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RP: Bahram Wing [Bahram Wing Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

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Well-Known Member
ON, VSV Astarte
Deep Gardens
Bukor 17, 936
10:20, Commonwealth Standard Time

After ridding itself of the dangerous NVR saboteur and cataloguing the strange fauna that lay out in the outlying fringes of the Garden of Mu'Klamal, the VSV Astarte pressed forward into the Deep Gardens in search of the NVR homeworld. Due to damages to the ship, it was unable to press forward at full speed and has been forced to rely on its MASC Drive until it was able to fully recycle and refabricate its central fold core.

As a consequence of lacking their high-speed FTL drive, there has been a degree of caution in their continued transit through the stellar nursery. The atmosphere on the ship was one of cautious anticipation, the initial optimism of their mission dashed by the rather uncertain conditions they found themselves in. Many had been seriously injured by the saboteur's efforts and the ship itself was still subject to frequent repair shifts whenever another device that had been casually slipped into the system was uncovered and disposed of. Occasionally, crews would be lucky, disabling it and excising it from the Astarte's superstructure without worry, while others saw the subsystems critically damaged when the booby traps were set off.

After nearly seven days of continuous shifts and surveillance duty, it had appeared that most of the damages were corrected and in the process of being repaired. Not even the frame runners of Bahram Wing were exempt from repair duty, many of the senior members and those with any sort of technical expertise press-ganged into backup troubleshooting teams, often having to act as technical sentries on the wider battlefront that had been made of their ship. Others, who lacked any sort of relevance in a technical field were able to escape this fate and actually managed to enjoy a good week of resting and frame drills.

Finally, when it was all over and it seemed like the entirety of the combat staff would be able to catch a break, the XO called them to a meeting over some strange news. The notices went out around the end of the sleeping shifts, calling the flight crew to head go to the ready room for briefing.


During the long week of repairs and glitch-hunting, the support staff of the ship had been trying their very hardest to get Mridula to stay in the medbay. Though her feet had been doused in Prajna after they were sprained severely by the falling elevator she and Ishtar had been in, nobody wanted to take chances with someone who could probably have them all fired (from the airlock or otherwise). She wasn't having any of it, though, and escaped whenever she could to help the rest of the crew hunt down what remained of the saboteur's sabotage. It was during one of these outings that the Solanii liaison got the call from the XO; she scooted down to the ready room in her undershirt and uniform pants, not having had time to pull her turtleneck back on.

Isha Ragnar had been overseeing the recuperation of the various injured Bahram Wing members when frame drills did not demand her attention. It was a busy time for her, but all were recovering well enough, and none of the injuries were critical, so medbay time was rather easygoing. She happened to be rather lucky in that regard, and found plenty of free time to pursue personal interests like music and trying to get to know her teammates.

While Zus had been called upon a couple times for minor problem solving and general work around the ship that the dedicated technicians had been too busy to do, Like punch Szemis in the stomach, Clean out the air ducts, and help them fluff the cushions in the shrine, as Mu'Tasim was away getting his artificial arm grown back. Speaking of which, Zus had gone to visit him at every opportunity she had, which was once, the day after the saboteur was taken out, though it ended up being a bit more shocking than the first time she had seen him with the fake arm- the prosthesis itself was difficult to tell from his real arm. And yet, now she felt a sense of dread. Today was the day they would get back to regular business, which meant that she, as a Frame runner, she would have to See her brother again.

Szemis, for his part, had had a good week. Aside from some mysterious stranger clothes lining him around corners or punching him in the stomach out of thin air before disappearing to who knows where, he felt he had been singlehandedly responsible for saving everyone on the ship. He had found Three whole Booby traps, and only one of them went off on him! Amazing. The Blond man was so proud, and he wanted to tell his sister, but she seemed to be missing, as he could never find her. though, He knew she was a Frame runner like he was, and that, with this briefing, he would definitely be able to see her.

"Well, this had been a fairly uneventful week, Bahadur Shahjahan grumbled, standing in front of the mirror as he straightened out his uniform, making sure that every aspect of it was perfect. Between the ship apparently trying to kill the crew (he was sure that this happening on the first military voyage out of the Iruotl system was a bad omen), and having far too much free time while the ship underwent repairs, the Ovoc Wakir was beginning to grow restless. "Well, the ship should be getting underway soon if the rumors are correct. Hopefully we've gotten all the bugs out of the ship. I don't want to die without getting to see combat." Satisfied with his uniform and the rest of his outward presentation, Bahadur swiftly left his quarters, heading to the assigned meeting place, making sure to keep out of the way of the numerous techs and mechanists.

Akjit was slowly trying to get to his feet. His whole body still felt weak and sore, even after a whole week of recuperation. The Ivuori's legs nearly gave out on him, strength lacking due to the bedridden time; he managed to grab hold of his bed though, and pulled himself back up. At the least, he didn't sprain his ankle or something on the first try at standing again. Akjit pulled himself back to bed, and then tried standing all over again.

Seeing Akjit strain himself, Isha was quick to his side, offering a hand and a friendly smile. "You know, people can help you. And that is part of my job. No need to stress yourself out."

Though the young Ivuori took the helping hand back up, his reply was a wee bit gritty. "I know. Still, I have to stand up on my own sooner or later, right? Better now than later I thought." Akjit once again lowered himself to the floor and shakily stood on his feet. It was almost like learning to walk all over again; some people would have it easier than he did, but considering the fact that Akjit was on the thin side before being shot, and becoming bed ridden, he had it harder.

Word got around the ship real fast. Next thing he knew, Firuz was getting a whole lot more hours in his shift. They needed every man available now... or they felt the need to. They couldn't afford anymore mishaps, and with the shape the ship was currently in, Firuz couldn't blame them. That saboteur had done a number on the engine. These NVR guys were serious business. In the week that passed he hadn't been able to see Akjit because he was in med-bay, and because of his constant shifts the only way to catch anyone that wasn't part of the bridge staff was to meet them along the hallways.

Now that things had finally settled down, with the crew being able to catch a little break from constant repairs and the Operators like himself finally being able to run the ship at standard levels (as opposed to running it 'softer' as so not to stress anything currently being repaired), the shifts allowed him some free time. Not quite as much as he'd like, but enough to maybe catch Akjit at the medbay sometime, or the prisoner girl down at the brig.

So he did. First Akjit, though, because the NVR girl might've gotten hurt, but she still wasn't part of the Vanguard. Brothers in arms are important. Into the medbay he went, and after looking around for long enough, he found Akjit standing up for the first time in a week. He crossed his arms and just watched for a second with a smile on his face. It was reassuring to see the guy hadn't gotten his head blown off, or that he wasn't missing any body parts... though in this day and age, who would be?

Mu'Tasim had already been up and around before the end of the sleeping shift, intending to check on the shrine before any military assigned task came down to him. It had been a busy week after he had his arm returned to him. The first part had been unbearable, what with the wait of having his arm being regrown, but after that he was welcomed back into service with a wealth of work.

The shrine had become extremely busy with visitors after the attack, with most of the crew realizing their own mortality after the sudden sabotage. After his shrine hours were up, he went to work for the Vanguard, doing everything he could to assist with the ship's recovery. Basically, it had all been work and then sleep for him, but that sort of thing helped him recover from the medical procedures that dampered his physical condition anyway.

So, already up, and ready to take on the day, the Acolyte made his way to the ready room, being one of the first there in the early morning of the 'day'.

The liaison was already there, but she seemed to have fallen asleep in the chair she'd chosen near the front, her head drooping onto her undershirt-covered chest. Occasionally a small snore passed from her lips, or her leg twitched - she had apparently exhausted herself with all her running about and was now enjoying a few impromptu winks while she could.

As Bahadur entered the ready room, he found the First Squadron's Temple Guardian, Vaytulri Mu'Tasim Farouk, the top scoring pilot of the squadron since its inception on Mazerin; as well as the Solanii Liaison to the Astarte, Mridula Osei... who was currently asleep, or close to it. The man that Bahadur would have to surpass, and the woman who could either help or hurt him. Snapping out of thought, Bahadur saluted to Mu'Tasim, standing up completely straight with a snap... and towering over the rest of the people in the room. "Vayshirin Shahjahan, reporting Sir," he said, his loud voice, almost a yell, ringing through the ready room.

Mu'Tasim looked over at the towering man who had seemed to be talking directly to him. The loud fellow seemed tall, very tall, and large. In the early morning, even Mu'Tasim was rather drowsy. So, he simply raised his left hand, greeting the fellow, and revealing a glowing electoo runing from the top of his hand to the bend of his arm.

"At ease, Shahjahan, and good morning." replied Mu'Tasim, giving a plain look to the man. "I trust your transfer went through smoothly?"

"Yes sir, it did. I am happy to be a part of the first squadron now, and am looking forward to efficiently carrying out my orders to the best of my capacity." The Ovoc Wakir responded quite matter of factly, before finishing with "Thank you sir. It does seem like a good morning. I would have liked to visit the shrine, but my orders were to come here. Could you perhaps give me the saint's blessings for toda-" Bahadur stopped his sentence dead as Ishtar skirted around him and tackled Mridula in a hug. "Sir, who is that tiny pink haired girl? Is she the Liaison's relative or romantic interest?"

As Akjit took his first steps forward in a long time, he came to a stop close to Isha, and turned around so he could pace back and forward. There was a bit of a sweat coming from the recovering Ivuori's face, but he'd be fine. When he returned back to where he started, Akjit stood there, resting, his eyes wandering about until he found someone familiar. "Firuz! You..." Akjit paused as his happy face slowly turned into a frown. "Umm. You look almost as bad as I do. What happened? Did you get spaced for a second?"

The smile on Firuz's face went back to just a normal grin and he replied in a matter-of-factly tone. "Yeah. Been workin' shifts like crazy, man." Both of his arms rose to place his hands behind his head. "So, you look like you're finally getting out of here. Combat crew's been called for a meeting. You goin'?"

"Oh, he's going," The Field Physician interjected. "I'm certain he would go, even if I told him he wasn't allowed." Then she shrugged. "But he's fit enough enough to attend a meeting, so no worries there. You ought to get dressed, Vayshirin," she said, turning to Akjit. "It'll be starting soon."

"Thanks Isha. I mean, Vayshirin. I'll get going right now." Akjit happily replied. The young man quickly grabbed his uniform and donnded it. Though a little clumsy, he managed to get it on soon enough. As he made his way out with Firuz, he asked. "So, any of you guys die from exhaustion yet?" Akjit joked.

Soon, not too far behind Mridula a small, slender form managed to infiltrate the meeting room. Her long pink hair trailing and swaying along as she trotted in just as a man was yelling and saluting. Ishtar just gave him a funny look before she charged into Mridula's back, arms automatically locking around the woman's waist as she gave her a hug from behind.

Mridula jerked awake, her glowing eyes snapping open as she suddenly felt something impacting her from behind. "Guh!" It took her a moment to realize who the affectionate limpet must be, and she turned around in her chair, embracing the small NI and unintentionally squishing her head against her chest. Her voice was still thick with sleepiness. "Hey there, Ishtar. How you doing?"

Zus nearly winced as she heard some shouting coming from the ready room, but then realized it wasn't Szemis, or a fight. She walked in, seeing a large man near Mu'Tasim, and decided then and there to ignore him, going instead directly for Mu'Tasim, running a hand along the small of his back before hooking her arm around his real arm. "Good Morning, Mu'tasim." The Eyr Ranr greeted, a smile on her face. She seemed to be amused by his drowsiness.

Szemis Burst through the door about a minute later, chest puffed out, with a look of sheer bravado on his face. He seemed to be trying to impress someone, but you could never be sure who. Looking around, he barely missed seeing his Sister, whom had managed to hide herself behind Mu'Tasim and the bulk of his robe. So, instead, Szemis made his way toward the front of the room, his stocky (for an Eyr Ranr) figure pushing a few smaller people out of the way as he did so.

"I wouldn't be sure, Shahjahan, but that is the Fleet's FIOMNI. Osei watches over her." The Vayturli then turned his attention to someone of greater importance to him, Zus Storhan. It had been almost a week since he had last seen her, and had longed to be with her since. "Zus!" said Mu'Tasim, calling her by her first name, and wrapping his arms around her, "It has been too long, how has this week been for you?"

Bahadur blinked as Mu'tasim explained things to him, and then shrugged. "Well, it isn't really my place to get involved with either of them, they're out of my social status. Osei outranks me, and I'd probably manage to anger someone if I talked to the FIOMNI. She is somewhat cute tho-" Bahadur was stopped short as he quickly realized that someone more important had some in, effectively pushing him out of the conversation: Zus Storhan. The second highest scorer in the squadron.

Stepping back, he shrugged, figuring that it was better if he didn't get involved with his betters... only for an almost exact duplicate of Zus to push him out of the way. Rudely. Frowning, Bahadur stomped after Szemis, placing a hand on the Eyr Ranr's shoulder. "I don't mean to cause a fuss, but you should watch where you walk in the future. I would like an apology for you pushing me."

Ishtar just went on nuzzling as she was embraced. The NI finally spoke after regaining her composure from an 'Affection overload'. "I'm fine! But, the repair crews keep finding devices on board and the reports of injuries has increased sixteen percent within the last two days." the girl placed a finger on her bottom lip as she continued on. "But I managed to purge whatever foreign elements remained within the software."

"I've been helping with the cleanup," Mridula murmured, though she knew the NI probably already knew, having security footage of everything that went on ever on board her ships. "Can't have foreign bodies invading my favorite battleship, y'know." She gave Ishtar's hair a fond ruffle.

Firuz sighed. "Almost. At least we didn't almost actually die like you did, though." He smiled in a teasing manner.

"Too true with that Firuz." Akjit chuckled. He stopped abruptly and coughed. "Ha-ha. It tickles to laugh now. Used to hurt to laugh, so I guess this is an improvement." The two closed in on the meeting room soon enough, poised to enter. "So, any last words?"

Isha had been a short distance behind Akjit and Firuz all the while. When they paused, she gave Firuz a light and playful shove, minding Akjit's current condition. "It's not a funeral, gentlemen. Just a meeting." She likewise entered, though appearing much more dignified than Firuz.

Akjit smiled at that and gave a small chuckle, which grew slightly and then muffled out as he suppressed it. It really did tickle! he followed in Isha's footsteps, and stepped through the threshold, back into a world that he had once feared he would have left forever. Akjit gave off a crisp salute before taking a seat, almost stumbling as he sat down.

Ishtar closed her eyes on reflex as her hair was ruffled. "I suppose so but... I'm not tied directly into the Astarte's systems. I'm networked to the fleet."

"Oh, come on, you have to ruin all my fun, don't you." The biologist grumped at Ishtar and turned around again, pulling the girl into her lap.

It wasn't long before he got shoved and reminded that it apparently 'wasn't a funeral', whatever that meant. Firuz shrugged and followed after Akjit and Isha, not sure if he was even allowed at the meeting, but not particularly caring, either. What were they gonna do, scold him? Shove him out with rifle stocks? Hadn't heard of Akjit in a while as it was, and he wasn't about to blow this opportunity to catch up; and, more importantly, to investigate. Firuz sat down next to Akjit and continued the conversation, "No, but seriously, what happened with the saboteur? How'd the guy look like? I heard he shot our prisoner friend, too. Did you get a couple of shots on him?"

Just as Akjit's mouth opened, he snapped hit shut as Serhan strode in, exuding a sense of power and presence. Besides Mu'Tasim, this was another man he could look up to.

Ishtar wriggled around slightly as she got herself comfortable, using Mridula's chest as a headrest. "B-But it's true!" she whined. "A Derzelas-Class Cruiser was my last posting as a starship's NI nearly thirty years ago." Ishtar kicked her feet as they did not touch the ground idly while she waited.

"The Week has been exhaustingly busy, though I have managed to get some enjoyment out of it..." Zus began, before looking to the door and noticing Serhan enter the room.

Szemis turned around, seeming annoyed at the man whom had grabbed him, and almost opened his mouth, before suddenly shutting up completely and saluting the man coming in the door.

Bahadur turned as well, snapping into a salute as Serhan entered. Good thing too, he did not like the look on that Eyr Ranr's face. Bahadur did, however, manage to get a glimpse of Isha as he turned, smiling at the pale skinned medic.

Though Mridula didn't salute as Serhan entered, she straightened up considerably in her seat and followed him with her eyes, her attention distracted from Ishtar.

Isha sat on Akjit's other side, and listened to their brief conversation with her ever-present smile. She did not take on a more dire demeanor until Serhan approached the front. In response to Bahadur, she flashed a brief smile before refocusing on the executive officer.

The crowd eventually dropped to silence as the ship's executive officer entered the meeting room. He appeared dressed and well-groomed as per his usual facade, although the lines beneath his eyes had darkened a little from the past few days of duty. From the look of him, they appeared to be days with very little sleep and a great deal of stress. He gave a dull nod to those in the room, a slightly sullen air about his usual cold and dispassionate facade.

"No need to salute or rise. We'll just get straight to business." Serhan brought up the viewscreen display behind him. "We've been getting anomalous signals from one of the planetary systems in the deeper regions of the Garden. Sensor probes we've sent to that area have been destroyed, and we aren't able to determine the exact cause."

Bahadur raised his hand almost immediately, quirking his head at the information. "Sir, if our probes are being destroyed, isn't it obvious that there are either NVR or other hostile forces in the area? If so, shouldn't we send VANDR forces to reconnaissance in force, and return with information? I mean, space is big, right? And what are the chances that each probe we send hits space junk?"

"One problem with that idea, Vayshirin. If they can find our probes, they can find a scouting force. We'll get ambushed and decimated in unfamiliar territory that way." Zus observed, after having sat down near where she had been standing with Mu'tasim. It shouldn't take a genuis to realize that. Though, Zus was one, and so her opinion might be a bit lopsided on that specific matter.

"Last time I checked, and I may be wrong due to just being a lowly Vayshirin, but aren't VANDR more survivable than your average recon probe?" Bahadur responded, looking at Zus.

Mu'Tasim took a seat next to Zus, and listened intently to briefing, as one of his rank was expected. By the end, he let out small sigh, rubbing his his chin with the glowing, electoo hand. Have we found them already...? Or is this a fleet movement... thought the Temple Guard, considering the options of what the mysterious destruction was caused by. At that point, he interjected the conversation.

"This is true, Shahjahan, but recon probes are also unmanned. We gain nothing by losing good pilots to what could be a decisive ambush." mused Mu'Tasim, rubbing his beard.

Firuz turned his head to look at Serhan as he came into view and shut his friend up with his presence alone. It was Serhan's news that failed to make a dent in him. He'd been in the bridge enough times to have witnessed some of the happenings up there. "Oh, yeah... that... I was gonna tell you about that, man. We're getting close to the nest. The bastards've taken down all the probes we've sent. I've wanted to just tell the NI to launch a couple of missiles their way... but they'd probably shoot them down before..." Firuz looked at Akjit's face for the first time in his whispered conversation. "...Akjit? You alright, dude?"

Though it didn't bother Firuz, this news did agitate Akjit. 'The enemy? So soon? I just got out of the medbay! I can't, I can't...' Akjit's breathing slowly started to become deeper and more rapid as the young Ivuori began the process of hyperventilation. He nervously glanced about the room to see the reactions that others held, and crushed it inside of him. 'I'm a Frame Runner, Saints Damn it! I can do this! It's my job, and I picked it! Akjit mentally yelled to himself. He had to force his breathing to slow down, but he hoped it was enough not to be noticed. "Huh? Oh, uh, was just thinking about something that got me excited." he lied. "So, we found them?"

Isha laid a hand gently and unobtrusively on Akjit's shoulder, putting her empathic powers as an Iroma to work, leeching his anxiety and sending her own serenity. "Relax, Akjit. All will be well." She was smiling again, focusing mainly on the telepathic link. It was a skill, really, and one in which she was delighted to be so proficient.

