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She frowned slightly when he mentioned that meeting her and Freya had changed what Ludolf felt. "I hope that's a good thing." She replied quietly, some concern returning to her voice. Sakura looked down at the picture again as Ludolf flipped the page back, again slightly awed at proof of a dragon's lifespan. "Maybe your perception of the flow of time has a hard time reconciling something that spans so much time?" She ventured a guess at what may have been the reason for the picture triggering such a reaction.
Ludolf then dropped another bomb in his declaration that something huge was building. "You mean bigger than Robinson taking over a huge swath of the system by force?" She asked, still sounding rather concerned. "And I don't suppose we stand much chance of being able to just ride it out on the sidelines." She continued, now sounding a little resigned.
Freya listened as Allswell described the changes in Robinson, still thinking that there had been something she had run across before that sounded similar, something from when she was much younger that may have been ancient history even then. "I really would like the chance to dig around in his head and figure out just what those voices are, or at least what they're telling him." She commented with some frustration. She couldn't help but feeling that those voices had some sort of importance beyond the changes they brought about in Robinson.
She had watched as Allswell brought them through the ship, regaling them with brief tales as they went, and Sakura hanging on his every word as if she were half the age she was. Looking back on it, it was easy to see a family resemblance to Osborne that went much deeper than physical appearance. She caught herself wondering how far he would have gone if he'd chosen a different path.
She gave a slight shrug as Allswell gently refused her offer. "It's your family's history after all." She replied though she shook her head at his implication of his eventual death, probably in the very chair he now occupied. "You know you could probably come with us rather than sitting here and waiting for the inevitable. I doubt Sakura would turn you away."
She frowned when Allswell mentioned the outrageous promises Robinson was making to his cohorts. "He's really promising all that, and they're believing it?" She asked, appalled at the idea that such grandiose promises were being taken at face value. "Wouldn't you like to see the look on that old wolf's face when we topple his grand house of cards?" She asked Allswell with a wry grin.
“Leave the Averice?” His brow knitted at the suggestion. He wasn’t nearly so vocal about it as Sakura had been about leaving the Inari, but it was clear many of the same thoughts and feelings were running through his head.
Ludolf nodded at Sakura’s last comment about riding out the unknown future approaching them, “Right.”
She sounded worried. He couldn’t blame her. He was also worried. He had the feeling that they should all be worried. Maybe he had been wrong to introduce this new concern. It was a distraction. “Lets stay focused on our present situation. We should worry about the things we can affect, for now. We need to secure new railguns for Inari and, looking around, I have to believe Allswell has a few to spare… for the right price…” He closed the photo album and placed it back in its ancient desk drawer.
They emerged onto the bridge in the middle of Freya and Allswell’s conversation. “Aye, he’s promisin’ all that, and they’re buyin’ it. He can be a convincin’ sort. He’s got plans,” he wiggled his fingers to again invoke the air of mystery around it all, “I jus’ don’ know what they are.”
Ludolf took a minute to consider the wisdom of volunteering information before speaking up. It was nothing Freya or Sakura hadn’t heard before, but it would be news to Allswell. “I know his plans,” he rumbled, “he’s consolidating his power, taking over Atalfa. He wants to form a new… kingdom, or empire, or whatever he would call it, out here.”
Allswell gave the bear a cockeyed look, and then the old captain just laughed. He laughed long and hard. Finally, he managed to get a word in edgewise around his own mirth, “an’ he told you that, did ‘e? Ehh, ye can be so dense sometimes.” At the bear’s blank look the old feline waved an arm out the front viewscreen, “he hates it out here! He hates Atalfa! He deee-spises this place! You think ‘e’s after a bunch a’ molderin’ old pirate stations an’ criminal flotsam?”
Ludolf was silent for a time, processing the implications of this new revelation. Did anybody truly like it out here? It was the freedom that attracted all sorts to Atalfa, and the prospects of making money through illegitimate means. For some it was the isolation, the secrecy, the chance to hide from one’s past. But given the option, wouldn’t they all prefer to be somewhere different? Even after a couple weeks, the memory of being in the real natural air down in Edwin was fresh in his mind, and how it had felt. The memory of a part of him, the part which had evolved on that living world, feeling at home on a deep instinctual level he hadn’t felt before.
"Wouldn't you like to see the look on that old wolf's face when we topple his grand house of cards?" Freya asked Allswell with a wry grin.
Her grin caught on, but it didn’t last. “Aye I would! But, is like I said, speed is power. Ye’ can’t fight a ship like the Agony wi’ any old engine. ‘S why I set my little ambush for the lot of ya. Yer engine… don’t know jus’ what I’d do with it. I don’t figure it’d push the Averice. But it’d be something at least.” He patted the arm rest of his captain’s chair fondly, “old girl ain’t good fer much wi’ ‘er old fusion engines these days… But I’d find a way.”
