Jade Imperium - Convocation, Pt. 1

CrazyIvan 2013-09-08 21:50:45
Angel muses for a moment.

"There's also a trick that some fucking clever Iraqi bastard pulled off once or twice. You put your people in, have them milling about, and then set of the fireworks near the perimeter. Security might look less hard while they're busy getting the soft, vulnerable civilian craft into cover."
threadbare 2013-09-08 22:00:24
Hunter nods. "I expect we'll need something extra to get us out the gate once we have the ship."
Gatac 2013-09-09 15:54:41
"Well, fireworks in empty space won't do us much good," Hugh says. "How do you propose to get the boom to where it's enough of a threat to keep system security occupied?"
punkey 2013-09-09 15:59:34
Garrett smirks. "Well, if the Needleship is mobile, we could use one of the Mantas or transports onboard. Load it up with the bombs we were gonna blow the ship with and use it as a distraction, blame the Bashakra'i or Narsai'i."
punkey 2013-09-10 00:51:43
"On Narsai?" Garrett says. "Fuck all. This isn't for them. And we just widecast the facts. The 815 struck at the protected Needleship docks in the Turai fortress system of Dantumi and either stole or blew up one of the prize Needleships from Kamda - Emperor Thrax's homeworld. I think the facts are embarrassing enough as is."
Gatac 2013-09-10 00:54:57
"I'm with Garrett on this," Hugh says. "The press will hear about this after it goes down. Why the hell should we make this more risky on us just to brag about it?"
punkey 2013-09-10 00:57:11
"Hm." Garrett thinks a little longer about that, and puts an arm around Ngawai's shoulder. "I think we say nothing. We've made it clear to the Narsai'i what we think about Botane, and anything we say would be salt in the wounds of the families who just lost their sons and daughters. I'm not going to put them in any more pain just to remind everyone we're right."
e of pi 2013-09-10 00:58:58
Luis sighs, as the mention of Botane brings him back to that bunch of doomed troops. "And what's there to say before it goes down? It's a nightmare plan, it's going to fail catastrophically? Who ever listened to Cassandra? I think we do our best to back up our informal evaluations of the plan with something formal and make sure they've been duly forwarded to them. They'll ignore them, but at least we can cover our ass a bit when this goes wrong and they inevitably try and pin it on us somehow. Saying much to the press will look like dancing on the graves of everyone they're about to get killed."
threadbare 2013-09-10 20:45:30
Hunter rubs his temples. "I have lists. I have lists of every official who refused a meeting. Lists of every office I sent polite letters to. Lists of every office I sent sterner letters to. Lists of the places that had me in, and cut me short as soon as I started giving them information they'd be obligated to act on or embarrassed to have known before." He sighs again. "I think I've got the paper trail covered."
e of pi 2013-09-10 22:17:29
Luis nods. "Okay, then." He rubs a temple thoughtfully. "Okay, we don't have much time to pull this off, how about we break and find out the additional information we need, work up what fake orders we need and all, plan for what we can, and I'm going to go track down Yisai and figure out if I can get a capsule speech on how to fly a capital ship."
punkey 2013-09-11 15:06:43
"All right," Garrett says. "Sounds like we have our marching orders, let's get rolling."
e of pi 2013-09-11 22:36:09
As the meeting lets out, Luis send a vox ping to Yisai to ask if she has a moment. When he arrives at the hanger, it takes a moment circling her Interceptor’s berth to spot her from the ground--she’s buried up to the ankles inside an access panel on the dorsal port side. It’s hard to deduce exactly what, but it looks like she’s hard at work inside. Luis clears his throat, and when he fails to get a response, he sends a second ping. “On your six.”
Yisai starts to wiggle out from inside the guts of her Interceptor. At one moment, her legs go rigid and he hears her hiss in pain, and when she makes the rest of the way out, a rivulet of blood is making its way down her forehead. The reminder that there’s a human under the gold and body sculpture is a little shocking, even for Luis. She dabs at the cut on her forehead and looks at the blood on her finger. “Damn.” She looks up at Luis, takes a breath and puts on a smile. “Hello, Luis. What can I help you with? You need any of the tools I have?”
“I’m not sure,” Luis says. He scuffs a foot on the decking, then looks Yisai in the eye. “I really need your advice. 815’s had a mission come up on short notice, and...would you be able to teach me how to fly a Needleship in two days?”
Yisai keeps her smile on and her head pointed at Luis, but her eyes flick back and forth as she thinks of what to say next. “Why?” she asks bluntly.
“We’re trying to steal one from drydock,” Luis says.
More rapid eye flickering, and her smile starts to falter. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Yisai replies as the blood starts to make its way over the inside of her eye.
Luis grabs a clean wipe from the tool tray back by the access panel, hands it over, then sags against the ship. “It’s not that great of one. But the Narsai’i leadership is about to send 5000 soldiers to capture or worse, and about the only thing we’ve been able to figure out that we can do about it is something dramatic.”
Yisai takes the rag without looking at it and just puts it on the ship as the drip of blood runs over her left ocular implant. “No, there are only two Needleship drydocks, one is the Akwhela’s Eye and the other is Dantumi, and they are both heavily guarded,” Yisai replies. “I can teach you, it is just a matter of adjusting to the sensations of being something so vast. But it is very dangerous and you could die. This is not a very good idea.”
“The getting in and out, or being the ship?” Luis asks. “Garrett has a plan for getting us in as far as the ship, and a potential excuse for leaving dock.”
Yisai shakes her head. “No, that is too dangerous.”
“Can you help us find a way to pull it off, then?” Luis says. “We’ve got to do something -“
“No,” Yisai says, and stands up. “It is too dangerous. If you go into Dantumi, the Khala’bat will find you, and you will not even be able to get in-system in Napai. You cannot do this.” She turns and starts to walk away.
“What makes you so sure we can’t beat the Khala’bat?” Luis bursts out. “We’ve gotten into the Heavenly Court itself, so don’t just tell me this is beyond us. What’s special about it? Please, there’s got to be some way to do this.”
Yisai stops, but doesn’t turn around. “No, you cannot do this. It is too dangerous.” She starts walking again, back towards the ready room/bunk area.
“They’re about to get 5000 guys like I used to be killed,” Luis says. “They’re about to kill them all, and they’re handing the Imperium a major win doing it. This or something like it is all we can figure out to pull anything of our reputations out of that fire. I can’t save them, so could you at least tell me what, exactly, makes it so dangerous?”
Yisai shakes her head and walks into the ready room, leaving Luis standing in the hangar, shouting to no one. Luis smacks his fist on his leg, and then sags against the fighter for a long moment. “Shit.” Finally he stands back up, and follows her into the ready room.