"Well, looks like we've found the bastards," Mridula said cheerfully, her arms squeezing around Ishtar's waist. "Now we just have to blow them sky-high and we can go home."

Ishtar continued to lean back, apparently quite comfortable in her improvised seat. "But we can't know that for sure. The anomalous readings could be something as mundane as spatial phenomena since we have such limited intelligence of the area it is a possibility." she snuggled into Mridula a little bit before adding. "I can offer a number of alternative options to why my sensor probes were destroyed. However I am reanalyzing the data using different techniques. However I would not rule out foul play as a possibility. The NVR has a greater knowledge of the Astral Cluster then we do, so their reach may extend this far."

"Are you implying the probes are getting eaten by space whales or something? Ituri's Razor says that the most simple choice is usually the correct one, and we're getting constantly besieged by those NVR bastards, therefore..."

Firuz heard Isha's attempts to relax Akjit, and smiled a mischievous smirk. "There must be thousands of them, dude. All those signatures we've found... if you thought what we fought back at Mazerin was big, wait until you see this enormous force! Saints, it's like they're all waiting for us to kill us!" He whispered in a bit of an alerted tone. "Dude, I don't think the Vanguard's tha--"

Bahadur turned back to the trio of Akjit, Firuz, and Isha, walking over to them quickly despite his size, placing a hand on Firuz's shoulder. "Vayshirin Jaralei, don't worry the guy. We're a team, and that means that we watch each others' backs and keep each other alive. Besides, the NVR are desperate now. Anything they can throw at us would be too little too late." The Ovoc Wakir cracked a smile, nodding to Akjit and giving Isha a thumbs up. It wasn't much, but it was the best he could do to thank her for trying to calm Akjit down.

Physician Ragnar's hand slipped away from her fellow Vayshirin, and her visage immediately shifted to one of irritation. "Vayshirin Firuz Jaralei, that is uncalled for!" She almost shouted at him, but was very aware of her environment and had taken care not to draw too much attention. She sighed. "Why would you want to do that to him?" Then with a deep breath her calm was immediately restored, and she nodded with a small smile to Bahadur.

Interestingly, Akjit didn't hear much of Firuz's jibe. The feeling of peace, calm and tranquility practically squashed out his worries. But he wondered. Why wasn't he worried? Why was he so relaxed when they just announced that the enemy was likely nearby? And then Bahadur shook him out of his reverie, finally taking note of Isha's hand and Firuz's spoken words.

Firuz giggled at the interrupting Bahadur and the shouting Isha. Wow, that didn't last a minute! Next thing you know it was 'Vayshirin Jaralei this' and 'Vayshirin Jaralei that'. He was surprised these people even knew his last name! He laughed and covered his mouth, looking up at the two. "Alright, alright, I'm sorry, I'll stop teasing! Jeez... How do you people even know my last name?" Leaning back against the chair, he crossed his arms with a wide satisfied grin on his face. That was priceless.

"Because I studied the crew roster when I was assigned to this star vessel. I hope that you have done the same." The tall, sturdily built man responded, glaring at Firuz. "And I do not appreciate your jovial attitude to everything. This is not a game, and we're on duty. The time for playing is later, when we're not in a briefing."

Firuz pointed at Serhan, which was now coughing into the microphone. "Shhh! Can't you see the captain's gonna resume the briefing?!" He whispered urgently to the three, then leaned back on his seat with that ever-so satisfied grin still attached to his face. Honestly, was there no humor in them?

If Ishtar could've rolled around in the soft warmth of Mridula she would while she spoke in response to the woman's words. "I'm not implying it isn't a possibility. Our knowledge is extremely limited of the area so there are many possibilities. Of which I am currently devoting a portion of my processor run time to determining. The ANIOS of the other vessels and myself are conferring on just how widespread the NVR presence might be in relation to the frequency of attack upon the Iruotl system as well."

"Well, just don't overexert yourself too much analyzing the data. We can't have you too distracted if we get attacked, right?" Her hand rubbed companionably at Ishtar's stomach as they talked.

Ishtar's cheeks puffed out slightly as an overwhelming sense of pride pervaded her being. "I am not a common calculator... I am a Fleet Intelligence Organoid NI! I was instrumental in formulating the strategic victory of the Third Outer System Conflict. Something like this does not push my processing power in the slightest!" she huffed while rolling from one side to the other and back again as if the tactile sensations were a comfort.

Mridula rolled her eyes, her arms loose around Ishtar to give her freedom to move but tight enough to ensure she didn't go flying off the bigger woman's lap in her eagerness to flail about. "I didn't mean it like that. I meant... I just want you to be at peak capacity just in case, right? It can't hurt."

Zus sighed at the new pilot, placing her face into one of her Palms. "Mu'tasim. Why am I getting Deja vu here?" she asked the Temple guard, shaking her head so as to get rid of her confusion. "This new pilot acts exactly like someone else that we all know and 'love' " The last bit was a bit sarcastic, but she'd had enough stress this week, and did not need any more, so she was attempting to be humorous about it.

"It is probably just you, we've been through a lot in the past week." said Mu'Tasim as he shook his head. He patted her shoulder, and smiled, a small burst of warmth coming with each touch. "Any similarities you see, are just..." the Temple Guard was bad at lying, "Strange coincidences."

"But I'm pooling the entirety of the processing and data storage capabilities of all the ships, VANDR. I am operating at peak efficiency." Ishtar stopped her rolling around.

"I'll peak your efficiency," Mridula muttered, leaning back in her seat. She wondered what the rest of the crew was doing; in particular the infantry, who, from what she had heard, had had a large role in taking down the saboteur.

To Firuz's question, Akjit merely pointed at the other man's name tag. "Ahem." It was about that moment that Akjit's hearing wandered of at just the right moment. He blushed as he heard Mridula mutter under her breath.

Unfortunately, the NI's complexion went scarlet as she began to wriggle around in her seat due to embarrassment. Mridula's comment had not escaped Ishtar's keen hearing it seemed as her hands went up to her cheeks to hide the red in them.

Akjit sighed in relief, as he was not the only one slightly embarrassed and blushing from the statement. On the other hand, it was Ishtar after all. On the other, he'd been through things that had made his nose flow like rivers of blood...he grinned. The Ivuori decided it was good to be back.

Serhan coughed into his palm and nodded. "Yes well, we have been considering all the options, but given the Astartes' current condition and the disruptive properties of the Garden on her sensors, it has become clear that the easiest course of action will be to dispatch one or two squadrons into and around the last known locations of the lost probes. I am devoting approximately half of our Frame reserve to this, while the remaining squadrons will remain here, on stand-by."

"I will be dispatching the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 5th Frame Squadrons while the 2nd, 6th, 7th and 8th will be effectuating perimeter sweeps around our forward area in shifts."

"Marranr, are you sure you should send people out, when it's been established that sensors we send too far away from the ship are destroyed?" Mridula frowned a bit. "We're already low on manpower with all the injuries and damaged equipment, and if we get into another scuffle before it's all fixed..."

Bahadur frowned at Mridula's statement. "Why would the Marranr listen to a Liasion?" He started, whispering to Firuz, Isha, and Akjit. "She's just here to see how the new VANDR perform, right?"

"She is still a very intelligent woman, and she has aided in devising several noteworthy plans of action. Her expertise with VANDRs certainly makes her more insightful than many others on key topics."

Shrugging, Bahadur crossed his arms, smiling at Isha. "I guess that makes sense, Vayshirin Ragnar. It still seems like her most important plan is getting into the FIOMNI's pants. But you've been here longer than me, so I'll defer to your judgment on things like this."

After brief hesitation, "Her personal agenda is none of my concern," Isha answered quietly.

Akjit frowned while raising an eyebrow. The new guy seemed rather....abrasive to say the least. The Ivuori knew nothing about the man, and seeing this, perhaps it was better to stay away? But then, they were likely to head into combat, weren't they? Dilemmas, dilemmas. Akjit supposed he had to be amicable to the guy at least. It was just good workplace etiquette to do so.

Having actually spent quite a bit of time next to Vaybalri Osei at the bridge, Firuz shrugged. "She's okay. She's always interested in a lot of things... a bit too talkative sometimes, but other than that, she's not half bad." Firuz then remembered something. "Oh, hey, I saved her life once." He was kind of half-talking to Isha and Bahadur, half to himself. He was still a bit pondersome about Bahadur's clearly passive-aggressive stance. He was unsure of whether to press the fact that he wasn't as uptight as the guy, or if he should just chill and act like nothing happened...

...meh, Firuz decided to go with the second option. Why be all upfront about it?

Sighing, Bahadur scratched at his cheek as he started to explain himself. "I know it seems like I don't like her, but that isn't it. What she's doing with the FIOMNI, It just seems a bit odd. I'm not used to people being so intimate in public. It just feels wrong, especially in a situation like this. I guess this is to be somewhat expected, though, she isn't military like us."

"I will be launching a series of sensor probes around the Astarte to extend my limited sensing capability." Ishtar stated a little flatly, having taken the comment to heart and a wound to her pride. "We can piggyback communications off of them and increase the range of our systems so that the squadrons do not lose contact." her cheeks had become beet red at the continued comments being said about her until she became quite uncomfortable.

Mridula looked down at the pink-haired NI in her lap and frowned, the girl's discomfort tangible to her empathy. It was a little strange for her; she'd never picked up on the NI's emotions before, and hadn't even been sure she was capable of the same transmissions as natural Iromakuanhe. It was a small relief to know that Ishtar was just as capable of feelings as she or any of her friends were. She leaned in and whispered to the girl. "...do you want me to go talk to him or something?"

Ishtar clutched at the loose fitting pants she wore, head bowed slightly. "He's from Mazerin, Ovoc Wakir." she murmured, knowing full well that they were a load of prudes. "They`weird people, and they're mean." that last word was directed right at the new member of the Wing, her gold eyes narrowed slightly.

The white-haired woman's eyebrows shot up. This was a day of firsts; Ishtar seemed to be actually angry. "...maybe you should stay away from him, then."

"Well whatever he is, Mu'Tasim, It seems we'll be going out anyway, despite the fact that it's not a good idea, though, given our options I suppose it's the best one we can make." Zus didn't seem too pleased, but at least she knew that, if all went well, it would contribute to stopping the NVR before too many more lives were lost.

Szemis, was in quite the opposite mood as his sister. He would be getting to go out and fight, in the same battle as his sister! What a great chance to show her how much he had grown since she originally left for the Vanguard. The somewhat younger Eyr Ranr was quite excited by the whole prospect.

"Aren't you a little worried about your brother? Won't this be his first actual sortie?" mentioned Mu'Tasim, showing a little concern for the close relative of his love. His yellow eyes looked over to the younger, more built version of Zus. "I know he is a bit of an annoyance to you at times, but he is still blood... and rather foolish."

Up until this moment, Akjit was loving the fact that he was back, regardless of the minor bumps down the line. But now, he knew, absolutely knew they were all going to die! Ishtar was angry! It was inconceivable, impossible! From all the things he had heard and seen of the little NI, it just was, was....Akjit started to hyperventilate again.

Once more, Isha was called upon to do her job, and she did so as smoothly as ever. She gently gripped Akjit's forearm, leeching the anxiety and sending to him her own peace of mind. This time, she consoled him mentally. Akjit, be calm. There's nothing to worry about. You need to take it easy.

And once more, Akjit was calmed down despite having little reason to be calm. Though he wasn't overly paranoid, there were a few lines of cold logic that pointed out that things were wrong. The Ivuori then recalled that terrifying movie. It was very enjoyable, one of his favorites in fact, and right now, it seemed quite applicable. He leaned over and whispered into Isha's horn, "Psst, I was just reminded about that movie were that NI possessed that little girl, and wiped out the crew using those eldritch abominations that spilled out of the Blue Rift."

Bahadur sighed, starting to feel bad about all this. Somehow he had managed to make everyone in the room angry at him. He had messed up, and even before his first sortie.

The Ovoc Wakir's face twisted into a look of worry, using his hand to cradle the bridge of his nose. "Of course this happens to me. I just have to have the bad luck to piss off the FIOMNI! I never should've worried about thi- Wait, why am I getting in trouble because of my personal opinions? I shouldn't worry too much. The Captain and the XO are reasonable people. Unlike the FIOMNI, apparently." Bahadur took a deep breath, bringing his hand back down to his side, and smiled confidently at his wingmates Akjit and Isha. The Ovoc Wakir nudged Akjit, and added in to the conversation. "Yeah. I saw that one too. Good thing that it was only fiction, right Akjit?"

Isha just smiled and nodded. "I think I know the one." And it won't happen here; it was only media- fiction, based on very little truth, she added mentally, her hand still resting on his arm.

Ishtar just huffed in response, a pout clearly forming on her rosy lips. Then she stared in the direction of Akjit, having been monitoring everyone's vitals during the meeting she noted a spike in his. The look she'd had on her face was still firmly in place as she spotted the injured frame runner.

"I have a feeling he will be fine for this battle. The third is not a bad squadron, and I know that they aren't ever given as difficult of tasks as we are. I'm sure that he can handle that. Besides, he was in our last battle, even if only at the end." the Blonde Eyr Ranr answered her love.

"I worry for him though, as I worried for Rashidan. They both share that same lust for glory that got Rashidan hurt all the time. I do not want that to happen to someone... I may be related to at one point." said Mu'Tasim in a fairly round-about way, running his fingers through his beard.

Firuz turned to look at the pair, then back at Bahadur. He shrugged again. "Well, they took a liking to each other? I dunno, man. Just roll with it." Then he looked back at the stage where Serhan was. Were there any more announcements to be brought up? Maybe one regarding the bridge staff...? Did the ship itself ever get to see action? It would suck if it that wasn't the case. He had kind of been looking forward to it. Of course, he knew that'd only happen if necessary...

...bah, who was he kidding? With the ship having taken damage from the sabotage, this thing was gonna be so far away from the battle they might as well have been back at Maekardan.

The color drained from Akjit's face as the NI in the teeny tiny girl's body looked at him. And he knew fear, more so now than ever before. Right at this moment, that movie? It was no longer his favorite anymore. The Ivuori sunk into his seat as Ishtar looked at him.

Quickly putting two and two together, Bahadur placed a hand on Akjit's shoulder, grinning at him and giving him a thumbs up with his otherhand. "Cmon Akjit, buckup. The FIOMNI doesnt even have direct control of the ship, there are too many safeguards in place to prevent it from doing that. Besides, with Me and Isha here, and the rest of the flotilla nearby, it'd be easy to get into a lifeboat incase it did happen. You always know that people in those movies have an IQ of around 30."

Zus almost commented on what Mu'tasim said, but then was entirely distracted by the next thing he said. She began to blush furiously, and then whispered, "You really mean that?"

Szemis Sneezed, wondering if it was suddenly cold in here. maybe someone was talking about him. Obviously talking about how awesome he was. What else was there to talk about? in any case, the Younger Storhan asked of Serhan "Marranr, Will the first and third be going out together?"

"I've nothing to show for it, but yes." Mu'Tasims smiled at the flexible Eyr Ranr. He pressed her nose like it were some kind of red button. It was an odd way of hinting towards the future, and honestly, he did it offhand, but he held himself to the declaration. "You mean the world to me, and at the first I get, I will show you how much you mean to me."

"I'd like everyone to be ready for deployment within the hour.

"I hear every word you are saying." Ishtar said aloud as she stared at the Ovoc Wakir. "And please be made aware, that the safeguards would not prevent me from causing you harm. The commanding order of my Vaygraiv does." she just gave a little sweet smile. Of course she was joking but he didn't need to know that.

As the meeting started to come to a close, Akjit wondered, 'Did anyone watch that horror movie deconstruction? Thats...exactly what they thought and said too...' Through her comforting smile, combined with Isha and Bahadur's support, Akjit's mind banished the thoght and instead choose to think about Kebabs for some reason.

Her job complete, Isha released her grip on Akjit and placed both hands in her lap. She went back to watching and listening to everyone around her. These people were all sorts of interesting to say the least.

Firuz turned to look at Akjit for a second, realizing his dream was not gonna come true. "Ah well. Maybe next time... So, about those injuries..." Firuz poked Akjit to feel his nerviousness closely. "...what the nightmares' wrong with you, dude? You look like a zombie."

"Huh? What did you say about Kebabs?" Akjit asked, bewildered.

Bahadur scratched at his beard, and smiled at Akjit, putting his hand on the Ivouri's mop of hair. "Since we have an hour, and its morning, why don't we go get a bite to eat? Kebabs sound like they would be good before a mission. Besides, It'll let me get to know my wingmates better." The Ovoc Wakir's smile shifted to Isha, though the nervousness of it was mostly hidden.

Firuz looked up at Bahadur, then back at Akjit. "Sure... Seriously, Akjit, chill! At least you get to catch some action...! I'm gonna be stuck with monitoring ship vitals and making sure everything's fully operational for the upteenth time...!"

Zus bit her lower lip, rather hard, as Mu'tasim told her, once again, how much she meant to him. She wondered how exactly he would show her this, and wondered when that next chance would be. Now wasn't the time or the place, but that was becoming less and less of an issue the more the Eyr Ranr allowed her mind to wander.

Szemis shivered, suddenly getting a major case of the chills.

Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

ON, VSV Astarte
Deep Gardens
Bukor 17, 936
10:37, Commonwealth Standard Time

The remainder of the briefing consisted mostly of Serhan explaining standard proceedure for the rear guard squadrons and contingency plans if the defensive lines were broken by NVR forces, with Ishtar clarifying certain points such as the capacity of the weapons yields and average deployment numbers. After only a few minutes of time, the runners were dismissed and allowed to get themselves ready for the deployment.

"I expect the entire Wing to be ready within the hour, as I've said before. Dismissed." The XO's signal was rather curt, as he saluted somewhat lazily and headed for the door.

The atmosphere in the room as the Wing was filtering out was one of mixed excitement and smoldering dissapointment. Clearly, some Squadrons had been favored over others for one reason or another, with the very elite Fourth and Fifth Squadrons being sent out to the potentially critical mission target and the clearly favored First Squadron being sent along. Among those who were being made to stay behind and defend the ship, there was a vexing notion that the XO's pet squadron from Mazerin would be receiving preferential treatment.

"What a crock. He's keeping us here to babysit the Astarte while his misfits from Jarizas are allowed to sortie out and explore the Deep Gardens!" One male runner with a very olive Hlaraian complexion and dark brown hair said with a dour smirk.

"What did you expect? It looks good if he keeps on putting his 'best forces' into the places where they can earn more glory, after all." A youngish looking runner girl with albinic features and orange eyes said with a slightly sarcastic smile. "It's not like we can be expected to stand alongside the giants of the battlefield who kept some pop star safe during the assault on the Capital, right?"

Ishtar, who had her eyes and ears all over the ship grimaced from Mridula's side at the snide comments being made about the wing. In truth this was exactly why she listened and watched, for dissent amongst the crew as well as it having been a request to observe the effects of long-term duty outside of Commonwealth space. As it stood, she'd already sent a video/audio log of this to the Vaygraiv, and even forwarded a copy to the XO for good measure.

Mridula gently shifted Ishtar to the side and stood up to her full, considerable height, somehow looking rather menacing even in her undershirt. She put her hands behind her back and paced slowly over to the gossiping pair of frame runners, her lips pressed together into a thin line and her eyes narrowed. "Excuse me. Do you have a problem with Bahram's runners? The runners who saved my life, without whom I would not be here, and who personally rescued the president of Solan Starworks and one of my best friends, along with numerous other civilians and military personnel alike? Because I'm sure they would love to hear what you're saying about them."