Allswell swiveled the chair to face the three of them. On seeing Ludolf and Sakura he seemed to remember something; they said they needed weapons for their ship. A broad, piratical grin split his muzzle. He could be an unpredictable sort, for sure, and part of that was because he could make seemingly major decisions in what should really be far too little time. “Seems you need somethin’ from me, an’ I’m needin’ somethin’ from you.”
“What are you suggesting,” Ludolf rumbled, “some kind of trade?” It would be preferable to paying through the nose, if it was true.
“Nothin’ so grandiose,” the cat murmured, feigning to slump back against the chair, only to explode out of it and jab a finger upwards at nothing in particular, “A PACT! An honest t’ god Pirate Pact! Think: ‘is all so perfect! Guns ‘n engines is jus’ the beginnin’! Me an’ the lot of ya, we wanna see Robinson fail fer our own reasons, right? We all got our demons to deal with, all our own points te’ prove.”
“Oh no, not grandiose at all,” Ludolf said in deadpan monotone, but Allswell ignored him. The cat had been speaking directly to Sakura. Pacts were agreements between pirate captains and she was the only one here other then himself with a ship. It was an old sort of idea, though. Pirates these days rarely bothered with that sort of thing. The bear turned to his young captain, “it isn’t a small thing that he’s proposing. It is something like an alliance. With the exception of your ships, it’s a ‘whats mine is yours and yours is mine’ kind of situation. Resources are pooled. Decisions are made collectively.”
“It’s a crazy idea,” the bear said with a glare at his manic former captain, but then, after a few silent moments in thought, he shrugged, “I kind of like it. I doubt Robinson will be expecting it, and we’d have access to Allswell’s facilities and supplies here.”
The old feline took a step forward, held his arm out so she might clasp it with her own. “Go on,” he said with a wink, “yeh know yeh want to.”
“I can’t speak for Freya,” Ludolf commented. He put a hand on Sakura’s shoulder, “but I will follow where you lead, captain. The choice is yours.”
Sakura nodded as Ludolf suggested that they focused on the task at hand for the time being. "Right, railguns." She replied as they headed out into Allswell's conversation with Freya.
Freya shrugged as it became apparent to her that Allswell wasn't going to be talked into leaving his ship behind. "If they beilieve that load of tripe, I have some beautiful beachfront property in the middle of Edwin to sell them" She grumbled when he insisted that Robinson could be that convincing. "Get me close enough to him, and I'll figure out those plans." She replied, again wishing that she had the wolf handy to rummage around in his head.
She turned and looked when Ludolf spoke up about Robinson's plans. Her attention was just as quickly drawn back to Allswell though as he laughed. "So the wolf wants Feila." She summarized. "I still don't see how he thinks he's going to take it. He may wipe out all opposition in space, but that will still leave a whole planet's worth of ground forces to contend with if he wants to hold the territory." She commented with some skepticisim.
Sakura looked at Freya as it seemed she had offered to take Allswell along with them. Allswell declined, but his reasoning caught her attention. Speed, and the Avarice's lack of it. She found herself idly wondering just what Allswell would do if he could match Inari's speed. She quickly frowned though when he suggested taking Inari's engine to put in the Avarice. Luckily she didn't get the sense of any real threat from the thoughts, but it was still concerning.
As Allswell mentioned that they needed something from him, and he wanted something from them, she was already preparing to refuse to trade off Inari's drive systems. Allswell's thoughts took an unexpected turn though, and she found herself a little off balance as he exploded from his chair and proposed a pact. She found herself shifting gears to catch up. She listened carefully to what Ludolf had to say about the proposal before she spoke.
"So, say we enter this agreement." She started. "You're not getting Inari's drive." She said flat out in a tone that said there would be no budging her on that. "I'm assuming that, instead, you're going to want to know how to build your own and integrate them into the Avarice." She paused. "Or, you're going to want me to build it for you. In return, I get access to the facilities and supplies here. Now, here's where things get a little murky. Where are we going to go from there? Will you crew the Avarice and bring her out to help us against Robinson, or are you going to just watch and pounce on whoever is left?"
She wanted to accept Allswell's offer. She desperately needed allies, and she wanted Allswell to be one of them, and not for her own sake. She gave a small smile when Ludolf assured that he would follow her through whichever choice she made.
Freya looked at Ludolf when he mentioned her, then at Allswell for a moment before looking at Sakura. "I will protect you through this." She told Sakura with a small grin before she turned it on Allswell, and it became much more predatory; a silent warning against treachery.