Yisai is laying on her side on her bunk, curled up into a ball and facing the wall. He can see one hand ticking away in haptics at something on her internal vox, but the other holds her legs tight to her chest as she hums to herself. The other pilots in the ready room don’t seem to acknowledge what’s going on, but there’s also no one sitting in that half of the room anymore as four Interceptors sit back down on the other side of the room. Luis walks over, and sits at one of the tables not too close to Yisai’s bunk, leaving her room. He takes a sighs, opens his mouth to say something then shakes it off again. After a long minute, he rubs his temple. “I’m sorry,” he says. For a moment, that’s all he can say. Yisai keeps working on her vox and humming tunelessly to herself. “Look, it’s not like we’re doing this because it’s dangerous. We’re not trying to get killed or anything. If we can do this with a chance, then we will but if we can’t we won’t.”
Yisai keeps humming and doesn't react at all; it's less like she's ignoring him and more like she can't hear him as she works away on the vox in her head.
Luis sighs. “So, what were you working on when I showed up? I thought that was the access panel for the flow recirculation couplings, but they’re just inside there, not that deep.” Nothing Luis says seems to get through to her, or even get the slightest reaction. Luis steps forward and carefully puts a hand on Yisai’s shoulder. “Yisai?” The humming suddenly intensifies in volume and she starts rocking back and forth, but no reply.
Luis steps back and triggers a vox to Arketta. “Hey babe, do you have a moment? I’ve screwed up with Yisai and I’m not sure what to do.”
"Sure thing," Arketta says. "I'll be right over."

A few minutes later, Arketta walks through the airlock to the ready room and gives Luis a hug. "Where is she?"
Luis points back towards Yisai’s bunk. “Over there. I was trying to find out about the Dantumi defenses and I think I pushed too hard. She won’t respond to me.”
Arketta looks past Luis and her jaw drops. "Masters above! What did you -" She rushes past Luis and puts a hand on Yisai's shoulder, but before she can say anything, Yisai starts rocking and humming louder again. Arketta gives Luis a hard look. "What did you do?"
“I was asking if she could teach me how to fly a Needleship, and she wanted to know why, so I told her,” Luis says. “She started telling me we’d never be able to do it, that it was too dangerous, and when I asked why she just kept getting more worked up until she walked out and came in here.”
"You scared her, Luis!" Arketta says. "And then you kept pushing her, no wonder she's so upset."
“I know,” Luis says. “But now she’s not listening to me, and I’m not sure what to say. I didn’t mean to scare her or get her worked up.”
Arketta looks back to Yisai. "Well, maybe she's not not listening, maybe she just can't hear you." She taps on her vox. "Message to Yisai. You all right in there, Yisai?" Another tap sends the vox message, and for a moment, the fluttering of her hand stops. She resumes just as quickly, and a moment later, Arketta's eyes light up. "She sent a response, one second." Arketta waves her holodisplay open and puts an arm around Luis so he can see too.
No, I am not all right, because you are going to do something too dangerous, something that will very likely get you all killed and that is too dangerous. You can't do either one. There are too many factors unaccounted for, and you will die. My friends will die.
Luis taps out a reply, forwarding it to Arketta’s vox and Yisai. We’re not going to die. If we can’t figure out a way to do this safely enough, then we won’t go.
Then there is no way, and now you can't go, Yisai quickly replies as she continues to hum and rock herself.
Yisai… Arketta shoots back just as quickly. No reply this time. Yisai, you know that I have been to Dantumi, and I know you have been there. The Khala'bat is not unbeatable. Garrett has an idea to use fake papers and disguises that match Needleship repair engineers. That should get us on the ship and in position to steal it, yes?
Perhaps, Yisai replies. The humming has gotten quieter. Tell me about your plan for the dockmaster.
We have a suggestion for taking the Needleship for a test flight, say that it's all we need to do and play on his sympathy to let us take it out, Arketta replies. He thinks it's less suspicious than just having it be ordered, since that requires more authorization, yes?
Yes, Yisai replies. She's stopped humming entirely and simply lies there for a moment, before she rolls over and sits up. Her forehead is completely smeared with blood, and it's all over her left ocular implant too, and it's mixed with a few tears.

