Ask Which Can Eternal Lie - Act II: The City of Steel and Shadow

Discussion in 'Unknown Regions and Wild Space' started by The Storyteller, Jul 18, 2019.

  1. The Storyteller

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    THE PLANET AGORAX, THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO...


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    Chief Vecra Zaxary's steps echoed through the cavernous space that adjoined the Leader's throne room, walking between the tapered ceramacrete pillars that seemed to stretch on for kilometers in all directions. The chamber, Vecra knew, was meant to intimidate newcomers to the ziggurat; those coming to see the Leader in person had to traverse the space, and Vecra suspected that as they did, they were scrutinized by all manner of sensory equipment. The Leader would know more about his visitors by the time they reached the throne room than any physician or lover likely did.

    He would be learning about Vecra, at that very moment.

    Vecra tried not to think about it.

    At last, the Chief of the First Urban Pacification Legion reached a set of truly titanic doors, polished kiirium that more resembled a vault than the entrance to a leader's throne room. There was a hum, and Vecra stiffened as beams of yellow light played over him from four different directions. After several passes, they cut out, and the huge doors opened outward, completely silent on their hinges despite their size and weight.

    Collecting himself, Vecra took a deep breath and let it out, before entering the throne room.

    The chamber was almost as vast as the one he had passed through before, and decorated in a similar manner. The main differences were that the ceiling was much higher, and that, at the far end, Vecra could see a huge, stepped pyramidal structure, at the summit of which was a huge throne that all but dwarfed what looked like an armored figure sitting in it.

    Immediately, Vecra dropped to one knee, fist clenched over his hear and gaze averted to the nearly mirror-polished floor.

    "Hail! Leader Agorander! Whose Will the Stars Obey!"

    Just visible in the distance, the seated figure inclined his head, and a voice boomed out seemingly from everywhere at once.

    "Rise, Chief Vecra Zaxary. Come forward."

    The legionnaire did as he was instructed, rising to his feet and walking to the foot of the pyramid. Guarding the long flight of steps that rose to the summit were a pair of gold-plated Automatic Conquerors, Mark IIs like the ones Vecra had "commanded" out in the city streets. They stood to either side of the steps, but their cranial turrets swiveled to fix glowing photoreceptors on Vecra as he approached, and if he had attempted to climb the steps, Vecra was certain the robots would have gutted him like livestock before he made the first footfall, let alone the first landing.

    "I obey, Leader!"

    Vecra could not see clearly from where he was, but it seemed to him that the corner of seated figure's mouth quirked up in a small smile.

    "Indeed."

    Vecra did not dare remove his gaze from the figure at the pyramid's summit, but out of the corner of his eye, he could see small groups of people scattered throughout the throne room, all wearing the costumes of office. Vecra even recognized some of them; generals, admirals, high-ranking civil servants. One female Cathar Vecra recognized was Haflin Jentz, the chief administrator of a private off-world shipping corporation, a dying breed in the much-contracted and increasingly nationalized empire.

    "It is good that you have come." The enthroned figure continued. [color=FF6340]"In these disloyal times, it is good to see one who still counts himself among the forces of law and order. Now, you may take your place with the others, and we may begin."[/color]

    There was much about the situation that made Vecra uncomfortable, but the Leaders final words made the back of his neck prickle. Nevertheless, his arm shot out in the customary salute.

    "I obey, Leader!"

    Hesitating only a moment, Vecra turned and walked to the nearest of the small groups, which happened to be the one that contained Haflin. Taking his place among them, he stared up at the throne.

    As he watched, there was a buzz, and from the ceiling, hundreds of huge cathode displays descended, initially tuned to static. As they came to a stop a few meters above the floor, the static was replaced by a video image, one that a message in the corner of the screen proclaimed was live.

    And Vecra's blood ran cold, as he witnessed a scene he had presided over only a short time before, an overhead view of thousands of rioting citizens, slowly making their way toward an army of impassive military robots.

    "Witness." Intoned the Leader. "The consequences for rejecting the order I provide."

     
  2. Irma Kinton

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    IN HYPERSPACE, APPROACHING THE AGOR SYSTEM, PRESENT DAY...


    Irma Kinton, snubfighter jockey for hire and hyperspace pilot, stood on the bridge of the Museum of Aldera's Nica-class research ship, the Herodotus. Rather, she was standing on a box someone had had to find for her in order to reach the controls of the large vessel, but it was the principle of the thing.

    "Coming up on drop-out coordinates." She said, looking out at the swirling tunnel of hyperspace. "Um... comm, can you patch me through to the galleon?"

    "Yes ma'am!"

    Irma couldn't help but smile at the crewbeing, nodding. She wasn't used to just how professional the crew of the research ship was; after traveling with Tagal for so long, she was used to a much more casual, relaxed approach to discipline. The captain of the Herodotus, on the other hand, ran a tight ship; the Professor had told Irma that Captain Bartlett had originally served in the Royal Alderaanian Navy, which she believed.

    Professor Henry Tenxion's staff was considered separate from the ship's crew as were a few other groups on board, but that was a different story.

    "Steady as she goes, Pilot."

    Irma turned to see Captain Bartlett standing beside her, looking out at hyperspace. He was a small man, a human only about 1.5 meters tall, but had had a bearing and a personality that made him seem much larger than he was. The Tintinna smiled at him; she couldn't help but like the man, as did most of the crew, it seemed.

