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The Universe, 3030

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Continued from The Universe - 3029...


The Inner Sphere is a region of interstellar space surrounding Earth to a radius of roughly 450 - 550 light-years, generally demarcated by the outer borders of the "Great Houses." Within this region of about 2 million stars, there are approximately 2000 inhabited planets. Beyond the Inner Sphere is the Periphery.

While a variety of smaller states have come and gone, the Inner Sphere has historically been dominated by five 'Great Houses' who rule over their separate dominions: House Davion (Federated Suns), House Liao (Capellan Confederation), House Marik (Free Worlds League), House Steiner (Lyran Commonwealth), and House Kurita (Draconis Combine). The leader of each Great House claims to be the rightful successor to the rule of the Star League, and so the nations the Houses rules over are known as the Successor States.

The space surrounding the Inner Sphere contains a number of independent nations, known collectively as the Periphery. The largest of these nations (the Outworlds Alliance, Taurian Concordat, Magistracy of Canopus, and Rim Worlds Republic) predate the Star League and rival the Successor States themselves in size, but are vastly inferior economically and militarily. More moderately sized nations, such as the Marian Hegemony or Bandit Kingdoms, also lie near the Inner Sphere. The Periphery contains countless other independent nations, many consisting of a single star system each and rarely playing a significant role in Inner Sphere politics. The mostly uncharted space beyond the nearby Periphery states is known as the Deep Periphery and contains numerous pirate havens and lost Star League colonies.

3030 saw the end of the Fourth Succession War and the rise of the Sarna March. For a timeline of key events, refer to Sarna.net | 3030.

From the farthest reaches of the outworlds to the heart of the Inner Sphere, this is the place to stake your claim in the universe!

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Hurry Up Bessie, Mule-class dropship
Domain System - Lyran Commonwealth
February 10, 3030

It had been about 60 days since we left Twycross, likely getting reported in some file about us by the LCS Oldenburg, an Avenger-class dropship that was part of a Lyran patrol chasing down pirates in the area around Twycross and which had suspected us of potentially being pirates ourselves. Through some clever thinking and bluffing from Captain Harlow we were allowed to leave uncontested by the Lyran patrol as she lead them to believe we were simply selling some excess materials we hadn't been able to sell previously. She also sold them on us performing some critical but relatively minor repairs to our thruster controls while planet side, likely to align with what she had told the dockmaster back in Haven, and while they allowed us to leave without any issue the Lyran Kommandant didn't sound overly convinced.

Since then we had jumped through half a dozen Lyran systems without so much as a peep from any authorities and it appeared that we were indeed in the clear and so we turned our attentions instead towards inventorying our recovered LosTech loot and comparing it to the cargo manifest of our original heist back on Oberon. Much to our dismay there were some large discrepancies that could not immediately be accounted for, many of which were large ticket items such as a 280 XL Fusion engine for a BattleMech and the prototype VTOL which Bishop had been quite interested in. Further digging, with some technical assistance from both Schuster and Chase, and we were able to discover that we didn't somehow miss the items on Twycross or lose them to the pirates but in fact the C.V. Kessel was not the only ship that had been employed by Irian for transport. Turns out the Kessel had a sister ship, another Trojan-class dropship named the C.V. Reliant which Irian kept on retainer for long haul transport missions, and based on some inside information from when Bishop used to work for them it appeared that our initial shipment was likely split into two separate shipments due to timing. Pouring back through the data we had pulled from Irian's mainframe back on Oberon we were able to get the vessel's name, almost by accident while attempting to itemize the entire shipment and discovering a second layer of shipping information built into the manifest. Turned out that since the cargo we re-routed had been high priority they did not wait for everything to be ready to ship together and instead sent everything that was already packed up and ready to go immediately and then used this secondary shipping data to send the remaining cargo once it was properly packaged and ready, or at least that was the closest we could come up with given the limited information we had. Lending some credence to this theory though was the fact that Schuster and Alyssa managed to find record of a vessel registered under the name of C.V. Reliant passing through the La Grave system around a week ahead of us, which lined up with both the route our ill-gotten second shipment was supposed to take and its schedule. This meant that, if our theory proved true, there indeed would be a shipment delivered to Saiph that the Crayven Corporation could retrieve without issue like we had originally informed them and, as near as we could tell, it was supposed to contain around 80% of the missing items from the cargo we recovered on Twycross. This included the XL fusion engine, the partially dismantled prototype VTOL, the corrosive double heat sinks, and a bevy of other equipment that was not specifically LosTech.

"Can you confirm if this is indeed our ship?" inquired Captain Maxwell, the four of us stood in what passed as his office for the duration of our voyage aboard the Hurry Up Bessie.

"I'm sorry but we can't, we have no way to verify this information beyond confirming that a vessel of that name passed through the La Grave in the last two weeks," replied Alyssa.

"Did the transponder tag include any information about what class of vessel this C.V. Reliant is? That would go a long way towards confirming if its our ship," I asked, already suspecting the answer.

"No it did not, nothing but the name of the jumpship and the name of the four dropships it was carrying. It's not much, I know, but it's all we've got," said Alyssa shaking her head.

"It's better than nothing and it is a match for what we're looking for," came Bishop's addition to the conversation, "this is on the route they were supposed to take and it matches a timeline of them leaving from Oberon a few days after us almost perfectly. That's too much of a coincidence to just ignore."

"I agree with Bishop, the chances of a ship with that exact name passing through the expected system within a limited time window is pretty slim. I think we'll just have to take it on faith that it is our ship and leave it at that," I said, agreeing with the Lieutenant's opinion, "Worst case scenario Crayven wastes some time and money, something they have in spades, sending a cargo ship to Saiph to pick up a shipment that doesn't arrive, best case they retrieve our missing LosTech and everybody wins."

"I want to be optimistic, but after the debacle that Twycross turned out to be I don't know that we can afford to," replied Charles, shaking his head.

"Twycross wasn't all bad," I replied with a smile, "I mean yes you're fiancée tried to turn our only functioning 'mech into an Easy Bake-Oven, but she survived. We recovered the Baroness, for better or worse, along with a sizable portion of LosTech, and we managed to escape the Lyran authorities who may or may not have suspected us of being pirates. All in all I'd say we came out on top."

"Don't forget our new passengers, they're still on board in case you've forgotten," pointed out Maxwell, still not sounding completely convinced.

"They aren't that bad, once you get used to them," stated Bishop, "kinda like Jenkins."

"Don't tell me you like them now Bishop," chuckled Alyssa with a grin.

"I didn't say that, but the little one does kind of grow on you, in an odd sort of way," Bishop grumbled in reply.

"At least the ape isn't constantly trying to fight you," I quipped before shrugging, "unless he thinks you're hiding his smokes again."

"That is true," smiled Charles, "pretty sure Claire still thinks she can get yours or Bishop's rank if she beats you guys in a fight."

"If that was the case, she'd already be through me and probably fighting for your role Captain," I chuckled, "I can take her in a straight fight but if she gets the drop on me I'm hard pressed to break even. She's like a Blake-damned spider monkey if she gets on you."

"Tell me about it," snorted Bishop, "I mean, she can't take me but it can get annoying to try and pin her down."

"Yeah, and I feel sorry for the crew members that aren't fighters, from what I've heard that hasn't stopped her from picking fights with just about everyone on board. Sometimes I wonder what kind of screw is loose in her head," I said shaking my head.

"I can try talking to her again, but it didn't do any good last time," said Charles with a sigh.

"It's not a huge problem sir, actually it's been good practice and exercise, but maybe try and get her to stop going after the crew members who aren't combat trained," I shrugged, "I heard she popped poor Doc in the nose pretty good last week."

"Yeah she did, I saw Mallory, big ol' shiner. Said it's the last time he's going to try and get a routine checkup on that one," replied Alyssa with a slight shake of her head.

"I thought he learned his lesson last time?" inquired Charles with a raised eyebrow but Alyssa only responded a shrug.

The conversation soon drifted off to other topics and eventually Bishop and I left to attend to other duties on the ship, Bishop likely going to perform routine maintenance on our personnel weapons and gear while I went in search of Schuster to assist him with repairs and maintenance work aboard the Hurry Up Bessie. He would have been present for a short discussion, given his involvement with finding out about the still somewhat theoretical second transport from Oberon, but Captain Harlow had called him away for some repair work elsewhere that required immediate attention. That was happening less and less, especially since Oberon and Twycross, as Schuster became more and more a part of the Aegis group but he still performed regular repair work alongside Nikki's own crew and we all pitched in wherever we could during our long voyage back to New Earth and eventually Sheratan, which was located in what was now rumoured to be referred to as the Sarna March.

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C.V. Hurry Up Bessie - on final approach to Newcombe Harbor
Meredith, New Earth (Tau Ceti IV)
Lyran Commonwealth
April 30, 3030


"Would you look at that!" Alyssa exclaimed as our Mule-class DropShip descended toward the sprawling metropolis of Meredith. I gazed at the bridge's viewer, taking in the sight of a megacity flanked on one side by an emerald-blue sea and on the other by a colossal forest that stretched to the horizon, and let out a low whistle. This locale was the home of the New Earth Trading Company, one of the first ever interstellar mercantile organizations, its roots dating back to the twenty-second century. Though originally focused on the exchange of goods, the company had long ago diversified into the research, development, and production of military systems, pioneering such breakthroughs as the Casper drone system, the Manticore and the Vedette tanks. Their success had seen them expand from being solely a purveyor of rare and difficult to obtain goods to a leading distributor of BattleMechs, IndustrialMechs, vehicles, and aircraft. According to Bishop Weyland, they'd even employed William Kauffman as an aerospace engineer before the future CEO struck out on his own. It came as no surprise, therefore, that the head of the Crayven Corporation would have an avid interest in maintaining a cozy relationship with the New Earth Trading Company, even headquartering his own business just a stone's throw away, particularly since it seemed that the two companies shared a close alignment of vision.

