Three Days After Landing...
The Downrider Expedition’s little trip to Bivona had been extended past the intentional margin for a few days. First, the buyer was late- then, the introduction of new crew members meant a new wave of planning and adjustments had to be made. With the money made off their first deliver, Dahlia invested a little bit… carefully out of earshot of the crew's engineers. An upgraded autopilot would allow the out-of-cycle courier ship to be started remotely, and even be called.
However, she had only two remotes, and the first one went to the pilot of the ship, Arbitrated. She didn’t tell anyone about them, what they looked like, or where they could find one. The rest of the money that wasn’t put into savings or wages was left to general renovations. Sadly, those would have to wait- Dahlia was ready to head off again.
Now all that was left was to figure out where.
The azure-haired captain of the ISS Downrider sat in the co-pilot seat of the courier ship, flipping through the variety of pages in an equally-blue binder. Periodically, she would peer up at the square dashboard chock full of controls and displays. Resting atop the dash was a silver book, adorned with glowing green stripes- and on top of that rested one of the white and black Pixy units who was currently meddling with a volumetric star-chart. Any attempts at grabbing or touching the book often resulted in it being promptly swiped away by one the Pixy units. Standing behind them all was the idle specter of Osco, looking down at the Pixy unit as it worked.
The owner of said units had been quiet as of late, but no less snarky with some of the crew. OSC-01 mostly kept to the cargo bay and commons areas, mostly in their projected form. Their physical form had been seen moving around engineering at times, but laid open-backed in one of the empty boxes in the cargo bay. Any attempts at grabbing or touching them often resulted in the person being promptly swiped away by one the Pixy units.
“So,” Dahlia started, eyeing the book and the short pilot, “I'll give her five minutes, then lets get off the ground before someone else tries to break in." The pixy unit continued poking the console in almost rythmic metal clicks.
A loud "IT'S DONE!" came from the engineering quarter, as a slamming sound was heard. Evidently whatever Marie was working on, was finally completed. Whatever it was. She was odd like that, preferring the sound of machines, her pen, her work, and her whiteboards over the contact of other crew. She could see and predict them, and when things went wrong she knew what to fix. Things simply made sense to her in her realm. It was a calm world inside that room, inside the sound of the printer and the electric buzz in the corner of her mind that the stack of power supplies and meters were ready for her to test with, the single-track sound and feeling providing something to keep the brain stimulated, from wandering from her task, gently soothing out the noise from the outside world. But now, she had to proclaim her victory, and as she opened the door, she was met with the harsh light of the Overseer's hologram and the deafening noise and deafening silence that met her somewhat deprived senses from the world outside of the one she understood. Blinking a few times, she took some time to readjust her vision before she set out towards the cockpit. They were probably waiting for her to free up so they could start up the ship again.
The sound of footsteps came down the hall as Marie turned the corner, tucking two grease-stained gloves into her pockets. "I've finished what I set out to do, so start up the reactor whenever you want."
"Good. I've been wanting to get on the move again for the past day." The thermally-gifted pilot, not munching on some granola bar of some kind for like the fifth time in her life, cracked a couple of her knuckles with high-pitched pops. Her tiny hands reached forward, delicately performing a short waltz across the starship's control console; the Downrider's maybe-slightly-radioactive heart thrummed powerfully as it was kicked out of idle mode, quickly bringing the lumbering vessel to a flyable condition.
As far as that remote she had... Arbs put it on a necklace she always wore, tucked under her shirt. Nobody would search there, either because it'd be a weird place or because they're afraid of potentially being called a lolicon. Arbs - who was actually old enough to drink, funnily enough - didn't really care, the distance was nice. Also, the idea of a bunch of guys following her around because of romance or something was just... Ugh, disgusting.
"Looks like something caught fire in engineering... Nope, nevermind. Juryrig's been up to something again." Probably, anyways.
Dahlia exhaled, resting back in her seat as the folded the binder closed. "Thank you and good, let's get up to orbit and we'll figure out our next heading." Her voice trailed for a moment as the Pixy unit on the dash continued meddling with the interactive map. Frequently, it would shift, showing two vastly different perspectives of their current location. Every other shift, a series of white dots would ping up- on the unfamiliar one. "What are you doing?" she asked, flatly.