    "Aye sir. We'll be dropping out soon at the target system."

    "Pilot! You're connected!"

    Grinning, Irma spoke up.

    "Tagal! Skuld! You guys doing alright back there? We're coming up on the Agor System, should drop out just ahead of you."

    The passage through the Diktat's Veil nebula had been a harrowing one, with frequent stops in lonely, dust-choked system with young, unstable primaries that played merry hell with astrogation. Several times, Irma had been forced to amend her course projections to avoid obstacles that simply hadn't existed when her ancestor had first forged the route, centuries before. At each stop, the Herodotus had dropped navigation buoys, which would at least make the trip back out much easier.

    So it was hoped.


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  3. Skuld Stark

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    If the ship had been manned by any other team, they would have simply been another casualty marked in the astrogation list. But as it was, with the Professor's crew and Irma, along with Tagal in control of the Gorath Janteel Galleon The Hawkeye, Skuld played nothing more than second-in-command and spare eyes. Piloting was not her keenest skill with anything larger than her own freighter, but watching Irma's own ship in action brought on more ideas for more craft that she would just have to sketch out later.

    She still had her helm off, but a few hours back had taken a quick break to change back into her armor. There had been a few tense moments en route, particularly with stop and starts again, but it seemed the Gods had stayed on their side so far. But they had left a veritable trail of breadcrumbs along the way, so leaving the system had to be much easier.

    Possibly.

    "Ja, doing well," she commed in response, glancing back at Tagal. "We'll be right behind you."
    She glanced idly out the viewport, then the readings once more. So far so good... but this was different territory, who knew what was out there waiting for them. Even if the system was abandoned and neglected for centuries, that didn't necessarily mean things were any less risky. You just had to be prepared for what was next.

    Thank the Gods there were smarter people around. If it were just her manning this, they would have died several times over. Not that she would ever admit that to anyone other than herself. She gave a small self-depreciating grin at the thought. Nei.

    She was just along for the ride.

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  4. Tagal Saxon

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    Tagal gripped the railing tighter as he watched out the viewports.

    He knew that this was either going to go really well or really badly and there would be nothing he could do about it until it was almost too late. If they suddenly arrived in the midst of a ship graveyard they would have seconds to try and react accordingly to that and try and avoid being made a part of such a feature.

    The co-ordinates they had would get them there but there was nowhere near enough assurance, to his mind, that everything was actually going to be alright and they would arrive in the system in one piece. There was something about this danger, this uncertainty, that set his teeth on edge.

    And, for some reason, he loved it.

    There was a deep seated thrill to be felt here.

    "Agorax, ready or not, here we come." he responded to Irma and Skuld, "Let's make some history ladies!"


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  5. Irma Kinton

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    Irma, grinning and Tagal and Skuld's replies, nodded. Glancing at the readouts before her, she shifted her grip on the helm controls, taking in a deep breath and letting it out.

    "See you there! We'll be sending back telemetry in real time, make sure your helm is watching!"

    With that, Irma turned to the captain of the Herodotus.

    "Captain, we'll be coming out of hyperspace in approximately 1 minute."

    The Captain nodded, clasping his hands behind his back and beginning to give orders.

    "All hands! 1 minute and counting to realspace reversion! Assume deep survey protocol, all hands to your stations!"

    There was a chorus of "Aye sir!" from around the bridge, each followed by a status report from each individual station. The ship's huge twin sensor radomes were powered up, as were shields and weapons. In the hangar bays, probe droids were prepared for launching. All the activity the preceded arrival in an unknown system.

    And then, after a minute had elapsed, the blue tunnel of hyperspace vanished, replaced by starlines, and then stars as the ship reentered realspace. As it did, Irma breathed a sigh of relief, checking over readouts.

    "Ladies, gentlemen, we have arrived in the Agor system."

    There was a round of cheering and applause from the bridge crew, to which even the Captain contributed. Irma breathed a sigh of relief; they had made it this far, and that, she hoped, would be the hardest part.

    "Alright, people, let's not get sloppy." Said the Captain after a moment's pause. "Sensors, give me a readout on our surrounds. I don't want to hit anything just as we're clearing the reversion point. Also, any anomalies, or... hostiles. And make sure the telemetry feed to the Hawkeye is connected, they'll be following our route unless something happens."

    The crew sobered, and began carrying out their tasks, the huge sensor antennae sweeping the system for anything that might prove a hazard to navigation. This, Irma knew, would mostly be asteroids or wreckage from old spacecraft, stations or refuse dumps, but in this system could also be more "active" threats. Agorax, it was known, had possessed a formidable encirclement of defensive works, some of the strongest of their day. Whether any of it still functioned was anyone's guess; Irma guessed not, given how long it had been since any had challenged the walls of Agorax, but who could really say.

    "Steady as she goes, helm."

    Turning to the Captain, Irma gave a nod of affirmation, as well as agreement.

    "Ayes sir. Steady as she goes..."

    At the sensor station, there was the buzz of a warning.

    "Proximity alarm! Port side! Helm, advise turn 15 degrees for avoidance!"

    "Aye! Making my course 15 degrees to starboard! Range?"

    "1 kilometer!"

    Irma, along with the Captain and most of the bridge crew, turned to look out of the port side bridge viewports at the object that - by astrogational standards - was almost close enough to swap paint with them. Sure enough, Irma could see an oblong shape blotting out some of the stars, but it was only a shadow.

    The Captain frowned.