The city's glass and steel towers glistened in the sunlight as they rose around our cargo vessel, casting long, angular shadows across the Hurry Up Bessie's hull as Captain Harlow followed a steep landing trajectory into the spaceport situated at the heart of the ferrocrete jungle. In moments, we entered into an approach lane, all manner of aircraft and spacecraft whizzing past in a controlled chaos unlike anything I'd ever seen before. At the nexus of the frenetic activity was Newcombe Harbor, the primary landing facility that serviced the Neoasia continent. Laid out like its own city within the city, Newcombe Harbor boasted 131 separate berths that could be dual-purposed for spacecraft or terrestrial vessels and served as the primary hub for the New Earth Trading Company's operations. Attracting a 24/7/365 onslaught of traffic originating from a  diverse variety of clients from across every culture in the Inner Sphere, the job of an air traffic controller at the spaceport was reported to be massively stressful and high-stakes. Fortunately, in recent years, the local government had installed an advanced radio autopilot system that enabled the harbor to manage landing and takeoff operations via remote takeover, and it was with a mixture of intrigue and suspicion that Nikki Harlow now locked the Hurry Up Bessie's control yoke and handed over the vessel's avionics to that system.

"All right, ground control, you have the wheel. Don't ding the fenders," Nikki radioed, crossing her arms across her chest and leaning back in her chair to eye the main viewer warily.

"Ground control confirms RTO is complete. Sit back and enjoy the ride," a voice replied over the bridge speakers. The Hurry Up Bessie's flight characteristics suddenly became less fluid and much more surgically precise as a bevy of Instrument Landing System (ILS) transceivers situated amidst the dozens of facilities below us took over the ship's helm, guiding us over row after row of berths containing spacecraft of every imaginable configuration before gently easing our cargo ship down onto a large, well-worn pad with the number '71' emblazoned in enormous block lettering on its blasted surface. As the landing gear clunked against the ferrocrete structure, I found myself reflexively holding my breath as the Hurry Up Bessie seemed to hang in the air for a moment before abruptly shutting off its thrusters, its full weight being very unceremoniously released onto its landing struts with a resounding impact.

"Goddamn it, I should have known better than to let those kids touch my ship," Harlow hissed as she regained her balance.

"Landing sequence complete. Welcome to New Earth," the controller's voice announced.

"Yeah, thanks, I'll be sure to send you the bill," Nikki snarked, cutting off the transmission before any further comment could be made. "Gretchen, are we still in one piece?"

"Everything looks good," the engineer replied, "but Levi might have something to say about his BattleMechs getting knocked around."

"I'm assuming your boss would cover that, right?" Nikki responded, looking toward me.

"I honestly have no idea how this meeting's going to go down with him," I answered. "Speaking of which, Lieutenant Jaeger, what's the latest on the shipment? I know I've asked that question at least once a day since we hit the system jump point. I must be sounding like a broken record by now."

"Well, the news is good. I finally got an HPG reply back from the Reliant herself. They did confirm possession of the shipment and receipt of the transfer paperwork. Apparently, it took some time for them to authenticate the forms with the Crayven Coporation, hence the long delay in replying to us in addition to the HPG time. Long story short, they turned the delivery - five additional cargo containers - over to the C.S.V. Montrose at Saiph. She's inbound to Messenia Station for offloading," Jaeger advised. "About four days behind us."

"They don't waste time, do they they? What's Messenia Station?" Alyssa asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah, so apparently, the Crayven Corporation has an orbital facility here. A big one," Nick Schuster interjected, pivoting in his chair in the forward wing of the bridge to face us. "Don't ask me how, but it's got an endo steel fabricator and a dockyard, which they're using to rehabilitate a smashed-to-shit Excalibur-class DropShip that Kauffman struck with my - er - former government."

"The Lyrans gave an Excalibur to a civilian corporation? That's ballsy," a voice from the bridge's lift remarked. It was Lieutenant Weyland.

"You didn't know about that?" I asked as Bishop entered the command center.

"No - contrary to popular belief, I don't get all the boardroom gossip. I have no idea what we promised them in return for that deal. Anyway, we wheels down now? What's the plan?" Weyland continued.

"We're down when I say we're down," Nikki grumbled. "I didn't say that any of you could take off your seatbelts yet."

Bishop balked at the retort and stared at Harlow momentarily. Then, resignedly, he maneuvered his huge frame into a nearby jump seat.

"Thank you, Mister Weyland," the Captain nodded. "Gretchen, are we good to give the all-clear?"

The engineer nodded. "Yeah, once again, your fearless crew has saved the day. Our landing gear isn't gonna fall apart. At least - not today. We can dismiss the class."

Nikki flipped a switch on the arm of her command chair. A series of chimes echoed through the Hurry Up Bessie's decks.

"Welcome to New Earth, ladies and gentlemen. The local time is 1648 hours. Landing operations are complete, umbilical and mooring systems locked. Shore disembarkation is available. Our port is Newcombe Harbor, berth 71-South. Everybody remember where we parked," Harlow announced over the ship's P.A. system. Shutting it off, she continued.  "Now you can undo your seatbelt, Mister Weyland."

Bishop muttered something under his breath and pulled himself to his feet.

"I suppose this is where we part ways," I acknowledged, walking over to the Lieutenant. "I assume you're taking the object to the Crayven Corporation headquarters, correct?"

"Yes, sir, after which I plan to go get absolutely shit-faced at the Sea Wolf tavern. It's been way too long," Bishop chuckled.

"Well, good on you for sticking to it and avoiding the alcohol until your surgeries had time to heal fully. Judging by how much hardware they packed into you, you might've exploded like a watermelon if your blood couldn't clot," I laughed. "I'd say you deserve a round or two."

"Or two? More like twelve after all I've been through with you people!" Weyland exclaimed with faux rage. Then, letting out a gregarious laugh, Bishop clapped me on the shoulder. "I had a hell of a time and wouldn't trade it for anything."

"It's been an honor to work with you as well," I nodded. "I cannot put into words how immeasurably grateful we are to you for everything you've done."

"Now this is getting sappy," Bishop responded, looking toward Alyssa. "Tell your husband-to-be to knock it off."

Alyssa shook her head and smiled, then walked over to Weyland and threw her arms around him. The Lieutenant looked momentarily shocked, then returned the gesture, enveloping Chase's slender frame in his huge arms.

"You be safe out there," Alyssa admonished Bishop. "Don't make us have to come save you."

"And have to live down being rescued by Jenkins?" Weyland fired back. "I'd rather die a screaming, gruesome death."

A raucous round of laughter punctuated the bridge. As Bishop made the rounds to say his farewells, I took Lieutenant Jaeger aside.

"You going up to the station next week?" I asked in a hushed tone.

"Yeah, that's currently the plan," Orlex confirmed.

"Alright, and you're absolutely certain that they're sending the manifest to Kauffman with a note that the receiver needs to come sign for it this coming Monday at the corporate office before it can be released?" I pressed.

"I made them repeat it back to me so that I could confirm that they understood. Harold Jones needs to turn up at 'Valhalla' first thing tomorrow morning to sign for his shipment," Jaeger acknowledged.

"Excellent. Take whoever you need with you up to the station. Let me know who's going with you. The Tana will be coming in around Wednesday of next week and can meet you at Messenia. Nick's cut IDs for Harlow and me. We'll take care of the business affairs planetside and reconvene here at the spaceport aboard the Tana once it's done," I concluded.

Orlex nodded. "And in the mean time?" 

I glanced back toward the crowd on the bridge.

"It's Friday night. Have yourself a weekend!" I smiled.

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C.V. Hurry Up Bessie
Meredith, New Earth (Tau Ceti IV)
Lyran Commonwealth
April 30, 3030


After the crew finished saying their good byes to Bishop I headed down to my quarters. I guessed that this was where we were going to part ways with Aegis Division. It had been a long, mostly boring voyage home and a frustrating one too, since it was almost impossible to research this Harold Jones guy in real time and from the limited confines of our ship. There wasn't a lot that we didn't already know, and how he had come to be associated with the Crayven Corporation's latest venture when he was clearly quite dead, not suspected dead but confirmed dead was still a mystery. The best we could suspect, Crayven was playing a shell game for the artifact and they had bluffed us about what we were carrying. Or did they? And where did Interstellar Expeditions fit into everything? Why would someone contract out with them to then turn around and hire your own people to go out and get it? What was so important about it that not only did William Kauffman not warn us about the real danger we might get into but also that Captain Maxwell was apparently going to let Bishop walk right out with the thing in favor of a surprise visit later instead? I didn't know, all I knew was that I had been ordered to program a couple of fake IDs for Captains Maxwell and Harlow, and no sooner had I done that and turned them over to Maxwell than he smiled at me and asked if I had received my discharge papers.