Arketta gasps and takes a seat next to Yisai. "Yisai, you're bleeding."
"Still?" Yisai asks, and looks at her hand. "I guess I am." She looks over to Luis. "Can I have the can of sealant from the first aid kit, please?" she asks weakly.
Luis nods, and goes to grab it, along with another wipe. When he comes back he offers it over. “Sorry for scaring you,” he says.
Yisai takes the wipe and starts rubbing blood off of her forehead. "...it is all right."
Arketta takes the little spray can from Luis. "No, Yisai, it's not," she says, and gives Luis another hard look. "Luis was insensitive and kept pushing you when you were obviously afraid. That was mean, and he should be sorry."
Luis can’t quite meet Arketta’s eyes. “Yeah, I wasn’t thinking and I didn’t pay attention. I’m sorry for that, and I should be.”
Yisai nods. "Okay." She looks back to Arketta. "What is your plan for making it to the orbital once they realize that you are heading for it?"
“Shooting our way out is an option, but not a great one,” Luis says. “It’s a lot more likely to get us killed than I’d like, and relies on the ship being relatively combat-ready.”
"So," Arketta hastily adds, giving Luis yet another harsh glare, "we are using one of the ships onboard the Needleship, or our own Manta if we have to, as a distraction. Send it out with explosives on board, and blow it up as a distraction. Call it a Bashakra'i terrorist bombing. That should allow us to slip out."
Yisai nods. "If you are near enough to the orbital. You might want to position it near one of the Khala'bat accelerator nodes."
Arketta smiles. "Not a bad idea."
“Distracting, and hurts their ability to respond,” Luis says and smiles. “Not a bad idea at all.”
Yisai nods and gives a little smile. "I guess so. I do not have time to think of the other possibilities. Does Garrett Davis?"
“I think Garrett schemes in his sleep,” Luis says. “But this is a shorter timetable than we’ve tried before. If you could help us work on it, I’m sure any insights would be appreciated.”
"I will do what I can while I train you to fly a Needleship," Yisai replies.
“Thank you,” Luis says, and bows.
Yisai bows in return, but says nothing. Arketta gives the cut on her head a spritz with the canister, then puts a hand on Yisai's shoulder - that she doesn't shake off. "I think that maybe we should give Yisai a moment to feel better."
"No, that is not -" Yisai weakly protests.
“Yes, it’s a good idea,” Luis says. “It’s okay. Take some time to feel better, and then we can worry about training. You can’t be an Interceptor if you’re not yourself, you said that the other week about flying drunk or on stims. I scared you badly, even if I didn’t mean to, and you should take what time you need to be better.”
Yisai nods. "Okay." She stands up. "I will be with my ship when you are ready."

She walks off back into the hangar, and for the first time Luis sees that there's a few unfriendly looks coming his way from the other Interceptors on top of the one from the woman sitting next to him.
"What were you thinking?" Arketta hisses.
“I wasn’t,” Luis says. “I just keep seeing all those people they’re about to get killed and I have to do something and...I lost it a bit.”
"That is no excuse to run over your friend like that," Arketta scolds. "I know you have a hard time talking with her, so you should have been extra careful."
“Yeah, I know,” Luis says.
Arketta sighs, then wraps her arms around Luis. "There's nothing we can do for them. The only thing we can do is make sure the Narsai'i don't drag us down with the poor soldiers they're sending to die."
Luis sighs and relaxes into the hug. “Yeah. I just wish it was more.”
Arketta gives Luis a peck on the cheek. "We all do."
punkey 2013-09-15 21:48:52
Garrett eyes mini-holo projected by his vox into his vision for the zillionth time - time to go. The two days of prep were more like one due to travel and a mandatory rest on Eglennhart - Imperial travel regs for multiple system jumps - but the team was still ready. The engineer uniforms are pretty comfortable all told, the theater prosthesis and makeup less so - the protruding nose and prominent forehead Garrett is wearing pulls at the edges, and he's pretty sure the skin pigmentation cream Ngawai applied to his face with a smirk is more permanent than advertised. Their weapons and gear are more than concealed inside the boxes filling all space not taken up by humans in their Mantas, one flown by Luis and the other by Zaef. The dummy orders had held up against the cursory scrutiny from the systems they've flown through so far, but the real test is coming up. Garrett raps on the table to get the group's attention and nods towards the door; no other explanation is needed.


*Your authorization seems to be in order,* the Khala'bat intones at Luis and Zaef. *Proceed directly to the August Stalwart via approved vectors. Deviation from approved vectors will be immediately investigated. Understood?*

Both of them understand perfectly fine: Zaef, that "approved vectors" is code for "the long way around", and Luis simply lets the system beam the approved course into his eyes via his vox. The two Mantas fall into easy formation and engage their cruise engines. It's a good thing that only the pilots of each Manta can see what the situation in the Dantumi system is: Zaef's screen and Luis' eyes are lit up with thousands of contacts, all with Turai ID codes. Hundreds of platforms bristle with scanners and accelerators, and both Zaef and Luis can't help but notice that Ngawai wasn't wrong - sometimes at the edge of the Manta's magnification, sometimes right up close, both pilots can see at least two platforms tracking their Mantas with telephone-pole-sized accelerators at any moment. Looming overhead is the blue and dirty brown planet of Dantumi, and off to the right is its fortress moon, with an oversized speck of light nearby its dusty grey surface, stubbornly refusing to move with the background of stars: the Needleship drydock. A burst of cruise burn propels the Mantas off towards the drydock, a couple hours off.