    "Get some lights on that thing."

    After only a moment, the beams of spotlights flashed out from the research ship to illuminate the object. When it was revealed, there was a collective gasp and low murmuring on the bridge. Irma, in particular, blinked in amazement.

    "That's...!"

    The Captain shook his head in amazement.

    "I never thought I'd see one... I didn't think anyone would ever see one again!"

    The spotlights played over the sleek, bronze-colored hull of an enormous, cigar-shaped craft, easily as long as the research ship. Small round portholes were set regularly along its length, and though one could imagine them brightly lit with hundreds of passengers behind them, now they were dark and forbidding. The nose of the craft was tapered to a graceful point, while at its stern, the great tubes of the powerful atomic fission engines were visible.

    Powerful, but long, long cold.

    "It's pristine!" Irma remarked, staring at the archaic spacecraft. "It's an actual radium galley, and it's pristine! How-"

    "Captain! New contacts detected! Stationary, no chance of collision, but... hells, sir..."

    Without prompting, the sensor tech tied their station into the bridge holoprojector, and an image flashed up. The Herodotus, it seemed, was at the center of a vast cloud of objects, objects which began to become recognizable by their shapes.

    Irma, upon realizing what they were, felt a sensation of cold horror begin to fill her.

    "They're all... they all were... trying to leave the system..."

    The Tintinna's hands trembled on the helm controls.

    "Oh good gods-!!"

    Suddenly, Irma felt a hand on her shoulder, and turned to see the Captain looking at her with a sympathetic expression. He shook his head.

    "Hold it together, pilot. We already figured we might find something like this. We'll get clear of it, and go on to Agorax. And on the next expedition..."

    The Captain look out at the derelict passenger liner, and shuddered.

    "We'll do something for these people."

    Irma nodded slowly, and taking a deep, shuddering breath, pressed on. After a few minutes, the research ship cleared the grisly flotilla. Those ships were the "survivors" of Agorander's final madness; vessels that had escaped from Agorax, only to be trapped in the system when the navigation beacons that made hyperspace travel possible in those days were destroyed. Unable to return to Agorax, and unable to leave the system, they had stayed where they were, eventually running out of the consumables that kept their crews and passengers alive.

    "Galleon Hawkeye, be advised." The Tintinna commed to Tagal and Skuld. "There are a number of derelicts immediately past the reversion point. Don't, uh... don't look too closely at them."

    Irma looked ahead, to the huge, luminous globe of the planet Agorax, hanging against the backdrop of the nebula at the center of which it sat. A feeling of unfathomable dread crawled over her, but she held her course.

    Terrible things had happened here...


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  6. Skuld Stark

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    Skuld frowned at the last message, black brows denting over icy blue eyes, leaning forward to man her own controls as first mate. Though Tagal was a suitable pilot, they both worked well enough together that, as it left hyperspace into the conversion of space view, it seemed flawless, into clear space, and she did not find any readings of anomalies. At first, readouts seemed normal... too normal. But within the span of a few moments, she knew exactly what Irma was getting at.

    Gritting her teeth, she did not look away. Such still bodies of these astro navigational behemoths filled her with both amazement... and a bitter taste of grim acknowledgement. It took some maneuverability from both sides of the cockpit to clear from some of this field; but she would not admit some part of her was not filled with sorrow for the suffering so many had to have languished in. What had happened here, to make them flee so?

    What was the true downfall of Agorax?

    She exhaled quietly through her teeth, fingers tightening on the navcom surface. The readouts kept registering closer and closer to their goal planet. Several spacecraft she had only remotely heard of in dusty history texts popped up now and again, and she refused to look away.

    She would not relax until they were at their destination.

    Or definitely after. Far away, splitting drinks and enjoying respite. She had a gut feeling this was only the beginning of a very, very long adventure. Agorax loomed ahead, gleaming like a taste of promise.

    The eyes could lie so well.

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  7. Tagal Saxon

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    It was probably a bad thing but... Tagal really didn't care.

    There was no emotional response to the sight of the thousands of dead beings trapped inside their old spaceships. Maybe it was a byproduct of his upbringing as a Mandalorian but, as a rule, Tagal found it hard to empathize with people he didn't know and care about when they were alive. These long dead strangers?

    Tagal really didn't care.

    All he cared about was making sure his ship, and the people he cared about, didn't end up in danger. He gripped the controls tightly as he guided the Galleon onwards.

    "Just to break the ice a little..." he spoke with a frown, "There's nothing to stop us actually making good on an escape if we need to, right?"

    He didn't want to be stuck here like these long dead fools.


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  8. Irma Kinton

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    As they approached the orbit of Agorax, Irma kept up her visual scanning, looking around at the space surrounding the planet. Inevitably, however, her gaze was drawn to Agorax itself.

    It presented an amazing vista, if more than a little unsettling, especially if one thought about its implications.

    Agorax, it was known, had been an ecumenopolis, a planet-encompassing urban complex much like Coruscant or Alsakan, although unlike those worlds it had been built up almost entirely from scratch. Although at this distance it was hard to pick out all but the very largest individual structures, and not at all possible to evaluate their condition, the layout of the city was easy to discern. Agorander had built on a truly gargantuan scale, but by far the largest, most visible things on Agorax was its surface transportation network. Huge belts of highways crisscrossed the mostly grey cityscape, stretching from pole to pole, connecting hemispheres and districts. Such roads were rare on modern city-worlds; repulsorcraft had made traffic patterns vertical; in Agorander's day, however, such technology had been rare, and groundcars still dominated. Such vehicles were rare now, relegated to technologically backward planets on the fringes of Galactic society; Irma had trouble picturing such incomprehensible numbers of them as to justify such roads.