OSC-01 replied from the... book resting under the unit, not stopping their assigned work. "I'm trying to align what I have with what's on the ship's computer... and find something." The volumetric charts blinked again, falling a little closer in line. Another cascade of white dots flooded out of the... old, new, alien map. About a dozen, placed sparsely across the map as it updated.
The Downrider shuddered a bit as it plowed through Bivona's atmosphere, her tiny pilot doing a pretty good job at, y'know, getting people to orbit in one piece. Meanwhile, Dahlia squinted. "What are the dots?"
OSC-01 spoke up, not turning their attention away from them map. "Responding Oakland Units."
Dahlia's eyes widened breifly, thinking about the possibility of that statement. After a moment, she gave a poor poker face. Though, it was concerning. "And theyre... all active? You can just ping each-other whenever?"
The captain pulled up the little corded microphone running from the dash, giving a quick and quiet order out to the cargo bay. "Ausse, get up here."
One green eye of the holographic Overseer flicked over towards the Captain, mimicking the head turn of the Pixy unit. "Just those with any charge left. And no. Only higher-tier units can do this."
The sassy Pixy turned their head back to the map after the remark, running through at least four more cycles. Finally, the dots across both map versions aligned, putting the ship at an at least somewhat accurate position between the two.
Marie simply observed the maps once overlayed, searching them for something. Patterns? Maybe? Was there an optimal routing between the locations? Missing data points?
"Even a dead facility will still give us something..." she practically whispered out, her finger waggling around, tracing between the stars.
The informant heaved a sigh of relief as he stacked yet another crate on the pile of his belongings - mostly filled with documents and records, of sorts. Having to move all of his paperwork and office furnishings was tiring work, even if he was able to carry the sheer weight of them as if they were nothing but pillows. Wiping off the sweat from his brow, he sat down on the floor of the cargo bay, back against the crate he'd just placed down, sparing himself a few quiet moments to stay in respite.
It was not to last, however, as the captain's voice could be heard through the speakers, requesting his presence in the cockpit for... a reason, which he'd most certainly find out once there. And just when he was able to take a break, too. Oh well. Picking himself up from the floor, Keith dusted off his camo trousers, making sure not a bit of dust remained on them. Not that it really mattered - he'd have to go right back to work putting together his new office afterwards.
"Aye aye, cap'n." His voice echoed off the cargo bay's walls, yet to reach no one else but the stacks of crates there existent as he made his way out the door and towards his destination.
Dahlia nodded in confirmation with Marie. "If they're where they're supposed to be, we could chain together a few runs. So long as they're not in a landfill or being used by someone else... that is." Marie, however, didn't seem to really hear.
She turned around to see that Keith had heard the order and smiled, beckoning him over to the navigation display. "Osco has found us some potential leads in the system."
The Pixy unit in question continued their work in silence, but stopped to bring up a menu, projected from the side of the metal book. It was a catalogued list of lengthy codes.... surprisingly, written in somewhat familiar characters. The list spurred to life, scrolling away and throwing out useless codes as it shortened down to a more manageable size of seven or so. The first on the list was highlighted in pale green. OSC-01-Zh214-SE.
The second entry was OSC-02-Zh15-SE.
The list disappeared as quickly as it appeared. And the Pixy unit slapped a button on the console once more. A blue ring spread out from the ship's indicator, searching the system for an acknowledgement in vain.
A few seconds later without response, it sent another.
And thrity-seven more, the gap between each dwindling each time. After that, the Overseer stopped, giving out a quiet huff.
"We should begin routing at the nearest aligned point." Marie observed. "Check conditions, and then perform a hazard-distance-time-potential profit list to first examine the least dangerous and closest first, and then gradually scale up to the most hazardous."
Pretending to understand the engineer's ramblings, Keith nodded slowly in acknowledgement, stroking his chin, before immediately turning his attention towards the map and, seconds later, Dahlia. "Sounds like good news. Anything particularly interesting so far?"
Rhea happened to have been wandering past as Marie was speaking, first slowing, then stopping entirely to listen in. "... Are, you actually speaking real sentences or, do you just make these things up as you go along?"
