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Into the Fire

    It's been about a day since the Federated Civilizations ship Belvengeance laid a force-field beam on the TAG ship Indigo and commenced hauling her and her crew towards the star Gate that leads to Federation space. The crew of the Indigo, needless to say, are not pleased, despite having been encouraged to send pleasant and up-beat messages to their loved ones on Crossroads, before leaving. However, since receiving a coded, tight-beam message from the Belvengeance, in a voice which Doug identified as the Master's, they are sitting tight and waiting for further developments.

Vash has spent the night on the Recreation deck hitting a bag, mostly to kill time since he can't seem to sleep. It's too cold in his quarters, or too quiet, or something... it doesn't matter, at this point. His knuckles are raw and stinging, but he's achieved his goal of losing track of time for the moment. Sakura also looks like she didn't sleep at all last night. She's sitting on the floor of the library. Her datapad is sitting in front of her, with a book on Zen loaded. She is sitting half-lotus with her eyes closed and appears to be meditating...

Douglas himself simply hasn't been sleeping well at all. His tail twitches a little more than usual, and despite settling into a quiet, if frustrated, acceptance of their current situation, the uncertainty of the future leads him to additional frustration. Occupying his time with reacquainting himself with Gate drive operations and astronautics has been singularly unhelpful; he's spotted mistakes in his practice work, but at least he's so far avoided clawing anything.

He sighs, and pushes himself up from the console in the engineering space, floating towards the lift. It's not that he's irritated or angry, which he is, but even then he should be able to sleep. No, he knows it pretty well: for the better part of half a year he was sleeping, for the most part, in a warm, cozy (despite being large) room full of trolls. The small cabin in the Earth starship, built and arranged ideally for a person of his frame, simply does nothing for him.

Nearly twenty-four hours after the Belvengeance kindly informed them of their enforced itinerary, Sakura's data pad chirps twice. The message indicator light comes on all the pads. Vash ignores it. Sakura opens her eyes and looks down at her datapad when it chirps. She sighs and gets up, making her way to the bridge and the main comm console, which she inspects. Douglas looks to the pad, and grimaces, shaking his head. "More fluff," he mutters, and slips into the lift, taking it up towards the bridge. "God damned bastards..." he mutters, not really realizing that he's mumbling to himself.

Sakura presses the button for the internal ship communicator. "Captain, it's the encrypted channel. A one-way message, I believe."

Vash straightens up from the bag and looks at the intercom, then down at his hands. His left hand's bleeding. Leading with the left again... He turns back to the intercom, "Go on and accept it. I'll be up in just a sec." On the bridge, Sakura turns the internal communicator off and plays the message, first making sure that she can play it back for the Captain when he arrives. In the lift, Douglas's ears perk a bit at the announcement. The Master? he thinks. That's better than the Belvengeance, at least! Wonder what he has to say...?

The message is again the Master's voice. He says, rather abruptly, "If you want to go back to the people you care about, or to go home, you will do exactly as I say. Otherwise the Federated Civilizations will be all too happy to have you as their guests. I wouldn't put odds on your going home again. Build one of these. Wait for the Belvengeance to drop you off, then turn around and head back as fast as you can with the new device engaged. I will take care of making sure you are not pursued." Plans for a complicated piece of electronics follow.

Sakura looks up, "Douglas. Would you like me to transfer the plans to your station?"

Vash enters the bridge in time to catch "Build one of these," pauses, and stares momentarily. "The hell...?"

Douglas pulls himself into the bridge, frowning. "Yes... yes! Please do so, Sakura-chan. I'll have a look at it immediately." He pulls himself into his console as quickly as he can, fastening his restraints. His tail flirts excitedly, and the lack of sleep doesn't seem to bother him now, though he does think, But home is where the people we care about are.

Sakura transfers the plans over to Douglas' station and then goes over to peer over his shoulder. Vash says, "Have you got any idea what it is, Doug?"

Douglas reads through the plans, biting his lip. He looks over it for several minutes, shaking his head. "Well... it's nothing I've seen before, of course. It's not a magic force field dissipater, I think. Near as I can tell it is a sensor jammer of some kind. See, it ties into our scanner and comm arrays. Uses a lot of radio and transmission stuff." He leans back. "It's complicated, but I think I can build it in a couple of days, if I had help."

Vash says, "Close enough, Doug. I don't trust 'I, Robot' any more than I trust these Space Fascists, but under the circumstances we need to get back... and hope that TAG's got their shit together by the time we get back and sent someone up to help."

Sakura says, "Douglas-san. I can help you, I think... as long as you help guide me, I should be able to do something to assist. I have some skill in electronics."

Douglas nods to Sakura, smiling. "That'll be appreciated, Sakura-chan, thank you!"