That was it, the end of the road for me with Aegis Division. It felt sad since they were a big part of really the only family I had at this point and I had become close with them as much as I had with the crew of the Hurry Up Bessie. It had been a hell of a year. I was going to miss them, and it was frustrating knowing that I probably wasn't ever going to have the opportunity to know what the final outcome of this mystery box was or put the skills to use again that I had accumulated over the course of the time I'd been on contract with the Crayven Corporation and then Aegis Division themselves.

I wasn't sure what Octavia or Claire planned to do. Octavia had primarily been working intel about the systems we were passing through, helping Lieutenant Jaeger manipulate the system to get our illicit goods delivered home, and antagonizing Bishop when there was downtime.

Claire...was just creepy as hell but fortunately spent most of her time sparring with the crew and had appointed herself the official shipboard self-defense instructor. She and I had thrown down a few times, all of which ended with me getting my ass handed to me. She would definitely serve well as a mercenary. I doubted that we had the attractiveness as a cargo crew to retain them, though.

My feet banged loudly against the deck grates as I walked up to my quarters and pushed the door open. It was dark except for the rays of the setting sun that filtered in through the window and flickered occasionally as a spaceship passed by over the port. I hit a button on my desk and my bank of computers fired up, painting greens and reds against the bulkhead. I tossed my jacket on the bed and sat down at the computer chair. It was just then that I saw a really curious sight. There was an old paper envelope with what looked like some kind of handmade seal on the back of it stuck in the computer keys. I had read about these things but never actually seen one in real life. On the front in script letters was written "Nicholas H. Schuster."

"Huh, who the hell's been poking around in here?" I said out loud, turning the envelope over and popping the seal on the back. Inside was a thick sheaf of papers. I pulled them out and unfolded them. The top page was a letter.


"What an elaborate way to bounce someone off the payroll..." I marveled and then continued reading.

In appreciation for your excellent service and tireless devotion to the interests of Aegis Division, subject to MRBC subcontracting clause 8732.4 paragraph 3, you are hereby released and relieved of your contracting duties with Aegis Division with an exemplary rating and indemnified against further liabilities of the aforementioned role. You are further released from any related contractual obligations you may have had to the Crayven Corporation subject to subcontractor clause indemnification 32191.31. Your final paycheck as a contractor for this organization will be electronically deposited to you.

I let out a sigh and poured myself a glass of vodka, then continued reading.

In further recognition of your contributions to the organization, we are pleased to extend to you a nonconditional offer of full time employment with Aegis Division at the rank of Warrant Officer with all of the duties and responsibilities bestowed by the role. Equipment, training, relocation expenses, and housing will be provided by our Gellen's Heights-based organization.

Please review the enclosed packet carefully. It provides an organizational TO&E, command structure, pay scale, and a great deal of additional information that we're certain you will find critical to making an informed career decision. We kindly request that you remit your response to this offer before our current departure from New Earth so that, should you choose to accept, we can book passage for you aboard the Tana.


Charles Maxwell // Orlex Jaeger"

I nearly choked on my drink in disbelief. Just then, I heard a knock on my cabin door and some monkey noises. I turned around to see Steve Jenkins standing there, dressed to the nines in a huge floral pimp suit, his martial arts black belt, and a wide brimmed hat. Behind him was Mr. Chuckles, wearing a pair of star-shaped light up sunglasses and gnawing on the end of one of those old fashioned cigarettes that you put on the end of a stick.

"Heya buddy!!" Steve grinned. "I heard this town has the sickest club scene in the galaxy and I'm about to go burn the place down with my moves, you want in?"

"Hell yeah!" I replied.

"That's not what I would have thought you were gonna say..." Steve said, his face turning to confusion. "But I'm deffo down for having you as my wingman!!"

"Believe it or not, I've got some news worth celebrating! I'll get my jacket." I grinned, setting down the letter and turning off my computer. "This is going to be great."

A few minutes later, me, Steve Jenkins, and a chain-smoking gorilla were in the back of a taxi off to raise a glass to our good fortunes.

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C.V. Hurry Up Bessie - 

Meredith, New Earth (Tau Ceti IV)

Lyran Commonwealth

April 30, 3030


This crew was fun! 


I liked Mr. Chuckles.  An ape of few words,  he was a good listener. I liked chatting with him about Winter, and trying to puzzle out the logic behind Wrath's coup.  Sadly though, he and Jenkins were all dressed up for a night out.


Bored, I wandered the ship. Crew gave a wide berth - must mean I had successfully established dominance.  Though... I had fought a lot of the crew and still no promotion or rank increase.  Maybe I had to defeat the big one?  I should ask their Boss. Where was he?


Footsteps echoed down the corridor in a cadence I recognized.  Shit. The bossy one that liked lecturing. I ducked into the first doorway I saw and pressed against the inner wall, staying as quiet as possible as the clack of Capellan boot heels continued briskly past the entrance. 


"What are you doing?"


The voice was familiar.  Looking over,  I saw one of the crew giving me a strange look as they checked over a mech. Lever? Lava? Lev... something.  


"Avoiding a migraine on legs looking for me. Maybe.  Depends if she noticed."


"Noticed...?" He looked even more confused. 


I pulled a thin blade out of my bag, holding it up. "Arm blade.  I don't appreciate being stabbed, but more importantly,  she was rude.  Manners are important! So I stole this and I'm keeping this until she apologizes."  Repocketing it,  I went over and peered at the mech. "Whatcha doin'?"


"Making sure none of the mechs got busted in the landing."


He did look studious. I followed his gaze to the machine,  trying to mimic the expression. I bet I could pilot one of those things.  How hard could it be? 


Bored again,  I sized up the other techs. No one that seemed worth fighting,  and this one looked tired. A spar would loosen him up and get the blood flowing.  That could be my second good deed of the day outside of my purloined blade. "Ready?"


"For wh-- Not again!"


I threw an easy punch - nothing too hard,  at most a broken rib or two - but he managed to scramble out of range and bring a wrench down solidly on my forehead and splitting the skin. Blinking through the blood, more surprised at the hit than hurt,  I frowned as he climbed up the mech's leg. That was no way to behave. 


"Oy, don't be fucking rude.  We're having a friendly spar, how can you fight me from up there?"


"That's the point, Claire! I don't want to fight! I have work to do."


"Oh." I deflated slightly,  disappointed. Things were so different with this crew. How was I supposed to build bonds without fighting? Even the big one hadn't broken a single one of my bones during our fights. Wrath and I had been nearly inseparable after I cracked his ribs, even bringing me the candies I liked after he fractured my hip in the same fight.  And recruits were closer after getting shot during training. Ahh, good times. I leaned against the leg, thinking back to the gang. "Shoulda said so sooner."


Suspicious still,  it seemed, the tech stayed up on the leg. "What's your plan?"




"Now that we're off world. What's your plan?"


I wiped blood out of my eyes.  Head wounds always looked worse than they were,  but luckily black clothes hid must of the blood that made it past my neck.  I didn't bother trying to tend the wound - it would stop in time, and a bandage would be wasteful at my rank, or lack thereof. I blinked repeatedly, trying to think. "I have to rendezvous with Reaper when he calls on me. Until then I'll be useful here. Maybe learn how one of the giant stompy robots work.  Teach you lot how to defend yourselves. Move up the ranks. Speaking of promotions,  where's the Boss?"

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“Right now, I’ve got no idea. Someone on the bridge should know. Aren’t you here as a passenger, though? I think you need to get hired before you can get promoted.” I looked at the ground for a moment, but thought better of it and climbed farther up the mech. This wasn’t the ideal angle for checking the extremities for damage, but it was still easier to see from up here than on the ground getting punched in the face.


“Promoted to hired would be a start,” Claire said.


I grabbed the gantry railing and swung up onto it. It was a risk, since she could take the stairs to come after me, but at least I’d have time to react. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” I said, “but it might be easier for you to get the bosses’ trust if you didn’t attack people and take their stuff.”


Claire rolled her eyes. “The guy with the gorilla says you got hired ‘cause you stole his mech.”


“That’s not- I mean, both of those things happened, but that was a really big point against me if anything. Probably still is. I think they just felt bad that I broke my foot trying to help out afterwards, and they needed more hands since the mechs got more busted than they’d planned on.”


“So I’m s'posed to wait for a bigger fight and take somebody’s side, is what you’re saying?”


“Um. You should probably just go to Maxwell or Harlow and ask if they need help with anything you’re good at. What do you do for a living, anyway?”


Claire wrinkled her nose at me in that ‘trying to decide if you’re a snitch or not’ look. “Y’know. Stuff.”


“Oh. That makes sense - no offense,” I said, and then realized Claire looked more offended at the ‘no offense’ than the implication that she seemed like a criminal. I leaned out over the gantry railing to get a better look at the barrel of one of the mech’s guns. “I bet you could find some sort of gig on New Earth. Not that I’ve ever been there before, but they say it’s a big place.”


Claire sighed. “That isn’t the point. I’m just trying to fit in with you lot, and you’re not making it easy.”


“Oh. I’m probably not the person to ask about that.” I sat down on the gantry steps, which was more personable but put me at a strategic disadvantage if Claire got fighty again. “I’ve been thinking of looking for work on New Earth myself before I wear out my welcome here but, I don’t know. I’ve never been off planet before, or even more than a couple days’ drive from Haven. Going from a neighborhood where people have your back, to being all alone, it’s… I don’t know what it is.” Claire hadn’t punched me yet. That was good. “You must be pretty far from home, yourself.”