    Of course the roads unsettled her in other ways. To Irma, they resembled huge, pale scars, evidence of old wounds...

    Tagal spoke, then, and Irma was snapped out of her musings. She replied.

    "That won't be a problem." She reassured. "We have navicomputers, and a course we've already laid out. Ships back in Agorander's day didn't have any such thing; a navicomputer then was the size of a light freighter, and cost enough to bankrupt a small planet. Military ships had them, maybe, but civilian ships relied on astrogational beacon networks to find their way."

    She smiled.

    "We don't have that limitation."

    As she spoke, Irma adjusted her glasses, noticing an object transiting across the face of Agorax. It was oblong, too small to be a moon...

    Before the Tintinna could say anything, the sensor operator spoke up.

    "Sensors indicate passage of Defense Station Aurek, as projected. Picking up no sensor beams from the station, minimal power signatures... consistent with a fission pile in long-term standby mode."

    Irma breathed a sigh of relief. Agorax, so the ancient accounts claimed, was ringed by a nigh-impenetrable defense network, anchored by a constellation of orbital fortresses. The fortresses, built into nickel-kiirium asteroids and bristling with ancient anti-ship weapons, were supposed to be automated, and Irma had feared that they might still be functional, even after all this time. Her ancestor's notes, however, indicated that at least one station - Defense Station Aurek - had been struck by a large object of some kind, and was inert. This would theoretically put a significant hole in the defense grid, one that was large and predictable enough that a few fairly large ships could get through without being noticed.

    "I'm taking us in. Hawkeye, trace my course and speed for your approach."

    The Captain straightened his peaked cap, and nodded.

    "Steady as she goes, helm. Hangar bays, prepare to deploy probe droids once we reach low orbit."

    Agorax loomed larger and larger, and as it did, Irma fought back an unreasoning dread, keeping the ship on course. After a few tense minutes, the Herodotus had cleared the defense grid, and entered low orbit above the planet.

    As Irma eased the ship into position, the turbolift doors swished open, and Professor Henry Tenxion, leader of the scientific expedition, strode onto the bridge, walking up beside Irma and looking out of the forward view-ports with crossed arms.

    "Magnificent!"

    As Irma flew, yellow canisters appeared, spreading away from the ship. The flares of the probe droids' reentries into the atmosphere of Agorax put on a light-show as they scattered themselves across the world below. In spite of herself, Irma smiled.

    "We're probably the first people to see this view in centuries..." She replied. "...I'll admit, it does seem... strange, to me."

    Henry merely nodded.

    The next few minutes passed in relative silence. The Herodotus' powerful scanners swept the planet below, and as they collected data, Irma noticed a deeper and deeper expression of confusion forming on the operator's face.

    "Well I'll be damned..."

    Irma, the Captain, Henry, and most of the bridge crew turned to the sensor tech with raised eyebrows.

    "Th-These readings... they're not what we predicted at all." The tech clarified. "Based on what we know of ecumenopoleis that have been cut off from their supply lines for any significant length of time, we should be looking at rubble, for the most part. There would have been a major population die-off, and even if that didn't turn violent, things would have started to fall apart from simple neglect within a few decades."

    Irma furrowed her eyebrows.

    "So... what are we seeing instead?"

    The sensor tech turned back to the scope, shaking their head.

    "Well, the buildings haven't fallen down, for one thing." The tech replied. "For another thing, there's power down there. Not much, not like you would expect to see for a planet like Coruscant or Alsakan or Taris, but... present. It's like the whole place is in standby mode. No conspicuous usage, no real comm traffic, just... waiting."

    The tech shook there head again.

    "And before you ask, no life signs. Or not many, not more than you couldn't explain as trees in the parks, or vermin in the sewers. There are no higher forms of life."

    Irma felt that familiar dread rear up.

    "Well I'm officially creeped out..."

    There was a murmuring from the rest of the bridge crew, before Henry spoke up.

    "What about places to land."

    Irma stared at the archaeologist, blinking. So did the sensor tech for a few moments, before it apparently dawned on them that he was serious.

    "Um... there's what looks like a major spaceport in the equatorial region, coming up." The tech replied. "Do you really want to land, sir? Maybe we should wait to hear back from the probe droi-"

    "Captain, I request that you take us down. The sooner we're on the surface, the sooner we can get started."

    Irma blinked, and the Captain visibly bristled. After a moment's pause, however, he turned to Irma and nodded reluctantly.

    "Set your course for the spaceport, helm."

    Biting her lip uncertainly, Irma stared at the planet below. The streets, she noted, looked like unnaturally shadowed valleys, places where evil dwelt in old, old stories...

    "...yes sir."

    She angled the ship, and it began its descent into the atmosphere of long lost Agorax...


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  9. Skuld Stark

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    It was a bit difficult to manage the Galleon after the Tintinna's piloting skills, but they would make do. Readouts were strange, but considering what she had been briefed by the tech, she was merely dully surprised at just how truly advanced they were for their time. It was when they came closer to the planet that the massive sheer scale of the city really impacted, and she clenched her jaw.

