28 Days after the events of Reprise
It had been a number of weeks since the Downrider finally pushed off from Bivona. The crew had been left with much time to think and repair from the lossess incurred by the marauders on Bivona, but the activity aboard the ship had died down to a daily grind in the past few days. Following nothing but a hunch and a need to be filled, the crew had set out for a long haul into the next system of the outer rim.
Now the small cargo ship the crew called home had finally reached it's destination- a wayward, sunscorched rock of a planet known as Trayll II- an planet so undesirable sparse in vegetation, no one bothered to give it a proper name. No one we know now, at the very least. The planet orbited second closest to its star, an unusual spectacle that glowed an almost blue sheen. Second closest was far more distance than one would expect, the massive energy-spewing beast looked docile from the distance. The planet was livable, if hot and poor on resources. The dry and ancient planet had spurred enough activity in the past month to interest the Downrider Expediton- however, it wasn't the organic kind.
Captain Dahlia Morgan cracked her knuckles a hand at a time from the co-pilot seat, looking down at the book in her lap. Reading was a form of stress-relief for the captain, no matter how dry. In this case, it was the owner’s manual for the ISS Downrider- or at least what was left of it. It seemed the ship had changed hands at least a few times before the expedition was graced with its churning engine.
The Captain looked over at the pilot, Aradia. Then, back at the present metal monk waiting patiently against the rear wall of the cockpit, now with all four of their 'feathers' in tow. “How many units are we talking about, again?”
The Overseer, OSC-01 raised their pyramid head, recounting the readings coming in from the holographic scanner that cast the entire cockpit in a pale green light. The projection in question was not a ship standard, but rather came from a Pixy unit resting on the ceiling. “So far, eighteen Oakland-based units have responded to the ping. There were twenty-one at the peak. First response indicates they’ve been active on this planet since before our escapade at Alipier Observatory.”
“So what you’re saying is, we didn’t wake everyone up at once,” the soulless pilot claimed, as her eyes traced the uncreatively-hued display. “Which means, hopefully, there’s not some secondary contingency plan that we put in motion to destroy the galaxy. Or, well, the ones that aren’t related to Juryrig aren’t our fault.”
The Overseer looked down at the pilot, taken aback slightly by the commentary. She was quick to correct, however. “What's being said is, we’re losing units.”
“What do you think they’re doing here, all the way in the outer rim?” Dahlia quipped.
OSC-01 paused, looking at the captain, then to the planet itself. “Oakland only deployed units in that number for remote automated projects under the supervision of an Overseer. Scavenging, landscaping, search and rescue. I have no access to active deployments or directives, meaning that Oakland’s main network may have been shut down for good.”
Dahlia nodded, looking back to the planet in question. It was a shot in the dark, but the pings had been coming from a dry area just south of the planetary equator. “If this is our best shot for finding a… Rift Boring Drive like you called it, then I suppose there’s only one way to find out.”
The Captain closed the user manual, setting the ancient texts back into the overhead compartment. “Aradia, let’s descend for entry.”
”Yup. We’ll be landing in about half an hour. I have to ask, though, Osco-” The helmswoman’s eyes turned to meet the cynical, calculated pair of the robot, as she asked, ”What makes losing units - active ones, at that - so concerning? With almost no maintenance - lack of infrastructure, or anything to give them the supplies they need at all - takes its toll on anything that’s been fabricated.”
Dahlia buckled her seat restraints as the ship began to dive. The Overseer remained neutral, pondering. “All very true. The main article of concern in this grouping’s Overseer. They’re active, they’re moving, but entirely unresponsive to query. Nothing returns but the network interface test.”
”Odd, indeed. If we didn’t have so many issues with those Evoknight kids, I might consider asking one to come up and help us out. They’ll just have to wait until we’re on the ground.”
Dahlia looked back at the Overseer as the ship entered the orbit of the planet. The cargo ship shook in the force of reentry, the projected and physical heat shields puttin in their due work to ward off the increasing heat of friction. She had to speak up to talk over the droning noise. “So, these units are rogue?”
OSC-01 nodded, leaning slightly against the back wall as to keep their position during the drop. “Very likely. You said the Vigali never found one intact, correct?” The Captain nodded. “Apart from you.”
The present Overseer spoke brazenly, trying to focus on anything other than the turbulent force starting to shake the ship. “I’m starting to formulate a hunch why.”
It was a solid length of time spent in silence before the ship began to stabilize, successfully warding off the pressures of entry and reaching cruising altitude above the planet's surface. The Downrider had found itself above a dry, very dry country, a desert spanning the horizon in all directions. The ground below was a sea of sand and rock, fractured by ravines and chasms that revealed a beautiful marbled display of red rock beneath. The sun bore down on the desert, making discerning an adequate landing location difficult.
Following the trace of the rogue units lead the pilot and captain to a plateau overlooking a beautiful sight of a mesa, but one that could barely be called a living ecosystem. "There." The Overseer leaned forwards, pointing out an obstruction in the sand. It was a large, grey machine- a vehicle of some kind. The crawler had become either lodged in the sand, or had run out of power. Either way, the twin trail of dredges it had left in the sand and stone were recent enough to have withstood the rolling desert winds.
”Well, it’s a start. It’s not something you’d recognize, though?” Aradia asked the question as she flipped a couple of switches on the dashboard, lowering the starship’s engine output to sub-stratospheric levels as the turbulence faded. ”It may be in the right general area, but we could be looking for someplace buried under that much sand.”
There was a muttering under her breath, ”I hate these damn planets…”
OSC-01 stared at the truck briefly, matching it to interior records. “It appears to be an automated transport, but I can’t discern the age or model from here. If the units stopped rolling here, they’d have to be close by.”
Dahlia peered at the tiny vehicle from the cruising height, then looked back at Aradia. “Like it or not, bring us down. I’ll notify the crew we’re coming in for landing.”
A mechanical whir preceded the deployment of the landing gear from the junker’s belly. ”I wonder if that’s an alarm clock for ‘em yet?” Aradia joked lightly as she tweaked and twitched the Downrider onto the coarse, granular ground, about 30 meters out from the stranded crawler. ”Hope you’ve brought some extra water, by the way. Or we’ll have to improvise.”
Dahlia pressed down on the handle of the ships side hatch, allowing the door to swing open in the dry wind. A small ramp extended from the door to the rocky ground with a mechanical thunk. The Captain stepped carefully to the planets surface, wearing a tan outfit comprised from a breathable button-up shirt, light grey cargo pants, and a grey bush hat with a wide brim. The blue star of Trayll burned down on the planets surface with intensity, sunscreen was a given.
On all sides of the horizon, the vast mesa stretched for miles. The rock formations were certainly beautiful, but the sparse plant life was limited to dried bushes and weeds. Animal life was nowhere to be seen, beyond the occaisonal bug found squirming in the cracked vista floor. A handful of meters from the landing point laid the abandoned crawler- a much larger vehicle than one would have expected. From the ground, it appeared to match the small cargo ship in bulk. The back door laid open, sand already being swept indoors by the periodic duststorms roaming the area. Bits of metal scrap laid around the area, fortunately not belonging to the ISS Downrider. Yet.