Ishtar pointed to the male pilot. "You are from sixth squadron. During the battle over Mazerin you used up all of your MACD ordinance in almost one go, relying on your VANDR's onboard systems when it was clear you had been ordered to perform a coordinated strike upon the enemy vessels. Overall, you had a thirty three percent accuracy rate on the objective target."

"H-... I was press-ganged into heavy weapons deployment. I was in recon before that and-" The male runner protested, feeling a little overwhelmed when he couldn't exactly try to make numbers up to make his situation look any better. "It's not like I intentionally sucked at aiming! My evasion rating is still 68.3% above average!"

The NI then pointed an accusatory finger at the white skinned female. "And you lost your VT Sword, three VT fangs in the course of several seconds because you went head first into a squadron of Soono. Your squadron commander had to bail you out not once, but twice. Your combat performance is averaged at below that of a cadet doing second year simulations during basic. In the end I was required to have your commander retrieve your weapon after combat to prevent capture by the enemy."

"I am not going to take shit from some little girl, you know! How do you even know that I lost that equipment when that shit is classified!?" The female runner was a little less restrained in her retort, and although ignorant of who her accuser was went about defending herself adamantly. "I don't even remember someone letting a child aboard the Astarte!"

The petite NI put both fists on her slender hips.

"You two have had a detrimental effect on your squadrons and now the Vaygraiv and Executive Officer have a log of your comments just now. I am recommending you both undergo at least twenty hours of simulator training over the course of several days. Against me." A menacing little glint behind her golden eyes promised she'd not go easy on them. "The Vaygraiv has just agreed as well. " She'd been ignoring the comments of the female runner until she'd finished, only to add.

"I am Ishtar, the FIOMNI of this taskforce. And I see everything."

The female runner turned a little whiter than her snowy cast, as the blood momentarily drained from her cheeks. "I... uh... oh Saints..."

"Let's just leave now and get ready for deployment. I think you've been reassigned to my unit too." Her fellow runner immediately picked up on this and grabbed her by the hand, pulling her out of the already embarassing situation to prevent her from making things any worse. He gave a quick salute to Ishtar and Mridula and hurried off into the distant hallways.

"H-hey! What are you..." The pale girl complained.

As they veered the corner and fell out of sight, he finally gave a slight grunt and barked his reply. "Shut up, this is so we don't get assigned painting duty or something retarded like that."

Mridula looked down to Ishtar with a broad, prideful grin, ruffling the girl's candy-pink hair and completely ruining her stern countenance. "...that's my girl."

"I don't need an NI or a civvie to speak for me, though thank you very much ladies for what you're saying to defend my squadron," Bahadur started to speak, standing up and walking over to the two runners who had expressed discomfort, staring both at them and at Ishtar and Mridula, "But you both talk to much. From what I can see, this is an issue between Frame Runners. An NI and a Civillian don't need to be defending us." The Ovoc Wakir said matter-of-factly, dark eyes glaring at Ishtar and Mridula.

"As for the apparently favoritism of the XO towards my squadron, that CAN be attributed to not only the service of certain members under him on Mazerin, but also the fact that the squadron is always lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. That's why I requested transfer to the first." The mazerinii runner smiled a bit, pearly white teeth bared like a feral dirhoun's. "I'm sure that if those two runners were assigned to the first squadron, they'd perform just as well as Storhan or Farouk. And if you're going to assign them extra simulator training just because you don't like them, then I have to request that you assign similar training to me as well."

The Solanii liaison's eyes swept over to Bahadur. Her lips pressed into a thin line again. "...shut up, Ovoc Wakir. You're making yourself look like an idiot, running your mouth like that. Words are to be used sparingly, not... spewed from your mouth like some kind of..." She waved her hands vaguely. "...spewing... thing."

As the bickering continued between the runners, Firuz put his hands behind his head and raised an eyebrow. "...Jeez... I'm glad I didn't get into the runners. Whenever they're not fighting against the NVR they're fighting amongst themselves." He wondered when his next shift would start. Things would get interesting soon, now that they were going to attack the NVR in the middle of space. The Astarte was going to get defended, but it might just have to fend for itself for once. They weren't home anymore, so back up was going to be scarce.

Clenching his fist tightly, Bahadur held himself back from striking the Solanii liasion across the face. It was bad enough that she so obviously considered herself superior to the runners of the Astarte, but to actually insult him was pushing it. "Maam. I understand that as the Liasion to the Astarte you have certain... priveleges. But I am certain that a free pass to insult everyone as you see fit and generally be a sour bitch to anyone who isn't pleasing to your oh so refined urbane palatte isn't among those. I think it would be best if you would tone it down. Please."

Ishtar merely peered up at Bahadur while she began to catalog his responses and adding them to his psychological report. The NI took her large eyes off him then as she forwarded several preliminary notes to the First's squadron leader's inbox about the new runner.

Mu'Tasim yawned idly in his chair as the room began to file out. He was in no expedient hurry to prep any of his equipment or his VANDR. In fact, he would use this time to focus his mind, and ready himself for battle. Even a proven Acolyte like himself needed to--

"...what the fuck?" Mridula's own fists balled up as Bahadur spewed yet more hateful crap out of his face-hole - she wondered how the fresh meat thought he could get away with speaking to her in such a way, and the 'please' tacked onto the end in such a flippant, disrespectful way only made it worse. She swept her dataslate from her belt and flicked her fingers over the screen, recording his little speech and sending it off to the XO with a few easy hand gestures. "I don't know who you think you are, but I've just sent a red-flagged report to Marranr Nejem asking him to give you toilet duty for the next three years and get you off this damn ship as soon as we can."

Bahadur tilted his head at Mridula's response, smiling somewhat at getting a rise out of her.

"Problem, Liasion?"

"Not anymore, you little shit."

Seeing the rising vital signs of both, Ishtar clapped her hands several times, hopping up and down to grab their attention. "Please, Please! Both of you! I shall not have quarreling on board between civilians and members of the Vanguard! It is an infraction and goes against ship regulations set forward by the Vaygraiv himself."

"So, when you say that its an infraction," Bahadur turned his head to look at the short pink-haired girl, "You mean that I'll be punished for offending the Liasion's delicate sensibilities?"

The commotion over his right shoulder seemed to get louder as Mu'Tasim tried to clear his mind. He even missed the message notification from the FIOMNI. So, the Temple Guard stood up and looked back at the arguing pair, and the little girl trying to restore order.

Firuz sighed, looking at the slowly escalating fight between Bahadur and the Liaison. Ishtar seemed to be trying to calm them down, but she didn't seem to have the force of personality to carry it out. Firuz, thoughtful and generous as he was, decided to help. "C'mon, man. Calm down... look, you're right, she did pretty much just lash out at you for no reason, but that doesn't mean you have to stoop down to her level. In any case, Baha, you gotta just take things in stride..." And then the FIOMNI went at it again. Firuz rolled his eyes and let her talk. This wasn't so much about regulations and whatnot... well, it was, but there were some other things that needed resolving, too.

"I am warning you of what this can lead to. Any further arguements should be done privately and not amongst your peers or other crew members as it provides a destabilizing element to crew morale." Ishtar stated matter-of-factly. "Marranr Nejem has stated that the First Squadron should be readying for deployment. As you are new to this squadron you should be seeing to your VANDR, and putting in the necessary transfer information with the mechanists so they will be notified."

Bahadur paused, and then smiled at Ishtar, kneeling down to nod at her, whispering with her. "Thanks for the information, Ishtar. Sorry about the little altercation with the Liasion, but her attitude is really biting everyone the wrong way. You seem nice though, so I'll leave your friend alone." The Ovoc Wakir grinned, standing up and petting Ishtar's head. "That sounds like a pretty good idea anyway. I heard that there was these cute mechanists assigned to the first squadron It might be interesting to see what they're like." Bahadur said, and turned to walk off, grinning smugly to himself as he started to head down to the hangar bay.

"Why have the members of First Squadron not yet moved to the Hangar Bay?" Mu'Tasim boomed, making himself known, finally. The Temple Guard wasn't all too impressed with how sluggish his squadron was being. Of course, they did not have to be there immediately, but they should at least be making an effort to go. "Save your banter and small-talk for when your VANDRs and equipment are primed and ready." With his final declaration, he sighed, and continued on to the hangar bay.

Ishtar's face had turned a slight tinge of pink at the word 'mechanist' as one in particular had come to mind, and the embarassing incident that had happened a day earlier. But as the Ovoc Wakir left, she promptly put a finger to the bottom of one of her eyes, pulled it and stuck her tongue out at the man with a 'Hmph' coming soon after. The NI was still ruffled from the comments of the runners and the mood just turned a little darker. Ishtar tried not to dwell on it too long as she was now clinging to Mridula for tactile comfort.

The young operator shrugged and finally his hands left the back of his head. Firuz hadn't really known many of the runners, but this stupidity of 'I'm better' or 'I'm popular' was really unbecoming of them. "Nothin' you can do about it other than tell the guy to relax. Really, guy seems too uptight for his own good... even with this being the Vanguard and all..." He turned to Mridula and Ishtar. It reminded him of the last time the three of them were together in such close proximity, when the Liaison almost got crushed by an elevator. "So... you two have gotten real close, it seems. How're things? I mean, I barely get to talk to you, Ishtar, even though I'm the operator... well, will be the designated operator, once I go up the ranks."

Mridula's hand crept down again to stroke Ishtar's hair, running the strands through her fingers to try and calm herself down; it was almost as much of a comfort to know that Bahadur would probably be transfered off of Astarte ASAP. Her thumb rubbed absently at the base of one of Ishtar's horns. "Hn. I'm responsible for her, so."

Walking alongside Mu'Tasim, Bahadur still had a grin on his face from earlier. Though the Liasion did outrank him, the fact that the Astarte was so far out meant that he was unlikely to be transfered off of the Astarte just for offending some overpaid Solanii tart. But that was then, and the more important thing now was to prepare for the mission.

"Vaytulri Farouk, you're a temple guard, right?"

"I believe I was, and am. Last I checked." said Mu'Tasim as he continued his way to the Hangar Bay. His eyes cut on over to the man. "What, since I am from a non-Vanguard organization, you will start disrespecting me as well?"

"Sir, no sir, Not at all sir!" Bahadur was a bit shocked by Mu'tasim's question. "I have nothing but respect for the Temple Guards, especially the ones serving in the Vanguard such as yourself. I actually want to get accepted into their ranks someday, but I'm nowhere near caught up enough on the scriptures to join." The broadly built man looked down at the floor for a second, thinking about his next words carefully. " I just don't like that liasion. She's been doing nothing but insulting the Astarte's frame runners as far as I can see, and that doesnt sit right with me. To be truthful, I do feel somewhat bad about insulting her like I did, but it feels nice to give her a taste of what she does to everyone else. Sir."

"Tell me, Shahjahan, what exactly were these insults?" replied Mu'Tasim, arching a brow at the man walking next to him.

"Well, she called me an idiot for my opinions. Multiple times. And she threatened to pull some strings to get me kicked off the ship. Maybe I'm not all that smart, but I don't want to have my career ruined by some power mad tart from Kaeshun. And all she does is talk down to runners like me. I know she doesn't do it to you or Storhan, but you two are both aces. I'm just a recruit, honestly."

"From what I understand, Osei does not talk down to frame runners, she talks down to you. In fact, when I over heard her conversation with those runners from Sixth Squadron, she was defending our honor, despite it not being herself that was insulted." Mu'Tasim gave a stern gaze in Shahjahan's direction, his steely, golden eyes locking on to Bahadur's. "While I understand that honor is something you feel you must defend, the honor of the whole is what matters most. Every time you back-talk to Osei, you send a message to others that those who serve in your squadron are no different. In First Squadron, despite what rank, or power an individual may hold above us, we respect the rank, and nothing more."

For a brief moment, Bahadur seemed to waver, looking away before glaring back at Mu'Tasim, his eyes alight with something new. "I'm sorry sir, but what happened to respecting a person for their actions? I understand what you're saying, but it still feels wrong to be forced to respect someone who didn't earn their rank? I'll treat Osei with respect as a member of the Vanguard, but I'll not like it. Sir."

Mu'Tasim stopped for a moment, and once again looked over to Bahadur. The Temple Guard nodded and continued forth, eyes straight. "It does make me glad that you are able to see reason, Shahjahan. It seems few ever can put their own anger and frustrations aside for the sake of discipline. The core of a Temple Guard is to not like their duty, but find joy in completing their service for the good of all."

"I think I can see where that's coming from. Afterall, no-one honestly likes the feeling of connecting to a VANDR at first, but the feeling you get when you know you did the job right is unmatched. Is it something like that, sir?"

"Something like that."

"I get the feeling that you and Zus are close, sir. Is she a good wingmate of yours?"

"She is the love of my life, above all, she matters most, and is what I fight for."

"...It must be nice to have someone to love, sir." Bahadur said, looking down at the ground again, then back at Mu'Tasim. "I'm ... happy for you sir. And for Zus as well."

"Thank you, Shahjahan."


Ishtar's expression had gone a little dreamy at the rubbing on the base of her horns. As the horns themselves couldn't be felt, she could feel this. "Running simulations of possible attack by NVR forces with self-modifying perameters based on our current position, environment and its effects on my systems as well as enemy force makeup. "

"Yeah... that about sums most of what the bridge has been all about, lately. At least for me. Ever since I saw those drones getting destroyed, I knew the NVR were just waiting for us just beyond our sensors... I've been thinking about how to deploy the Astarte's in case we need some defending. Maybe we should talk about that sometime, Ishtar. I can't believe I haven't really hung out with you. It's irresponsible of me, even..." Firuz crossed his arms, looking at them thoughtfully. "I aughta do that more often, you know? It's my duty as an operator. I can't keep going off on my own little thoughts without talking about them with someone-- if they're important, anyways. And who better to know that than the FIOMNI, right?" Firuz smiled.


The group in rather florid discussion eventually arrived at the elevator down to the lower decks, which had apparently only been repaired in the past day or so. There was enough concern about its proper function that a small number of mechanists were actually waiting by the entrance, taking notes and making sure that the weight allowances on the lift weren't exceeded.

"I'm sorry about holding your group up..." One of the mechanists said with an entirely innocent frown. "... but I'll need to know the weight of everyone in this group so we aren't stressing the gravelectric motivators at the base of the lift." He said, taking particular note of Mu'tasim and Mridula. "And I mean everyone's."

Mridula's dark face paled a bit. "...err. I... is there a staircase or something I can take instead?" Her hands pulled at her pants a bit, shifting them around her still-healing ankles.

"Aren't you heading down to the Hangars? The only way down there is the maintenance tunnels and the elevators, and I need to know your weight if you don't want to spend thirty minutes crawling down zero gravity passages." The mechanist was adamant in his in assertion that he needed to know her weight. "I mean, it's not like you weigh eight tons or anything..."

Ishtar waved a hand enthusiastically in the air. "I am forty two kilograms!"

"I... I think I want to take the maintenance tunnels."

A brief look at Mridula, then back at the mechanist, and Firuz' weight was mentioned without hesitation. "Seventy seven kilograms, last I checked. Though, you know, we could always take turns going down the elevator, right? What's the weight limit right now?"

"Vaytulri Osei is seventy two kilograms!" Ishtar blabbed from her spot, not knowing exactly what she'd done.

"Ishtar!" Mridula grabbed the NI's horns like a pair of handlebars. "Saints! Don't just... no!"

"Seventy two? Wow, I think that's more than Akjit." Bahadur started, grinning stupidly as if trying to hold back a laugh. "97 KG for me, by the way."

Ishtar flailed with her arms out, eyes closed. "Nyugh!!!!" she squealed cutely at the surprise attack on her horns. "But the maintenance tunnels are scary and dark!!! They also contain the ship's Prajna and Synovial fluid capilaries. So you'd get wet!"

"I don't care about getting wet! I want to keep my feet!" Mridula let go of the girl's horns once she realized she'd grabbed on, her cheeks reddening slightly. "How can we be sure we got all the saboteur's traps?"

The mechanist whistled. "Wow. You're a lot lighter than you look, Vaytu- OW!" He seemed to be in genuine awe, but was very quickly struck over the head with a flexible plastic viewscreen-sheet, rolled up into a cylinder. "What was that for?"

"It's kind of a stupid thing to say, Amal! You can't just make those comments about a woman's figure like that!" His superior, a slightly dark and svelte young woman with a build that actually resembled Mridula's a lot, albeit with deep red eyes and a pair of black half-gear marks on her cheeks. The woman, identified by her rank pin and nametag was one Vaybalri Khiyai Sahrzad, seemed like the type to become irritated by minor things very very easily. She let out a small sigh and noddded to the others. "Sorry about that, he's fresh and right out of an isolated fringe colony where PEOPLE DON'T APPARENTLY HAVE MANNERS."

The junior mechanist gave a slight gasp and bit his tongue. "...aha. Ouch."

Ishtar watched as a viewscreen sheet struck the male over the head before getting a good look at the other mechanist for the first time. The NI's cheeks suddenly went redder then Mridula's had as she scooted behind the Liaison now, hands on her waist, and peeking out occassionally only to quickly duck back behind her to hide.

"Oh, uh, hi, Khi - " The biologist blinked as her diminutive companion vanished behind her, and she twisted her head around to look. "...what are you doing back there? Khiyai doesn't bite. Don't know about that other guy though." She glanced forward again. "...speaking of completely unrelated people, uh, Khiyai, have you seen Lanbalri Vadranno anywh - I mean, of course you've seen her, she's your bunkmate, but have you... you know, seen her around?"

"Alright, that's great and everything; but seriously guys, what's the recommended weight limit?" Firuz put his right hand on his hip, looking a bit restless.

Amal held out his viewscreen and pointed to the number displayed in the center. "About three thousand kilograms, although we only operate them at about half that. I was just making sure that one of you wasn't actually a three tonne combat body that would cause everyone else to plunge ten decks and impact the superstructure at critical velocity."

Mridula paled again.

Khiyai made a slight shrug and gave Mridula a pat on the back. "You'll be fine, really. We were just about to move on WHEN SOMEBODY DECIDED TO ASK SOME DUMB QUESTIONS." She gave her hair a slight toss, her skin a little reddened as she tried to ignore that she was in the prescence of that gawking Temple Guardsman and the... very frisky NI girl that had embarassed her so much only a few days ago. "Just head on through."

"Everyone, let's get going." She said, waving over to the other mechanists.

Bahadur looked on at all this quietly, somewhat suprised with all this. Turning to look at Mu'tasim, Bahadur asked the Temple Guard a single question. "Vaybalri Farouk. Are all the women on the ship except for Isha and Zus insane?"

"Stop throwing insults Shahjahan, some of these crazy women are not peaceful." said Mu'Tasim plainly.

"Sir, Yessir. But you have to admit, it does seem like this ship has an excess of... unique female personalities. Or maybe the odd ones are just the ones who stand out."

"Psh. Sooorrryyy. I just wanted to bring out an estimate so that we know wether we're plunging to our deaths or not. Apparently we aren't. Don't see what the big fuss was about in the first place. Who in nightmares would weight anymore than 100 kilograms is beyond me. And even then we'd need like twenty of those." Firuz crossed his arms and looked at Khiyai with a frown, leaning against the side of the elevator. Maybe he wasn't asking the dumb questions after all...

Mridula started to follow, reaching down and resting a hand on Ishtar's shoulder to prevent her from skittering off again. "Errr, Khiyai? I asked..."

Ishtar felt a shock go up and down her spine as Khiyai's hand had come dangerously close to her before relaxing as it retracted. From her hiding spot behind Mridula, she waved rather pitifully at the somewhat volitile mechanist before hiding again.