    Kark, she loathed cities. What was creepy about it wasn't the fact that it was so massive. It seemed so massive and... untouched. She loathed cities, but this was another layer. When they were patched through to trace after, she knew she said something in assent, but her eyes were focused on the strange readouts following after the Herodotus, including the strange lack of ruins. Weren't long abandoned places meant to be falling to pieces on some scale? But all seemed still.

    It almost felt as though she were standing before a wampa cave once more, and hearing the distant panting of the beast in its' cave. It was a view into darkness, an awareness that something was not quite right, and yet there was a small edge of elation, anticipation even. This was uncharted territory, a long-lost civilization that was cut off at its' peak without any true information to hint as to why.

    Though, she wasn't being compensated to ask for why.

    It was the sudden course change that made her perk a black brow, patching through to the Herodotus when she had a visual of the ship suddenly tracking west. "All's well?" she quipped, icy eyes glinting. Perhaps this wasn't a willing move... but why were they landing before learning if it was truly safe to land or not?


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  10. Tagal Saxon

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    Irma was coming in to land.

    Tagal had been along for the ride so far with no questions asked but one question he was going to ask was simple; why the hell were they coming in to land? The planet was clearly a city planet and it was... remarkably well maintained for a planet that had been 'dead' for centuries. There was something in the back of his mind, an instinct, that told him that this planet wasn't as dead as the archaeologists thought and it was far less dead than he had hoped.

    Growling a little bit, he shook his head.

    "Bridge crew, take control." he ordered as he stood, "Follow Irma but do NOT land. Stay in hovering position; actively scan and be prepared to provide fire support. Skuld? With me."

    Taking his leave of the bridge, Tagal made his way to the hanger bay. They had some fighters there and he was much more comfortable landing in a duo of basic fighters than he was in parking their bloody galleon on some half-dead half-not planet.

    "Irma, Skuld and I will be taking fighters. The Galleon is to stay on overwatch in lower orbit in case we need an extraction or to bring down fire. Expect us at the landing zone." he sent via the coms before muting them to speak to Skuld as he climbed into one of the fighters, "I have a bad feeling about this, Ice Brain."

    Launching from the hanger bay, Tagal did a lazy swing around the galleon as he observed the planet he found himself on. The planet was almost something of a mechanical deity to see and if it was? Well that would mean he hadn't brought enough explosives for the level of shite they were in.


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  11. Irma Kinton

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    The atmosphere of the "dead" world buffeted the huge research ship as it descended. Nica-class vessels were large, and while they were equipped to land on a planetary surface, it generally was not something that was expected of them. In the course of most expeditions, the vessel acted as a mother-ship, remaining in orbit while its compliment of shuttles and probe droids supported operations on the surface of whatever planet or moon or other astronomical object was under investigation.

    "Professor, you're absolutely certain the shuttles couldn't be used to, well, shuttle the material to the surface in stages?" Asked the Captain. "I signed off on this plan, I know, but-"

    The Professor shook his head, giving a sigh.

    "We have a limited time-scale, and I want to waste as little of it as possible." Replied Henry, looking out at the looming cityscape that was becoming increasingly distinct as the research ship descended. "If we land the ship, we an unload the vehicles and the prefab structures straight from the cargo bay, no messing around with loading and unloading shuttles."

    Irma spoke up, a little shyly.

    "He's... not wrong, I guess." She said, looking out at the strange urban terrain. "It will be faster... and the museum did only give us a month or so for our initial survey."

    She turned to the Professor.

    "Are you... sure they'll go along with this, though?" She continued. "The museum only specifically authorized a small base camp, not... a small town."

    Over the course of a few days, Irma had learned the true scope of the expedition Professor Henry Tenxion had organized. The cargo hold of the research ship was loaded down with vehicles, prefabricated buildings and other equipment, everything that would be necessary to establish not just a temporary base camp, but a massive, semi-permanent outpost.

    "They will thank me for it later." Assured the Professor. "This is, as you assured the Director, possibly the most important archaeological discovery of the age! After this first wave, the public and the museum's patrons will cry out for a permanent base, and we'll have already built one. Although..."

    The Professor stared out at the cityscape. The buildings were mostly grey and silver, finned and flanged spires from a lost age reaching for the heavens, a global monument to the will that had seen them built.

    "...frankly, I had expected we would have to build it on rubble. This is all amazingly preserved! Just... magnificent!"

    The Herodotus swooped lower over the spires, and eventually, the vast, flat expanse of a spaceport loomed ahead. Carefully, Irma set up her approach, not that she had a shortage of places to land; the complex had been designed to accommodate the great rocket liners of its day, and the terminal was but an island in a vast, gleaming permacrete sea.

    "Making my approach... we'll set down near that structure."

    Floating on repulsorlifts, the Herodotus eased down onto the permacrete, heavy landing gear extended. There was the slightest of bumps, and after a tense moment, Irma removed her hands from the controls and emitted a relieved sigh.

    "...we're down."

    Normally upon such an announcement, there would be a round of applause on the bridge; landing on a new world - or one long lost - was a momentous occasion, and was often celebrated. Instead, however, there was a collective sigh of relief, although it seemed to do nothing to relieve the tension that had built up on the bridge. There was a long, slightly awkward pause, and then finally the Professor spoke.

    "Well, then." Said Henry, rubbing his hands together. "Let us see just what wonders the past has left for us to find here, shall we? Captain, Miss Kinton..."

    The Professor gestured aft, and the two others nodded, following him off the bridge to the nearest airlock, and to the surface of the mysterious world...