Sakura nodded at both Ludolf and Freya before she took hold of Allswell's arm. "All right, a pact then." She said as she shook with Allswell. "I hope you have some contacts and supply chains we can use if you want the Avarice outfitted with a drive like Inari's."
He recoiled dramatically from her vile insinuations. “Gah! What’d be th’ worth a’ that!? Is like ever’one always says- an’ by ever’one I mean myself-“ he counted off on his fingers, “one ship, well that’s worth one ship. Two ships is worth two ships. But two ships flyin’ together, that right there’s worth threeee ships. Or four or five or… however many, throw a number on there, yeh get the point.”
“Ye think I want t’ sit ‘ere an’ wait to die!? I want t’ get out there,” he said, his voice full of hunger as he clutched at empty space in front of him with both hands. “Is time to make a last stand! Or a first stand! Or…” he waved his hands vaguely, “somewhere in the middle, I don’ know. Whatever it is, is time to do it!” He pointed to a compartment near her hand, “better get the gun outta there missy, cause yer gonna have to shoot me to keep me lurkin’ in ‘ere like some dragon and its hoard…”
There was an awkward silence. Ludolf just shook his head. The old captain stomped a foot, “you know what I mean, damnit all! Is time for Action!” He clasped Sakura’s arm as she grabbed his and jerked her around a couple of times. The shaking was important. It added vigor to the pact! And as Allswell saw it, pirates were supposed to be rambunctious, not sullen like Ludolf or lurking and plotting monsters like Robinson.
“Contacts an’ supply chains, sure,” he said, getting down to business, “but don’t know if’n yeh noticed, but Atalfa’s done an’ gone teh hell, an’ most of em’s scattered or… or switched sides. I got plenty of supplies teh restock ‘n refit the Inari, fer sure, but nothin’ fer needin’ fer buildin’ a fancy new engine. If ye need somethin’ exotic, we’re gonna need teh figgur somethin’ out…” It wasn’t something he’d confess to anyone, but contrary to what he'd said before he really had come to this asteroid to die. The last few years had been a dark time for him, and he’d let networking fall to the wayside. He had huge stockpiles of supplies and weapons, not to mention piles of money. He could probably repair an engine a hundred times over with what he had tucked away in the comet, but building a whole new engine from scratch was precision engineering.
A thought crawled to the forefront in Ludolf’s head. “Something exotic…” he was thinking back to an asteroid full of strange machines and someone who by all accounts still had her snout to the wind and her ear to the ground. He turned to Sakura, “What about Lenares? Would she be able to help us?” He thought then to glance Freya’s way. He grunted to himself. A half dog, half dragon? Freya’s history with Etienne? It had taken a while to click, and he wasn’t sure whether there was any unpleasant history between Lenares and her mother. “…Unless that is a problem.”
Sakura looked a little confused when Allswell mentioned having to shoot him to keep him lurking, it seemed to run counter to what all they wanted. Freya on the other hand looked slightly miffed at the insinuation about dragons. "We don't all lurk." She commented quietly just before Allswell stomped a foot.
Sakura frowned again when Allswell replied to her question about supply chains. "I'm definitely not going to be able to completely build a new drive with what's here." She replied. "Sorry." She swung her head to face Ludolf when he spoke up. His tones implied he was thinking of a solution. Her shoulders fell a bit, and she gave a sigh when he suggested they seek help from Lenares. "Judging by her living quarters, and all the stuff she had stashed away, she probably could." She replied. "But I already owe her a favor, and I don't really want to build on that debt. If we had funds to pay her though.." She trailed off, giving a significant look to Allswell.
Freya noticed that Ludolf was looking in her direction when he made the comment about visiting Lenares possibly being a problem. "Shouldn't be." She replied as if she were still thinking about it. "I need to talk with her about the magicapacitor anyway."
Sakura sighed again. "Well, I guess we're going back to visit her again then." She announced. "But not before we finish getting Inari back to her full strength, maybe add a bit of extra as well." She looked over at Allswell. "We're going to need to bring her in to the bay here." She told him. "You can get a good look at her then too." She added with a grin.
As they headed back through the corridors toward Inari so they could get her moved inside the docking bay, Sakura spoke to Ludolf. "Building this new drive is going to take some time." She commented. "Let's hope Robinson doesn't get too suspicious while we're working." She commented. She was again feeling like she was in way over her head, and it was getting a bit overwhelming. She concentrated on keeping herself together as they disengaged Inari from the docking gantry and made their way back around to the bay doors.
Once the doors were open, she carefully maneuvered Inari in to land near the Avarice. When they were again gathered in the docking bay, she clapped her hands together. "Alright. Lets get that new railgun mounted. There are a couple empty hard mounts that we could add a couple more missile pods to as well. May as well arm her as heavily as we can." She instructed before activating the WRASS to get it working on prepping the old railgun for removal.
