine the stuff themselves, but that just goes to show the critical thinking skill of slavers. But I digress." He dismisses the thought with a wave of his hand.

"The planet itself had fair amounts of metals that could be sold. Considering the UPF keeps a pretty strong grip on its resource-rich planets, maybe I shouldn't be surprised that pirates set up a slave operation there." He concluded.

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The General nodded approvingly at the goal of the less lawful mining mission. "Sounds like we may have found ourselves a source of material. And if we cannot get it from the UFP... well, I am sure we have other means", he shared with his sister with a voice that carried no hint of malice, nor will to cooperate. He was simply stating facts. He turned back to the newcomer, the face of his exoframe as expressionless as ever and twiddled his thumbs a bit.

"And then there's what comes to you. Well. You know where these raiders of yours are. If UFP has not dealt with the threat, and we will assume they haven't, this close to our territory, your vessel could not have come from that far... well, we've simply got to take care of it ourselves. A pre-emptive countermeasure to prevent intrusion. If we happen to gather a bit of metal on the side, all the better. But again, you know the most of them. Do share with us, please", the General demanded politely, clicking a button that revealed a hologram image of the sector Delta 14 as UFP called it. Only one spot was marked in any way, that being where Jace's pod had been picked up.

"You arrived from there, angled like this...", Creft explained, pointing at the hologram while ACASIAS filled in the details, "and so you would be from... one of these", he finished by having the biocomputer draw a sphere around a small group of planets. "Question is... which one? And how much defences?" The exact type of metal they could find out later. The fact raiders could mine it with slaves for profit had to mean something all on its own.

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Jace examined the hologram, checking over each planet carefully. Thankfully, the one in mind came into view quickly. He pointed to a small, beige desert planet with two orbiting moons.

"This one, General. I couldn't tell you the name, but it's the only one with any sort of biosphere. Nothing you can't handle, I'm sure, but the big question will be the Slavers." He moved back from the hologram, communicating as much with the motions of his hands as with his voice.

"They're decently armed, but they're still criminals. With luck, they'll turn and run at the first sign of any ship with better guns than them. However, if they don't.." He paused for a moment, tapping his chin with his finger.

"Their two biggest ships were frigates. Fast, small, but they didn't have decent shielding, as I recall. Other than that, a handful of fighters and drone ships they mainly used to keep an eye on the planet itself. We managed to figure out that at any given moment, most of those smaller ships are patrolling the planet, while the others safeguard the frigates when they go to acquire more slaves. You're probably best off hitting them while they're off gathering slaves, then you could take out the small parts of their fleet no problem, then you'll have the element of surprise when they return."

Jace had begun to muse strategies, probably a bit more than was acceptable. These Scroungers didn't exactly seem kind, so if he was to get out of this without imprisonment, or some form of mind control, it was probably best to make sure that he seemed to be of the most use with his mind intact.

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Hidden 20 days ago 20 days ago Post by Gordian Nought
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Either this was too good to not be a trap.

Or.

This calm individual had already meticulously wagered the odds, rolling the devilish dice that the Scroungers were, in fact, the lesser of the two evils, which in of itself, implied a likely harrowing encounter with these Slavers.

And.

What was in it for this Jace? Liberation of his home planet? Revenge? Was he employed by them? Perhaps a war of attrition to lessen the competition as two immense powers exhausted resources for jewels and metals?

These inquiries and more plagued the engineer, like a fog of locusts swarming her withering neurons, masticating and consuming angst and trepidation as she attempted to fully process this meeting, of yet another refugee of import. Sooner or later, the angel of death would catch up with their race, either in the masqueraded form of friend or foe. Trust must be earned, not swallowed, since being a giant fleet made them merely a larger target.

Curious, Vropda edged closer, allowing the tubes that constantly plasmapharesed her thin blood, to buzz, vibrating a sinister melody as she chanced another query.

"Do these Slavers have a name?"

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The General listened to what this man had to tell. Metal. Armaments. Suggestions on how to act. He kept silent through it all. He did not care much for the outsider's own theories on what would be the working strategy, but they did serve to strengthen the intel he provided. Of course, it could still all be an ambush and any force they would bring in would be actually considered by Admiral Teng and his second and third in command, but this was intel nonetheless. And quite possibly bountiful intel at that.