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  12. Skuld Stark

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    Honestly, Skuld was bothered by all of it. So much of it felt and breathed like a trap... and it seemed Tagal had caught on to that same instinct. She was certain Irma, nor the Captain, had cleared orders for the Herodotus to land... which of course rationally left one person, the one person that should have been rational and cautious.

    Her internal hackles raised slightly. As bridge crew took over, she unbuckled and hurried after him, strides long and head held high. "Ja, Tag," she quipped lightly, not minding in the least that he was acting command. For now, of course, only for now. Later would be a different story. Besides, this was more his domain; fighters and galleons under fire. Give her her ax and an army to conquer on the ground, and she would slay them all. The ultimate irony of a ship engineer was that she was not the world's greatest pilot... but she could make a damned fine ship for one.

    She leapt nimbly into her own ship, slipping her helm on when she was settled, her comm patching through to him. "Ja, me too malmhaus. But best for two of us to be on guard than one; I'll follow."

    Once out of the hangar and above the cityscape, icy eyes tracked the dully gleaming ecumenopolis, careful to keep to Tag's left flank at a comfortable distance as they circled the galleon. She frowned absently, and yet, the fine hairs on the back of her neck raised.

    Despite the deadness of the atmosphere, despite all absence of any truly spectacular life readings... she could almost swear it was like being watched. But not by one individual, but as if the entire planet held its' breath. Waiting for the next move of the expedition team to investigate, perhaps.

    Well, Coruscant wasn't built in a day, but Agorax seemingly seemed to no longer exist in one. If that wasn't karked by some God's twisted sense of a blessing, what was?

    And why did her instincts tell her it was a terrible idea to land anywhere near the coordinates of the Herodotus?

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  13. Tagal Saxon

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    Did he want to land?

    No.

    Did he think he would regret leaving Irma down there alone with nothing but wannabee scientists and treasure hunters?

    Absolutely.

    Cursing the fact that he had ever wanted to make any kind of friends to begin with considering what kind of messes they dragged him into, Tagal began his landing approach. Landing a short distance ahead of the landing ramp of the science ship, Tagal made sure to do some last minute checks.

    The readings all said that the atmosphere was breathable and the conditions were rather mild but it was better to be safe than sorry. He checked them again before nodding to himself. Making sure he was armed with all of his regular weapons, Tagal popped the hatch of the fighter and climbed down.

    He glanced between Irma and the emerging scientist types and Skuld.

    Then he drew his pistol.

    "What are the chances of automated defenses?"


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  14. Irma Kinton

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    The weight of age hung heavy indeed on Agorax, and even before the hatch had opened, Irma could feel it. When it did open, and the first gust of dry outside air wafted into the airlock, the Tintinna imagined she could smell it on the air, even though the air in reality seemed only clean and pleasantly warm. Irma sensed a strange tension in the air, an ambience that felt heavy, almost sticky...

    It made her skin crawl, and put her on edge.

    "Well, Miss Kinton... you brought us here, I think you've earned the honor of being the first to step foot!"

    Irma blinked, snapped from her reverie. She looked up at the Professor, who smiled back at her, gesturing to the boarding ramp that extended down to the permacrete.

    "W-What? Oh! Um... thank you!"

    Taking a deep breath and letting it out, the Tintinna stepped onto the ramp. The small claws of her bare paws clicked on the metal, and eventually, she stepped onto the ground.

    Irma had only taken a few steps across the remarkably smooth surface before she nearly toppled. A profoundly oily sensation seemed to envelope her, and she stumbled, but caught herself. The sensation quickly faded, although not completely.

    It would not fade completely until the little Tintinna finally left the planet. And its memory would linger with Irma for the rest of her days.

    Behind her, the Captain and the Professor descended the ramp. The Captain placed a concerned hand on Irma's shoulder, studying the Tintinna.

    "Are you feeling alright, Pilot?"

    Irma, having mostly recovered, shook her head.

    "I'm alright... did either of you feel a... shock, when you stepped off the ramp?"

    The Captain and the Professor, who had walked up next to Irma, looked at each other, and both shook their heads.

    Irma straightened, collecting herself. Before she could say anything, however, Tagal and Skuld's ships came down, settling on their landing gear not far away. Irma brightened to see her friends as they emerged, and waved to them, forgetting all about what she had just felt. She was about to call a greeting, when Tagal drew his pistol, looking around warily. It caused the Professor and Captain, as well as several other personnel descending the ramp, to flinch, but Irma replied to his question.

    "I... don't think there'll be anything we have to worry about." She explained, glancing around. "If there were, they probably would have started shooting at us as soon as we started our landing approach. And besides, I doubt much of the automation in general still-"

    There was a sound from nearby, and everyone turned to look.

    From the shadow of a nearby out-building, a humanoid figure emerged. It was a droid, indeed, it was the oldest droid Irma had ever seen, a relic of a more primitive age of automation; its limbs were slender, and it had a large, strangely sculpted head, with a prominent vocabulator grill and a pair of antennae sticking up from protrusions on its temples. It walked stiffly, the sun glinting off its metallic casing. It was pushing a hand truck loaded with small crates, and as Irma and the others watched, it strode closer and closer...

    ...and then, strode right past.

    The droid ignored the group completely, only diverting its course long enough to go around the landing gear of the science ship, before it reached a door in the nearby terminal. It paused for a moment, uttered an electronic sound that made everyone watching jump, the door opened for it and it disappeared inside.