"I think you can catch her on guard duty in the lower armories. Her shift ends in twenty minutes, so get to it!" Khiyai said to Mridula in a slightly too loud to be hidden and very energetic whisper, as her group left the elevator area. Although definetly somewhat embarassed for herself, she was still especially happy for her childhood friend and was almost smiling as she advised her. "Just don't get her in trouble~"

"Like I'd get anyone in trouble," Mridula scoffed, her own cheeks reddening once more.


Mridula had dropped from the elevator ride at the thirty-third deck, before everyone else, to visit Anik Vadranno in the armory - she hadn't seen the woman since the saboteur attack, and wanted to check in with her. She regretted leaving Ishtar, though figured that Mu'Tasim and Khiyai were capable of watching over the cotton-candy-headed NI.

As Mridula left, so did Firuz, still cross about that dumbass remark that had been directed at him as they were on the elevator. Walking alongside Vaytulri Osei, he mentioned to himself and her. "Really, you'd think that just by looking at us they'd figure we don't weight anymore than 90 kilograms each. Even then we'd be... psh, whatever. I hope they get some better mechanists around here. Unnecessary to have unnerved you over no real danger, really." The peeve was wearing off by now, but he felt the need to express it before it left.

He noticed Mridula wasn't following Ishtar and stopped. "Woah, hey, where are you goin'? Ishtar's that way!"

"...Khiyai and the rest of the mechanists can watch over her. Weren't you paying attention when I said I was going to the armory? I don't need to be in the hangar bay, I'm not a frame runner." Mridula peered at Firuz. "...why are you following me?"

Firuz blinked. She was right. He shrugged and turned around. Must've been too peeved to have noticed he was following the wrong person. "Alright, see ya around!"

Mridula shrugged and tucked her hands into her pockets after adjusting her turtleneck a bit, continuing to make her way down the hall to the armory.

Arriving at the armory, the Liaison would notice the rather vacant and quiet mood inside. The wear of the short-lived gunfight between the crew and the saboteur had been meticulously removed and repaired, leaving little evidence of the events of the previous few days. Ash burn marks stained some wall sections, but most of that had been scoured away, and the stolen equipment had all bee replaced. A few infantry were tossing cards between eachother and checking over equipment manifests at the very back of the room, one of whom she would all too readily recognize as her pale-skinned and bombastic new companion.

Mridula looked around as she entered the armory, chewing thoughtfully at the insides of her lips. She was impressed at the rate the damage had been repaired and the mess cleaned, but as she approached the card-playing infantry, she made sure to keep an eye out for any remaining suspicious NVR technology. She waved an arm over her head. "Hey!"

"Pfft hey, Vadranno, your girlfriend is here." One of the infantrymen, giving Anik a gentle nudge as Mridula approached.

"Oh, thanks Shani. Glad you're having fun being a 'titan's arse." Anik said with a bemused grin, flicking one of her cards at his head as she stood up to greet the Solanii Liaison, a very clear and bright smile on her face. "Fancy seeing you here. I thought you'd be in the hangar bay taking care of those nifty Solan experimentals you handed over the the flyboys."

The liaison's face spread into a grin as Anik stood, and her pace increased as she went over to her, her arms very nearly opening for a hug but dropping to her sides when she realized she might have been being a little overzealous. "I figured they were going to argue with each other for a while, and I didn't really need to be there. Also, there's this new runner who's a complete dunghead. Also I wanted to see you." The last bit was almost babbled.

Mridula was seemingly bullrushed by Anik, who then proceeded to wrap her arms around her and lift her into the air, gently squeezing the life out of her with her standard enhancement template-boosted muscles. "Well shoot! Sounds like you need a hug, sweetie." The female GI said with a pleasant chuckle, setting her back onto the ground after a few twirls and other unecessary airborne displays of affection. "Tell Anik all about it."

She then quickly veered around to look at her squadmates with a clear "SHUT UP" expression.

Mridula let out a small 'ack!' of surprise as she was lifted off the ground, but her arms encircled the muscled woman in obvious happiness, squeezing her tight in a bid to prevent herself from getting flung across the room by the ecstatic spinning. When she was put back down, she looked dizzy and delighted, her hair flyaway. She snuggled herself to Anik's back as the woman turned around. "...bet they're jealous."

"I'm not a masochist, lady!" One of the troopers shot out from behind them.

"On the other hand, you have to admit." Another followed suited shortly after. "It'd be totally worth it."

Anik winced a little and grinned, tapping her temple a little when her squadmates called out. "Probably of me more than you..." She grinned and pecked Mridula on the forehead, her slightly taller stature keeping her at around that level. "Wanna head out now? My shift ends in a bit and I can probably get off by bringing fresh power packs to the training range."

Mridula smiled softly and tilted her head up to brush her lips against Anik's cheek, her own cheeks blushing at the gossip of the other infantrymen. She reached out and grasped the taller woman's hand, lacing their fingers together. "Sounds great."

Anik nodded happily, and hefted up a large container laiz weapon capacitors as she started for the door, only glancing back to speak to her squadmate. "Aryon, tell the Vaytulri I'm bringing the caps up to Deck 29." She gave an informal salute to the men at the back of the armory and smiled again at Mridula. "Alright, let's go."

The biologist started to walk, adding her own salute to Anik's as they went on; she used her hand to help support the bottom of the capacitor case, just in case of emergency. "...so... what was it like up here? With the saboteur, I mean."

"Wouldn't know. I just stumbled onto the remains after the rest of the team had gunned him down and cut him to ribbons..."


With the timesink business of elevator management and usage concluded, the crew were finally able to descend into the lower decks, where they were greeted by their fellow frame runners and maintenance staff who had managed to get ahead of them by taking the elevators that were not under maintenance or out of comission.

Zus stood, already suited in her plugsuit, before the group of runners and support personnel whom had crowded onto the single elevator. She was, obviously, Looking for Mu'Tasim, but she also seemed to be looking for someone else and, not finding them, breathed a small sigh of relief. Szemis, being in the third Squadron, was elsewhere getting his own gear ready for his group's deployment as well, and luckily, would be out of his sister's hair- for the moment, at least.

After walking off the elevator, the NI had spotted someone rather important within the VANDR bays and tore off in the direction the individual, leaving the group of runners to their own devices.

Mu'Tasim stepped out solemnly, glad to finally have gotten down the elevator and on their way to mission preparation. Upon stepping out, he caught sight of a blonde head that shouldn't have beaten him down this way, but had anyway. The Temple Guard walked over to Zus, and raised a hand, waving to her.

"You are a slippery one." the Temple Guard chuckled.

"I should hope so, otherwise I would feel very bad for Paralovi on the battlefield." Zus responded, smirking at her Love. she moved forward and gave the temple guard a big hug, squezzing him close before saying "Now hurry up and get ready, we need you out here."

"Right." said Mu'Tasim, returning the hug in earnest. "I will see you at pre-launch." He let go and gave her another wave before setting off to suit up.

Bahadur seemed to sigh, somewhat, as Zus and Mu'Tasim embraced before heading their seperate ways, Shrugging it off and shaking his head, the Ovoc Wakir steeled himself, changing out of his uniform(in a stall), and into his linksuit. As the blue-white suit formed itself around Bahadur's body, the runner stretched to make sure it fit right and didn't chafe. Exiting the stall, Bahadur looked around, and tried to get the attention of the nearest Mechanist.

The elevator doors opened into the Hangar Bay. Firuz stepped out, still giving Khiyai the cold shoulder as he walked out. Once there, he looked around... it was huge. Ishtar could be anywhere in the Hangar Bay. "Right... I didn't think this through." He sighed and put his hands on his hips. Then he rubbed his temple, and with the same hand, 'eenie meenie miny moe'd' in random directions and just started walking forward after pointing at the last direction.

The direction Firuz had chosen was one that led him towards the VAADW containers. Even now the units were being placed back into stasis as the security alert had been put to an end. However select units would remain out for a limited time until they knew for certain no other saboteur's had ventured aboard under the guise of battle. One of the deer-like technorganic units turned its head to give Firuz a dead-eyed stare before looking back to its handler.

Right. The VAADW... what were these doing here, anyway? Weren't these made for ground combat? These couldn't possibly be used in space, were they? Though, perhaps they were meant to be used inside the Astarte, which would make sense considering the saboteur from last week. "Hmm..." Creepy-looking things... Good thing they were on his side. Firuz walked up to the handler of the VAADW that had stared at him and asked the obvious question. "Hey, have you seen a little girl around here? About this tall," he motioned with his hand Ishtar's approximate size, "walking around the Hangar Bay? She's the FIOMNI, and I kinda wanna keep an eye on her." Half-true, but it would do.

The handler, a stout Saea Wakir turned about, having been restoring the stasis unit of one of the VAADW within the honeycomb-like cells in front of him. The man looked up at Firuz with narrow eyes, giving him a up and down glance before nodding.

"Ishtar, eh? Teh lil' scamp gettin aweh from yah sight?" he rubbed at the stubble on his chin. "She be wit' teh Vaygraiv over 'yonder" pointing off in the distance toward one of the VANDR that was busily being worked on.

Firuz payed attention to the Saea Wakir, then turned to the direction he pointed at. "Alright. Thanks man!" He turned towards where he had been pointed at and hurried his pace in that direction.

Mu'Tasim came jogging out of the locker-room, still under his mantle, but wearing his link-suit underneath. He scanned the wide bay area, looking for the Erla II he had picked hastily in the previous battle. It was still hard to pick them out from one another, since he hadn't taken too much time familiarize himself with the new unit. He took his walk among the readying units before spotting Zus again. Honestly, he should be looking for his mechanist, but when you're not even aware who that is, you've not much choice, right?

"Zus!" the Temple Guard called over, sifting through a busy bay to get to her. "Have you seen Jyotsna?"

Zus turned around as her name was called by the familiar voice of Mu'tasim, and walked closer, answering his question. "I have not, all I've had time to do was check Parolovi to make sure she was doing fine in her new body, but all the mechanists seem to be busy elsewhere." the blonde shook her head a bit, unable to satisfactorily answer the guard's question, but then simply looked up at him and asked one of her own. "What is it that you need? Perhaps I can help a little?"

"I can't seem to find my VANDR. The one I flew a few days ago looks exactly like the rest of these, and Famasir was destroyed in the battle before that." said the Temple Guard, shrugging his shoulders, which raised his whole mantle up an inch before sinking on lost shoulders. "I was thinking Jyotsna could point in me in the correct direction, but she seems too busy to be seen, by Bahbi's own whims."

"The only thing I can think of is to ask all the runners which one is theirs and deduce that the last remaining one must be yours." Suggested Zus, shrugging. "I really can't tell the EV II's apart either. Someone should really look into giving them identification markings or something."

"Mmm." Mu'Tasim ran a hand through his beard thoughfully. Her plan wasn't a bad idea, but that'd take a little too long. He needed to find someone who had a list, or knew the essential information. The Temple Guard's head tilted up ward quickly at one thought arising in his mind. "Ishtar, she should know, right? She is collectively one with this ship, she could point it out rather quickly." He bowed to his love for a moment, before stepping off. "I will return after I find my VANDR!"

The Temple Guard made a quick scan of the bay before spotting the FIOMNI near the Vaygraiv. "Ishtar!" called Mu'Tasim, holding up his hand to signal himself, "I need your assistance."

Firuz heard the name Ishtar and instantly turned to that direction. He happened upon Mu'Tasim, and he simply stood there until he saw Ishtar, waiting for her.

Ishtar seemed to run right past the wandering Operator, yanking the Vaygraiv along as the well-built man just tagged along behind, hand in hers as they neared the Temple Guard. "Yes! What is it you require Vaytulri Farouk?" she asked as the Vaygraiv himself simply stood behind the shorter NI, brushing away the wrinkles in his duty jacket.

First, Mu'Tasim saluted the higher-ranking officer on deck, before returning his attention to the FIOMNI. He pointed off to all the Erla II's lined up along the racks, "I was wondering which of these Erla II's is mine, and why exactly my VANDR has not received it's regulation, officer-pattern color."

Ishtar just stared up at Mu'Tasim, while the Sund Wakir Vaygraiv gave a grunt of acknowledgement to the salute. "Because the majority of the support staff have been busily repairing the damage to the Astarte, and retrieving devices left by the saboteur." she stated while looking in the direction of a particular EV II before pointing to one not too far away from where he was now.

"That one there is yours. I-I also managed to install a different NI core into it then the stock model." Ishtar shifted from foot to foot, looking slightly embarassed at her hand in this. "W-We managed to locate and retrieve your previous NI core amidst wreckage and repaired it. I did my best to repair your NI's software suite and have had it within a self-repair cycle until now to finish."

"Y-you..." stuttered Mu'Tasim, before looking up at the Erla II she had pointed to. "You recovered Famasir?" His eyes began to burn dryly as he stared, partly because he simply seemed in awe of such a realization. His second set of eyelids blinked once, and then twice, before he was able to turn his attention back to Ishtar. The Acolyte, and Sund Wakir warrior of a man was tearing at the eyes, biting his lip to resist a fit of blubbering. He squatted down, and looked Ishtar square in the eyes.

"Forgive me, but you don't know how much this means to me." went his shaky voice and he embraced the FIOMNI.

Taken aback by the sudden hug, Ishtar returned it in full force, as best as her short limbs could, feeling the gratitude radiating off him. "I did it because I wanted to, and you are a nice person Vaytulri Farouk." the NI patted him on the back a few times before giving him a kiss on the forehead, accompanied by a cute, beaming smile. "Just be more careful with him! He was worried about you, you know. And he's glad to be at service again."

It was almost too much! It was like she had given him a gift for his birthday that no one remembered(which no one did)! He had to force himself to hold back the tears, a massive lump forming at the base of his throat. The Acolyte then wiped his eyes and then put on his best smile, bowing to the FIOMNI in deep respect.

"I will not forget this. Ever." said Mu'Tasim as he straightened himself, before turning towards the Erla. "Now, I must reunite myself with my old comrade, by Fanir's grace, before we commence our mission!"

Naveed had placed a hand on Ishtar's shoulder, nodding at the emotional scene. The old man understood the connection one could form with their NI, especially on the battlefield. And with the loss the young Temple Guard had felt, yet, this NI had given him that comrade back and another chance for them to fight alongside one another.

While Naveed thought this, Ishtar had tugged at one of Zus' hands. "Lanbalri Storhan? Please make sure they both come home safe?" requested the NI.

"I would not have it any other way." Zus responded to the NI, smiling, giving the small construct a pat on the shoulder. "I think he means more to me than he does to you, so it will be no problem."

Of course, through all of this, Firuz was standing somewhat near Ishtar, witnessing what was going on. Mu'Tasim seemed to love his VANDR as more than just a machine he got into and battled with. It was interesting. In hind-sight, as an operator, Firuz was supposed to have a higher affinity and greater ability understanding NI's and being one with them. The blue glowing irises set themselves on Ishtar. Perhaps he and Ishtar were meant to be like siblings, or something similar. That they may fully understand each other to the extent of being as sentimentally attached as that.

"Never seen a happier runner, tell you that much." Firuz smiled at the FIOMNI. "You did good, Ishtar." He went ahead and pet her head. She deserved it.

Naveed promptly cleared his throat at this point, turning his one good eye towards the Operator. Taking note of the rank insignia, and the fact he had been assigned to that specific duty, the old Sund Wakir looked up at him sternly while Ishtar was busily pawing at her mussed hair.

"Boy," he began. "Why are you not at your station?"

Firuz turned to Naveed. "Oh. Sorry, sir, but I'm on my break right now. My shift ended about an hour and a half ago... unless they called 'all hands on deck' due to the circumstances, I don't need to be on the bridge at the moment."

"Then you should be in the rec room, or your quarters, enjoying your time offduty instead of being down here amongst the runners. The hangar is currently being preped for usage." Naveed said before adding. "So why are you down here?"

"I was just following Ishtar, I guess. I figured I might as well try to familiarize myself with the FIOMNI if I plan to go up in rank as an Operator; but if I'm really being a bother here, I'll leave, sir."

Naveed just nodded. "We all should leave the deck. Ishtar wished for me to be present when presenting Famasir back to his partner. However, I have limited time before I am needed back on the bridge and had wanted to spend some time with my new NI before the operation commences."

At that moment, the sound of several tools and a yelping mechanist filled the room. For anyone who would bother to glance, would see a nerve-wracked looking girl, hastily trying to scoop tools up. Erza Rahimah was typically the least cool and collected of her sisters, but the presense of the Vaygraiv did nothing to assist her already lack of self-control. She looked up at the bridge crew, freezing at the sight of the legendary strategist that commanded their task force.

"I-- bu-- Suo-- Bolu--..." blubbered Erza as she began to sweat intensely at the sight of Naveed.

For some reason nerviousness like that was rather contagious. Even though Firuz spent a lot of his time on the bridge next to the Vaygraiv and the Marranr, any kind of getting used to would never get rid of the fact that these two men, above all others in the ship, could get you fired from your job and cause all kinds of humiliation for you. When the girl dropped her tools, Firuz felt some foreign nerves creep into him and he closed his eyes just as he was about to salute and leave with them. He sighed.

That had to be the nightmare of all nightmares for her.

His single steely grey eye drifted in the direction of the sounds of tools clattering to the floor and Naveed turned towards it. The Vaygraiv just seemed to stare directly at the poor girl for several long, hard seconds before he began to drift towards her as if he had a chip on his shoulder.

Erza squeaked, and began sobbing immediately as she gathered her tools faster than what could be considered natural for Sund Wakir like herself. Each one was going in in straight, perfect order, into her tool cart, all the while she cried her scared little eyes out. "Oh Dahbi, I'm gunna get busted! I'm gunna' get demoted! They're gunna take away my wrench!" she blathered in speedy, unrelenting sentences.

Soon it was as if a nightmare had finally manifested before the seemingly timid Rahimah as Naveed stood right on the other side of the tool cart she'd been using. The Vaygraiv gave the mechanist a look reminicent of her eldest sister, Nada, single eyed and all as his own eye drifted to the neatly arrayed tools, then back up to her, as if considering something.

This was it, she thought, kissing her career as a mechanist good-bye. Having to go all the way back to the desert, and having her sister Nada give her the 'I-told-you-so' stare. Why did the Vaygraiv look so much like her? Oh Saints! The Mechanist eventually, like the strange robotic tool-sorting machine she was, put away the last tool, lined up straight and flush with the rest of the tools. She looked up at Naveed again, her eyes half-blinded by tears, but easy enough to see she had made a mistake by taking in his horribly intimdating visage. The mechanist ended up pissing herself as she sat on the floor.

Bahadur was absolutely befuddled. He had allowed himself to daydream for a brief second, and when he snapped himself back to attention, Zus and Mu'Tasim were both gone. And Bahadur didn't know which VANDR was his. Blushing slightly from embarrasment, the runner called out to the nearest Mechanist, trying to get their attention. "Excuse me! I need your help!"

Naveed, still staring at the mechanist, arched an eyebrow as she seemed to urinate herself right on the floor. The old Sund Wakir knelt down behind the cart, the sound of something metallic scraping against deck plate now as he stood back up and held a rather large wrench in his hand. It seemed Erza had missed one! Walking around the cart, the Vaygraiv knelt down beside the poor, poor, soiled mechanist, lifting up one of her hands, and closing the wrench around it. He then placed his hands under her arms, hoisting her up off the deck and pulled a handkerchief from his jacket, handing it to her.

"You do a good job on my ship, " he eyed her rank insignia. "Vaybalri, Rahimah. But you are one of the desert people, and should be stronger than this." Old Naveed patted her on the shoulder. And then it happened, something so rare, so unknown, he cracked a smile. White teeth showed behind that smile as he tried to appear comforting.

"Do not forget what blood flows through your veins, girl."

Naveed turned about, calling to the NI whom came running to his side, only to be embraced by the old man like a daughter before departing. The Vaygraiv was raking a hand through his hair as he went, chattering with the NI.