Allswell winked when Sakura mentioned paying Lenares, “Aye, we’ve funds to spare, that we do. And by ‘we’ I mean ‘we’! Pact mates always share the loot! Tha’ grumpy bear of yers, e’ figures this ‘ole pact business t’ be so much old floatsome, but I take it seriously!”
Sakura mentioned getting a good look at the Inari, and Allswell answered with a grin of his own. He rubbed his hands together in anticipation.
Ludolf sat in Inari’s galley with Sakura and Freya, eating a last meal before departing. Allswell was there too. In fact he had spent a lot of his time on the Inari, helping or just poking around. Much of the ship’s systems were new and modern compared to what he was used to, and his age had done nothing to his curiosity.
The old cat had lived up to the archaic ideals he espoused when it came to the pact thus far. The railguns he provided were works of art, the product of an earlier era when certain rare metals weren’t quite so rare. They were longer than the ship’s original guns and they could handle a higher electrical current through the rails, yet thanks to their exotic metal alloy construction they were lighter and more agile to aim. The crème of the crop twenty years ago. You couldn’t even buy them anymore, or anything like them. And he’d given them enough to replace all of the Inari’s guns.
Allswell fully intended to help Sakura make the Inari absolutely ferocious, and though he was quick to make off-key jokes about dragons and hordes, he had gathered together quite a horde himself; of weapons. After hearing about their trouble in the asteroid field he even provided a pair of anti-torpedo rocket pods supplied from the point defense system of the Avarice, which the WRASS was busy installing, in addition to extra missile batteries and a plethora of different warheads. He’d offered a couple of his precious 4didar disruptor warheads too, but they hadn’t decided on bringing them yet.
“Is nay like ye kin detect ‘em at a distance,” Allswell pointed out around a mouthful of food as they ate. The food was lavish, thanks to both the feline’s stocks and the remains of the fundamentalists’ care package.
Ludolf shook his head, “no, but they could be found during an inspection, and we’re flying into Dmitrian space.” As useful as they might be, 4didar disruptors were restricted military technology. Very restricted. There’d be no simple slap on the wrist if they were found out. The Inari would be impounded, and its crew would probably face prison time.
The decision fell to Sakura. As captain, she would be taking on the greater risk and ultimate responsibility.
After the meal was done and some final decisions were made, they departed. Only after the Inari had left the warmth of the cargo bay behind and the cold silence of the cometary nucleus receded behind them was Ludolf struck by the trust his old first captain was capable of. He’d given them all this new equipment and let them leave without any real guarantee that they’d return. They even had access to an account loaded with credits for paying Lenares. It was a lot of money.
Ludolf was surrounded by people with great strength of character. He found this reassuring.
The bear settled into his station to the side of the cockpit. Somehow, over the last few weeks, this place had begun to feel like home. Maybe it was seeing the Avarice and remembering what that felt like that made him see it now. They’d been through a lot in a short time. He’d gotten to know this ship, its controls, its inner workings- in a grease-and-wrench mechanic’s sort of way, anyway.
After the big drive had wound up and Allswell’s base leapt into the distance behind them, Ludolf turned to Sakura. “You said you already owed Lenares a favor. Do you know what kinds of favors she’s after?” The wheels in his head were turning. “I wonder if we could convince her to join the cause…”
Sakura was relieved when Allswell announced that there were indeed funds that they could use to pay for Lenares' help. She also managed to hide a small chuckle at the way he called Ludolf a grumpy bear.
She was happy to show Allswell some of Inari's finer points and inner workings, and the old cat's curiosity just added to the enjoyment. The railguns were wonderful pieces, and she almost felt bad about attaching them to her ship for use, feeling a little that like works of art, they should be admired. Allswell definitely seemed determined to live up to the ideals of their pact which served to make her more determined to pull through on her side as well.
As they discussed taking the disruption warheads with them, she frowned a bit as she weighed the pros and cons to herself. "Well.." She started after swallowing a bite of her meal. "We are going into Dmitrian space, but we're not going through any major ports. Though with the uptick in activity, they could have extra patrols out. Of course, we could blow past any patrols fairly easily. Then again with our speed, we shouldn't really need them....shouldn't." She worked through her thoughts aloud before she came to a final decision. "I think we'll hold on those, play it safe from a 'possibly getting caught' perspective." She concluded.
She thanked Allswell with total sincerity before they left. He had surprised her a bit with just how far he was willing to go to uphold the pact, and she was determined to follow through on outfitting the Avarice with a drive comparable to Inari's.