Edited by Levi Wright
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The old taxi bounced and Rumbled down the street going into the city, its old engine was making grindy transmission noises and the driver was listining to really fast and squealy music that sounded kinda like Clarinet music but in the desert, sometimes he would yell along with the Music and say things to himself in a language that was not of English. Every time we went around a turn he hit the turn really fast and ramped up on the curb and his Dashboard deoderizer that was shaped like a crown went FLYING to the left or the right, like he was playing a game I had heard of from Ancient Earth called "Crazy Taxi" on something called "PlayStation 2" and somtimes his turban would Mash into the car roof, it was good to be back on the ground again.

"So Steve what have you been up to the last 6 months???" Nate asked, then Mr. Chuckles slapped me on the knee and I looked over at him, I was sitting in between Mr. Chuckles and Nate, Mr. Chuckles was behind the ddriver and Nate was on the right. Mr. Chuckles made gorilla lips at me and made a Move with his hand like he was smoking, I Shook my head and pointed at the sign on the back of the drivers seat. "No Mr Chuckes, that says NO SMOKING, that means you cant smoke in here, you can have your Cigarettes when we get to the club." Mr. Chuckles made an agry face at me and then rolled down his window and starred at the buildings going by.

"Wont he climb out the window??" Nate asked, then I looked at Nate. "No he's way too big to climb through the window, anyway I have his smokes." I Said, then I held up his smokes to make the Point. Nate nodded his head up and down, then I said "What do you mean what I have been up to, we have been on the same ship for all 6 months!!"

"I know" Nate said "But ever since we got to NEW EARTH it felt like ther was this big gap in time and I Cant remember anything we had did since we left OBERON." "WELL" I said "I have been doing Online College to get my Online Law Masters Degree in Lawyering, then I can do cases in the Internet without having to be on the planet where people are Suing each other, which is good on account of now that there is the Sarna March there is lots of suing going on, since nobody knows what is the right government laws and stuff."

"OH MY GOD THAT'S A GREAT IDEA" Said Nate. "I need to find somebody to Sue and then we can split the Profits." I was about to say something back but we Crashed through a mailbox, the driver did all kinds of yelling when his Airbag went off, he ripped it out of the Steering wheel and threw it out the window. THen he yelled a bunch more and honked his horn at some Pedestrians. Then Mr. Chuckles made a bunch more Gorilla noises and waved his arms at me. "What does he want??" Asked Nate. "He wants his smokes. NO MR CHUCKLES!"

Mr Chuckls did a angry Roar and ripped off the inside door handle, then he Shook it at me and I Screamed. The driver looked in his Rear View mirror and yelled "YOU MAKE MONKEY STOP RUINING TAXI, I CHARGE YOU 100 C BILLS FOR THAT DOOR!!!"

"IM SORRY I DIDNT MEAN TO!!!" I Said, then I looked at Mr Chuckles and I went "Please Mr Chuckles stop ruining the car, we're almost there!" Mr Chuckles curled up his lips and leaned at me and Shook the door handle in my face, then he pointed at my Pocket. "You cant smoke in here Mr Chuckles!! But if you promise to calm down I guess I can Let you hold them." Then Mr Chuckles dumped the handle on the flloor and he put out his Hand. I got out the Cigarettes and I gave them to him, Mr Chuckles made a bunch of happy monkey noises and then started Licking the package.

"SO what else have you been doing , I can't believe CPT Maxwell let you keep that gorilla" Said Nate, then he put on his sunglasses and Kicked back in his seat like a fighter pilot. "WELL" I Siad, "I guess CPT Maxwell was too distracted with that weird lady Claire we picked up, I don't know what thats all about but she and Mr Chuckles get along good, Plus she taught him Sign Language which is cool"

"REALLY???" Said Nate "What words does he know??" "WELL" I said "He knows how to say all the swears and the word for Cigarettes, right MR Chuckles?? He even has a sign for me which is pretty cool" Then I looked at Mr Chuckles and made a sign at him. Mr Chuckles looked at me with a funny face and then he held up his left middle toe and his right middle toe and his right middle finger and waved them and mad e a bunch of happy Monkey noises

"SEE??? It means I Love You, 3 words, 1 fignger for each word" I Said, then Nate shook his head "I dont think thats what hes saying but OK. Anyway what else have you been doing??"

"WELL CPT Maxwell told me I had to Help out on account of I had to find a way to pay for my Gorilla, so I Have been learning Mechanics down in the Mech Bay with Thermo Man and Claire, sometimes on breaks we have Death Battles with like wrenches and stuff, its pretty cool"

"I thought you hate mechanics???" Said Nate, then we blew through a Red light and almost wrecked into a Bus Hut. "WOHA THAT WAS CLOSE!!" "STOP BACK SEAT DRIVING OR I THROW YOU OUT OF TAXI!!!!" Yelled the Driver, then he turned his music up real loud. Mr Chuckles got antangonized and started making more angry monkey noises and gorilliang up and down in his Seat "CONTROL YOUR MONKEY!!" He yelled at me. "I'M SORRY THE LOUD MUSIC IS MAKING HIM CRANKY!!" I Said, then I Looked back at Nate, "Yeah I Dont like Mechanics much but its better than Plumbing or like doing Paperwork and other Duty things, anyways Levi taught me how to put the Gauss Rifle I bought on OBERON on my Dragon so that was Awesome, by the way whats our next Op??"

"I Dont know, I just got hired, I havent even read the Officer stuff yet" Said Nate. All of the sudden there was another huge CRASH and I saw a Hot Dog cart go flipping into the road behind us, then I smelled the most Terrible thing, I looked over and Mr Chuckles had lit a Cigarette in the car, how he had did that I do not know but he was blowing HUGE cloouds of smoke at the back of the drivers head!!


"NO PLEASE DONT DO THAT, I WAS TRYING SO HARD, I'LL CLEAN YOUR TAXI AND WE'RE NEW HERE AND MY FRIEND IS A WANTED MAN, PLEASE!!" I Sobbed with hot tears and my nose was running, Nate looked at me and whispered really loud "WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU SAY THAT?!?!?" "I'm sorry" I said "I was just trying to get Sympathy" Then I reached over and looked at Mr CHuckles and I said "GIVE ME THE CIGARETTE" Mr Chuckles shook his head no. "I'm really sorry I have to do this!!" I Yelled, then I LUNGED at Mr CHuckles and grabbed the cigarette, Mr Chuckles ROARED and tried to bite my arm but I RIPPED my arm away and MR Chuckles bit the back of the drivers head rest instead!! "NOOOOOOOOO!!!!" I Yelled and I Chucked the cigarette at Nate, "Take care of this!!" I yelled, Nate screamed a few swear words on account of the lit cigarette probably and threw it out the window, then I turned back to Mr Chuckles, meanwhile the Driver was swerving all over the place, Im pretty sure he was trying to get to the Polcie Department, I got out a Water Pistol from my pocket and I Started spraying Mr Chuckles like crazy, Mr Chuckles roared with Rage and I said "GIVE ME YOUR PACK OF CIGARETTES OR YOU GET ANOTHER BATH!!!" Mr Chuckles did a roar at me that sounded like the noises of Hell and got out the Cigarrete pack and stuffed the whole thing in his mouth, then he ate it!!

"OH MY GOD HE ATE ALL THE CIGARETTES WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN??" I Yelled, then Nate said "HOW SHOULD I KNOW I'M NOT A VETRINARIAN!!!" But before we could Find out Mr Chuckles got even more Raged and Ripped off the Drivers headrest, the Driver screamed with Terror and did a 90 degree swerve with the car, now we almost got hit by a Bus and a Trolley and cars going in both directions, then the Driver got a Machine Gun out from under the Driving wheel as he got control of the car, "PLEASE DON'T SHOOT MY MONKEY!!!" I Yelled, but before anything Could happen Mr Chuckles took the headrest and hauled off and SMASHED the driver in the head with it SO HARD the Driver flew Sideways out the drivers window and we heard him Yelling in the road, I Looked and now nobody was driving the Taxi, "OH SHIT WE'RE GONNA!!!!"

--- CRASH ---

I looke dup and the front of the Taxi was all wrecked into the front seat and the hood ornament was looking me right in the Face with its crazy animal eyes, there was smoke everywhere and a bunch of garbage Bags on the hood where we had wrecked into a Dumpster, I looked over and Nates sunglasses were on his forehead and he was looking Straight ahead. "Whoa" he said. Then I Looked over and Mr Chuckles was sitting there with a big grin on his face, I looked down and he had the drivers Hookah in his huge hands and he was smoking it, I think I smelled Pot or something coming out of it, but I didnt care, Mr Chuckles was finally Calm and that was good, we could still have our Evening. Then I Looked out the wrecked windshiled and I saw the most insane thing, "OH MY GOD NATE!!"

"WHAT WHATS WRONG??" Nate said and he looked around with Concern. "NOTHING!" I Said, then I pointed out the Smashed windshield, right to the left of the car up on the front of the building next to our car crash was a huge neon sign, it said THE SCENE STATION --- #1 NIGHT CLUB ON NEW EARTH.

"OH MY GOD Mr Chuckles got us to the club!!" Nate said, then we high fived, "Come on guys!!" I said, "Lets go SAY HELLO!!!!"