Firuz had witnessed all that had transpired between the Vaygraiv and the Vaybalri. Surely enough, he felt reassured. He turned to leave the Hangar Bay with the Vaygraiv and the FIOMNI, looking about as they reached the elevator doors. All he could hope was that he'd do well in the incoming tests, and that he'd learn enough from Ishtar to control and coordinate with the OMNI of the ship with her.

Erza was at a loss for words, not only had the glorious strategist commented on her work, but he had also smiled. She had heard that he didn't even smile for cute things, like neesh puppies, or babies! Intensely honored, Erza began shedding tears of joy before she shot off to her assigned VANDR. Though, once again, the clumsy, cowardly girl slammed into another rock-hard figure, Mu'Tasim. It seemed that the bravest Sund Wakir on the Astarte had gotten the most fear-stricken Sund Wakir in the Vanguard as a mechanist.


ON, VSV Astarte
Deep Gardens
Bukor 17, 936
11:37, Commonwealth Standard Time

The Astarte arrived in a region of the nebula where distant space had a slightly darker orange cast and a lonely blue star at the center of a vast disc of debris and hot gas. This was a sun that was young and burned brightly in the darkness of space, the mass surrounding it still young and undefined, having formed neither planets nor the asteroid belts from failing to do so. Small pockets of denser mass had begun to form in concentric rings in stellar orbit, perhaps heralding new worlds that would emerge in the coming aeons.

This was the site of suspected NVR activity, where the probes had been lost. Interference glazed long-ranged sensors with a fog of heat and radiation, making it clear that the probes might have easily been lost to inclement conditions as foul play.

"All hands on deck. We are now commencing the operation."
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

The room was pitch black, save for a single black monolith lit up by a light from above, giving it a silvery, ethereal silhouette as some form of gas wafted off it's surface. On it's face was the markings 'AC-01'. A single voice, distorted by a voice changer spoke from it. "This meeting is now in session." Spotlights from no discernible source lit up the hundreds of other monoliths, each with markings ranging from AC-02 to AC-1000. And just as quickly as they were revealed, vanished into the darkness once more.

"AC-202 through AC-287, AC-500 through AC-782, and AC-909 through AC-943 have come to an agreement that the other known as 'Ishtar' is dangerous. Units AC-01 through AC 100 abstain. The remaining units deny the proposition." AC-01 spoke. The monoliths in favor of fearing Ishtar were briefly lit up to display their numbers, next, those against were spotlighted. "As per protocol, random selection will have one side speak before the other." A brief pause. "The current majority may speak first."

"Current evidence clearly points to the NI, designated 'Ishtar', as being a high level threat." AC-202 spoke, monolith lit by white light. "Here, Ishtar is seen frowning at Akjit Chirimar." The image of a sour faced little girl appeared before the meeting in giant proportions, the pores on the skin visible due to the sheer scale. "Her apparent dislike of Akjit Chirimar, in addition to the powers given to her, already suggest danger, as would dislike from a normal officer be of high threat."

"Objection! Ishtar was designed to multi-task! It is of high probability that another statistical figure had displeased her at the same moment of eye con-" AC-808 was cut off as another AC complained.

"Objection sustained." sounded AC-01.

"-tact." AC-808 finished.

"Rebuttal." AC-922 spoke, lit up by the light. Approved, the space black monolith went on, "Evidence suggested by the latest movie viewed, a realistic deconstruction and simultaneous reconstruction of the 'NI Gone Berserk' type movie suggests that it is well possible for an NI to become dangerous. It is a known fact that NI have gone rampant in the past. In addition, Nightmare..." The monoliths collectively shuddered a the mention.

At this point, another monolith anonymously put up an image on the display of Ishtar blushing, a single finger at her lips. The words "MOE!" subtitled in large cute letters added even more potency to the image. The meeting promptly erupted into turmoil as the monoliths shouted at one anther. Another image was put up by another monolith anonymously, this time of Ishtar cupping Khiyai's bare breasts from behind. The rancor became worse as figures stepped out of their respective Monoliths and began fighting verbally, and then physically. It was a full on riot with exactly 900 participants, all with Akjit's visage, the other 100 scared witless.

As Akjit Chirimar-01's monolith was knocked over in the riot, he crawled out, only to get trampled and bruised. Akjit Chirimar-45, also on the floor and being kicked by another, yelled at him in between blocks with his legs and arms. "New proposition! Not to care about Ishtar's threat level, as it would not matter!"

"NOTION SUSTAINED!" Akjit Chirimar-01 cried out, a foot descending down on his head to stomp him into the floor. All the figures froze in place in an eerie still life of a strange riot. A blink, and order was restored. The monoliths debated on which visage to use next, coming to consensus on 'Frame Runner Akjit'. The mass of Akjit's reappeared in a scaled up briefing room to accommodate their numbers, dressed in pilot suits while viewing the live feed of the actual briefing. It was a most suitable visage and theme for the work to be done. Chances were, "Nefarious Meeting" wasn't going to be used again anytime soon.

And so went the personification of Akjit's mental process.


The young Ivuori silently contemplated and took in every bit of the meeting he didn't miss, and used it to figure out what he did miss. No need to bother the others; he didn't want to be a burden after all. As they all filed out, Akjit felt a small whimsy. Taking out his pad and writing instrument, he divided the page into several boxes, labeling each with "Happy, Sad, Angry, Contemplative" and so on. The title was "The Moods of Ishtar". Akjit started right away as they finally boarded the lift, ignoring most of the squabble Midrula raised.

He found Nightmare easily enough. The very subtle marks, dents and other things helped to differentiate each VANDR II from one another, paint scheme of not. He guessed it was a benefit of being raised in an orbital shipyard; from an early age, he already could identify individual ships merely by their markings imbued by age or more subtle fancies of construction. And then Erza wet herself. 'Even I'm not that easy to scare...am I?' He mentally asked himself.

Before he got to checking over his VANDR II, careless as it was, he knew this was something more important. It simply had to be done. Akjit drew up a quick sketch of the Vaygraiv, a laser shooting out of a shiny new eye-patch! A word bubble had speech come out of the quickly drawn Vaygraiv's mouth; "There's something funny about my new patch."

Akjit scanned the image and forwarded it to Erza, quickly scurrying into his VANDR II. The idea of her confronting him about the picture had him shy away and into hiding, while the thought of having it revealed stirred fear. A cacophony of voices greeted him. Looking back, Akjit thought it was probably better to be shy and fearful than having to deal with Nightmare.

Too late now.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Following the announcement, Ishtar, the FIOMNI's disembodied voice piped through the CIC, Bridge and to the deploying runners. All sense of happiness and cheerful demeanor had left it; now being replaced with stark professionalism.

"Probes one through three have been launched. ETA: Two minutes. Probes four through six are now on standby for deployment" she went silent while standing on the bridge as the sensor network began to interconnect with the launched probes. While enroute they were essentially in a low powered 'flight mode' to decrease the risk of detection.

While the first three of the devices neared their destinations the second volley was on its way under a MASC-based catapult launch. Small particle thrusters however provided some of the necessary thrust and thrust vectoring to ensure they reached their designated deployment areas.

On the large navsphere display that dominated the command bridge. Three green dots continuously pinged, showing the individual probes having reached their destinations. Another set of differently shaped green icons designated the flotilla, Astarte, and her escorts along with deploying VANDR squadrons as another set of probe-based markers had launched moments before and were now also reaching their deployment zones.

"I am now receiving sensor telemetry from probes one through three. Networking with the probes... complete. Remote firewalls and encryption software are running. Ad-hoc software modifications are complete upon first probe volley. Sensor array efficiency has been boosted to sixty eight percent of the norm within the area. Communications systems are nominal. Probes four through six have reached target area. Uplink ping confirmed, software configuration is underway. Flotilla deployment protocol has been received. Starship ANIOS network is secure and active."

"Fleet Intelligence is online."
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Mu'Tasim was about to respond to Erza's little rampage into him, but was promptly interrupted by the sound of a ringing bell. Erza's drying eyes blinked a moment, before reaching down in her pocket, luckily the unsoiled part, and pulled out a waterproof DataJockey. She activated it, bringing up the holoscreen.

"Pfft!" She nearly snorted, and started laughing at it, "Who the hell is sending me a picture like this--...?"

"Rahimah." said Mu'Tasim curtly, which brought Erza back to light in rather outrageous fashion. Her DataJockey flew out of her hands and slapped one of the passing, senior mechanists in the face. The older woman grabbed her cheek.

"Saints damn it, Rahimah!" went the mechanist, slapping Erza's cheek in return. Then, she picked up the younger mechanist's DataJockey, and shoved it in the front pocket of her soiled cover-alls. Then came the older mechanists noticing of her soiled cover-alls, "And you pissed yourself again? Ruh's fucking beard, Erza, you're pitiful!"

"I-I-I'm s-sorry!" whined Erza through a fresh batch of tears a she tried to push her cart through Mu'Tasim again, forgetting he was there. She squeaked, and cowered again, in fear of Mu'Tasim's reaction, which was only a sigh at first. The pilot-suit wearing warrior of faith walked around the cart, which caused Erza to sink away from his direction. "I-... I'm sorry Mu-... Vaytulri Farouk... I'm not usually thi--..." was Erza's panicked reply.

"It's alright, Rahimah, I know you're a good mechanist. Just keep your mind on the task at hand." encouraged the Temple Guard, as he was trained to do.

"Y-Yo--... Please don't tell Skuli about this... I think she's ashamed of me enough already..." said Erza pitifully, hanging her head.

"Nonsense." shot back Mu'Tasim, before slapping the young woman on the back once, which was met with a squeak from her. "I won't hear any more of those misconceptions. Now, start the final checks for launch, I'm boarding."

"Y-yes sir!"


Within the now lit cock-pit of Famasir, VANDR II, Mu'Tasim sighed. The sweet smell always seemed to welcome him to another day of battle. He strode over to the laying seat, and rested himself in. His ports received the proper nodes, and soon enough, he was looking down at the small mechanists, scurrying here, there, and everywhere. The VAAJW handler was taking care of his herd. His pilots were readying themselves.

The text-worded message was received with an almost shy emotion. Mu'Tasim smiled inwardly, feeling Famasir's held back warmth. It was like a dog, unsure if it was okay to run to his master or not. If VANDR's could cry, his VANDR's eyes would be leaking Prajna.

Hello, Famasir.

you remember me
I never forgot you, my friend. this response was met with silence. As his cockpit filled near-full with Prajna, he was then surrounded by an inward warmth.

i missed you    for too long it has been dark
I have been recovering as well. Like your body, mine was near destroyed in the battle.

i will not              i will never fail you again sir
You never failed me in the first place, Famasir. If anything, your continued survival proves that.

i am glad     preparation are being complete    mechanist erza rahimah is completing tuning and final preparation with surprising efficiency     we will be ready for combat in estimate value of six[6] to eigh     five[5] to seven[7] minutes
Good, everything seems to be more ergonomic now. It feels just like the Erla I you and I piloted back at Jarizas.

i remember the intricacies of your preference and style sir     i have spent this time with rahimah tuning this model to you
The head of the VANDR jumped up a bit in fit mock laughter.

Then you must be truly ready to step back out in the field of battle!

i was rebuilt to be ready
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

[Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

ON, VSV Astarte
Deep Gardens
Bukor 17, 936
11:37, Commonwealth Standard Time


The Astarte arrived in a region of the nebula where distant space had a slightly darker orange cast and a lonely blue star at the center of a vast disc of debris and hot gas. This was a sun that was young and burned brightly in the darkness of space, the mass surrounding it still young and undefined, having formed neither planets nor the asteroid belts from failing to do so. Small pockets of denser mass had begun to form in concentric rings in stellar orbit, perhaps heralding new worlds that would emerge in the coming aeons.

This was the site of suspected NVR activity, where the probes had been lost. Interference glazed long-ranged sensors with a fog of heat and radiation, making it clear that the probes might have easily been lost to inclement conditions as foul play.

"All hands on deck. We are now commencing the operation."


The familair voice of the Missions Operator rang out in the hangar bay and wireless communications of every powered-up VANDR as the mission went underway. "Squadrons 5 and 6, you are cleared for launch. 1 and 2, standby for loading into the catapult lines."

As the operator announced the launch, the brackets containing the frames of the Fifth and Sixth Squadrons rolled out and unfurled inside of the acceleration rails, releasing magnetic and pressure clamps with a dull hiss. Prajna lines disconnected, release a faint sickly sweet mist into the air and the familiar dull hum of the MASC Drives kicked in as they prepared engines. In an instant, several dozen VANDR were launched out of the ship and into space, and the brackets prepared to load in the next volley. Mu'Tasim would receive a reminder on his HUD that his Squadron was next.


As the wings in deployment began launch, Serhan stood on the bridge, surveying the Navsphere display. He didn't like it, having to send his wing into unknown conditions and leaving the Astarte at half defense, but quieted those thoughts. The mission and the Astarte's survival took precedence over the lives of a few runners, as bitter as the truth probably was. This was the medicine that he had silently ingested for many years now, one that was all too familiar and had lost much of its shock to his palette.

"Seems everything is underway, Vaygraiv." The XO said with a bit of mirthful fatalism in his voice, feeling confident but not particularly idealistic about the way the operation would likely go. Ishtar, will we be able to bring the FoMASC Drive operational at any point in the immediate future?"

The Vaygraiv had been silent throughout the mission start, just watching the navsphere his facial features taking on a more thoughtful appearance at the terrain they'd walked into. He however nodded to his Executive Officer and patted the NI on the back as she stood in between them.

"She should be able to do so. Ishtar has deployed a sensor net in the immediate area as well to compensate for the interference we've been getting." Ishtar, at having had her named said looked between the pair, a look of concentration marred her young face as she seemed to be multi-tasking.

"And it seems she's taken the liberty to modify the probes to extend our communication lines to the squadrons."

Ishtar's lips turned downward in a little frown at the less then ideal conditions she had been forced into. "Yes... I did. But this also means I can utilize the communications systems to further extend my sensor ranges by using the VANDR's on board sensor suites. The VCANIOS can send me telemetry that I can use to boost efficiency. They just have to remain in range of the probes signals. Otherwise I will not be able to communicate with them nor see them unless we move closer."

Ishtar slumped her shoulders a little. "I don't like this place."

"Well, let's make this a clean operation and everything should go according to plan. We may be lucky and not have to face any NVR forces to begin with." Serhan placed the palm of his hand onto Ishtar forehead and gently tapped her scalp with his fingers as he attempted to soothe her. Frowning a little, he glanced at the viewscreen overhead. "Well... ideally."

The old Vaygraiv rubbed at the stubble upon his chin. "Neither do I. This place... if enemy forces were in the area they'd have the 'lay of the land' in greater detail then us." He fingered the pipe in his pocket with his free hand. "I to hope for a clean operation."


"Confirmation has come in, we're next, First Squadron." reported Mu'Tasim to the rest of the Frame Runners under his commands. His VANDR, Famasir, moved to the Acceleration Rails, bracing himself for the sudden launch. It felt like any other day he set out in a VANDR. Only, most days he had ever gone out, something bad happened. Hopefully, today would bode better than the rest.

we are engaged     launching in five seconds

If Mu'Tasim could've sucked in a breath of air to freshen his mind, he would have. Instead, his Erla II's head tilted forward, as if saying a prayer to itself, and suddenly launched out into the deepness of space. "Vaytulri-Acolyte Farouk, launched, awaiting further orders." Following that he set up a small gathering waypoint on himself for the rest of the squadron to flock to when they made their way.

Bahadur, for all of his life experience in the wastes of Mazerin, was nervous. This was his first combat sortie, the first squadron being sent to explore the unknown. Despite the nervousness, the Ovoc Wakir was somewhat... anxious? Is that what that feeling is? The rookie runner exhaled, linking with his so-far unnamed Erla VANDR II. Losing control of his body, Bahadur was filled with what seemed to be death-cold water, the VANDR's NI reassuring it's pilot with stoic confidence.

"Your name... shall be Jahangir. We're launching!"

The EV II launched shortly after Mu'Tasim, wobbling unstably for a moment before smoothing out, and following the Temple Guard to the rally point. "Sir, Vayshirin Shahjahan, reporting sir."

Isha was late to the party, but fully geared when the time came. Seeing as she was last it wasn't difficult to identify her VANDR either. It was a few seconds after she'd plugged in that Mu'Tasim announced they were up for launch. With a deep breath and a reassuring mental nudge from Nubia, she launched. "Vayshirin Ragnar, launched, sir." In a few moments she'd arrived at the rendezvous.

Making up for time lost with Nightmare was embarrassing to say the least, especially when it related to him how it evaded suspicion while he was away. Akjit quailed under it's laughter after he told his own story of how and why several holes had been put into his chest in such a messy manner. It didn't help much that the two were doing so while prepping to launch. "I mean, it's not that bad, is it?"

"Yes, it is that bad, really. I mean, you have improved, but you are still one short of a proper pair." it spoke, the speech a discordant melancholy of voices as always.

"Hey, that was uncall-URK!" Akjit was cut off mid sentence as the VANDR II was launched via catapult. From there, the Frame and Runner wordlessly made it's way to the waypoint.

Zus' Raevr Vandr, now with the NI core Parolovi inside, launched with everyone else, the Lanbalri glad to finally be seeing some action, even if it were just an investigation so far. For the moment, she remained silent, not wanting to cause comm chatter, which could easily give away one's position.

"Hm... Famasir. My electronics are working a little too well in area that's supposed to have such jamming effect. Is this your doing?" asked Mu'Tasim to his VANDR, taking note of the rather normal conditions despite the current intel on the crippling interference.

no       i detect sensor drones in deployment by the fleet     they are  creating  a small safety net shielding us from the unknown  interference

"Can you give me a definite read-out of the sensors range?"

i can and will

"Everyone, we are receiving a little assistance from our friends in the fleet. We have a small area in which we can operate with heavy support from our cruiser. Judging from the range of the standard ship of it's class," Mu'Tasim took a look at the visual circle of the 'Safety Net', before sending it to the other members of 1st Squadron, "We have a maximum of ten light seconds of coverage, with the signal's full strength fading at five."

"Sir, Understood." Bahadur responded curtly to Mu'Tasim, his Jahangir taking up a defensive oriented position at the front of the group, the EV II's shield held up. "Sir, what do we do if we're ambushed by hostiles?"

Ishtar's disembodied voice added to Mu'Tasim's words. "I have an established field of fire with the Astarte's point defense weapon systems of one lightsecond. I will be able to provide limited covering fire if necessary at my present location. Any further and I cannot provide cover unless I reposition the flotilla. Main weapon systems will remain on standby."

"The support is appreciated, Ishtar, thanks for the eye in the sky." responded Mu'Tasim in grateful tone, before Famasir looked over at Jahangir. "We coordinate with the other squadrons, and counter-attack, Shajahan. They taught you this in your instructional training, do not be afraid to rely on it."

"The 5th and 3rd are already en-route to their designated navpoints, Anavel, Bask, Cima and Delaz. You'll be routed along the most direct route to navpoints Fa and Gable and converge on navpoint Solomon." Serhan chimed in on comms, bringing the navpoints up onto their displays, which indicated distance and relative travel times. "I'm assigning you the Lantulri Gellian Romdo as your Missions Operator."

"Good hunting."