She gave a bit of an embarrassed laugh when Ludolf asked what kind of favor Lenares would be expecting. "I don't really know." She admitted. "If I had to guess, probably some sort of delivery or retrieval" She guessed. She frowned a bit when Ludolf wondered if they could convince the hybrid to join the cause. "That's a tough one, she doesn't strike me as someone to want to get directly involved in something like this, though I don't suppose it would hurt to ask." She looked over at Freya who shrugged.
"I can add my opinion, but I can't make her join." Freya replied. A distant look crossed her features before she spoke again. "You may want to send her a message before we arrive too." She told Sakura, her expression revealing some measure of concern. "She's put up a block."
Sakura frowned at Freya for a moment before she shrugged. "Okay, I'll send a message" She replied.
Thankfully, it seemed that Dmitri's forces were concentrated on much larger fish than a small private freighter. Inari's speed may have raised eyebrows, but forces and effort couldn't be spared to pursue a single anomalous ship.
Sakura looked perplexed for a moment when a reply came across. "Well, that's interesting." She commented quietly as she looked at the message. "It looks like she's sent us coordinates, and an access code. These coordinates put us on the same moon as before, but on the other side completely." She mused in her confusion. "I wonder why she would send us there." She continued to comment as she programmed the new destination into the ship's navigation systems.
The new location looked more like a fortress than a habitat. Heavy, armored, blast doors peppered the sides of a canyon leading down to a larger set of armor plated dock doors. Sakura had started broadcasting the access code well before they got there, and was glad for it after seeing the canyon. She didn't know for sure what was behind those doors, but she could make a guess, and didn't want to find out the hard way if she was correct. The dock doors opened just far enough for Inari to glide inside before closing heavily behind the ship. The dock itself was large enough to house several ships comfortably, but only held one other ship.
The other ship in the bay was unlike anything of Feilan, or Dmitrian design. It also looked like wit was quite unfinished. "Well, we're in. That's a good sign right?" Sakura commented as she brought Inari to a soft landing near the only other ship in the bay. "I hope it's a good sign." She continued to fret as they waited for the airlock to clear.
As the group stepped out into the bay, Lenares' voice greeted them. "Welcome, I wasn't expecting you to visit again so soon, especially with all the activity that's been happening around the system. I've been contacted by half a dozen known pirates, and almost twice as many other clients. Perhaps you have some insight into the cause of such activity. It is a bit of an interesting coincidence that it all started shortly after your visit after all." When Lenares finished speaking, a single door in the bay opened, granting them access deeper into the facility.
The group was effectively herded through the facility by automated blast doors, opening whatever path Lenares wanted them on. "I really hope she's not planning on..you know..getting rid of us." Sakura commented as they walked. "we're very much at her mercy." She pointed out, not liking the vulnerability, but unable to do much about it.
Eventually, their path led them to a relatively comfortably appointed room, but their host was conspicuously absent. There were plenty of places to sit and relax, And Sakura did sit. There wasn't a whole lot of relaxation happening though as they waited for Lenares.
((Let me know if I should add more to this))
As it turned out, his hunch was a good one. What he hadn’t expected was the robustness of Lenares’ defenses. Like Sakura, he could guess easily enough what was hidden behind all those doors. Trying to fight one’s way into this facility would be like jumping into a blender. Making it into the hanger wasn’t much of a relief though. There was a certain finality to the reverberations of those heavy dock doors closing behind them. Like heavy stones sealing a tomb.
Ludolf checked his various weapons as they departed. There was the obvious pistol at his hip, of course, and the other handgun in the small of his back, and a few others hidden elsewhere. A few knives here and there as well. He wasn’t really expecting a violent confrontation with the canine-dragon hybrid, but he insisted on being prepared for anything. There was his duty to his captain to consider, and guns were often useful things to have around in any case.
The other ship looked alien to him. He’d never seen anything like it, and it was made all the more conspicuous by being the only other vessel in the docking bay. At a glance, he couldn’t even recognize individual ship components. He spared it a couple uneasy glances as they walked past and started deeper into the fortress.
“Don’t worry,” Ludolf said in response to Sakura’s concerns. “I have a gun.”
He frowned; nobody’d laughed. He’d meant it as a joke, predicated on the apparent futility of trying to shoot one’s way out of an underground fortress, but maybe he hadn’t done it right. “I don’t think she brought us down here just to kill us,” he said, with a questioning glance to Freya. “It sounded to me like she wants information. And if I’m wrong… well, we’ve got your back, Captain.”
Ludolf, as usual, in his stubbornly duty-bound nature, did not sit. He remained standing and remained on his guard. He had been silent during his first encounter with this being, content to let Sakura figure things out. He hadn’t been very helpful, he thought. But things were different back then. A lot had changed. A lot had gone wrong, out there in the system. And, hearing Lenares' pointed comments on the intercomm, a thought about favors had occurred.