    Irma blinked in confusion, turning back to the others.

    "Okay, so... I was wrong about the automation, apparently."

    The Professor, staring after the droid, shook his head.

    "Amazing!"


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  15. Skuld Stark

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    Skuld reluctantly touched down; judging by Tag's body language, he was just as enthusiastic. She did not withdraw anything outright... but her hand remained on her ax handle, ready to withdraw and fight at a moment's notice. The air seemed both heavy and still, and the feeling of being watched did not quite fade. Instead, it intensified, and she had to check herself from looking all around them, but icy blue eyes glanced at all vantage points for possible...

    Possible what? Snipers from above? Ghosts to rattle old chains?

    She knew it had to be ridiculous, but there had been stories of old monoliths still functioning as well as the day the were abandoned. Old ghost ships still running perfectly without a living hand to guide them... who said an abandoned planet also didn't have that strange power of immortal autonomy?

    So call her an old superstitious Deucalian, but there was a reason she survived this long, and it wasn't for luck or smarts. She nodded briefly to Irma, and some of the tension seeped from her shoulders. However, all went silent as the ancient droid slowly shuffled past.

    Her shoulders twitched briefly at the thing beeping.

    This was why she was on edge. Nothing that was claimed to be dead would be absolutely dead, non-functional, ceasing to be extant if it had an ax buried in its' circuits. She glanced sideways at Tagal, but since no shots were given, she exhaled only slightly. The other hand gripping at her belt where her blaster hung did not slack, however, and she slated an annoyed glance at the Professor at his exclamation.

    "Ja. One way to put it," she rumbled, scowling unseen.

    "Be careful; I do not think it is as dead as ve think." With that spoken, she glanced about, and internally sighed.

    She had a bad feeling about this, and it had nothing to do with the stale air that pressed around them.

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  16. Tagal Saxon

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    Tagal hated this planet already.

    Everything in his instincts screamed at him that he was in danger while his head tried to assure himself that there was no way there could actually be any danger. In the end though, even his head was against this place. There was a certain level of paranoia present in Tagal Saxon's mind that might have seemed unjustified in the minds of others.

    Not in the mind of someone who had been attacked by half-dead things in some random castle.

    Not in the mind of someone who had every reason to suspect that everything here was going to kill him; droids were something he didn't trust NOT to go insane. His hand gripped his pistol tighter but he mastered himself and didn't shoot immediately at the droid that appeared.

    He did, however, glare at Irma.

    "Do us all a favor?" he snapped, "Don't think anything about this graveyard until you've had enough chance for it to prove itself as useless as a no-armed protocol droid. And you lot? Unless your degrees are blaster-proof, you step the kark back and you let me go first."

    Yes, he volunteered to go first.

    Did he hate the very idea of advancing into this place? Yes. Did he think that it was probably, somehow, still the right option to take all things considered?

    Absolutely.

    Holstering his pistol, he instead drew his blaster rifle and held it at the ready as he advanced through the open doors. His rifle was up and ready but he kept his finger slightly away from the trigger.


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  17. Irma Kinton

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    Irma stared after the droid, her gaze shifting to the looming facade of the spaceport terminal it had entered. The structure was imposing, and though obviously weathered, it had the look of a structure that had been maintained, and not simply abandoned to the elements. The sun glinted off its windows, the clouds reflected in them, their passage the only sign of movement that the Tintinna could see.

    Turning, she saw Tagal glaring at her, and shrank slightly.

    "Sorry..."

    The Professor, meanwhile, gave a shrug.

    "I agree with Miss Kinton's earlier assessment, frankly; if there were anything threatening here, it would have tried to shoot us down before we landed!"

    "That is
    unless they lost that ability somehow, and had to wait until we landed, Professor."

    "But-!"


    As if to emphasize what he said, the Captain drew a small blaster pistol, clicking off the safety. Turning to Tagal, he nodded.

    "Mister Saxon, Miss Stark, lead the way."

    Irma, suddenly feeling somewhat exposed without the comforting presence of her own weapon, fell in behind Tagal and Skuld. The group made their way toward the terminal, and passed through an open doorway. After traveling through a brief, dimly lit corridor, they emerged in a space that caused Irma to gasp slightly.

    The terminal concourse, like everything else on Agorax, had been built on a monolithic scale. The floor was a greenish, clouded crystalline material, polished to a reflective shine, whereas the walls were bare duracrete, sculpted into a vaulted ceiling high above. A bank of huge windows, looking out on the spaceport grounds, would have given passengers a view of the huge passenger rockets as they taxied or were moved on their gantries to the various gates, or moved out to the designated blastoff areas, huge banked pits that Irma had seen on her approach. The decor was in an ancient, angular style, one that seemed to glory in geometric shapes and patterns, but which took every opportunity to round corners, and give the appearance of sleek streamlining.

    Thousand, perhaps millions of passengers had once moved through this space every day, but there was no sign of them now. The building seemed as deserted as the outside.

    "Look!"

    Not far away, Irma spotted the droid from before. It was standing in front of a bank of vending machines, one of them opened up; the droid was removing bottles and plastic-wrapped packaged from it, feeding them into a waste disposal chute next to it. It finished the task quickly, and then reached over to the stack of crates on its hand-truck, which was nearby. Is Irma and the others watched, it began re-loading snacks, beverages and other items into the machine.