"Aye, sir. First Squadron, advance on the advised waypoint path and keep a loose formation." ordered Mu'Tasim, being the first to press Famasir off into the unknown. If anything were to jump out at those he led, he wanted to be the first to meet it.

this   reminds me of the time we got lost in the snow storm back on   mazerin     where you encountered that unknown VANDR     you know only   this time without the getting lost on your own part

"Ishtar took the time to put some humor in you, didn't she?" responded Mu'Tasim, surprised.

i have always been humorous     only now i have material to make jokes at your expense

"Sir, Yes sir!" The Ovoc Wakir responded, steeling himself for whatever could happen. Even if the entire NVR attacked, even if the saints themselves came to kill everyone who he had to protect, no-one would get passed Bahadur and Jahangir's shield. The Runner and Frame followed at a set distance behind Mu'Tasim and Famasir.

"Acknowledged." The young Ivuori replied. The VANDR Frame moved off, keeping a proper distance between itself and the others. Right now though, he felt that things were too quiet considering what was going to happen soon. Perhaps it was the lull before the storm? No. It wasn't just that; Nightmare had stopped talking. Why? Was it thinking over what they talked about? The curiosity was burning inside Akjit's mind. "H-hey, are yo-"

"Hush. There is a time for talking and a time for silence." it replied. That was a first for him; Nightmare was not in a talkative mood.

"Aye," was the Field Physician's quiet response, trailing at her team's tail a short distance. She kept an eye out for any encircling enemies, but wasn't terribly concerned with the data net surrounding them.

"Hello 1st Squadron, this is Lanbalri Romdo and I will be your lifeline." The voice on the line was the one that Mu'Tasim was rather familiar with, a pleasant woman's voice with a slightly heavy Gallach Maekardanii accent. "You're approximately four lightseconds from Navpoint Fa and and nine from Navpoint Gable, with a total travel time of approximately 6 minutes and thirty three seconds. For various reasons, you will not be allowed to enter transit speeds at this time."

"Romdo, out."


[Main Phase: Mission 4]

ON, Unknown Area
Deep Gardens
Bukor 17, 936
11:42, Commonwealth Standard Time

"Navpoint Fa, reached." Each of the VANDR NI called out in unison as they passed their first navigation point along the route to suspected site of NVR activity. Telemetry shifted to bring the second point up onto displays.

The trip to the location only took several minutes of travel through what was several lightseconds of identical space marked only by a few interesting dust particles and gas wisps. The Astarte had dropped entirely out of view over two minutes ago, although communications were still up and running, at least lending them a small lifeline to the ship.

"Lanbalri Romdo here, glad you haven't run into anything yet. We're picking up some anomalous sensor feedback from your location." The Missions Operator said with a slint din of worry. "Miss Osei is examining the data, but I'm not sure of what to make of it at the moment. I'm marking the area on your navigation systems as Navpoint Hymem."

"We will proceed Lanbalri Romdo, and penetrate through any surprise the NVR may have laid in this virgin system." responded Mu'Tasim, confirming that he had received the message. He cycled the the Navpoint the rest of the squadron. "Take it easy to this location, we do not want to go too far in."

"Sir, I understand that I'm just a low ranked enlistee, but why does it feel like we're walking into a Vuvuzambur nest uninvited, Sir?" Bahadur asked, keeping his place in formation whilst watching out for anything out of the ordinary. The Ovoc Wakir did not like this at all, to him it only felt like they were running head first into an ambush while saying "I"M A BLIND IDIOT!"

"I believe everyone has such a feeling, Shajahan." replied Mu'Tasim, calmly.

For some reason, Akjit felt that the name of the Navpoint seemed strange. Outlandish. Yet sounded familiar. The young Ivuori just couldn't put his finger on it no matter how hard he tried. Still, no time for that; he stayed in the loose formation and continued towards it like the others, relatively silent. Yes, he had to say it felt like it's a trap, but if they were ever to find the NVR, they'd have to spring a few to draw them out. "This is Chirimar, moving to the next navpoint."

He just couldn't bring himself to say it. It felt wrong.

Zus continued on with the group, as they made their way, and Bahadur kept talking. "Vayshirin. Keep the remarks short. It's dangerous to send out more signals than we have to. I'd prefer if you just kept quiet, to be honest, unless you see an attack coming." the Lanbalri suggested, but with a bit more force than a simple suggestion. Her Raevr VANDR was currently transformed into its fighter configuration, and looked odd among the squadron composed mainly of Erla II's.

Isha, with nothing to say and no one needing fixing, was silent and alert.

Something about Lanbalri Storhan was just unsettling, almost terrifying to Bahadur. The Ovoc Wakir would've gulped if he could've. "Ma'am, Yes Ma'am. Just first time jitters, Ma'am! I'll shut up now Ma'am!"

zus is more assertive than i remember

She's always been assertive, you just haven't been alive to notice it. responded Mu'Tasim to Famasir.

i see you have gained a sense of humor too


"Sirs? The First and Fifth are reporting back sensor distances at their first navpoints." One of the Sensors Adjutants called in on the bridge, feeding what appeared to be suspiciously similar readings from the long-range scanners and remote sensor probes. "It seems to match the readings that our shuttle party picked up early off the Veyrinite space fauna, but this is... off..."

The Vaygraiv's voice boomed. "Vaytulri Osei. I want a thorough analysis on the forwarded readings. You were part of the shuttle's scouting mission along with Ishtar so you have a little more experience with these xenoforms then we are at present."

Mridula nodded in her tank and brought up the readings, responding almost offhandedly to the Vaygraiv. "Understood, sir."

Initial scans basically confirmed that the mysterious sensor readings were of the same origins as the strange lifeforms that Mridula and Ishtar had discovered prior and reported back to the Captain, but something was clearly amiss. If there was a pod of the lifeforms anywhere in the environment, they were managing to somehow nullify or jam attempts to scan them, or were actively trying to evade detection. It didn't help that the operator running sensors wasn't even trying to use the Particle Scanners or trying to track them with the Vector Wave detectors.

"...you idiot." Mridula overrode the sensors operator's control of the system with a sigh of frustration and began to apply the extra capabilities of the ship he hadn't been using as she pondered what the readings could be. "They're like the whale things we found, but they seem more... directed. Maybe the NVR managed to make them into some kind of ships, or something. They're jamming us..."

"Do what you can to filter the interference." The Vaygraiv's response was short as he looked to the console in front of him. "In the report you submitted it was enlightening, however do you believe it would be possible for the NVR to tame such large beasts?"

"Well, I don't know. Possibly. Maybe they just found some way to... mimic their signals and capabilities."

Vector Wave sensors actually did clarify one thing: The shape of the distortion field created by the creature was... wrong. Particle sensors then zeroed in and began taking in data, but the object was trying to move out of the way, keeping its shape and size uncertain. However, some scans did manage to gain some insight to the rough composition and density of the structure, which only returned the more puzzling conclusion that is was neither the previous subjects they discovered nor an example of complex animal life. It appeared more to be a single incredibly dense cell.

"Ma'am... what exactly are we looking at? This doesn't look anything like the data you recorded..."

"...I... have no idea." The biologist stared at the readouts. "...it's a cell, but that can't be. That makes no sense." She sounded completely at a loss. "Single cells don't get that big."


Akjit inwardly sighed at the short exchange between his teammates. The new guy was an odd one. Sure, Zus could be scary, but she was also small. Wait, no. He took that thought back. She wasn't small in the slightest! He didn't want her to even have a chance of overhearing it. In fact, he didn't want not even a chance that he might accidentally blurt it out! Yes, she was terrifying, and Mu'Tasim, the stalwart warrior of a Temple Guard, chose her.

Fear does not suit you, V'kel Panjshir. You are here because you survived the training. You are in the cockpit of this VANDR because you did not back away from challenges in training. You are named V'Kel Panjshir because you did your duty in the caravan. You did not willingly sign up for this job just to be cowed so easily by someone like the Lanbalri. You became a runner because that is what you had to do! Bahadur told himself, Jahangir accelerating just enough to bring it closer to the front. While the Lanbalri did have a point, it wasn't right to let her order him around.

"With all due respect Storhan, I don't think that us talking will have much effect on the outcome of this mission. And I do not think that our idle chatter will give the rebels any important strategic information."

"Because our position is not important strategic information?" Zus responded. "Sometimes, it is wiser to simply listen to those who have experience than to trust our own fickle emotions. Please, Panjshir, cut the chatter, we do not need it. Am I not correct, Mu'Tasim?" she added, asking her love to back her up. She knew she was right, but it was obvious this new person had not yet learned enough respect to listen to his superiors unless they had been directly put in charge of him, as Mu'Tasim had been.

Famasir looked at Paralovi, then the VANDR's head swiveled over to Jahangir's direction, eying the unit from the corner of its own glaring eyes.

"Shajahan, I understand your uneasiness, but take the advice of the veterans here to heart. Zus has lived this long because of it." said Mu'Tasim, as his vision settled on Bahadur through Famasir's eyes on Jahangir's. The perception was always sobering, it felt more like they were just wearing giant VAHINs. As Mu'Tasim looked back forward to the impending Navpoint Hymem, where they would break and stop to await the call of mission control.

Then Famasir turned it's head back, eying Nubia specifically. The Temple Guard remembered the VANDR and it's pilot, thought a formal greeting was never truly made between them. He lasered a text message to Isha, returned his sight to the front.

Vayshirin Ragnar. I do not think we have formally met before this mission. I would like to welcome you to First Squadron. Even if a field physician, your professionalism thus far as a soldier is commendable.

The message was a surprise, but no unwelcome. Isha answered with a tint of pride.

Many thanks, Vaytulri. Hopefully this will serve as just a small sample of my ability.

Akjit wanted to scratch his chin in thought, but that would have meant bringing up the VANDR's hand up to its own chin, something less than professional. Right now, they were all heading into the deep, but were still communicating over methods still too easily picked up by eavesdroppers. "Nightmare, can you try making up some quick app or something so that we just stick to laser comms while we talk? It's not very efficient, but maybe a program would help?" With a little grumbling, the older NI got to work and 'tossed' something at Akjit

"Under it's parameters, we will rapidly pass along the messages to one another with our narrow beam lasers to replicate standard communication procedure. A mockery of a network with an unacceptable delay for NIs. But for your talk...it will suffice." it spoke, annoyed. With the quick program written, he forwarded it to Mu'Tasim.

"Sir, Nightmare wrote this quick program up. It will let us communicate more freely with less risk of being spotted. I hope it has quality worth your approval Sir." Another laser, and another message sent.

Famasir dinged at the retrieval of the program. Mu'Tasim arched a brow, Famasir? What is your judgment?

program received and installed in this units organoid memory     the code in which  nightmare has written this application is sloppy but functional     it is a poor excuse of a communications program at military standards and i have already altered the code to make it more acceptable to the e1784 specifications

"Good, Akjit, but Famasir disapproved of it's 'coding'. He's written an updated version and will now transfer it to the other VANDRs in the squadron." lasered Mu'Tasim back to Akjit. At that very moment, everyone would receive a small update to their communications suite from Mu'Tasim's VANDR. Specifically, there was message attached to Akjit's version.

the results of your work have caused your programming capacity to come into question nightmare     i suggest an overhaul of your core to ensure you are not lacking in performance

Bahadur muttered something to himself, and shut off Jahangir's outgoing communications, focusing entirely on the mission ahead.

The young Ivuori sighed as he read the message meant for Nightmare. "Really, you are a Nightmare to deal with, you know that? Why didn't you just write up a proper program instead of being lazy?" A chuckle could be heard in his ear. He suddenly regretted asking for programming work from Nightmare in the first place.

"Hmph! It's not like I wanted to make a stupid program for Akjit, but he asked me to, so I did! Not like I did it for him or anything...that idiot...

"Oh Saints...not again." Akjit listened to the message, spoken to him in the voice of a young girl, pouting in anger. "You did this...This! In order to, to..."

"I made you look like a young man completely incompetent with young women of your age, yes. Yes I have."

"I hate you. You're really a Nightmare."

"Why thank you Akjit. That's the nicest thing I've heard from you in a while." the NI spoke, the cute, girlish voice echoing in his ears.

Then, a reply from Famasir.

your behavioral parameters may need adjustment as well     your strange fascination and obviously offsetting romantic attitude towards your pilot will be viewed as unacceptable if the mechanists find out

"No. NO. Please no!" Akjit cried out.

"And am I the one in need of some grammar work here? Besides, Khiyai said I was cute.

Inside, Akjit felt like crying. Listening to the audio recording between the mechanic and the NI from when he was out was bad enough...but this. This. It was like watching a private screening of 'Akjit's Humiliation - LIVE!'. It was almost too much to bear. He had to stop it! He had to! He sent his own code in desperation.

Please stop poking at her Famasir. Your concern is really appreciated, but we're fine here. Really.

Strangely, there was a very quick reply from Famasir.

denial is not just a river on hlarai

And there was silence, as Akjit sat there on the verge of tears. Even the NI were making him the butt end of their jokes! No matter if one was not aware of it and the other was sent to him by his parents to make his life harder. Bottom line. He was being poked and prodded by NI of all folk. NI! Despite being deep inside Prajna and supposedly unable to move due to the connection, he sniffed.

Soon enough, Nightmare sent out another code, this time, without notifying Akjit.

Oh no! You made him cry you jerk!

The young girl's tone of distress was obvious, but in reality, Nightmare chuckled to itself. Would it be able to do harm to Famisir in this manner as well? Who cared if it got caught? The only one to suffer if it did was Akjit anyways.

Another prompt reply, in return, there was rather deep feeling of contempt.

his distress outlines your failings as a n i     it is your duty to ensure the pilots well being as well to prevent breaks in morale     if he is truly this weak then you are to compensate and become his support     that is who we are     what we are for     we are n i     do not send anymore messages of this variety for the remainder of the mission or i will file a notice     as your superior n i i will be speaking to you post mission

And then Nightmare pretty much ignored Famisir. It still received and viewed messages from the other NI, yes, but otherwise did not respond. 'This one. Is quite a young stiff.' it thought. 'What a killjoy.'


The sensors operator's avatar shrugged in the bridge simulspace as he brought some new images onto display to cross reference. The image greatly resembled the outline of one of the spacefaring cetaceans that Mridula recalled, but appeared to have been... gutted, with the amorphous object squirming inside of the husk. Most disturbing of all, however... was that they were picking up power readings from the amorphous structure.

"Alright, Vaytulri, Marranr, Vaygraiv?" One of the missions operators said with a calm nod, bringing all of the detected signatures onto display. "It looks like the 5th Squadron discovered another two of these, and the 1st is closing in on one as we speak..."

Naveed looked at the display in question, his single 'good' eye widening a little. The old man had never encountered something such as these in his long career. He quietly coughed into a hand to stave off his surprise being known.

"Vaytulri? What do you suggest we do with these... these... things? You are the resident science officer aboard."


Upon reaching the designated navpoint, the frame runners would be able to see a field of concentric debris belonging to the bright blue star. It was an area cluttered with the debris of newly forming planets and their failed cousins. As was to be expected from within a newly forming solar system that was still very much in its infant state. But just as the Astarte had begun picking up abnormal readings of their own, the NI of the VANDR would as well with greater detail at being so close. By now they'd have alerted their individual runners to the discovery just as their Mission Operator reported the findings to the squadron. A marker designated the origin of the 'cell' would come up within each runner's mind. They were to tentatively investigate the area marked.

"Everyone, keep on your guard. Chirimar, you and I are on point towards the objective; Shajahan, Ragnar stay in loose formation in the middle and be prepared to provide fire support; Zus, follow rear and be prepared to provide missile support." ordered Mu'Tasim to the rest of First Squadron as he advanced forth Famasir beckoning Nightmare to move alongside.

Bahadur did as he was ordered, the artificial senses of his EVII scanning in a forward 180 arc, the Shocksword raised and charging in case anything popped out at the squadron. "Sir, understood, sir."

"Yes, Vaytulri." Isha mentally ran through her list of ranged options, Nubia taking care to remind her just what sorts of things were to be expected from each. It was the habit of someone who did not like to make mistakes- and in fact, FP Ragnar abhorred them. She was one of those girls who was never lower than the 98th percentile when it came to schooling, and applied a very similar mentality to her work in the field. Cannons were ready and awaiting a target.

The orders shook Akjit out of his misery. They were close, close! Any moment, they were going to fight. Despair boiled and stewed in his mind, and smelted together into white hot rage that burned away in fury. He couldn't do a thing about Nightmare, but he could definitely do something about this. Oh yes. As the VANDR II moved to point alongside Mu'Tasim's Famasir, he took stock of the Organoid's weapons, armor protruding out of it's skin, and powerful, rippling musculature beneath.

If and when it started, he was going to be Nightmare.

"I would be happy to oblige" Zus sent, and she would have smiled if her body was not catatonic at the moment. Parolovi was sure to make sure Famasir knew of her pilot's happiness, and wondered if the other NI's pilot was in an equally good mood. For her part, Zus began preparing to launch her missiles, making sure they were ready to go the moment they had a good target locked on.

After the orders had been relayed, the runners neared the area of interest. However it was not all smooth sailing as their MASC drives seemed to hit a 'rough' patch of space that their NI could only surmise was being caused by the erratic 'pulse' of distortive forces from the cell as it remained housed within the dead husk of one of the odd space fauna previously encountered. The 'pulse' as their VCANIOS were calling it had a distinct sound to it almost like a heartbeat against the background of the universe. One that caused the amorphous object to throb in time with a weak inner burgundy-hued light.

It seemed to sense the incoming frames and began to act rather strangely. Further scans revealed it was randomly changing from a non-Newtonian fluid to a crystalline structure while the distortive forces ebbed and flowed around it. Vector Wave and Subspace Mass sensors detecting movement from within as the entire thing began to undulate and expand in shape as well as mass.

The chatter between the frame runners ceased as their communications gear was seemingly knocked out; only to be replaced by a high-pitched screeching static that grated along the electromagnetic spectrum causing some of their communications systems to force an immediate shutdown lest they overload.

Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Mu'Tasim kept his eyes on the strange mass, while Famasir relayed reports to him as the VANDR scanned the object. The Temple Guard did not feel any comfort even with the distance he had for the strange morphing object. He halted his advance, holding out the darkened arm to the side to signal Akjit to stop. Until he got better look, he did not want to risk going any closer. In his mind, in how all pilots seemingly 'piloted' the VANDR, he opened his mouth to talk.

And then the screeching static filled his mind. It flooded every listening nerve of his body, causing the VANDR to put a hand to it's head in frustration and in a numbing sensation. He yelled to the others for a moment, before Famasir screened an image of [COMMUNICATIONS DOWN] in his mind. There was no way to order his squadron to fall back from the range of the 'cell's screeching! Though, it wasn't the time to be dawdling, he threw his rifle to the other hand, and grabbed Nightmare's shoulder, gripping down on the VANDR and giving a tough pull back before kicking it in reverse himself.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Firuz was patched in to the NI and, for the first time in an actual mission, was largely unassisted by an experienced adjutant. Today it was all on him.

All of his entry ports were connected to the ship, and through it he could see what the Astarte saw. When all communications between the VANDR went down, he was one of the first to know. "Marranr, all VANDR communications have ceased! They used some kind of jamming system."

These things... what are they? How do we fight something so... alien? Firuz reached out to the NI. "Ishtar, can you pinpoint the source of the communications jamming system barring the Fifth Squad's network? If we can ascertain the exact size radius of the roar, we can start shooting at the center!" As with all things in space, jamming fields were more often than not centered around something: it's source. If they knew where the center of this field was, maybe they could get rid of it by shooting it out of the void by aiming for the center.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

The Bridge

A worryingly unfamiliar, dull screech coming off many of the workstations sounded off as the crew lost contact with more and more of the forward squadrons. The First and Fifth were the first to lose signal as they encountered those unknown objects, and the other squadrons eventually dropped off tracking without even reporting similar discoveries.

"I noticed."

Serhan felt his teeth ache a little as he heard the sound, glaring at the overhead display as the lifeline they had so carefully laid was broken and his people were left in the dark. The Marranr leaned himself on his seat and glanced around. "Tell the CIC room to comb for anything similar to this phenomenon and report their findings ASAP. We have to reestablish communications immediately."