The August Stalwart is just one of more than a dozen Needleships docked at the maintenance dock, the enormous circular station spiked with Needleships and the gantries required to do everything from an armor refit to a complete reactor swap. The two Mantas are tiny in comparison to the kilometer-long Needleships and the even larger station, the torus revealing itself to be skeletal and nearly completely hollow in order to make space for storing parts and supplies for Needleships inside its bulk. Enormous monotasks the size of freighters manipulate parts in and out of storage for tugs to maneuver into place on the waiting Needleships. The August Stalwart itself seems to be standing on end in relation to the rest of the station, docked parallel to the center axis of the station, and in comparison to some of the other Needleships, armor shielding removed and superstructure exposed, it looks almost complete. Not that that means it is complete, but in order to find that out, you'd need a spy.

Garrett's barking orders before both Mantas are fully on the ground. "You!" He points to one of the two maintenance techs in the massive hangar, who looks around like he's trying to find a place to hide. "Yes, you! Shit for brains! Status report!"
"Err..." he stutters. "What is your -"
"My name is Samal Swasa Vikethiem," Garrett barks, pointing to the bar on the shoulder of his jumpsuit. "Which means that I am your boss. Rav-Samal Operis is occupied off-system and I have been assigned to complete the refit of the August Stalwart, which I intend to do in record time for my fifth cousin once removed. Do you know who that is, Turai?"
The tech looks very, very confused. "...no, Samal?"
"Our glorious Emperor, Thrax Vikethan," Garrett bellows. It's a good thing the rest of the team is in the Mantas preparing to unload, because none of them manage to keep a straight face when Garrett spits out that line. "Now that someone with the guts to make the tough decisions is in charge, we should be ready as soon as possible for the coming strike against the Narsai'i, right?"
"Uh..." the tech replies.
"Right!" Garrett bellows. "So! Status report, Turai!"
"Yes, Samal," the tech replies, and waves up his holo. "Reactor is updated and online, armor is refitted, all essential ship systems are updated and online, but weapons and targeting have not been installed, and none of the automation is functional."
"Where are the weapons and targeting systems?" Garrett demands. "A Needleship without its armament is no better than a battering ram!"
"...right there, Samal," the tech says, and points to a stack of containers the size of a small apartment building. "They were delivered before Rav-Samal Operis left, we've just been waiting for another engineering quad."
Garrett stops cold for a moment as he looks at the huge crates of weapons tech. "...well, that's us!" he exclaims. "Good thing we're here now to take charge of this disaster. Where is your quad's Samal, Turai?"
"In the command deck, Samal," the tech replies.
"Take me to them!" Garrett commands. "The sooner we can complete the hand-off of command, the sooner things can get back on track."


While the rest of the team busies themselves in the hold with the unloading and setting up of the Mantas' cargo, Garrett, Luis and Arketta head up top with the poor Turai tech to meet the Samal. She seems to have been waiting for them, because when the door to the command deck opens she's already standing there, ocular implants glaring at them.
"Exactly what do you think you are doing, Samal Vikethiem?" she demands.
"My orders, Samal Hoan," Garrett replies, and flicks a copy of those "orders" to her vox. "Rav-Samal Operis asked us to run a full check on all systems and refit the weapons, which I intend to do as quickly as possible. My quad has been authorized to relieve you and your Turai of duty, so -"
"Let me read these orders before you chase me off of my ship," Hoan replies sharply. "And what was this spinkshit you were pushing on my Turai, this 'sixth cousin' line?"
"Fifth cousin, once removed, of the Emperor himself," Garrett corrects her.
Hoan's finger swipes at her side, scrolling through the dummy orders in her eyes. "So, you expect to be going places, Samal," she says.
"I would never be so presumptuous," Garrett replies.
"Of course, Samal." She twists her hand and refocuses her implants on Garrett. "Very well. Give us a half-hour to pack up and depart."
Garrett nods, and bows to her with the sign of the akwhela on his chest. "Many thanks, Samal."
Hoan returns the salute. "Good luck, Samal."


Down in the hold, Hugh is supervising the unloading of the last Manta when he hears the humming of impellers behind him.
"*Rav-Turai Koroest, what are you doing?*" a synthesized voice asks from the drone.
Hugh turns around to see a very custom-looking drone - on top of the usual dual-linked stingers, there's a whole array of sensory sconces mounted around it, and extra impellers to deal with the weight of sensors and armor. "Just unloading the Mantas," he mumbles.
"*What are you unloading, Rav-Turai?*" the Khala'bat asks.
"Equipment, tools...you know, what we need for the job," Hugh mumbles back. His big fake beard is itchy, but he controls the urge to scratch it.
The drone bobs and hovers to look at the whole team. "*Your orders are to finish the refit of the August Stalwart prior to its return to Kamda, yes?*"
"That's right," Hugh mutters.
"*Then where are your tools and equipment for the main accelerator?*" the Khala'bat asks, turning its "face" to Hugh. "*There are no envirosuits for working in vacuum here, and the tooling for removing and refitting the shroud and barrel would not fit in your Mantas at all.*"
It's fortunate Hugh decided Rav-Turai Koroest wasn't big on eye contact before, because it saves him from having to look away to think of a response. "...it's coming on a later transport," Hugh mutters back. "Like you said, it wouldn't fit."
The drone bobs around the team for a few more seconds, making sure to catch a face-on look at everyone. Weapons are subtly reached for as the tension ramps up, before the drone returns to Hugh. "*Acceptable. Apologies, Rav-Turai Koroest. There will be another inspection in six hours to check your progress.*" The drone hovers off to another part of the ship as the team exhales.
Hugh shakes his head and gets back to work. Too fucking close.