    "It's... restocking the vending machines?" Said the Captain, incredulously.

    The Professor shook his head, looking astonished as he watched.

    "After throwing out quite a lot of expired food, it looks like." He said. "This must be what it's programmed to do. It probably takes deliveries from somewhere in that out-building, brings the product here, and..."

    A large, boxy-looking machine rounded a corner. It rushed by the group, accompanied by the distinctive sounds of a floor-cleaner. In the machine's wake, the floor seemed just a little bit shinier than before.

    Staring after the machine, the Professor continued.

    "Of course. That explains it!"

    He turned rather excitedly to the others.

    "Agorax was more heavily mechanized than any other world of its day." He said, grinning. "It's kind of obvious. Whatever got rid of the population... it didn't effect the municipal automation! At least, not to the extent that it couldn't repair itself."

    He spread his arms.

    "There is an army of droids keeping this planet in tip-top shape. The computers don't care that there aren't any citizens; from their perspective it just makes their job easier, I bet!"

    He stared around.

    "A whole planet, running itself for thousands of years... probably repairing the ravages of time as they appeared... just... amazing!"

    The Captain looked skeptical.

    "Or, we happened to land on cleaning day." He said, looking around. "For all we know, a bunch of security guards will come around that corner any minute."


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  18. Skuld Stark

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    At least the Captain and Tagal had some sense. She withdrew her hands from her belt, instead securing her own rifle; if they were going to be in any shootout of a kind, at least it could be a shootout with a bit more oomph than a simple blaster could provide. Besides, being counterpoint was far easier than being a useless melee fighter. Her eyes flicked to the Captain then, and then Tagal, clenching her jaw in frustration at the others' almost blase attitude at the quietness of a planet.

    It didn't matter though, did it? They were here to observe, record and collect, of course a bunch of professor types would just ooze satisfaction over such a find, personal safeties bedamned. She knew Irma could handle herself... but the smaller being had earned the Deucalian's protective streak.

    She must have really been getting soft.

    She scowled at the thought.

    "Time to get out of open area," she muttered quickly, keeping her rifle lowered , but her expression watchful, wary.

    Miss Stark. For some reason, that thought dissolved some of her ire towards the Herodotus group, and her lips twitched in a faint smile. Soldiers and their manners always amused her, but the thought that she was still considered a miss was surprising to say the least.

    Her eyes immediately scanned the massive structure, left to right, up and down. Somehow, the thought of machines humming away, harvesting and processing and packaging food autonomously seemed more creepy than the thought of a truly dead monolithic planet. Machines that could self-sustain, and could perhaps even wait for one command, in the case of escape or evasion.

    She remembered the reports, rereading them when between jumps. But cold settled at the pit of her stomach at the thought.

    Intuitively, there was a thought, perhaps just waiting for an invasion command--

    She hoped she wasn't right, but just in case she jerked her head sideways, towards one of the structured walls. Time to get out of the open highway, to a better vantage point.

    Just in case the Captain was right, the safety was off. By the Andar, but the anticipation of spooky, abandoned places would probably do more damage to her heart than all her years of fighting.

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  19. Tagal Saxon

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    Why the hells did Irma always look like a kicked kitten when he told her off for anything or shouted at her for anything? It was damned unfair the way she just seemed to shrink down into himself and suddenly he felt like the biggest monster in twelve systems. As they made their way further into the place he sighed a little bit.

    When he spoke it was on direct coms to Skuld only.

    <<"Was I too harsh on Irma?">>

    He didn't like second guessing himself but he wasn't exactly known for his interpersonal relationship building. As a Mandalorian he was standoffish by nature - as a person he took that to an artform and he knew it. Tagal knew he hated to talk to people and that he had a way off angering people but he hoped he wasn't pushing Irma away. She was one of the few people in the Galaxy who had stuck around despite his attitude.

    She'd weathered his sarcasm, his anger and his impulsiveness so far.

    As they advanced, more about this place unfolded before them and the pieces started to fold into place. It became something that he could really perceive; a puzzle to be solved. He paused in his motions for a moment before looking back at some of the research team.

    "We need to find a control room or a communications room." he reasoned, "If there are droids and processes still active we will be able to see them via the consoles. If we find one of those rooms, we may have a chance at learning what those processes are and, maybe, how we can stop them."

    Maybe.


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  20. Irma Kinton

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    Irma stared at the droid reloading the vending machine, squeaking slightly as she dodged the floor cleaner that whizzed by. She stared around at the massive concourse, noting the signage at gates for various space lines that almost certainly no longer existed. She realized, dimly, that she had probably passed some of their craft stranded in the outer system.

    It made her shudder once more.

    "That's a good idea." The Tintinna replied to Tagal's suggestion. "I doubt we'll get the whole story out of just a place like this, but we'll probably get an idea, and we might be able to figure out where we have to go to figure things out."

    The Tintinna looked up at the signs that mostly hung from the ceiling. They weren't quite in Basic, but the script was something like Aurebesh, and it used a similar grammar and syntax from what she could tell. There were also simple pictographs that made things easier still.

    Irma pointed up a nearby flight of stairs.

    "There's something called 'operations' that way." The Tintinna pointed out. "Let's go check it out!"

    The Professor, grinning excitedly, rubbed his hands together. He turned to one of the other academics who had tagged along.

    "You, go back to the ship, tell them to start unloading while we have a look around." He instructed, looking around. "This area will make an ideal base camp!"


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