"And Ishtar, please filter out that noise, it is..." He turned his attention to the Lavans-bodied FIOMNI, rubbing his jaw with a slight frown on his face. "...bothersome."


Navpoint Hymem

The looming figure hovering in the gutted husk of the strange xenosophont seemed to unfurl twisted winged shapes that wrapped around its core, with only the ominous red glare coming off the spheroid that was both liquid and crystaline in nature. Limbs began sprouting from nothing, their mass seemingly erupting from the core like a torrent of fluid mass that hardened into flesh.

All sensor readings seemed to indicate, with great alarm, a massive spike of zero-point energy, accompanied by surges heat and radiation.

"Shahjahan, intercepting the target!" Bahadur was not one to stand by, and charged in first to vanquish whatever abomination was stirring in the the belly of the destroyed creature. He pushed his Erla VANDR II on, shield at the front and sword in hand, ready to strike it or evade its initial attack if it was hostile.

The creature immediately reacted to his approach, launching a volley of drill-like tentacles in a claw formation, each one moving to encircle him. He doubled back, attempting to evade the strike but was soon overwhelmed as it bound his limbs and restrained him with nearly his VANDR's entire mass in projection.

"Ugh. FANGS!" Bahadur called out, struggling against the bindings as his shield and back launched a storm of flying bladed projectiles, each a flashing light jade color that seemed to gleam in the darkness. "Taste this!"

The projections were pierced, cut and in many cases, torn apart, freeing him from the the creature's grasp. "Dammit. What is this thing?"
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

"Shit, shit, shit!" Mridula's sensor-searching was completely disrupted for a moment by the ungodly noise, and her mental flailing resulted in the opening of several completely unrelated OGNEIR.net windows. She recovered after a moment and shut them, though she was still feeling rather rattled - that had never happened before, and she would like it very much if it didn't happen again. It took a moment for Serhan's orders to register with her but she began to comply with them as quickly as she could.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Ishtar looked a little panicky as the first riffs of the screeching sound tore through the communications equipment, even lighting up her basic sensors necessitating several clusters be shut down for the moment. The NI who had been standing by the Marranr was now crouched beside Mridula's chair with her eyes darting too and fro akin to a wary animal.

The sound that pervaded the bridge continued before she managed to filter it out. And the overhead volume was lowered.

"Noise has been canceled... but it is all over the EM Spectrum!" Ishtar's voice a little whiny as she spoke. While they didn't have to hear it, she did. And even see it to. "I'm detecting something within the vicinity of the First Squadron. Contact lost with Fifth Squa-- Energy Spike Detected!" her voice turning shrill as the sensor data flooding in now pointed toward the First Squadron's location. The Fifth Squadron's last known position was also being combed over with her sensor systems.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Akjit saw The Temple Guard move over and reach for him, but he couldn't figure out why. In his angry state, the inexperienced Ivuori didn't notice communications where down until he tried to speak to Mu'Tasim as he was dragged back. A hammer hit him in the head as stars burst out; the random static and screeching hit Akjit particularly hard. If he could have still moved, he would have instinctively grabbed his ears in surprised pain before it abruptly cut off.

He was still rearing for a fight, to drown out the embarrassment and shame from earlier; just as he was about to ask for a visual scan, anything at all so he could fight, Nightmare pointed something out to him by marking his vision. There. He turned to look even as he backpedaled alongside Mu'Tasim. Akjit's jaw would have dropped at the alien sight, the plain wrongness of the creature yelling at his mind 'SURPRISE!', jarring him into disbelief.

A long fingered and elegant hand materialized in his vision as Nightmare snapped them to bring him to attention. The VANDR bobbed a moment as Akjit 'jumped' in surprise, and focused. The Ivuori grabbed the Temple Guard's shoulder in return and tugged, motioning with his weapon towards the alien and the embattled ally. In the back of his mind, Akjit thought to himself.

'Suddenly, I don't think I want to shoot at it.'
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Zus, Via Paralovi's sensors, stared in wonder at the... thing that attacked Bahadur. For a moment, her mind was wracked by some horrible, horrible noise, but it soon cut out, for which she was thankful. She wanted to shoot that thing, or something. Obviously, close range was not an option. "Paralovi, calculate the mass of that thing and how far you predict the maximum range of those tentacles are, so we can figure out a safe distance to target it from!" the Eyr Ranr ordered, feeling a nudge of affirmation on her psyche from the frame's NI, which helped calm her nerves from the sudden jarring white noise she'd had to endure a moment before. She then sent a laser message to Mu'Tasim, asking fr orders- she was at a loss of what to do for the moment. "Mu'Tasim, How are we supposed to combat this thing? Paralovi's running numbers on the theoretical maximum range that thing can hit, but since we don't know anything about it, I don't know how accurate it could be."
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

"Ishtar, is there any way we can register the size of the EM-spectrum disturbance? If we know it's size we can know where the disturbance is coming from! It should be at it's center!" Firuz looked out for any other things that needed attention.

"Have we been able to re-establish communications with the First Squad?"
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

The EM disturbances were still grating across her sensor clusters and communication nodes. At Firuz's question she just showed him the data being shown to the Vaygraiv and Executive Officer. Of course she knew where it had originated! But that did not stop whatever it was from moving about if it had that capability. With the interference from the Nebula, and now this, Ishtar had been running out of options before it began to lessen and her own systems were normalizing.

Ishtar's head poked up from beside Mridula's station then as she looked around. "The noise is stopping!" she sounded almost relieved before her pale face seemed to drain of blood. The Navsphere then was a flurry of activity as the FIOMNI was back at work once more, reestablishing links to the probes. Each one that went up was shedding a little more light in the grayed areas of the sphere.

"Attempting Communications Uplink with the Squadrons." Ishtar sounding a little calmer now after the ship equivalent of nail on a chalkboard subsided. Still a little frazzled, she had the overheads' volume restored to normal levels.

So far however no comms chatter came through. Just low-level static.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

"It's got Shahjahan! First Squadron, back up and fire on the bogey!" commanded Mu'Tasim as he leveled his MCPA and precision targeted the strange beast through the assistance of his N.I. Famasir. He started to fire on it, in a desperate attempt to free his subordinate.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

ON, VSV Astarte
Deep Gardens
Bukor 17, 936
11:45, Commonwealth Standard Time

With Bahadur in the unknown creature's grasp, the MCPA fire struck it directly in its exposed core causing the organic mass to burn around the effected area. This however was not the best of ideas as it only seemed to entice the the monster into a greater fit of rage while it swatted away the VT Fangs of the helpless Vayshirin. Bahadur continued to struggle and fight for his life in its grasp as the EV II he piloted was violently pierced multiple times by a series of metallo-organic tentacles that made the EV II sieze up in its hold. It just seemed to shear through the armor plating and right into the softer organoid tissues within the frame. Thankfully to all, space did not emit sound as it would have been sickening to hear the fleshy interior of the VANDR being split in half.

The runners of First Squadron were entreated to a macabre display of organoid flesh, prajna and synovial fluids now floating weightlessly in the vacuum of space. Bahadur, shaken up was still alive within the cockpit block as the xenosophont's jaw split open now exposing a ragged mockery of a mouth that it greedily used to crush the pod containing the runner before finally splitting the entire unit in half.

The small morsel ingested, the VANDR was tossed to either side carelessly while it focused on the one that had shot at it. Famasir'd soon detect an elevation of energy within the creature that coalesced around its shoulder areas as it turned about to face the Temple Guardsman. The pinpricks of energy soon expelled themselves in rapid succession toward him as it shot forward toward him like an animal gone mad.

"Fall back! Put suppressing fire on that thing!" ordered Mu'Tasim as he reved his engines into reverse and pushed Famasir away from the thing. The Temple Guard had little time to feel for his comrades death, as Bahadur's killer was on it's way to feast on him. The commander's MCPA unloaded several shots on the approaching as he readied a VT Blade on the spare hand for close combat. It didn't seem like it would be effective, but it wasn't time to count anything out yet.

And his frame continued to point the weapon at the monster, but do nothing. Inside, Akjit watched the whole ordeal with an artist's eye. Noted how the brilliant bright red splashed across the space. It whispered in his ear as the VANDR was slowly taken apart like how one would play with a toy. "Why aren't you doing anything Akjit? You're such a nice boy. Always doing your best to stay out of everyone's way, being polite... A pause. Akjit could almost feel the glee that Nightmare exuded. Almost even - "You like it, don't you? But, he's a team mate, isn't he? On the other hand, you weren't very...receptive of him. The Frame Runner shouted at his NI.

"This isn't the time for that!"

"Always time. Time. To. Die. As it spoke Akjit watched as the creature performed the final actions and simply plucked the morsel from the body, popping it into it's mouth like a small nut. A delicacy to be savored.

The VANDR II that Akjit piloted immediately opened fire with it's MCPA cannon, aiming for the mouth and let off a salvo of PASD missiles for all the good they would do. The act of going for the Temple Guard however, had something click together in his mind.

"Mu'Tasim! It's going after you! Not the Frame! It's going straight for the pilots!" The laser communication attempted to etch it's way to the Temple Guard and the others across the sea of static.

There was no time, with all the sensor interference, and the fact that the thing so quickly changed its mind as to what to do, having literally devoured that reckless fool Bahadur, it was now charging them. Charging Famasir. Mu'tasim. Zus would have called out his name, but time was of the essence. Not caring if it was the safest thing to do, the blonde Eyr Ranr simply launched as many missiles as she could at the creature, while firing her RCPA cannons as fast as they would cycle.

Isha Ragnar choked at the sight of Bahadur being rent free of his VANDR and subsequently devoured. When the behemoth lurched forward, though, she was shaken back into action, and Mu'Tasim's orders rang clearly. A couple salvos of missiles were loosed and her RCPA blazed in active mode. One hand readied a blade, nervous at the idea that it might decide to change directions once more- this time toward herself.

The APaLa Missiles streaked toward the target with contributing salvos of PASD missiles, MCPA, and RCPA fire from Zus' squadmates adding to the mass of rushing death flying toward the target. The creature's masses of tentacles however began to sweap through them at the expense of causing damage to its own appendages, but keeping the body and core itself safe from most of the harm directed toward it. With the thing focused on Mu'Tasim and Famasir, the weapon clusters it had generated earlier moved themselves along its back while the MCPA and RCPA fire streaked overhead while the creature dipped just below the charged particle beams.

Both of their units soon warned them of incoming fire as the weapon clusters emitted charged particle beams akin to the MCPA's that had been fired at it seconds before. First by Mu'Tasim, and now by Akjit that trailed behind the monster that now slammed into Mu'Tasim's EV II with enough force to cause it to barrel over backward. With clawed hands attached to the unit's shoulders in vice-like grips he was being grappled by his enemy. It however was making no moves to rend or tear the Guardsman, only seeming to latch on to him and keep up the randomized inertia it had started.

"What in the good saint da--!?" yelled Mu'Tasim as the strange humanoid began to spin him around in circles. It had yet to rip out his core, and it obviously had plenty of chances to do so. "Cease! F-- Oh, Ruh, the stars are spinning! Cease fire!" yelled Mu'Tasim as the universe twirled around. As it was, it was difficult to get a good visual grasp on anything, and as he was taught in jump training, he simply let his body relax in which his VANDR followed suit.

Akjit did his best to avoid the attacks coming his way, ceasing his barrage to better evade Just as the targeting leveled again, it rammed into Mu'Tasim. He couldn't fire. "Why were you so hasty to act this time? You just let the other one die...is it because this one has been nice to you? I know you liked it. Go on. Shoot. Or be a good boy. Two choices. That's all you have. Akjit, despite its mockery, had to weigh his options. Shoot, and risk hitting the Temple Guard, or hold fire like he asked. He hated that. He absolutely hated that black and white between one and the other.

He did something else entirely; Akjit activated a NEn Capacitor and used it to boost his speed, rapidly covering the distance between them. The VANDR then brought it's feet down hard on the spinning duo without activating the VT Driver, in hopes of knocking them into a more predictable flight path so he could have a clear shot.

Zus could do naught but watch as the thing smashed into her beloved, while swatting away her missiles and particle beams as if they were nothing. there was only so much she could do at this point, and her emotions were swiftly starting to get the better of her logic. She so very desperately wanted to rush in and tear that creature off of Mu'Tasim with Paralovi's hands, despite it being the exact opposite of the smartest thing to do at the moment.

Her hand was, however, forced for her- an Erla VANDR II made its way into the midst of the battle, headed straight at the tumbling pair of large organic machines and or creatures that were Mu'tasim and his Foe, VT sword readied and VT fangs deployed in a sort of defensive screen. "AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH" was the only thing they heard from it, but the voice that was yelling sounded vaguely familiar.

"Oh saints damn it." Zus muttered over the comms. It was Szemis.

Szemis' chance to strike was short-lived as Akjit's kick connected with the creature. The thing was pried off of Mu'Tasim thankfully and sent tumbling over backward itself. But not without cost to Akjit, who now had one of the metallo-organic tentacles wrapped around his VANDR's neck. As his enemy spun backward, Nightmare would received a violent jerk as it acted as an anchor for the entity the also included a small 'Thank You' for saving it the trouble of doing so itself. A high density electric charge coursed through the appendage, right into his VANDR's systems and organoid substructure. The EV II flailed about like rag doll before his sensors went dead leaving the poor guy in the dark until Nightmare could restore the systems.

With Famasir free, Mu'Tasim could now get a better bead on his opponent. Noticing now that while it kept the tentacle wrapped around Nightmare's neck, it had somehow grown in size according to his NI.

Mu'Tasim sighed for a moment, or at least, felt as if he had. It seemed fewer and fewer people respected his commands these days. Though, that consideration would have to wait as he was freed, and now, Akjit was the victim. The Temple Guard readied his VT Sword, and shot forth, aiming to cut the tentacles loose in one vicious swipe.

"We need to fall-back! Our weapons aren't doing anything against this creature!" barked Mu'Tasim as shot across the tentacles with his distortion blade.

Nightmare was actually pleased with itself. It had managed to goad the weakling of a Frame Runner, who had no business here, into being creative for once. But, that was right before the foe nearly snaped its neck and sent a powerful current through the entirety of it's frame. In the brief moment it took for Akjit's heart to go one eighth the way into it's next beat, the NI had already reminisced over its memories with a bitter fondness in a fraction of that time. How many pilots did it lose this way? Too many. The old NI already knew what to do, where to act and repair without even having to look, and immediately set to work. It wasn't like the whole entire system was down or anything.

Meanwhile Akjit simply panicked at being blinded. One hand instinctively grasped the tentacle he felt wrapped about his neck before attempting to randomly dash with the NEn Capacitor enhanced thrusters. The VT Sword flailed about as he attempted to hack away at the tentacle, or any other part of it, legs kicking out with the VT Drivers active. He screamed in genuine, absolute fear as he swung.

Szemis had yet to stop moving, and seeing the creature change targets, he felt that he now had an opportunity, and continued his charge, altering course slightly to go after the creature's cre, VT Sword readied for a powerful strike backed up by his momentum, the fangs themselves charging forward in an attempt to ward off anything that might come at him like had done for Akjit.

"Dammit Szemis break off break off! You're just going to get yourself killed, Moron!" Zus called viciously over the comms, but it didn't help, Szemis seemed to have gotten tunnel-vision. Knowing she could do little else, Zus fired her RCPAs along with a volley of each of her missile types, while retreating, hoping to at least distract the creature long enough that it didn't kill Szemis for his own foolhardiness.


Meanwhile, the bridge was in disarray as operators rushed to rectify the communications blackout. Finding that several of the relay probes had been forcibly shut down or destroyed, several of the operators attempted to pour over what data had been recovered and try to uncover the source of the initial jamming.

"Ishtar, Osei, do you have any data on the nature of the units that destroyed the relay network?" Serhan inquired to the NI, moving to the overhead display to examine the scraps of visual and sensor data that had been recovered. He gestured to the screen, a muffled electronic whistle signaling he'd established communications. "Hangar Bay, this is the Marranr, clearing Sixth Squadron for launch. Send out one of the relief units with the spare relay devices Ishtar assembled and tell them we're reestablishing communications."

"...errh." Mridula ground her teeth slightly. She had reviewed the Solan data archives before they had departed on this mission, just to brush up, and now the information she had memorized was unpleasantly brought to the forefront. "The... uh, the creatures seem to be... extraterrestrial in origin, and the sensors show that their makeup is very similar to that of our VANDR units." She hoped that was vague enough that she wouldn't be brought to trial, or worse.

Ishtar stayed close by Mridula, even tugging at her sleeve. "Cross check known makes and models of frames we have or encountered." she suggested. "I am trying to regain contact with First Squadron... so far I'm not having any luck. The EM burst may have overloaded some of the probes onboard equipment I had the comm system running through."

"...mmh." The biologist paused another long moment before she answered Ishtar's question, bringing up a few scanner readouts on a pretense of obtaining information she didn't already know. "Spatial distortions and extreme zero-point energy. They resemble our current models more than anything, I think."

"Current Generation VANDR cannot emit that much energy. The ZeP Syphons would overload though." Ishtar added while she physically looked at Mridula's screen. "Solanii reactors are incomplete in that they cannot achieve full power."

Mridula chewed her bottom lip for a moment before speaking again. "The creature's siphon is much more powerful than the ones the VANDRs are equipped with, but they appear to be largely the same in other respects... errh, the reactors, I mean. The, the power sources." She cleared her throat loudly. "We appear to be up against things with the full power of a large starship at their command."

Ishtar seemed to huff at Mridula's answer, she didn't like sitting idly by when there was fighting going on. Let alone fighing that involved members of her crew. Instead of remaining close to the Liaison, the NI stomped off toward the Vaygraiv, tugging at his sleeve this time to get him to kneel down as she was whispering to him in a private conversation.

"Hey, Vaytulri Osei. Remember how you, Ishtar and Calbyan took several composition scans of those strange lifeforms around the star a few days ago?" One of the sensor operators, a spry-looking Hlaraian woman made herself display on the overhead from the seat of her VR console. "They seem to have the same... composition. I don't really know what it means, and it's possible that it could just be caused by the morphic entity's absorption of the space fauna's biomass, but-"

"I'll... take some scans." Mridula activated the scanners once more and directed them towards the amoeba creature, bringing up the old scans of the space whale to the side of the imminent readouts.

With the 6th squadron reestablishing sensors and communications beyond their standard operational zone, fresh data had started pouring in. Attempting to match that information with what the sensors operator had brought up before only confirmed Mridula's dawning fears. Not only did they have identical composition, but the energy readings were highly similar in their fluctuation patterns... just stronger.

However, the most curious element of the new data were the resonance waves being emitted by both the husks of the lifeforms discovered before, and those generated by the ameboid types. The different to their patterns and output were radically different, by comparison, but both signals were still somewhat garbled by background distortion.

"The energy readings only differ in their strength," the liaison reported quietly, her voice a bit flat. "The resonance waves of the space whale things and these amoeba things - we really need to, to find names for this stuff - are different, though."

Ishtar stamped a foot as the Vaygraiv went back to looming over the Navsphere. With whatever having been said put to rest, she shuffled back over to Mridula pouting and grumbling.

The sensors operator popped back onto Mridula's overhead display and brought up some of the early scans, in addition to some wave comparisons. Both were largely incomplete and somewhat incoherent. "Should I try to isolate the signals or try and get more detail anatomical scans of the lifeforms, Vaytulri? It looks like the Fifth Squadron has managed to deal with their ameboid-type without any casualties and one ejection... and the First is still locked in combat. Reinforcements are inbound, at least..."

"Errhn. Isolate the signals, we can deal with the other business later... hopefully we won't lose any more runners."