"Oh, they're just words used for data organization," Marie told the child. "We're gonna sort everything according to those categories."
Dahlia didn't understand the reasons for concern, but she did decide to slow it down for the rest of the crew. "She's saying we should check the position of each case, and the dangers posed by the environment- so that we can make the most of our time and money."
Simple, really. The blue-haired scholar looked back at Rhea and Keith, raising an eyebrow at the young girl. They had agreed she could tag along to the next relay, but it was still a bit of a sore subject for some. Oddly enough, including the silent ghost hovering above them all.
As the old ship breached the atmosphere, that usual feeling of "lighter than air" set in. The aged systems of the ship coupled with the inertia generated by their travel did their best at keeping the crew to the floorboards, but sometimes it just wasn't enough.
The Pixy unit gripped the dashboard, keeping a constant downward pressure against it. Working ceaselessly, it brought up another machine addreess, this time stopping to ponder. BTC-03-Zm21-SE. The little bobble-like machine pressed a pad down on the console, sending a ping through the vaguely-legal connection.
They were not, however, expecting an acknowledgement to be issued immediately. The holographic Overseer abruptly bolted forwards, bursting with light between the pilot and engineer. "WAIT," they interjected, before taking a moment to recollect their general posture. "Again."
The Pixy unit looked back at the console, sending another ping. The response came as a little yellow dot, blipping... from right beside them. Bivona.
"And the list isn't even necessary, it seems." Marie noted. "Because this will be almost too high on the list of places to visit first."
Rhea shivered and held onto her stomach with one hand, and gripped on the door frame with the other as that lighter than air feeling occured- it wasn't something she was used to, certainly. And of course, the captain's gaze made her uncomftorable as well.
Looking around for something else to focus on, her gaze lay on the console- and she noted a new yellow dot showing up on the same planet they were already on. "... don't tell me, we're going back already?" Although she didn't really understand the situation, she was pretty sure the overseer was... some kind of advanced machine, and given it was excited about something, it had to be good, right?
"It would be more reliable than just flying around looking for another opportunity," the pilot stated curtly. Sheesh, speaking of the pilot, was it getting warm in here or something? Like there were ten people crammed into the cockpit instead of five and a robot. "Be sure to bring warm stuff. We're going towards the pole, and I know you people can't stand the cold." The Downrider hung up in its orbit for now, but the little asymmetrical girl was already changing its trajectory, bringing them in line with a theoretical interception point.
"The pole... you mean we're headed north?" Keith said, seemingly taken aback by something other than his geographical knowledge. He leaned forwards slightly in order to analyze the console a bit closer, tapping the screen lightly with his index finger. "Captain. About those paramilitary nomadic oddballs in black and teal I told you about. The Arcandum Union. You remember them, yeah?"
Dahlia looked over at Keith with a raised brow. "Of course. Why?"
The informant returned to his normal standing position, crossing his arms while still keeping his eyes on the map. "Intel suggests they've been moving northward on ground lately, same direction we're headed. It's possible we may encounter them where we're going, so it'd be best to stay vigilant."
Dahlia bit her lip, chewing the thought over. Bivona was rough around all its edges, but the northeast was... relatively untouched. It was unholy levels of cold up there, not to mention the extreme topography separating the unforgiving land away from the mining colonies that brought life to the planet. Still though, this seemed like the closest opportunity.
"If they're headed by foot or wheels, they'll be in for a rough trip. Maybe we'll be able to get ahead of them." Her voice trailed off, before her neck twisted back to face the Overseer with an audible pop. "You said you had some 'personal endeavors'. Does this have anything to do with them?"
The projection turned their head to look at the captain, pulling away from the console. They sounded equally thrilled. "Yes, miss." Before she could elaborate, not that she desired to, Dahlia interjected again. "Heading north here is dangerous. You promise to hold up your end of the deal right? If not, I've got people looking for a whole robot to wipe."
Osco would smile, if they could. Instead, there was a dry, artificial chuckle. "You've taken me this far. I've been working on a... little story. Even the most inattentive of your merry gathering should be able to follow. Let me see what's going on down there, and everything shall be yours."