By the time all the crates are unloaded, Samal Hoan and her people are already onboard their transport and flying out. The August Stalwart still has an almost full complement of transports, Mantas and Interceptors, so there's plenty of options for Hunter on what to load up with explosives - if they can get clearance to fly this crate out of dock. Up in the command deck, Luis is jacked into the Needleship and gives the all-clear from his systems check, so Garrett gets on the dock vox channel.
"Needleship dock control, this is August Stalwart," he says as the main holodisplay shows the traffic around them.
"August Stalwart, go ahead," the dockmaster replies.
"My quad has gone over the ship and it looks like we'll get done with most of our checklist ahead of schedule," Garrett says. "We didn't file for a test run beforehand, but it is on our orders, and we were hoping that you could give us clearance anyway for a run around the orbital and back, just to see how the basics are working and save us a day of sitting on the station with our heads up our asses."
"Not exactly an orthodox request, August Stalwart," the dockmaster says skeptically.
"We're not exactly fresh out of secondary instruction," Garrett replies. "My pilot's one of the best and he says this crate's ready to fly. We've got a party planned later on tonight, and you're invited. It's BYOB, but I figured I'd provide your contribution. There's a drone bringing it to your office now."
"Ah, yeah, I got it on my holo, one minute."

There's a pause as the dockmaster steps away from his vox setup, and Garrett looks over to Luis in his crasher, a fist-sized bundle of cables sticking out of the back of his head and his ocular implants staring straight ahead into nothing. "How's it going over there?"
“I’m it,” Luis says. “Didn’t even realize how big these things are before. Not like this.”
"The ship," Garrett asks. "How's the ship doing?"
“It feels like I’m missing a dozen hands,” Luis says. “The weapons are almost entirely offline and uninstalled. And there’s a lot of low-level stuff I’m having to do manually. It’s like having to think about breathing to keep it going.”
"Can you fly it?" Garrett asks.
“Yes,” Luis says. “Basic flight systems are functional, but we’re unarmed, and if we had to repel boarders or anything...well, let’s not.”
"Noted," Garrett replies.

The dockmaster comes back on the vox. "Aikoro'i brandy, expensive shit, too." There's a pause, but then Luis sees an alert flash in his perception of the star system: they've been given clearance to depart. "You've got your clearance, August Stalwart. Finish your checkouts before you depart, understood?"
Garrett smiles and claps his hands. "Understood, dock control. August Stalwart out." He looks over to Luis. "You ready to fly this beast?"
“Ready and able,” Luis says. “Primary systems checkouts completing now.”
Garrett nods, and connects back to the team's encrypted channel. "Show's all yours, Hunter and Zaef."


In the cockpit, space is at a premium as Swims-the-Black and Zaef are already on their backs, elbow-deep in the brains of the Manta. A couple dozen little optical splices and shunts need to be connected for Zaef's jury-rigged remote control system to work, and it's fiddly eye-straining work. Down in the hold, Hunter is gingerly - very gingerly - placing packages of C4 around the Manta's cruise engine and drive cores and wiring them together, gently shaping them to get something of a lensing effect and hopefully crack the shielding and housing on them both, adding a runaway fusion detonation to the explosive mix. It's a half-hour later before their job is done, and while Zaef takes a seat in the ersatz "pilot's seat" for the Manta and tests the controls and vox relay - and sighs in relief as everything checks out - Swims hustles up the stairs to the command deck. As the only one of the team that actually knows how to run a Needleship, it falls to him to take command on the run out of the system.

"Are we green?" Swims barks as he steps into the command deck.
“All flight systems to power, all checks complete. Board is green with the exception of weapons and some automated systems,” Luis says.
"Zaef, are you ready?" Swims asks.
"Just give the word," Zaef replies.
"Someone ask Hunter if he's ready," Swims barks.
"Hunter?" Garrett asks.
"Explosives are set and wired to Zaef's remote controls," Hunter replies.
"Good," Swims says as he walks over to the central holodisplay. "Luis, detach us from the dock and bring us about to a direct course for the orbital."
“Releasing moorings,” Luis says. After a moment, there’s a slight metallic noise of clamps releasing. “Clear to depart. Engines throttling up.” The holo shows the stars rotating as the Needleship spins around towards the orbital. To Luis, it feels like trying to do acrobatics at one-quarter speed, or trying to maneuver in zero-g while suspended in syrup. Everything's moving so ponderously, but there's still this enormous sense of power and thrust. If being an Interceptor felt nimble and fast, this is like being a Titan of Greek legend: slow, enormous, but powerful beyond compare - and this is without the weapons installed.
"Half-speed ahead," Swims barks.
“Half ahead, aye,” Luis says. The power deep inside him ramps up slowly but persistently at the demands of the engines. Even the reactors are slow to ramp up, but there’s an inevitability to their surge. Luis grins at the feeling of power - where an Interceptor wants to dance, to be a Needleship feels like nothing in the universe could get between you and where you’re going. Finally, it stabilizes. “Steady on course, speed half ahead.”
"Let's steal this crate," Swims says, his fur rolling a bright green.
"Yes sir, shipmaster," Garrett barks in reply with a big grin.