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After extricating myself from the wrecked taxi, I took a look at our surroundings. We had come to rest outside a large club clad in glossy black obsidian with the words SCENE STATION in neon ultra futuristic letters across its front. Behind the letters was the neon shape of a railroad train with its wheels spinning really fast and little neon clouds coming out of its smoke stack. Heavy beats pounded out of the inside of the club and a couple of bouncers stood at the door who seemed oblivious that we had just arrived via a ludicrous taxi crash into the alley to the right of the building. Weirdly, nobody else seemed to care, as though it wasn't the first time and definitely not the weirdest thing they have ever seen. Steve was way ahead of me and was skipping toward the building like he didn't have a care in the world. The gorilla followed alongside him. As I caught up I heard him bargaining with the bouncers, something about code enforcement prohibiting a gorilla in the club. Before too long at all a huge wad of cash came out of Steve's pocket and he pointed at the gorilla and at me.

"You didn't see the either of them." I heard Steve say. I made an innocent face toward the bouncer and then followed the group into the depths of the club. The red and orange blaze of club lighting and fog wrapped around us as we went inside...


3 hours later...

I staggered out into the night, taking in the night air and the sparkle of the stars far above the urban jungle. Breathing in a deep breath, I stared up at the sky and found myself spacing out under the effects of far too much alcohol and far too good a time spent with Steve for my own good. Fuzzily, it began to register that I had arrived with Steve and a very large ape. I slowly tipped my head down and looked around for them, the neon lights of the city leaving long weird streaks painted across my drunken vision as my head moved. I giggled at the sight, noting that neither Steve nor his primate were present, and the wreckage of the taxi was likewise gone.

Instead, the person who had taken their place was youthful, tall, with trendy coiffed blonde hair and an ultra-modern suit, sparkling eyes, a smile, and was holding onto my arm. 

"Come on. Want to get out of here?"

The words were warm and sultry, and while I might not remember them in the morning, they were a fantastic way to end today.

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ME and Nick walked inside the Club, I couldnt believe I was back inside of one, it had been like 6 months since I had last been in a club and it was on OBERON where I had met my friewnds Gigatub, CircuitBuck and Displayjam, I wondered how they were doing these days, but I didn't think about them long because I Was back in my Home Turf and this time I had my Club Duds so I looked Legit. Me and Nick walked inside the club and a bunch of lasers and fog sprayed out as we walked inside, the music was blaring some of the best tunes I had ever heard and there were a bunch of cages hung from the celing that had hookers dancing inside them. I remembered back when I had did rigged gaming and controlled hookers back on Sheratan before I got into the legitimate businessman tactics of lawyering and other things, it was a golden time to remember. I would have to call up Jimmy Eaton and see how my Sake baths were doing, I had not checked on the business in a while and I was worried that maybe they had burned down, sometimes it was easier to just hang out in clubs and run the criminal underworld. Just then I saw that they had an indoor gun range AND a comedy bar AND a dance floor that had bumper cars all at the same time, a lady walked by with a tray of drinks and I Grabbed one off of it and shotgunned it into my mouth right as a fake volcano blew up in the middle of the club and shot confetti everywhere and a bunch of black lights and disco balls came on and the music ramped up.

"OH MY GOD THEY HAVE BUMPER DANCE FLOOR HERE!!" I screamed, Mr Chuckles jumped up and down and slapped his hands in a clap over his head. "What the HELL IS BUMPER DANCE FLOOR??" Asked Nick as he looked around and then grabbed a drink for himself. "ITs awesome, if youre the dancer you have to do the most extreme dance moves you can and not get hit by a bumper car, but if youre the driver you need to drive around and ram other people through the dance floor without hitting anyone, the person in the rink with the most points at the end of the song wins."

"That sounds really complicated and Dangerous" Said Nick "How do the points work??"

"I Dont know, I usually just get out there and screw around, its better to be the bumper car guy on account of you can have your alcohol driink in the cup holder." I Said, then I walked over to the bumper dance floor. "Hey you wanna try it???"

"You go ahead, I'm going to do Jello Shots and watch you" SAid Nick. "OK, watch Mr Chuckles for me." I Said, Nick nodded sternly to show he understood. Then I ran down to the dance floor and got in line for the next song, when the buzzer went off I grabbed a complimentary alcohol drink and then I jumped into a bumper car, it was a red one with black flames on it that glowed in the black light, the buzzer went off and a 7 minute song started, it sounded like techno funk, I FLOORED it threw the crowd, I almost took out some lady and guy that were bumping and grinding but I went up on 2 wheels to skate around them, then I Rammed my first opponent, a guy in a bumper car that looked like a dragon, he spun out and crashed into a crowd of 9 people that were dancing and made people fly everywhere, there was a bunch of yelling and someone dumped a drink on his head that looked like beer and clamato juice.

10 POINTS my screen said, 1 for the hit and the 9 penalties I cost him according to the screen. "YES!!" I Yelled and I went to take a drink, when all of the sudden I felt a CRASH and I SLAMMED forward and my teeth hit the steering wheel and my drink spilled! "ARRRRGGGH!" I Yelled and I Spun my bumper car around to see who had did it, there was a lady in a orange bumper car that was backing up to hit me again! "OH NO YOU DON'T!!" I Yelled and I Threw it in reverse, then I went SCREAMING toward her and I was about to hit her when some numb nuts doing break dancing did a spinning twist in between us and I couldn't stop in time, "OH SHIIIIIIIIIIT!!!" I Yelled but it was too late, I smashed into him and his legs got busted between my bumper and the lady in the orange bumper car!!! "AAAAAAAARRRGGGGHHH!!!" The guy screamed and he started yelling even more as he ran off on busted legs, I heard the bones grinding and popping while my screen blooped my penalty "0 POINTS" it said, -1 for the hit but +1 for ramming the other bumper car, I guess it could have been worse. "I'M GONNA END YOU!!" She yelled and hit the gas, then her bumper car SLAMMED into me so hard that the rest of my drink went up in my face and blinded me!! "AAAAAAAAAGHHH I'M BLIND I HAVE BOOZE IN MY EYES!!!" I Yelled, I Felt my bumper car spinning around and around and a bunch of people ramping up off the sides of it and bouncing off the windshield and Some big lady rolling up the hood and over me and then falling off the trunk, I Heard a bunch of blooping and bleeping and when I opened my eyes I had got rammed into the side of the DJ booth and my screen said -20 PENALTY.

"BALL DAMN IT!!!" I Yelled and I slapped my steering wheel a bunch of times, the horn honked each time I Slapped, then I hit the gas and I Sped over to the Bumper Dance Floor drive-through bar and got a new alchohol drink, I was going to find that lady that had hit me, but how was I going to beat her and get my points back?? Then I remembered that if you could knock an Opponent all the way out of the rink, you would get all of their points added to yours, she must have had a buttload after pushing me into so many people, I Looked across the floor and then I Saw her ramming a bunch of other bumper cars into the crowd and people were flying around everywhere while doing sick dance moves, there were lots of cheers happening from the dancers so she must have been getting a lot of hits, but she was probably distracted, I floored it in my Bumper car but it didnt feel like it was moving too fast, then I remembered that the hits had probably killed the battery a lot. I Didn't have time to screw around with getting another bumper car so I opened the gas tank for the bumper car and poured my whole alcohol drink, I had read somewhere that you could boost a gas engine that way, all of the sudden the engine made a bunch of backfiring and explosions and I got THREW back in my seat as the bumper car went probably 50 MPH across the dance floor! "GET OUT OF THE WAY!!!" I Screamed and I Kept laying on the horn, I don't know how I did it but I made it all the way down only hitting 1 person and then the orange bumper car was right in front of me. Then everything felt like it went into slow motion and I saw the orange bumper car lady's mouth go "OHHHHHHHHHHHH SHIIIIIIIIITTTTT" right before I hit with the hardest wreck into her I Have ever felt, her bumper car came up off the floor and went spinning like a frisbee right out of the dance floor and SMASHED through one of the bars, a whole bunch of burgers and food went up in the air and there was a big explosion behind the bar, probably the fusion reactor of the bumper car going up, the next thing I Knew a club attendant was running over with a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze. I Screamed with victory and turned around to get my next target, but then all of the sudden there was a loud DING DING DING DING and the song ended, a bunch of prize tickets came dispensing out of the bumper car dispenser and the clerk walked over and said "Great job Steve Jenkins, heres a complimentary bar pass while we do the clean up round, come on back for more action later."

"AWESOME THANKS!!" I Yelled over the club music, after all that action I needed to unwind so I went over to the gun range where they had beer and pickles, they also had some machine guns for rent and a pretzel bowel, I gave the attendant a bunch of tickets and got the machine gun with tracer rounds, then I went over to the lane and I started shooting, just then a big hairy guy came over and It was Mr Chuckles and somehow he had a .357 MAGNUM in one hand and a beer in another!!

"Mr Chuckles I didnt know you knew how to shoot!!" I Yelled, Mr Chuckles shrugged and gave me a high five with his foot, then he ate one of his cigarettes and started to aim his .357 MAGNUM at the lane. "Wow you chew tobacco and you shoot guns and youre a big hairy dude, you need a better name than Mr Chuckles." I Said, "I'm going to name you Chewmacco in honor of one of the ancient Earth films I saw about a big ape that flies around in a Spaceship with a Action Hero just like you!! Do you like that name Chewmacco?"

Chewmacco just shrugged and started blasting his gun, he wasn't a very good shot but it didnt matter, all the bullets hit things that werent alive, pretty soon an awesome song came on the radio and I Started shooting my machine gun to the beat while I ate pickles and talked to the locals, the next few hours went by really fast. I didnt know where Nick had went but I figured he would come over eventually, after I ran out of tickets for Ammo I went to the bathroom and got relieved, when I came out A dude walked by with some party bag.