Eventually the hybrid made her appearance and there were greetings. Ludolf was particularly interested to see how Freya and Lenares would get along. He wasn’t one to guess at heritage, and he’d missed some of the similarities between Sakura and the hybrid before, but that didn’t mean he didn’t watch people closely. He was interested to glean what he could about the relationship between mother and daughter- was it friendly, was it distant, was there some hostility there. He also watched to see if Lenares would notice the similarities between Freya and Sakura- she hardly couldn’t, they were so numerous- and what that would mean to her.
The bear fully intended to let Sakura lead the conversation, she being the captain, but when Lenares started asking questions, he inserted himself into it. “It seems to me,” he cut in before anyone could answer, “that you value information as much as favors. The captain owes you a favor. Telling you what we know should satisfy that debt.”
When Lenares eventually entered the room, her initial reaction was one of mild surprise as she realized that Freya was with them. Freya's expression, on the other hand, was a warm gentle smile. Lenares looked back and forth between Sakura and Freya for a moment before she moved to her mother. "Mama." She said softly as the two shared an embrace. "You didn't tell me you were coming. I thought you hated space travel." She continued before they ended their embrace.
Freya smiled in response to Lenares' comments. "A lot has happened since your last communication."
Lenares turned her attention away from her mother when Ludolf spoke. She eyed the bear for a moment, wearing a slight frown as she assessed him and his suggestion. "Hmmm...well, I suppose it could. I was going to save it for something a little more hands on than some information gathering..."
Freya interrupted by clearing her throat. "Come now, she's your sister."
Lenares looked at Sakura again, who was now looking fairly uncomfortable. "So it's true then? You're sure?" She asked Freya.
Freya smiled in response. "you have doubts?"
Lenares frowned slightly and shook her head. "No, it's just not something I ever expected."
Freya laughed. "Well, what did you expect when you brought those eggs of mine onto the colony ship with you?" She asked with a wry smile. "That they'd just sit there, and nobody would get the bright idea to play with dragon DNA?"
Lenares rolled her eyes at her mother. "I don't know, and yes I realize I should have expected it. Though it is more surprising how much of his DNA she ended up with."
"Wait! What?" Sakura interrupted with some obvious dismay
"Oh, sorry. Yes, information will be enough to erase your debt." Lenares replied as if her discussion with their mother had never happened.
"I'm sure though, that you didn't come all this way for that. What do you need?" She asked.
"I was hoping you'd have some facilities I could use, and access to some materials to build a ship drive." Sakura replied a little sullenly.
"I might. What are you offering in return?" Lenares asked.
"I have credits this time, lots of them." Sakura replied
Lenares sighed. "Well, favors are much more fun, but credits will do." She replied.
"There's something else too." Freya interrupted. "You remeber your theories about the magicapacitor?" She asked.
Lenares nodded, her attention now fully on Freya again.
"You were right. It can be done, we saw proof." Freya continued with a wide grin.
Lenares' eyes widened "What? No, there's no way. I tried, and got nowhere." She asserted.
"Trust me, there is a way, though I'm not exactly sure what it is yet." Freya replied.
"Well, that is some interesting news for certain." Lenares eventually responded before she returned her attention to Sakura. "Let's head to the workshop, and you can start making a list of the supplies you need me to get for you."
One of the doors to the room opened, and Lenares led the way out into the corridors. Freya looked at Sakura for a moment before she followed behind Lenares. Sakura held back a short distance and whispered to Ludolf as they walked. "Please tell me that I'm not the only one leaving this room completely confused."
The captain in question was thoroughly confused. He could see it in her face even before she put it to words. She wasn’t the only one, though. “I missed a lot of that, myself,” the bear grunted with a weighty shrug, “like who is the ‘he’ you got so much of your DNA from? The demon? Your adoptive father? Neither is a dragon, though. I thought hybrids inherited some of the looks of both parents.” He frowned in thought. “I also wonder about Lenares’ theories about the artifact. Is she after the same ‘secrets’ as the fundamentalists?” His thoughts drifted back to the bizarre ship in the docking bay. Was it meant to be a starship, like the one left by Consensus and Dissent? Its compactness by comparison was striking.
The bear didn’t often indulge in aimless flights of fantasy, but the thought that furs in his lifetime might travel beyond the solar system was vaguely tantalizing. What might they find, out there? How easy it would be to leave the troubles of the solar system behind.