"*Samal Vikethiem, what are you doing?*" the Khala'bat demands over the vox.
"Just taking the August Stalwart on a test run," Garrett calmly replies. "We were cleared by the dockmaster, you should already have our authorization."
"*But you did not file a request for authorization through proper channels,*" the Khala'bat protests.
"Take it up with the dockmaster," Garrett replies. "We were given proper authorization to fly this beast, and we're taking it on the test run unless you can cite what regs we're breaking."
There is a pause from the Khala'bat. "*The dockmaster has final control over flight authorization,*" it replies. "*You are cleared to proceed - but do not deviate from your declared course, or punitive actions will be taken.*"
"We don't plan on it," Garrett replies, and the Khala'bat signs off of the channel. He - and the rest of the team - exhale.
"I knew a Kansat dock official like that once, very annoying," Swims grunts. "Garrett, how long until we are out of visual resolution range between Khala'bat platforms? I want that flying bomb out of my ship."
"Ten minutes," Garrett replies.
"Zaef, ten minutes to deployment," Swims orders. "Everyone else, sit tight."


The Manta glides out of the hold right on time. With its identification transponder disabled for the time being and it sitting in between the optical range of the Khala'bat platforms, it's effectively invisible, floating all on its own in space. Zaef's remote control rig is pretty similar to the one that was hacked together for the Akamu on Aikoro, but with the magnitudes of power greater range provided by the Needleship's vox broadcast equipment allowing Zaef to control it from nearly clear across the orbit of Dantumi if need be. The next few hours are both incredibly boring and vastly stressful, as the August Stalwart, now well and truly stolen, cruises gently towards the orbital Gateway.
A half-hour out, Swims-the-Black stands back up from the commander's chair. "Zaef, I think it's time we start this show."

Zaef replies with a grin and starts the Manta up. Soon, it’s booted up enough to start opening up the cruise engines, and he flicks on the transponder as the thrusters reach full power, juking the Manta around like a kid with a remote-control toy. “First-damn it!" he shouts. “Ap'da, ap'da! Someone’s hacked my controls!” Zaef leans away to shout at some imagined co-pilot. “Well, un-fuck these controls before we crash, you scrofa shit!”
"*Manta Tenja-Gemmu-3251, what is your situation?*" the Khala'bat inquires over the vox.
Zaef turns back and tries a somewhat calmer voice. “We’re attempting to regain control of the craft from an unknown hacker.” He takes a moment to place the ship on a straight path before sending it back into barely-controlled convulsions, punctuating it with another comm burst. “We’re, uh, not doing too well.”
"*Interceptors are being scrambled, Manta Tenja-Gemmu-3251,*" the Khala'bat replies. "*But your current heading will intersect Khala'bat platform 132-53-93. Adjust your course immediately.*"
Yes, I understand!” Zaef cries out before taking another jab at the hapless, nonexistent co-pilot. “Stop being a fucking doomsayer and get rid of that fucking signal!” There’s a few moments where the Manta veers off in a new direction, only to veer right back on the collision course. He doesn’t even bother shouting away from the receiver for the next burst. "Well, it’s not fucking working, you incompetent bootlicker! Try harder!"
"*You are twenty seconds from impact, Manta Tenja-Gemmu-3251, the platform will fire in self-preservation,*" the Khala'bat warns.
"Well fuck you too!" Zaef shouts in fear, a deep contrast from the smile on his face as he turns away again. "Do you want to fucking die?"
"*Ten seconds,*" the Khala'bat replies, and begins to count down.
Zaef keeps up the somewhat erratic course, swearing like a drunk fresh out of booze and hot women, up until the last few seconds, utters a soft “Fuck” into the receiver, straightens out the flight path, and slaps the big red button on his console at the last second, grinning wide and predatory.