The General rapped his sharp fingers against his table when Vropda opened her mouth. She asked a fair question of the interrogatee, one that Creft too would be interested in hearing. If they had a name there was bound to be people who woud know of them. If not in the Fleet, then in the UFP. It would make much more sense for the Fleet to report having ousted a group of known individuals than simply claim "They sure were slavers!" Some much needed legitimacy and all. He remained silent, waiting for an answer.

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Jace tensed once more as Vropda walked closer, but soon went back to his calm demeanor. No reason in making them think he was lying. He took a deep breath before speaking again, as if it pained him to even recall the name of his captors.

"Rakja Fleet. Not exactly the biggest, from what I could tell, but they don't have their own planet of slaves for no reason. Mostly humans, but a few other species were thrown in as well, but I couldn't tell you the names." He responded simply.

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"Rakja Fleet. Very well. Did they keep the fruits of their slaves' labour on the planets or on their ships? Your plan did not really include the part where we would get spoils of war. After all, the Ragnarov Fleet can not simply move forward out of sheer goodwill. But if we know what to expect, this sounds like something that would nonetheless be in our interests. We may be in touch. For the time being, we will leave you in the care of Chief Medic Ceraun Farohm with Captain Vropda as a secondary caretaker. Sister, could you escort him to the medbays?" the General concluded, assuming the human would still answer his question.

As soon as he would be gone with Vropda and the guardsmen, Creft would contact the rest of the legislative council. Especially Fleet Admiral Teng. The first one to answer would nonetheless be Forever, like always. All the meeting calls went through the spokesman. "General. Did the drifter have anything useful to tell?" the sphinx like figure asked, shaking his mane from which grains of sand fell to the floor. The General's expression module came online and slowly the edges of his mouth started creeping upwards.

"You could say so, Spokesman. I think we have found our next mining operation."

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“Rakja Fleet? That’s an unfamiliar moniker. Come, march alongside me.”

They both left Creft’s office, swiftly at the General’s beckon, all the while ACASIAS had already harmonized a collation of the predominantly mentioned humanoid races combined with phonetic etymologies of Rakja.

> COMPILING

Soon, an Earthen list was digested visually and comprehensively.

> SORTING

Rakja or राजन् in Sanskrit, is a word for monarch in a southern hemispheric dialect of the planet, the word specifying and denoting of a princely ruler within Asia, one of seven continents of this lonely, insignificant world. It carried a title of nobility during their pre-atomic age. Specifically, the Das Rakja refers to the battle of the ten kings, from an ancient sacred collection of Vedic hymns, a seeming precursor to the Mahabrata, an epic fancy of demons, sages, and the great four pursuits of purusartha or पुरुषार्थ.

Dharma.
Artha.
Kama.
Moksha.


These four concepts of human aspiration and metaphorically breaking the chain of slavery that the great wheel of time purported through a nirvana. Religious references were provided and explained in further detail on many monitors visible only to Vropda, as their footsteps took a corner.

Was he attempting to swindle them, with such a subtle hint from Zelthis’ favorite culture? Maybe he was here to liberate the shapeshifter? What other references could there be?

> COMPILING

Rakja - collective term for fruit brandy in Europe, the continuation of the aforementioned land mass

> COMPLETE

As they approached her lab, she silently hummed like one of the many drones, a pitch which opened a retinal scanner.

“Welcome, Jace! To my playground. How about we provide you with some modifications? Hmmh. A few enhancements before we engage these slavers of yours? Please step forward and position your face in front of the infrared detectors.”

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Jace paused as Vropda offered him some sort of 'modifications,' probably of cybernetic or biological nature. Whether or not she was being honest, he decided that he'd rather not roll the dice of trust just yet. Considering that all of these Scroungers were covered from head to... whatever appendages they had in robotic suits, 'modification' could mean the same as 'conversion.'

"Thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather take them on as I am." He said as he placed his eyes in front of the infrared detectors. He could only hope that he wasn't about to succumb to some sort of mind control, but he wasn't exactly in any position to say no to Vropda.

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