As they walked, they upheld their part of the bargain for fulfilling Sakura’s owed favor. Ludolf explained again what he knew about Robinson’s plans, the wolf’s desire to create some kind of nation to rule over, his seizing of the mothballed Xeros intrasolar station, his consolidation of power in Atalfa. They discussed Allswell’s conflicting assertion that Robinson had grander plans much further reaching than just taking Atalfa.
When business turned to fulfilling the purpose of their visit and his captain and Lenares got to talking about it, the scale of the challenge began to set in. The Avarice was a huge ship compared to the Inari, and while it was well maintained and tough, it was also quite aged in the manner of its construction. It wasn’t even clear whether structural loading of the ship’s frame would be able to take the kinds of stresses the new engine could exert. It all sounded daunting to the bear, but the draconic engineers in the room seemed energized by it. That was good. He hoped it would help distract Sakura from the rest of their troubles for a little while.
Meanwhile, millions of miles away near the inner edge of the Danaebe Cloud Belt, the glass globe given by Freya to the fundamentalists was broken.
Lenares listened intently as Ludolf explained what they knew of Robinson's plans and the events going on in the solar system. She didn't make any comments in response, but it was clear that she was committing the information to memory, and working on how she could use it to her advantage.
It wasn't long before they made it to Lenares' workshop, and Sakura's jaw nearly hit the floor. There was enough space and equipment to assemble a dreadnought. She was brought out of her marveling when Lenares spoke again. "Alright, let's get this drafted up and figure out what we have, and what we need to get." The hybrid said as she moved to a console with a manipulable hologram projection system.
Sakura nodded and moved over to join Lenares, her previous questions shoved to the back of her mind in her excitement to get to work.
The sisters quickly became absorbed in the work of designing a new drive for the Avarice and figuring out how they could install it and have it work with minimal modifications to the ship's superstructure. It wasn't hard to see that as they found common interests in design and engineering, they were starting to bond as friends at the very least.
Freya had positioned herself near Ludolf to watch her daughters work and grinned at the change in their attitudes when they had something less...troubling...to focus on. She cocked her head a bit and her eyes became distant for a moment as she felt the glass globe broken. She looked at Ludolf. "Keep an eye on them for me, it seems our religious friends are ready to meet." With that request, the light from the runes on Freya's body dimmed as she seemed to shimmer for a moment as she shielded herself before becoming translucent and eventually disappearing.
She arrived exactly where the globe had been broken only a few moments before. She didn't expect treachery, but she'd become more cautious as she'd aged so she arrived shielded and prepared for the worst.
He busied himself where he could, helping them to fetch supplies and lending a hand where he figured it to be genuinely useful. For the most part, though, he was a third wheel. Lenares seemed to work alone, which meant she had all the conveyances- practical and otherwise- she needed to run things on her own. His brand of muscle didn’t bring anything particularly valuable to the table. He did have something of value though; experience in combat and boarding operations, or at least a second opinion on them. He helped them refine a great design into a great design for a pirate.
When they eventually broke for a meal, he decided to press her on something she’d mentioned before. “That was an interesting vessel we saw in your docking bay,” he said around a bite of food. “Does it have anything to do with what you and your mother were talking about? Something about the Artifact.” He took another bite and placed the plate down. “The magicapacitor, I mean.” He’d gotten so used to referring to it just as ‘The Artifact.’
“You know,” he began, the slightest hint of coyness creeping into his rumbly voice, “we’ve had a lot to do with the magicapacitor over the last few weeks. And the two of you,” he indicated Sakura with a tilt of the head, “seem to work well together. If you were to throw your lot in with us, help us stop Robinson and save Sakura’s father…” he paused. What would that make him to Lenares? A father-in-law? Or maybe, to her, nothing at all. “…if you joined us, we could probably put you in touch with the other people working with the magicapacitor.”
Freya arrived directly in front of a pedestal holding the small pneumatic machine which had been used to break the crystal sphere, and which still held its fragments. The room she was in was metal, spherical, and grey, and its walls were covered entirely by weapons big and small aimed inward toward her, like she was standing at the center of an inside-out porcupine made of guns.
“That’s her,” a fundamentalist’s high pitched voice squeaked from a concealed speaker. There were a few muffled clicks and clunks, and then in a wave from top to bottom the weapons deactivated and folded up against the sphere’s inner surface. When the last of them had stowed themselves, the room split open like the rind of a fruit and each slice slid smoothly down into slots in the floor, revealing… a larger grey spherical room with a flat floor, and the welcoming committee.
A handful of armored exoskeletons were present, including one familiar “face” from the fundamentalists’ asteroid base. There were also over a dozen unsuited fundamentalists, peering up at her with beady black eyes in little furry faces. They looked much as they had in the historical recordings of their village under attack; 2 to 3-foot-tall rat-like beings covered in thick dense fur of varying patterns and coat colors, vaguely feral but standing upright, and undressed save for brightly colored bows and ribbons. Long whiskers twitched in her general direction.