"Hey man, want some party bag, it's great in this place, after you drop you can go out on the Dance Floor and see your ancestors!!" He said.

"That sounds pretty awesome!!" I Yelled back, I Grabbed a bunch of the pills and slammed them down with another Alcohol Drink, then I Went out on the dance floor and started tearing it up. Pretty soon the floor started going swimmy and everything was blurry, I saw awesome light shows and the universe was blowing past me while a bunch of Colors came swirling down and explosions went off all over the place, everyone started to stand around me and watch my Moves as I tore up the dance floor, I heard somebodyt say they had never seen anything that good, the next thing I Knew there were rainbows coming out of my Mouth and I was spraying everyone with all of the colors, there was a lot of yelling and celebrating and poeple were running around and cheering, I Kept dancing and the next thing I knew my clothes dissolved and I Was made of pure light energy and flying around the club like a creature from another Dimension, I dont remember much after that.....memory fading....things getting blurry....beautiful music....


I Woke up wiht a sudden holler, I dont know how I had ende dup there but I was inside of a Dumpster and I Had no clothes on, only my shame and an old Banana peel to cover my shame. I Slowly sat up and barfed violently, gallons of beer came out and some chunks of Food, I was not where I Remembred I had been, then I looked down and in my hand there was a note, it was taped to me, I pulled it off, the pain of the pull made me yell as the tape came off, it said "NOTICE OF BAN: YOU ARE BANNED FROM THE SCENE STATION FOR 30 DAYS DUE TO VOMITING ON GUESTS AND GETTING NAKED WHICH IS A VIOLATION OF THE DRESS CODE, YOU WILL BE BILLED FOR DAMAGES."

I threw the note off to the side and laid in the garbage and looked up at the stars. Suddenly Chewmacco looked over the ledge of the garbage at me.

I Had an awesome time, it was good to be home.

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Excelsior, ST-46-class Small Craft - Departing Newcombe Harbour
Meredith, New Earth (Tau Ceti IV)
Lyran Commonwealth
May 3, 3030

The 8-person passenger cabin of the delta winged Small Craft vibrated somewhat disconcertedly as the ST-46 shuttle plied its way through the turbulent upper atmosphere high above Newcombe Harbour, the vessel's home berth in Meredith back on New Earth. The turbulence suddenly dropped away as the craft broke clear of Tau Ceti IV's atmosphere and entered the comparative vacuum of space, traces of atmosphere trailing off the aerodyne ship's wing tips as it began a slow roll that would alter its trajectory to enter a low orbit instead of flying off into deep space. I smiled to myself, and noticed a similar expression on Schuster's face as we both leaned back in our chairs and waited for the main drive to kick off and the near zero-G microgravity to take effect, while several other occupants were white knuckling their seat's armrests, clearly not having been to space in such a relatively small vessel very often.

"You can always spot them huh?" I quipped quietly to Nick.

"Spot who?" he inquired with a quissical look.

"The newbies, the ones that think the ship will fly apart with the next bump and somehow believe their seat will help them when it does," I chuckled, not intending to demean anyone just finding it amusing the difference experience makes.

"Can't say I blame them, I doubt any of them know the technical specs on the vessel and besides these shuttles are small and built for efficiency and speed, passenger comfort is far from a priority. You feel every little bump in these things, even if they are built to handle them," replied Schuster distractedly.

"True enough, though I still get no small amount of pleasure from seeing Suits being uncomfortable," I said with a smile.

"Can't fault you there, though sometimes we're the Suits on occasion," laughed Nick.

"Touché," I said looking down at the dress uniform I was currently wearing, the Aegis Division patch emblazoned prominently on the chest with the unit's colours trimming the sharp looking, and wrinkle free, uniform itself.

Two hours later the ST-46 glided silently towards a docking berth on a relatively non-descript station, as in there were no external markings or lighting on the station beyond the bare minimum required for docking and no indication of ownership displayed anywhere that I could see on the exterior of the dark and almost foreboding looking space station. It was difficult to tell the exact physical shape of the station, even from this close of distance, due to the clearly intentional use of varying shades of gray and black to paint a false sense of depth, or lack thereof, across the station's silhouette. The apparent lack of windows, which closer inspection revealed were actually just darkened, long and narrow, and the non-reflective paint/surfaces across the station gave the immediate impression that this place wasn't meant to be found unless someone already knew where it was. The angular hull and sharp edged plating that protruded across the station's surface looked more stylistic than practical but to my own eye it looked like someone attempting to modify but not completely negate a radar signature return. A large number of antennae, telescopes, communication dishes and possibly cameras of varying sizes and configurations protruded from virtually every available surface on the station, they pointed in all directions but seemed to be mostly concentrated roughly towards the system's jump points and the planet itself. The general shape of the station itself, as near as I could tell from my limited vantage point, was like two tuning forks placed back to back with each other, the open end of the tines reaching out into space, with a single large central hub in the middle between to two tuning forks. The forks seemed to act as a docking facility, and indeed our shuttle was heading directly towards an unoccupied berth at this very moment, the central hub connected the four docking arms with what appeared to be two grav decks located above and below the plane of the docking arms. A large rectangular shaped module, which I assumed was likely an add-on cargo module of some sort, extended from the central hub at 90° to the two "tuning fork" style sets of docking arms while a fourth module extended from the central hub on the other side forming a plus sign or X when viewed from above, although the cargo module was considerable shorter than the docking arms and this other module was shorter and more square than the cargo module. All in all the station had a '+' shape when viewed from the top with a larger upper rotating grav deck and smaller grav deck beneath the station rotating in the opposite direction.

As our vessel drifted in closer to the dock we passed by an unusually shaped luxury liner that was undergoing some minor repairs that seemed to involve replacing complete panels on the exterior of the ship. The craft was unusually long and narrow for a luxury passenger ship, but that in itself wasn't all that notable, what was odd was its presence at a station that was clearly not meant to be found or visited by the general public. On the far side of the station, likely tethered to the matching set of docking arms on that side, I caught a brief glimpse of a large skeletal looking structure or vessel that was likely the Excalibur-class dropship that Schuster had mentioned previously. Nick meanwhile seemed to be staring intently at the luxury passenger ship as though he'd seen it before but was confused, or possibly just surprised, to see it here. Before I had a chance to question him on it our ship lurched to a stop as it finally came to rest against the docking collar of the space station and the ST-46's crew came on the intercom and announced disembarking procedures.

The interior of the space station was in stark contrast to its dark and gloomy exterior, whereas the latter was intentionally vague, ill defined, and non-descript, the former was bright, cheerful, and clearly built to impress. Immediately upon entering I was struck by both the amount of light and the sudden colour palette change, the flooring appeared to be, but was definitely not, white marble with streaks of gray flecked throughout, the wall panels were a bright off-white with the Crayven Corporation blue highlighting much of the trim and edges. A large holographic display of a rotating Crayven Corporation logo stood front and center of the rectangular room we found ourselves in as we cleared the docking umbilical and the ceiling was lit and coloured in such a way that it felt like it was several feet higher than it actually was. The general layout of the room was very similar to a conventional airport when planet-side, there were a number of docking umbilicals with alphanumeric signs to identify them along the two longer sides of the room with some small seating areas located between each. A clearly defined pathway traced through the center of the room where a set of doors on either of the short sides of the room lead to what appeared to be further docking berths to the left and in towards the central hub of the station to the right. A small retinue of what appeared to be Crayven employees met up with our own small group of individuals who had disembarked from the Excelsior, one of which broke off and came directly towards Schuster and I as we had separated ourselves from the others almost immediately upon entering the station.

"Ah Mr. Jaeger, it is a pleasure to have you aboard," he said while approaching with his hand out towards me.

"Thank you-" I began with a nod and shaking his hand before he quickly turned to do the same with Nick.

"And you must be Mr. Schuster I presume?" continued the Crayven employee as though he hadn't heard me at all.

"Yes, I am, how did you know?" inquired Schuster, a little wary as we had not provided specific details on who was accompanying me on this visit, just that I was not alone.

"Lucky guess?" intoned the Crayven employee with an air incredulity before continuing in a flat, matter of fact voice, "... No, we take our business seriously here and so we are always aware of all our guests."

"Understandable," I replied with a nod, "I trust there won't be any issue with the planned tour?"

"Of course not," stated the Crayven man, "Mr. Kauffman has expressed his personal request that you receive our premium services while aboard the station."

"Excellent, that is very much appreciated," I responded graciously.

"Naturally there is still limited access to restricted areas, computer usage and communications are strictly monitored, and you will always be supervised when in sensitive areas," continued our guide with an all too pointed look in Schuster's direction, "This is after all a secure facility still."

"No worries here, our corporate espionage days are behind us," I joked, hoping to lighten the mood a little.

"That is good, we would hate to have a malfunctioning airlock jettison you into space," replied the guide straight-faced, just the faintest hint of a smile tugging at one side of his mouth, "by accident of course."

"Right this way," the Crayven employee said, a smile finally breaking his otherwise stern face as he ushered us towards a security booth located at the door leading deeper into the station.

Upon arrival the guide collected a set of badges from the guard behind the booth and then turned to hand us what appeared to be guest IDs that already had our names on them and a photo too, "You are required to have these visibly on your person at all times please."