Up on the command deck, Swims has turned the main holodisplay to track the "runaway" Manta, and when Zaef hits the button to detonate it, the white flash is so bright the sensors have to almost blind themselves to keep from being burnt out. An instant later, the detonation is over - and it's obvious that Hunter did one hell of a job wiring that Manta to blow. One whole half of the hundred-foot-long platform is missing, and the other half is slowly rotating away from its position, propelled by secondary detonations of ammunition and fuel inside its bulk. The whole system lights up on the big holo, and Luis' head and the command deck fill with dozens of different vox channels, all shouting about going to ready stations and emergency crews.
Swims-the-Black barks over all of that, though. "Luis, full speed and dial the orbital! Get us the fuck out of here!"
“Full throttle!” Luis shouts. The building power deep in his power core as he throttles up gives him something to focus on other than the blinding if momentary overload of his sensors and the chattering on the vox.
The massive dialing gantry on the Gateway springs into life, and punches out the first glyph on the orbital - and the Khala'bat instantly jumps onto the channel. "*August Stalwart, you are deviating from your stated flight plan and are initiating an illegal Gateway connection. Stand down and prepare to be boarded, or you will be destroyed.*"
"Time to jump!" Swims barks.
“Thirty seconds to dial! We’re a minute out,” Luis says, trying to coax more power out of his engines.
"Make it forty seconds!" Swims barks back. He waves a hand through the control airspace and puts the main channel on open broadcast. "This is Swims-the-Black of Task Force 815! We have taken command of the August Stalwart of Kamda! Commend the Turai that repaired this ship for their fine work, and tell Emperor Thrax Vikethan who stole one of the prides of his home planet! Thanks for the ship!" His fur rolls a odd mix of bright red and green in defiance and triumph.
"*All ships, attack and destroy the August Stalwart!*" the Khala'bat orders over the open channel. "*The 815 must not escape!*"
The accelerators on the Khala'bat platforms turn and fire, but aside from some rocking and judders, the weapons fire doesn't do much to the Needleship's brand new armor. Luis grimaces momentarily as the ship shudders then grins - an Interceptor is trained to dance around fire, but it seems the way of the Needleship is just bearing it with confidence that nothing can stop you.
The orbital Gateway flashes open just ahead of the Needleship's nose. "Luis! Time to jump!" Swims barks.
“Fifteen seconds!” Luis shouts back. Luis steadies the ship on course, throttles up to the engines to maximum redline power, and grins madly as the ship comes to full power with unstoppable force. The ship jerks momentarily under a last barrage of accelerator fire, but they’re wasted on the armor or scatter into space astern - the engines are unharmed and the ship barrels ahead. The Gate looms ahead, and the Stalwart plunges in. In a moment, it’s halfway through, and the Gate transport takes over as the ship vanishes at once. The Gate shuts off, leaving behind a bare ring as the backstop for the last few shots from the Khala’bat.
punkey 2013-09-16 00:17:32
Ten hours and a half-dozen jumps later (being a Needleship, it turns out, is a great way to get priority Gateway status), the August Stalwart finally gates into the dead star system that the Atea inhabits. The laughter and celebration of a successful mission well accomplished have worn off long ago, and at this point everyone's mostly looking forward to getting to shower and sleep in their own beds. Garrett, in particular, is looking forward to seeing someone, so much so that the instant the Needleship hits the Atea side of the Gateway, he opens a vox connection from his temporary bunk in the officer's quarters.

"Hey, lahna," Garrett says to his wife with a smile.
"Looks like the mission went off without a hitch, guess you didn't need me there after all," Ngawai cracks.
Garrett laughs. "I wouldn't go that far." His face goes more solemn. "Any news from Botane?"
"No - and I mean nothing at all," Ngawai says. "I'm with Bello in the intelligence offices, and all Cortex traffic from Botane has stopped. I guess that means the invasion is still going on."
"How long has Botane been silent?" Garrett asks.
"A little over six hours," Ngawai replies. "At least it's been that long. Perhaps they are putting up a fight."
Garrett sighs. "I can only hope so. It'll give them time to find a way off planet, maybe." Ngawai winces on the other side of the connection, and Garrett leans forward. "Are you all right, lahna?"
Ngawai releases the tension and sighs. "No, it is another damn false contraction. I have had three in the last hour and one just fifteen minutes ago, and my back is killing me -" A pissed-off look comes over her face. "First-damn it, I hope I didn't just - ooh, shit."
"What?" Garrett shouts. "What's going on?"
Ngawai looks up at Garrett with a shocked expression on her face. "I think the amniotic membrane just ruptured," she says. "It's time."
Garrett's eyes go wide. "We just entered the system, lahna. If I have to kidnap Zaef or Luis to do it, I'll be there in six hours."
Ngawai nods, still in shock. Next to her, the back of Bello's head enters the frame. "Ngawai, my dear, we have to get you to the medicae," Bello tells her. Ngawai just nods, her jaw still slack with shock.
"Bello! You tell them that I am going to be there, and to put her in the best fucking room you have!" Garrett shouts into his vox.
"Already done, Garrett," Bello says. "See you soon." The Bashakra'i waves the vox connection closed.

Garrett wastes no time hauling ass out of the officer's quarters and getting to the bridge. On the main holo, Brinai is talking with Luis and Swims-the-Black about where to park the enormous ship relative to Atea when Garrett bursts through the door. "Ngawai just went into labor while I was on my vox with her just now. I'm sorry, Brinai, but someone is getting in a Manta and flying me to Atea right the fuck now, or I will do it myself."
Brinai nods. "I understand. If Luis can stabilize the Needleship's orbit, I can send a crew of my own to move it closer."
Gatac 2013-09-16 00:23:06
"What are we standing around for?" Hugh barks. "This man needs to be with his wife right this fucking instant, let's move it, people!"
e of pi 2013-09-16 00:41:07
"Zaef, take one of the Mantas we didn't blow up and go," Luis says. "I'll be half an hour just getting us into a stable orbit, and Garrett needs to be gone well before then."
skullandscythe 2013-09-16 10:20:38
Zaef doesn't respond. Unless you count "leaps out of his crasher and dashes down the hall" as a response, in which case, yeah, he responds pretty emphatically.
punkey 2013-09-16 15:50:26
Swims-the-Black turns a bright shade of yellow at Garrett's announcement, and with a barked command to Luis to take over, he and Garrett barrel through the door back towards the hangar.


It's all Garrett can do to keep from bouncing off the walls of the Manta as Zaef blasts it across the interplanetary space between the Needleship and Atea. He settles for pacing the floor as he talks gently to Ngawai over vox, until Swims-the-Black wraps an arm around him and holds his best friend against his side with a gentle - but firm - order to stop pacing and stepping on everyone's feet and relax, much to the relief of the rest of the team in the Manta. Garrett stays glued to his vox, while the rest of the team spends the remaining hours in transit doing clerical duties, watching holos, and talking about anything that isn't the impending birth of Garrett and Ngawai's daughter while failing miserably to think about anything else.