Dahlia sqinted, trying to percieve if that was an insult against her or not. Then again, she knew likely who she was referencing. "Fine. I'm holding you to that." The Captain looked over at the others, before picking up the microphone again. This time the message was projected to the entire ship, relaying the moderately-hazardously narcoleptic pilot's words. "We have our heading and will be landing within the hour. Bring your warmest gear."
The bulky courier ship descended once more through the atmosphere of the colonial planet. Through the limited window spaces, the crew could see the quiet town of Bivona pass underneath, the notably hungover residents of which were tucked into their snow-capped houses. Now, the street lights were mere specks as the Downrider soared over, continuing on over the northern ridge of mountains that kept the colony nestled in tight in a bowl.
As they continued on their flyover north, the crew (especially those in the cockpit), could see the profitable force driving the activity of the planet- miles upon miles of strip mining, carved away at the land in swathes for the rich minerals and black liquid that lie beneath. Mountains, leveled into nothing more than shallow plateaus. However, even their conquest had only drawn out so far. The farther out they went, the more nature had reclaimed. The mines stopped, paved roads and tunnels giving way to rugged gravel trails- and eventually faded out altogether. As the air grew colder, the loosely-vegetated mountains reclaimed the skyline. Outside, the air temperature grew colder as a thick layer of cloud cover formed over and around the mountain peaks.
However, the signal was still far, far ahead. Periodically, the flattened overview of the planet would pulse again, growing in pitch as the ship drew closer.
After almost a half hour of flight, the Downrider's pilot came across a bizarre sight, as if nature had twisted itself.
Beyond the mountains of the alpine tundra was a vast canyon of sheer rock and ice, carved deep into the planets surface. The cavern ran not only as far as the eye could see to either side, but what looked like miles ahead- splitting the land mass like a trench. Twisted spires of rock rose from the canyons sunken edges like splinters, some still bearing their points. The Pixy unit resting on the dash stared out across the cavern, stock still. Far ahead, the short pilot could see rough weather returning- a swirling blizzard. Even now, flakes of snow and ice slid across the cockpit window, and the temperature readings near the surface were... downright frigid. The ship pulled away from the canyon as the high ground returned ahead, resting on the like a continent separated from the rest of the world by an oceanic pit. Something about it carried an... eerie familiarity, the kind that easily told you "this isn't where you're supposed to be."
The new, cut off land was a bit higher in elevation than the land they had flown out of, blanketed in layers of snow of ice. The sky was cloudy and visibility was drawn uncomfortably close by the fog and swirling New shapes jutted from the drifts of snow just below the underbelly of the ship, easily blurring the line between "tree" and "icicle." The courier ship was met with consistent turbulence as it pushed its way into the rolling hills of permafrost, eventually forcing even the skilled pilot to make landing a few hundred meters away from the signals origin- as the crow flies.
The old ship shuddered and shook as it descended onto the hardened snow, landing gear sinking through layer after layer of the white drapery until eventually finding solid ground- or ice. Dahlia peered out of the cabin window as snow very quickly found its way on. The landing was a little forced, but the ship had found itself nicely in a clearing between two ridges of a mounted. It was dark outside, the light of the mid-morning sun now a hazy blot in the sky behind all the clouds and icy fog. "Keep the engines idling while we're gone, I don't want to be stuck out here."
The Captain turned to go get ready for this fresh dose of wintry hell, but was stopped by the patient Overseer- who had yet to say another word for the entire trip, "Miss Morgan?"
"Yes?" 'she replied.
The holographic Overseer looked around the cabin momentarily, before melting back into nothingness above the metal book. The Pixy unit grabbed the tome, hovering in front of Dahlia. The green, notched circle on the cover pulsed as the voice of OSC-01 rang out again. It carried just a hint of... appeal. "I can't walk, but I can still translate. Please, take me with you."
Dahlia sighed, clutching the now-talking book from the little robot and folding it under her arm. The captain departed from the cockpit, headed down the hall to change into... everything, and eventually meet with the crew in the commons area. "This better be worth it, or mark my words I'm giving you to Juryrig."
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