And then there was the last occupant looming in the rear. Robinson’s piercing yellow wolf eyes flashed between the dragoness and the armor standing next to him. “Of course its her,” he growled, chewing out each word, “who else would arrive this way.”
A fundamentalist wearing particularly bright and numerous ribbons shifted its weight, such as it was. The creature’s gender wasn’t apparent. In fact none of them looked particularly male or female, with their feral builds and thick fur. “She was bracing for something, like she was ready to attack.” It spared the wolf a glance, and continued observing their guest, “you will still vouch for her good behavior?”
Robinson’s hulking cybernetic body clicked and whirred as he crouched toward the unsuited fundamentalist. He loomed over it, menace in his eyes as always, but it didn’t seem particularly concerned. “Yes,” the wolf ground out. He glared at Freya over the creature’s head, “she isn’t stupid enough to come here by herself, intent on causing trouble, Ika. And besides, you need her.”
Ika paused to consider this, glancing to and fro in thought- though this was only really apparent in its featureless rodent eyes as a shimmer in the room’s reflection on them. “Very well.”
The tension immediately left the room- or it left the fundamentalist occupants of it at least. The familiar powered armor, the ‘centermost’ from the asteroid base, moved forward to greet Freya. “I greet you,” it said. “It was not easy convincing my leaders that you could be trusted. At first they were reluctant to even allow me to bring your glass ball here… but that’s right, you must be interested to know where you are. This is where I was born, Freya. I am happy to be able to show you my home, and to be away from that asteroid for a while.”
A door in the spherical grey wall opened to reveal… a grey metal corridor with the same exact dimensions as the corridors in the asteroid base. It led to a door, though, and this door opened to the glare of bright sunlight. They emerged on a wide-open green lawn on a circular platform planted with trees and flowers, which turned out to be the roof of a building in the center of a vast open plaza. Odd multi-tiered buildings like layer cakes with offset layers rose all around to similar heights- which was an odd concept here, where the height of a level in a building was sometimes less than half what it would be for people of normal height. They were standing ten stories up in one sense, but only about four in the other. Thankfully the building they were on was designed to accommodate Feilan's of normal size. The bright airy buildings at the edges of the plaza were festooned with richly colorful awnings reaching from building to building. The awnings were set at angles to funnel a constant light breeze into wide open windows or down onto broad avenues. Banners of fabric of saturate bright colors fluttered from poles reaching skyward… which was toward the distant, upside-down landscape above.
They were inside a colossal cylinder, rotating for artificial gravity like the colony ships of old, but orders of magnitude larger and longer so that the far land was blurred blue by atmospheric scattering, and obscured partially by a brilliant spear of yellow-white light along the axis of the cylinder. They could see rivers meandering around the circumference of the cylinder far above, reaching their river deltas toward artificial coastlines of a tropical blue sea. The sunlight glinted white on distant waves. Beyond the artificial sea, the far end of the cylinder- the parts not obscured by billowing cloud tops- was in darkness; artificial night. City lights twinkled in the black against the shores of invisible lakes.
Spin gravity was only about half of Feilan standard here. High above them spindly flying machines of fabric and thin support struts soared serenely, and fundamentalists flapped about in the low gravity with wings strapped to their arms.
The city was vibrant with life this time of day. The building stood at the center of a huge public space with parks and markets. Thousands of fundamentalists went about their daily lives below. A few of the tiny figures noticed Freya and pointed up at her, and chatted amongst themselves before continuing on.
“This place is called Plan B,” the one named Ika spoke in its high-pitched voice and spread its arms to indicate everything they could see. “So named because if we cannot uncover the Secrets, we will have no choice but to attempt the journey the slow way.”
“It is a spacecraft,” the ‘centermost’ armor elaborated, “or it may be someday…”
“Reaching the stars with conventional propulsion would take thousands of years,” Ika continued. “A slower-than-light starship would have to be a world unto itself; a fully self-sustaining system. But a world is a big place, even compared to Plan B. It is hard to say what will happen in a thousand years, what unforeseen minor imbalance might eventually grow into a catastrophe, given enough time. That is why we need your help, to uncover the Secrets.
It peered up at Freya, “you and Robinson are the only outsiders to have seen what we’ve built. I hope you are as trustworthy as your friends believe…”
“Oh she is,” the wolf growled past metal teeth, the lips torn from the side of his muzzle creating a permanent half sneer, half snarl. “She is going to help you finish your fancy starship so you can leave to find your gods, and seeing as you won’t have any use for this place after that, I will just take it off your hands.”
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