We then travelled through the airlock style door into the next room which had a series of lanes designated on the floor and what appeared to be various metal detectors or other scanning devices that everyone had to pass through in order to further into the station itself. We approached a lane to our right which then appeared to subdivide into two smaller lanes, each with a slightly different looking scanning device. The guide held up a hand motioning for us to stop before turning and looking at Schuster again.

"Are you augmented as well Mr. Schuster?" inquired the Crayven Corporation employee.

Nick furrowed his brow for a moment as those caught off-guard before turning towards me, clearly unsure how to answer in the moment. 

I turned to the Crayven employee and answered before the silence stretched into the range of being awkward, "Not to the same extent as myself or even Mr. Kauffman."

"Excellent, regular metal detector on your left please Mr. Schuster," replied the guide indicating with his hands the standard looking metal detector behind himself, "Mr. Jaeger please use the scanner booth to the right."

"Certainly, Mr...? You know we never got your name," I said as I made my way towards the alternate scanner booth.

"S-117," said the Crayven employee flatly, then smiled as a confused expression crossed my face, "I kid, Mr. Johnson will do."

"Thank you Mr. Johnson, I'm looking forward to our tour," I replied, still not entirely sure how to take the man's sense of humour.

"As are we, now please Mr. Jaeger, the scanning booth."

Several minutes later, after a very thorough security check, our tour of the facility finally began, the first stop once we reached the central hub module was to have a small peak into one of the add-on modules that formed the shortest arm of the station. We were not allowed through the clean room just inside the module but we were lead to an observation room that allowed us to observe the elaborate manufacturing facility housed within, it was explained to us that this section of the facility was working on recreating endo-steel production on par with the Star League's capabilities. While that was a little hard to believe, they definitely had some limited ability to produce actual endo-steel from what we saw, an impressive feat considering that the actual formula for Endo-Steel had only just been recently rediscovered with the Helm Memory Core. Moving on we had the privilege of watching an army of drones assembling various pieces of equipment in zero-G and were guided through a rather impressive propulsion lab were they were testing a variety of different engines including plasma rockets, fusion thrusters and what looked like oversized 'mech jump jets. We also passed by another room or module that was labelled "Exoskeleton Testing" but were not permitted entry and were simply told that that facility was not ready for viewing.

We then made our way back into the central hub once again and entered what appeared to be a shaft leading towards either of the two grav decks, disengaging the mag-lock boots we had been using until now to maneuver in the zero-G environment we drifted out into large tubular shaft which had holograms indicating direction of traffic. There were numerous hand-holds across nearly every wall surface and the holograms divided the open shaft into quadrants to better direct the multitude of people that were making their way up and down between various decks. Mr. Johnson explained that there was eventually to be a lift system in place to provide regulated access to all decks on the station but that the work on that system had been temporarily halted while resources were diverted to more pressing matters. When we reached the top grav deck level, only a minute or two later, we exited the elevator shaft and re-engaged our mag-lock boots then waited while the exterior wall of the deck slowly stopped spinning and a series of four doors opened at the cardinal points of the circular room. Several people exited what I now recognized as an elevator and we then took their place, having to re-orientate ourselves to use the available seats as they were seemingly mounted on the "wall" when we entered the elevator module. After strapping ourselves in the room slowly began to rotate and pick up speed as the entire outer circumference of the deck we were just on began to spin and presumably matched speed with the grav deck  we were about to enter. A few moments later and it felt like the new floor, what had been the wall prior to us sitting, dropped out from underneath us as the elevator car descended rapidly through a shaft that likely lead out to the outer edge of the rotating grav deck. As the elevator descended the weight of gravity slowly began to build until we were under what felt close to about 0.5G by the time the elevator stopped, we once again disengaged the mag-boots since they were no longer needed and made our way out of the elevator car as though we were on a moon or small planet. It could be a bit much to wrap your head around at first but I'd had enough experience with grav decks and space travel in general that the fact we were actually walking on what would appear to be the outer wall of the grav deck from outside didn't disorient or confuse me anymore. The simple rotation of the grav deck itself provided a centrifugal force towards the outside of the ring that mimicked gravity closely enough to allow extended occupation of a space station or sufficiently large vessel without the need for constant acceleration or a rigourous zero-G exercise regime to stave off bone and muscle loss.

Our first stop on the grav deck was an experimental weapons depot where Mr. Johnson gave a high level explanation of several new weapon systems that the Crayven Corporation was working on due to their "unique" understanding of the Helm Memory Core, most of it sounded like corporate propaganda intended for investors and it made me question if Mr. Johnson was really as informed about us as he claimed to be. However we then got to enter one of the testing facilities and were able to witness a number of new weapons systems that were currently in the prototype stages and being actively tested. Among those being demonstrated were 'mech-grade pulse lasers, which had long been considered LosTech and while they were clearly not ready for actual field use they were functional, and infantry-grade Gauss weapons that were far from portable in any sense of the word. One weapon that did catch my eye was a prototype LB-10X autocannon, it was described as a 'mech shotgun and was supposed to be capable of switching between a cluster-shot shotgun blast and a slug-shot standard AC round, although they only demonstrated the former while we were present. After the weapons lab tour we were taken through an armour testing facility and again given a high level propaganda laden speech about various different types of armour that would revolutionize the battlefield, when pressed about it Mr. Johnson would only concede that many of the technologies were still in early prototype trials and while results were promising there was no indication as to when, if ever, the new armours would be ready for field tests. One item of interest though was what appeared to be an attempt to merge a spacesuit or hostile environment suit with a full set of ballistic plate armour, while cumbersome looking it appeared that Crayven Corporation was attempting to create its own version of the LosTech Marine Combat Environment Suit and, at least to some extent, were succeeding. Another suit of ballistic plate armour looked to be rigged with small myomer bundles and actuators similiar to an industrial exoskeleton but on a smaller scale but Mr. Johnson had no comment about that suit and it was not demonstrated in any manner, though to me it looked like an attempt to recreate a modern PA(L)  similar to the Nighthawk suit which Bishop had.

Our next stop, Mr. Johnson explained, was a combat vehicle storage facility, although no explanation was given for why it was located on the grav deck instead of the more logical location of anywhere else on the station, the excess weight alone would need to be carefully counterbalanced on the other side of the grav deck just to prevent uneven stress on the superstructure itself. There was nothing of note in the vehicle bay aside from a currently empty station that was slotted for the arrival of the unique VTOL Bishop had acquired during the Irian raid on Oberon, the remaining stations were filled with an eclectic but readily available selection of combat vehicles in use throughout the Inner Sphere. After leaving the storage facility we passed by one of the rare windows on the grav deck facing down towards the planet and the rest of the station itself, immediately it became apparent why windows on this particular side of the grav deck were rare because it was immediately disconcerting to see just how fast we were actually spinning, although looking through the window it looked like the planet and station were the ones spinning and not us. However, looking past the immediate unease of the nearby station rotating through our field of view at a brisk pace, we were able to catch sight of the Messenia Station's singular dockyard which occupied both of the station arms that were the mirror of the docking arms we had arrived at. Moored within the confines of the dockyard, or at least as much as was possible, was a vessel of enormous size such that it could only be the Excalibur-class dropship that Schuster had mentioned back aboard the Hurry Up Bessie. He wasn't kidding when he had called it 'smashed-to-shit', as I recalled, as the vessel appeared to be missing close to 1/3rd of its structure and that wasn't counting the massive portion of it that had been stripped down to its skeletal internal structure. There were entire swaths of the ships hull that had all of its external panels and armour removed and was little more than a framework of ferrosteel where a space worthy hull once was, the entire nose section of the ship was simply missing at the moment and it looked like a giant had just scraped out the innards of what was the vessel's port side from our vantage point. An entire fleet of small craft swarmed around the much larger carcass of a dropship, welding in and cutting out panels in a seemingly endless stream of work reminiscent of an ant colony.

"She's a beauty isn't she?" asked Mr. Johnson, standing uncomfortable close to me as the dockyard once again rotated into view.

"It sure is, or at least will be once complete, to be honest she isn't much to look at right now," I said, taking in the sight of the heavy activity of work one more time.

"Should have seen her when we got it, the ship was ravaged beyond recognition, it could technically fly since the engines 'worked' and the structure hadn't completely failed," responded Mr. Johnson, using air quotes when talking about the engines, "but no sane person would want to try it."

"Looks like you're making pretty good progress on it then," added Schuster, also admiring the view as we spun around to the dockyard yet again.

"We are, but it's slow going. Last I heard Mr. Kauffman plans to make it the flagship of the Crayven Corporation once completed," continued Mr. Johnson, almost solemnly.

"I'd say that would be a fitting role, does she have a name?" I inquired.

"Nothing official yet, I never heard what its original name was but I've heard rumours that once complete it may be called the 'Dreams of Avarice', of course with Mr. Kauffman involved that name could actually apply to any number of projects at the moment."

"That is a surprisingly fitting name, at least from my own experience with the man," nodded Nick, the sun backlighting the nearly 125m tall spheroid dropship, its ovoid shape blacking out the system's star as it was eclipsed behind the station and vessel for a few minutes.

"Indeed, but we could speculate about Mr. Kauffman and his projects all day long, let's continue the tour," said Mr. Johnson suddenly snapping out of the bit of reverie he had seemed to slip into.

"By all means, please lead the way," I said, stepping away from the window and its somewhat dizzying spin.