The nervousness ramps up again as they approach the dock, and after hours of being trapped in a spaceship while a teammate/friend/wife is with the medicae, it's only the lack of floor space that keeps all the humans in the Manta from pacing at this point, with Swims focusing on his emotional exercises and trying to be the level-headed one in the spacecraft. At the docks, a Turai escort and a skimmer are waiting for them right outside the airlock, and as the group climbs aboard, Zaef tells the young Turai driver to get in the back seat or get out as he elbows his way into the driver's seat. Many traffic laws are broken on the way to the infirmary, but Zaef gets them there in record time.

Garrett practically falls out of the skimmer in the infirmary's parking, and he leads the charge through the halls of the infirmary, medicae and assistants diving out of the way. A woman in a medicae jumpsuit shouts Garrett's name as they approach the obstetrics ward, and he rushes over to her.
"Hello, I'm Medicae Vala, I'm your wife's -" she starts.
"How is Ngawai? How's Naloni?" Garrett demands.
"They're both fine, she's only dilated a couple centimeters and contractions are only every ten minutes -" Vala says.
"So she's not close yet," Garrett interrupts again.
"No, she's -" Vala tries to say.
"Can I see her?" Garrett asks. "Where is she?"
Swims clamps a hand on Garrett's shoulder again. "Garrett. Breathe. Let the medicae speak."
Garrett nods. "Sorry."
Vala nods appreciatively at both Garrett and Swims. "Your wife and daughter are fine," she explains. "Ngawai is resting comfortably at the moment, we haven't moved her to the birthing assist device yet. I'll take you to her, but the rest of you need to stay out here for the moment."
Garrett nods, then looks back at the group. "Thanks, guys. I'll be right out." He hugs Swims-the-Black. "I'm gonna be a father."
Swims returns the embrace as his fur shifts to a bright green and yellow. "I know, and you'll be great at it." He lets Garrett go and shoves him down the hall. "Now go!"
Garrett nods, and with one last big smile to the group, sprints down the hall to find his wife.


Garrett's expecting screaming and crying, medicae and assistants all hovering around Ngawai, but what he sees when he enters the room is...just her, in a bed, watching a holo on her lap. Garrett freezes when he sees her, but Ngawai just as quickly climbs out of bed and hurries across the floor to wrap her arms around him.
"Oh, Garrett, you made it," Ngawai says.
Garrett, still somewhat in shock, just manages to wrap his arms around Ngawai and spit out, "Uh-huh."
"Where is everyone else?" Ngawai asks.
"Out in the hall," Garrett says. "Luis is coming later."
"Good," Ngawai says. She pulls back and looks her husband in the eyes. "Hey. Look at me." Garrett directs his eyes towards hers. "We're going to have a daughter, a family. You and me." She gives Garrett a kiss. "I love you."
The kiss finally snaps Garrett out of his stupor of unreality, and he smiles back. "I love you, Ngawai."

Ngawai and Garrett both smile at each other as they hold one another for a few moments, before Ngawai lets go and heads back to the bed. "And now that you're here, we can move this show to Narsai."
"Yes," Garrett says, then shakes his head. "Wait, what?"
"Naloni is going to be Narsai'i," Ngawai says bluntly, "if I have to walk to Mesas Negras myself." She mashes the button to connect to her medicae as she grabs the bag they packed for this big day.
"Well, hold on a second -" Garrett protests.
"Medicae Vala, what do you need, Mrs. Holoni?" Vala asks over the room holo.
"I'm going to Narsai to have Naloni," Ngawai replies as she mutes Garrett with a hand smushed over his face. "Are you able to come with me?"
"Uh, I don't have clearance to -" Vala starts.
"The agreement between the Narsai'i and Bashakra'i allows for required medical personnel to accompany a patient during a medical emergency," Ngawai replies. "I am in labor, that is a medical emergency. Can you come?"
"Err, yes," Vala replies.
"Perfect," Ngawai says. "There is a medicae facility in Mesas Negras. Meet me at the Gateway in fifteen minutes."

Ngawai disconnects from Vala and looks back to Garrett. While she was shouting at her medicae, he thought about asking her if she's able to go, if she's sure this is safe, if she really wants to deal with all of this - and he knew the answer to all of those questions without even needing to ask them. So, when Ngawai looks back his way, he's already got her bag in his hands. "One condition," Garrett says. "You get in a wheelchair and I push you. It's a long walk, and I don't need you having a bad contraction and falling over. Agreed?"
Ngawai smirks. "Agreed."


As surprised as the rest of the team is, Garrett and Ngawai give them no chance to argue as they blast past them on the way to the parking area. The skimmer and wait at the Gateway area is easy enough, with Vala insisting on sticking an array of sensors to Ngawai as they wait. When the next Gateway to Narsai opens, the Narsai'i soldiers on the other side object at first, before Ngawai bellows the section, chapter and clause numbers of the Narsai'i-Bashakra'i accord at them through the pain of a contraction - and a few seconds later the iris rolls open and lets them through. It's a quick ride in a commandeered SUV to the door of the Mesas Negras research facility, and from there it's mere minutes before Ngawai is placed in a medicae infirmary room nearly identical to the one she had left forty-five minutes before.

And as before, Garrett stays inside with his wife as the rest of the group waits out in hallway. Swims-the-Black sits down and almost immediately starts to attempt to meditate, while Arketta does the opposite and nervously paces the hall.