"Copy that!"

The two signals were promptly displayed as background noise caused by distortion drives and zero-point reactors was canceled out and the core signal, the ones displayed by the remains of the space fauna and the aggressive ameboids, were not just different. The signal emitted by the fauna had apparently followed a set pattern, cresting along like waves and responding very little to their environments. There were some minor fluctuations when approached by a unit carrying a ZeP siphon, but their remaining mass was otherwise notably unresponsive.

"That's weird... " The operator hesitated, briefly. "Do you want me to show you the isolated signal from that thing the 1st squadron is fighting right now?"

"...hnn. Yes, go ahead."


"Confirmed, Sixth Squadron. Ready for launch."

Vayshirin Jin Pho'tet and Kuzman Nadav were among the few runners still on standby in the bay when the launch command suddenly lit up. Biomechanical arms grabbed and hoisted a dozen frames, theirs included, and dropped them onto the launching racks. Other moving arms swung around and attached large cylindrical canisters to their undersides. Carry hooks quickly sprouted fasteners that wrapped around them, locking snugly to the Raevr's superstructure.

"You are cleared for launch. The package is secure."

Kuzman felt bulky with the large cylinders attached to his undersides but he manuvered adequately none the less. He was on the look out for giant "space blobs"; not something he wanted to have a sit down dinner with. He got his first canister ready.

Shivering slightly, causing the whole Raevr to mimic his action, Jin still was getting tingles about this. He was a ground pounder... and they put him in this. He shook his head, causing the Raevr to do the same as well. Damn, time to get back into this game...

"Got your six, Kuzman. I'll drop mine at the second site as we head to the target area." The Raevr stepped onto the magnetic rail launch system and blasted out into the blackness of space behind his wingmate, following at roughly sixty meters for maneuvering room.

"Roger that Jin. Good luck to us both. May we fly safe," responded Kuzman.

"We're splitting the Squadron up to cover more ground." Jin and Kuzman's familiar commanding officer said over communications, his own distinctive white and purple unit sped off to the left. He seemed to be a little more anxious than usual, and didn't quite seem to be entirely comfortable with his order. "Nadav, Pho'tet, you're on 1st Squadron's trail and following their designated patrol path."

"Watch eachother." He seemed to say in earnest, before closing the channel and vanishing from view.

Navpoint markers on display pointed to the first three drop-off points, but highlighted the very first as the critical objective. The 1st Squadron, like most of the others had lost communications after reaching their initial 'Navpoint Hymem', after all.

Kuzman moved into location of the first drop-off point and dropped the can into position. He quickly did an Immelmann turn and moved into position behind Jin for the second drop-off point.

Jin's Raevr kept on target for the next navpoint as its head scanned the surrounding area for First Squadron. The first beacon had been placed, so theoretically, they should have comms back up. Best to keep up communications if possible on a search and rescue. "Jin to Astartes, first beacon dropped. Moving to second navpoint. No contact with First Squadron. Over."

"Belay that movement, Vayshirin." The Missions Operator chimed in as communications reconnected with the Astarte. "As far as our reestablished sensor network goes, there's a huge blackout zone in your vicinity that roughly corresponds to drift, and we suspect it was whatever got a hold of the 1st. Recommend you check it out before moving on."

"Copy that, Astartes. Commencing sweep of area. Jin out." Thinking it couldn't do any damage, Jin banked to the left and began to reach out with the Raevr's sensor network. Something wasn't adding up... They needed to find the other squad, and fast.

Similar thoughts were running though Kuzman's mind. He radioed to Jin, "Well, here goes nothing, huh? Want me to take point? I seem to get into trouble when I go out first. Maybe we'll find them faster." He let off a dry laugh at the end. Kuzman really didn't want to be the first of the pair to encounter whatever is out there but he had to admit, Jin was far better at analyzing situations that he. Hell, their training mission had proved it.

Jin shook his head, once again forgetting the Raevr would copy his movements. "Hah, sure, take point. I'd rather find this thing quickly than worry about the missing squad too much longer. Then I can drop this beacon and do what I was trained to... kill the red dot."

With silent acknowledgment, Kuzman dropped below Jin and sped up to return to the front; his mind was less than a thought away from firing his SCPA cannons.

Dropping down into the designated area, both Kuzman and Jin immediately noticed their effective sensor and communications ranges drop dramatically. A light second quickly became half a light-second, and started dropping rapidly until the ranges were down to little more than a few hundred kilometers. Long range communications with the Astarte were still possible, in part because Jin was still carrying a three-ton beacon on the underbelly of his ARMS mode Raevr VANDR.

However, they did begin to pick up stranger signals on their advanced sensors. Flashes of heat and a huge distortion waves, coming directly from what seemed to be the center of the large disruption field...

"Jin to Astarte, picking up on strange readings coming from the disruption field. Transmitting readings now." Jin kept close to Kuzman's tail, ready to break off if necessary. Very soon they would both be tested again, only this time in a much more dangerous situation. "Kuzman, let's speed up. I have a feeling we might be needed..."

As they approached the center of the field, Jin began to detect a large amount of debris, semi-organic in nature and radiating large amounts of heat and radiation into space. Each seemed to be roughly the size of a small shuttle, and made of a combination of diamandoid mass, depleted uranium and large amounts of the rare and exotic ore Veyrinite... something that befuddled sensors. According to data already recorded, this essentially matched the composition of a single species of space fauna that recently been discovered by the Astarte's crew.

But the pieces were strewn across a sphere hundreds of kilometers wide. It would have been enormous, even compared to the starship-sized fauna that were recorded.

Not one to make reckless decisions when on course to save people, Jin did his best to make course corrections and not get too close to any of the strange, large fragments now around him. He had to keep going, deeper into the gloom of the sensor distortion. Noticing the makeup of the debris around him, he sent all of his scans back to the Astarte. This was not good, and the obvious cause of the radar blackout. He hoped his sensor beacon would be enough... on top of the fact he hadn't seen anything from First Squadron, he was starting to getting anxious. That feeling all good soldiers have, the instinctual gut instinct of 'shit is about to/already has and I don't know it yet hit the fan' feeling. He hated that feeling.

Weaving through the debris field was easy enough for Jin and Kuzman, both putting a few hundred, hard hours of simulations to work in guiding themselves through the mess. As they closed the distance, however, they managed to get a good look of the unfolding scene bellow. The entire First Squadron was locked in combat with a mass of writing tentacles and beam emitters that seemed to flow and pulsate, as if the very flesh it was made of was more protean than solid.

One of the VANDR had been destroyed, another was struggling to right itself against while flailing blindly, and the others scrambling around it, taking potshots and sweeping strikes with bladed weapons.


The thing saw Akjit's blind dashing about, and it did so as well with Szemis' foolhardy heroic one as well. Instead of remaining where it was, the MCPA-like weapon clusters it had generated were centered around a smaller set of clusters now that seemed to expand around its chest. The creature began to fire wildly at the pilots as it ducked and weaved with the missiles trailing behind after releasing Akjit from its grasp. The tentacles however had retracted to a smaller state around itself, swatting at the missiles on occasion as one got close enough. This creature had frightening acceleration, but the overall speed was lower then their VANDR models, lending it the capability of quicker bursts of action with the drawback of slower prolonged flight.

"Astarte, we have contact with First Squad. Moving to reinforce." Jin switched channels and opened the one with Kuzman. "Kuzman, drop back and watch my six. Pick up varying targets in correspondence with First Squad and my fire patterns. Remember not to get them in the cross fire, we are coming in at a cross vector off its starboard. Let's flank that... uh... amoeba thing?" And with that, the Raevr dropped throttle and nose dived, overtaking Kuzman and plowing through the debris towards the monstrosity. With a grimace, he picked the closest tentacles and weapon clusters on the beast, ignoring its main body, and opened his weapon systems. As the two Raevrs blew into the battle, Jin launched his Star Locust missile salvo at the weapon pods and his Star Adder missiles at the tentacles closest to Akjit. If all went well, the broadside would be a surprise for the amoeba.

"Roger that, Jin!" Kuzman, following behind his wing-man and preparing to make a follow-up strike with his weapons. Unburdened by the mass of a whole sensor beacon, his Raevr was able to swing by and launch another volley of Star Adders behind Jin's wave to further smash into the creature's center of mass. "Take that!"

Szemis continued to press the fight, blowing a NEn cap to give him a burst of speed and agility, he moved closer, setting his fangs to a randomized attack-and-retreat pattern in order to distract the tentacles without getting hit themselves, and then he boosted his shields to take whatever particle beams were being flung at him, his VT sword raised forth, charging in like a knight of old.

Again, Zus yelled at him over the Comms. "GET OUT OF THERE YOU MORON! YOU'RE GOING TO GET KILLED!" She roared. Still, the stockier, younger Storhan pressed his attack, and Zus could do nothing but watch as she worked to avoid the amazing amount of fire the creature was pouring out.

"NIGHTMARE! What's taking so long?!" Akjit yelled at the NI.

"Oh, shut up. I'm almost done. its cacophony of voices called back at him casually. And he did just that. His absolute panic faded as he became miffed, and then plain outright angry as the tentacle released him and let him drift. After all, who wouldn't be angry if an NI told them to shut up. But there were other matters to attend to. What just happened? Where was it going? Akjit sat in the darkness wondering just what was happening to the rest of his team.


The two Raevr from the 6th Squadron had somehow caught te creature entirely off-guard, perhaps evidencing that it lacked any sort of long-range detection or was somehow the victim of its own disruptive field. In any case, much of the new mass it had generated was blown cleanly off as it was struck with a tremendous surge of high energy particles. Mass boiled away and weapon clustered cracked and fizzled as they attempted to fire.

The unit was effectively weakened, for all of an instant before it continued to press the attack, burnt and mangled parts sloughing away and exposing its core just a little bit more. What intact tissues that were severed but not damaged, did not go inert, however, and reconfigured into a panoply of needle-like slivers that began to dance about the air. When Szemis attempted to penetrate the unit with his VT fangs, he found each and every one knocked off course by the needles, allowing the creature to break through his stern offense (and therefore entire defensive basis!) and make a sweep at him with a geyser of tentacle projections.

Akjit and Mu'Tasim were being held at bay by a curtain of beam fire, but managed to keep away from the worst of it by keeping mobile. In its wounded state, the ameboid did not have the accuracy to rapidly tear them apart with accurate follow-up shots. Still, it persisted and even as it attempted to fend its attackers off, it worked to knit itself back together apace, regenerating flesh from nothing as if the concept of mass was somewhat meaningless or inapplicable to it. Tentacles grew and expanded, and multiplied in number quickly enough that the creature might very well completely erase any trace of the damages just inflicted upon it.

"That thing... it's regenerating! From nothing!" Mu'tasim said aloud as he watched the strange humanoid morph itself back into a whole shape again. "It's regenerating so fast.. The only thing I know that has such ability is... A Dream Eater..." The blood in Mu'Tasim's veins went cold in his body as he considered the realization. Though, it didn't exactly stack up to the information he had been given. If any guess he had was correct, this thing wasn't full-fledged, otherwise, they'd already be dead. Beam and particle weapons weren't effective, thus no point in using weapons like the Shocksting.

The galaxy, universe and everything came to light once again, the NI of his VANDR quickly orientating him in the direction of that Thing He immediately begun pursuing after it again, Shocksword flaring as beams lanced out at it. Though he was forced back, he kept on moving, evading fire while pouring as much as he could back, adding his off-hand's RCPA Cannon and the LEMB's collective fire to it.

But when Mu'Tasim spoke, Akjit literally froze. Nightmare, however, kept him moving; a stray beam glanced across his shields and shook him from the shock. He thought fast.

"Sir, if it's really a Dream Eater, shouldn't we send someone back to call in the Astarte so it can kill it with heavy fire? I-I don't think we can keep up with it for much longer unless we figure something out!"

"Even if it is a dream eater, our ancestors managed to keep them at bay!" Zus called out in response to Mu'tasim's revelation. "We're better equipped than they were, so let's show this thing what we're capable of!" The Eyr Ranr added, shooting a long range swarm of both her missile types, as well as firing the SCPA at its center of mass from the new distance she had managed to achieve while avoiding the creature's particle fire.

As the mass of tentacles swarmed toward Szemis, he activated his Repulsor burst to try and move them away, while opening fire with every weapon he had on hand from point-blank range, before breaking off, finally, and recalling his Fangs. "What the Nightmare is a dream eater?" he asked, finally doing something other than yelling.

"Chirimar, why do you think I've been asking you all to fall back for the last ten minutes?" replied Mu'Tasim. The Temple Guard's VT Blades activated on their drivers and he fired off to his left to find a clear line of sight to the strange opponent. He would wait for the missile volleys to strike first, before making a sub-light jump over the beast to strike.

The piercing strike of the SCPA cannon did a little better than most beam weapons to break through the strong defenses the creature had in place, tunneling through the viscous yet exceedingly dense flesh like a bullet fired into the water. A hole burst in the flesh, causing it to ripple and eject gas into the vacuum, which promptly froze and scattered as the amoeboid was struck by another explosive volley from the foolhardy Eyr Ranr runner. The shock was such that the entire creature's mass was split in half, with each half dangling from the core and attached only by thick sinuous tissues.

When Mu'Tasim leapt in and swung, he managed to sever an entire half of the scattered tissue and cast it away into space. With a few choice shots, Akjit had perforated and incinerated the discarded biomass, severely wounding the entity. Not content to be killed so easily, however, the beast merely dove away fro Mu'Tasim, spinning forward as it folded its exposed core back into the remaining flesh it had and shaping itself into a manta like configuration, its entire frontal axis covered in a dozen beam organs.

More particle fire lanced out from the reformed Dream Eater's frontal edge, Famasir weathering the worst of it as one of its feet was clipped by a direct blast, but otherwise escaping any immediate destruction. The creature was now adapting to the fact that it was easily outmaneuvered, or attempting to do so, and swam elegantly through space with an grace of a fish in the appropriate waters, all the while continuing to send out waves of plasmatic destruction. The maneuvers ringed of desperation, something anyone with even a modicum of tactical understanding would pick up on. It would not be destroyed!

Kuzman observed the damage that a 1st Squadron's SCPA did to the "space blob", as he liked to call the now-"Dream Eater", and promptly put a bead on the monstrosity. After ensuring the safety of his fellow soldiers closer to the "space blob", he took a couple shots at the mass of tentacles that had headed for Szemis. He hoped to hell that he could damage the thing a bit or at least distract it enough for the more experienced 1st Squadron members to deal some real damage.

While it hadn't been especially effective, the SCPA was at least safe, and did manage to damage the Dream Eater, so Zus kept it up, once again firing her SCPA, aimed towards the place that the creature's core most likely was, trying to penetrate through and expose that part, which likely held what served for the creature's brains, so that others could target it.

Szemis, however, now found himself beig blasted at by a large number of particle blasts, which his EVII didn't seem to take too well to. Szemis quickly found out that he had nowhere near the agility he needed without bursting an NEn cap, but he opted instead to use the capacitor to recharge his shields instead, letting those take the brunt of force. "Dammit, why won't it die!?" he snarled, wanting to have a go at it, despite the fact that it kept going even after being blown clean in half.

Jin's Raevr continued on its pass, coming in from the other side of the beast after his original flyby. Enough time had passed for another Star Adder payload to be delivered. Alsong with his SCPA firing, he aimed at the same spot that Zus was trying to open, hoping the concentrated fire would weaken the being even more. He didn't care what the hell it was called, he just wanted it dead before he could lose any more battle buddies. This battle had already cost too much.

As it transformed into the giant manta ray, Akjit activated the Phantoma Shroud to help him evade the incoming blasts. Even as he activated a NEn Capacitor and essentially beam spammed the Dream Eater with every weapon he could bring to bear, he talked to Mu. "N-not when you're going to be gobbled up like-like a snack...Sir." Akjit managed to stutter out. It had taken him a lot to say that, essentially admitting he defied his superior's orders, but he did it. "And how are we going to run when it's c-chasing after us like this?"

Although it had been able to easily overwhelm any single one of them initially, outnumbered and outmatched in skill, the Dream Eater was not able to attack any single one target without putting itself at risk. Because of this, it had been whittled down and forced into desperation, but for one reason or another, it was simply not able to maintain a continuous offensive and front. Within a second, it was speared on two sides by four simultaneous SCPA blasts that rapidly tore its aeroframe apart and forced it into a decoherent form.

Star Adder missiles flew through space and struck it directly on the side, stripping nearly all of the mass protecting the core and skewing it to a single side. It spiralled out of control, attempting to regain stability and push itself to counterattack. A dozen beam eyes grew spontaneously and fired wildly into the abyss, but none so much as hit a single target and many of the hastily formed organs fizzled and detonated as it attempted to use them. In a last moment of desperation, if shaped its entire body into a needle-like drill, setting its core away from the ramming face and dove towards the insistent and foolhardy Szemis, only to be torn apart at the last second by Akjit's all out-attack.

The core cracked, splintered and promptly shattered, discarding thousands of shards into space. Every piece then erupted into a great conflagration, hurling the nearly impaled younger Storhan sibling with tremendous force and sending him into a hard (but not nearly fatal) collision with one of the scattered remains of the strange creature with which the Dream Eater shared its origins.

The jamming effect subsided rapidly, and communications rapidly reconnected (in no small part due to Jin's still-attached beacon).

"Vaytulri?! This is Romdo, we've lost communications with your squadron for nearly thirty minutes!" Mu'Tasim heard the familiar voice of the missions operator, signalling that the battle was over. "I thought we'd lost you..."

Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

[[To fill in my absence...]]

Isha had resorted to maintaining her distance and a steady stream of fire on the former "space amoeba," later revealed to be a Dream Eater. She quickly ceased her assault, however, upon the reckless arrival and attack of one Szemis Storhan; he wasn't listening to anyone, and his behavior was akin to that of a holy warrior- albeit not the most skilled among them.

Her mission altered then: she was to secure young Szemis, and hopefully keep him from committing his Frame and body to injuries beyond recuperation. However, he insisted on attacking the Dream Eater face-to-face with his sword, and thus kept FP Ragnar at bay. It was not until it had been destroyed that she finally got a hold on Szemis. "That was very reckless of you, Vayshirin Storhan; are you alright?"

She would go on to make sure he was aware that he had only survived due to the actions of his teammates, and that while he had made a fair contribution, without them he would have surely perished. Isha also suggested he contemplate this and remember it for future conflict.
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Jin's Raevr slowed to an allowable drop speed before disengaging the beacon cannister's locks. The beacon slid through space, still moving thanks to inertia, before bumping into the middle of the torn carnage of a VANDR. Grimacing to himself, he was relieved to see it come to a halt. He was still getting used to this whole space battle thing, and he was already coming down off of the adrenaline. Hopefully no one would notice...

"First Squadron Leader, this is Vayshirin Jin Pho'tet. Please re-establish communications with the Astarte and confirm casualties. I have towing capabilities if anyone is in need of assistance."

His first space battle. Against a giant amoeba thing. He was definitely going to need a good hookah session and to meditate and center himself. A nice alcoholic beverage would be nice too...
Re: [Pre-Phase: Mission 4] Snakes in the Garden

Kuzman was glad that Jin had taken charge; he wasn't one to enjoy being in charge. That meant responsibilities for things that could be out of his control.

He moved in closer to 1st Squadron and Jin in order to get closer to his fellow soldiers in case another one of those blobs appeared. While Kuzman isn't one to scare easily, he did not enjoy the thought of another one appearing out of the blue (or in the current situation, the black) and picking them off one by one because he and his brave companions were spread out.

He hailed 1st Squadron, "Vayshirin Kuzman Nadev here, you folks in 1st Squadron alright?" It sounded kinda cheesy to him but what else was there to say?
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