We proceeded through the remainder of the grav deck, most of which seemed to be taken up by office space and small scale research labs, there wasn't much to see in this area, or at least there wasn't anything of note that Mr. Johnson stopped to show us as we made our way to what I presumed to be roughly the opposite side of the grav deck. Upon our arrival I discovered what the purpose of the Combat Vehicle storage facility had been, that area had actually been the counter-balance with the facility standing before us being the one that had dictated its need. Again I wasn't completely sure why it was located on the grav deck but standing before us was a full fledged 'Mech Bay, it housed 6 cubicles for individual 'mechs, four of which were outfitted for full factory refits/repairs. The facility was fully kitted out with all the necessary tools and equipment to build a 'mech component by component from the ground up, and while I hadn't seen any production facilities capable of producing an entire 'mech onboard the station I wouldn't be surprised if they were present. As we entered the 'Mech Bay Mr. Johnson got noticeably more animated as he turned to me and began to launch into another spiel.

"And this gentleman, is why you are here," Mr. Johnson began with a flourish, "Mr. Kauffman commissioned this particular project specifically for you Mr. Jaeger and he sincerely hopes you like it."

As we rounded the corner leading down one side of the 'mech bay the 'project' in question became visible and I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear as we approached, standing in the middle bay of the three on this side stood an impressive 70 ton Cataphract . Its armour gleaming in the unusually bright lights of the 'mech bay, the paint still fresh looking and clearly brand new, the central and side torsos had a large gaping hole that was clearly intended for the 'mech's fusion engine and unexpectedly the head was missing, however the war machine was still a sight to behold.

"The chassis is an original CTF-1X which we were able to acquire after someone collected it as battlefield salvage, the unit was in surprisingly good condition though it was stripped of most of its original parts. Given our intents though that wasn't a problem and actually saved us some work. Based on the plans Aegis acquired on Oberon and sent to us we began building it as a custom prototype equipment test platform and have made a few adjustments over the course of its construction," stated Mr. Johnson in a considerably more enthusiastic voice than earlier.

"The availability of an XL fusion engine amongst the recovered LosTech allowed us to retain the Cataphract's standard internal structure, a boon considering the current limitations of our endo-steel production, and with the arrival of that shipment this week we should be able to have the remainder of the 'mechs components installed by next week and ready for field testing shortly after. We already have the medium lasers installed as well as the pair of large lasers in the 'mech's right arm. We opted not to use the prototype ER Large Lasers coming in the shipment due to severe issues with random heat spikes and limited compatability with existing targeting systems, though we do intend to use those prototypes to help rectify those issues. We also took the liberty of upgrading the original plans for a basic AC/10 for the much nicer LB-10X-P that you witnessed earlier, I noted your interest and am pleased to see you approve of that addition. The new weapon's lower weight has also allowed us to install two tons of ammunition meaning you can easily switch between standard and cluster rounds out in the field. The jump jets are not yet installed as we were waiting for the engine and heat sink install first just to make routing all the necessary cabling easier."

"Speaking of, we are very much intrigued by these so called 'Corrosive Double Heat Sinks'  detailed in your transmission. While they may be incompatible with mounting in an engine they appear to be a possible stepping stone towards recovering Star League Double Heat Sinks and we are very interesting in their performance. To that end, we have also acquired a semi-reliable supplier of additional corrosive double heat sinks of our own, we would like to compare the ones you have recovered with our own and see if they are indeed the same as we expect they are. Speaking of the Capellans," continued Mr. Johnson, with a rather odd segway as there had been no mention of Capellans yet, "We also acquired another new technology from a rather amicable pair of Capellan agents who deemed it necessary to share with us details about their new Triple Strength Myomer prototype that they claimed to have stolen from the Davions. The improved strength and melee capacity of the myomer is impressive and is only slightly offset by its weakness to specialized munitions developed by the Davions, which while they were used to incredible effect on Sian the likelihood of running into them with this 'mech is highly unlikely since the so called Anti-TSM missiles are rather ineffective against normal units."

"Finally, you've probably noticed the missing head, and I'm assuming by now you've spotted it in the adjacent stall. We've recently received the specifications for the Lyran Full Head Ejection System that they used on their relatively new Hatchetman and thought it would be a great addition to this test bed. The system allows the entire head to be ejected off the 'mech in case of emergency and means you don't have to worry about blowing out a canopy or potentially skewering yourself on some broken ferrosteel while attempting to escape a doomed 'mech. It also makes it relatively easy to reattach the head should the 'mech be recovered after an ejection."

"That is all very impressive, I'm still somewhat surprised that Crayven Corporation has agreed to build this 'mech for me," I replied at length.

"Oh don't worry, we aren't doing it for free or anything. We expect full Battle ROMs and detailed monthly reports on every system and the 'mech as a whole, the prototype is only on loan and we retain the right recall it at any time," smiled Mr. Johnson, "Also I would recommend doing your best to avoid getting too shot up, replacement parts are ... limited, at best."

"Fair enough, though I hardly ever intend to get all shot up," I said with a slight chuckle.

"Of course," stated Mr. Johnson matter-of-factly, "I have the full technical specifications for you on here, the datapad is yours to keep while on board the station. We will send the relevant information to Aegis Division for unit maintenance and repairs, as well arrange details of unit pickup once the refit is completed in a few days."

"Excellent, thank you very much Mr. Johnson," I said as I took the datapad, turning towards Schuster I was cut off before I could speak.

"Well that concludes our tour, I cannot leave you unsupervised in the 'mech bay so if you will please follow me."

With a shrug towards each other we both turned and followed Mr. Johnson out of the 'mech bay and back into the narrow corridor that ran the circumference of the grav deck.

"Thank you gentlemen," said Mr. Johnson as the security door closed behind us, "It's been a pleasure. Messenia Station is now at your disposal, your ID badges will grant you access to any sections you are allowed to enter. As a general rule green and yellow areas are available, red is off limits, and blue sections are case by case. Repeated attempts to scan into inaccessible areas will be logged, however allowance is given for initial attempts. Mr. Schuster, here is a datapad with pertinent information for you on it, including your quarters during your stay. Mr. Jaeger those details are also on the datapad you already received. Any questions? ... Good. Enjoy your stay."

Mr. Johnson barely paused long enough to take a breath, let alone allow us to ask a question and I got the distinct feeling we likely wouldn't get much of an answer from him even if we had asked something. He was a bit of an odd man with a quirky sense of humour and I wasn't quite sure how to read him but he had given us a surprisignly thorough tour of the station. As he left I turned towards Nick and began flipping through the details that had been pre-loaded onto the datapad I had.

"Huh? No map, can you find one Nick?" I asked as I swiped through the data available on the station.

"Nope, just a listing of different facilities on different decks and sections, no actual map," replied Nick with a slight frown, "guess they aren't taking the chance of someone making a copy and taking off the station or something."

"Yeah, security seems pretty tight, despite how laid back most of the tour seemed to be," I nodded while leaning back against the corridor wall, "did you see you all the security checkpoints and armed guards?"

"Hard to miss those, even as much as they did a good job blending in, how about the pop-out turrets in the ceiling at many of the bulkhead doors?" answered Schuster with a slight whistle.

"Yeah I noticed those too, didn't see any Security Bot stations though, found that a bit odd given how secure everything else is," I replied, "and I noticed a large number of circular panels that look almost like a garbage disposal unit except they were placed too high to reach. Thought maybe it was just something aesthetic but they are only on exterior walls and didn't seem to have any regular pattern to them."

"You saw those too? If I had to guess, its for controlled decompression. I think this station is built in such a way that they can isolate and decompress any given area on demand. I hope it would be a last resort type of tactic, it could be quite effective against invaders if used properly, but it also has much more sinister implications given that no one seems to be carrying oxygen and I have not seen any emergency shelters or spacesuits in our travels," stated Schuster rather solemnly.

"Well that's rather dark, if accurate, there's definitely a certain level of paranoia that seems to be present here just under the surface of all this bright lighting and light hearted colours," I said as we both began moving down the corridor, "Changing the subject, these windows are pretty damn impressive. I'd like to know what they are using to prevent the interior light from getting out, when we approached the station you could barely see where the windows were and it looked like it was completely dark inside. Yet once in here it's bright as day, I'd have to guess it's a multi-layer system. The windows are obviously heavily tinted but they aren't that reflective or else you wouldn't be able to see anything outside because of the glare."

"They could be using angled glass to actually refract the interior light away from the outside without sending it back to the viewer inside and causing a reflection. There would have to be a multitude of layers though to still allow the exterior light to filter through properly but the windows are likely thick enough that it wouldn't be a problem. That's a rather huge expense though, each individual window would have to be custom made, not just for the shape of the hull itself but also for the angles that light would be entering it from. Each layer in each window would be unique and specifically designed for its location, that's crazy," replied Schuster.

"Yeah, but somehow I don't think that's the most expensive, or the craziest, part of this station. Crayven Corportation sure is impressive, though the more I learn about them the scarier they get too, just glad we're on their side. So what's our next plan? I could go for some grub, I saw mess hall back in Section 11, there's a chance they'll have actual food being on the grav deck instead of a meal in a bag down in the central hub," I asked.

"Sounds like a plan to me, I wouldn't mind seeing if we can get access to the dockyard afterwards, maybe go check out the weapons lab again if they let us," answered Schuster with a grin, "lead the way Mr. Jaeger."

"Aye aye Mr. Schuster," I replied with a half-assed salute and a chuckle.

Edited by Orlex Jaeger
Missed a link about the odd passenger liner ;)
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