Sakura smiles, "You're welcome, Douglas. It will be a welcome distraction."

Douglas nods quietly and starts querying the console for the parts needed. "Might have to scavenge some stuff for this. Er... Captain... about TAG. What do you think they'll do when they hear about the Feds?"

Vash grins lopsidedly. "Hey, if they want to join the Superfriends, that's fine with me. But they can send someone else to do the meet and greet. I'll be tendering my resignation and going to live with an art student."

Sakura grins at Vash. "Sounds like a very good idea, Captain. I may do the same. Except for the art student part."

Douglas nods, "The Beldandy's crew is going to be mighty annoyed when we escape them. I'm just worried that they're going to make an offer that Earth can't refuse. Then again... erm... they might not take kindly to the way Earth treats uplifts..."

Sakura points out, "We were treated more fairly at home than we were treated by them."

Douglas fidgets a little. "Were we? No... you're right, nobody at home pulled us right out of our homes and took us on a ride we didn't want to go on. In our day, at least."

Vash says, "Nah. I bet they'll say they've outgrown concepts like 'money'. TAG'll put out a fatwah." He grins.

Douglas laughs quietly to Vash. "Very true, Captain." He bends to his work at the console, cataloguing parts that they'll need to pull from stores or scavenge. Sakura also laughs.

Douglas nods slowly as he finished the calculation. "Captain, we have all the parts we need aboard and I won't have to scavenge more than a few bits from the aux sensor arrays. Shall we get started?"

Vash says, "ASAP, Douglas, let's not waste time."

Sakura nods. "Just tell me what you want me to scrounge up for you, Douglas."

Douglas nods, standing. "Sure thing, Captain. Sakura, let's go down to Engineering, that'll be the best place to do this; all the tools and spares are down there..."

The going is a bit slower than Doug would have liked, but Sakura and he start to make progress on the device. At least, that's what Douglas thinks. Half a day later -- thirty-six hours since the Indigo has been hijacked -- the comm system beeps again. This is the unencrypted main channel from the Belvengeance, and is a two-way signal. Vash says, "Go ahead, Belvengeance, this is Montoya."

The comm carries Captain Frederick's voice. "Captain, " Marcus says, "It would be my pleasure to invite you and your crew to dine aboard the Belvengeance at the Captain's table tonight. I guarantee your safety, and that you will be returned to your ship if you so desire. I hope we can meet and have a chance to talk past some of your justified discomfort with our insistence that you join us."

Vash says, "I'll have to discuss this with my crew, Captain. As gracious an offer as it is, I may be attending alone. You understand, of course."

The other Captain replies, "I do understand, although I hope your crew will all join us. I, personally, would like to hear some of the amazing stories you must be able to tell from your time on Crossroads, and to take the chance I have to know each of you a little better."

Vash says, "Of course. We'll get back to you shortly, Belvengeance, after I talk it over with the others."

The Belvengeance signs off with, "We shall be awaiting your reply, Captain."

Vash stands up and heads for Engineering, after stopping off in Sickbay to wrap some gauze around his busted knuckles. He rides the lift down in silence, before calling out, "Anyone home? Minor change in plans, guys."

Sakura looks up from what she's doing. "What's going on, Captain?"

Vash says, "Looks like I'm going to dinner with the space monkeys. You're invited, but I figured you two have... something else to work on, yeah? I've already made your excuses... but I really have to go, considering what came of the last offer I declined."

Sakura says, "Are you sure it's safe for only one of us to go, Vash? You don't think it would be a better idea for two of us to go? They might try to take you captive to ensure your compliance..."

Vash says, "Look, they said they'd put me back afterward, but I trust them about as far as I could throw one of their extremely white asses. So if I don't make it back... if the opportunity comes to get out, I want you to take it, okay? Don't take any chances. Get home."

Sakura nods, "All right, Vash. Understood." She smiles at her Captain. "Just don't go insulting their mothers, okay?"

Vash says, "One of us has to go, and one of us has to work on the... whatever. If both of you want to stay -- and believe me I would if I could -- that's just fine with me. If one of you wants to come, that's fine too, but remember, the order still stands for whoever stays behind. Get out if the opportunity arises."

Sakura frowns thoughtfully at the pile of electronics on the table. "I could accompany you if you'd like, Vash."

Vash says, "It's your call, Sakura, and Doug's. If you think you'd be better employed here, don't worry about it."

Sakura laughs softly. "I think I'll go with you, Vash. I suspect that if I stare at this thing for much longer tonight, I'm going to go cross-eyed."

Vash says, "Probably wouldn't help the function any. Sure, we'll go."

Douglas frowns slightly, "I do agree, Captain, one of us should go with you while the other stays. It would probably be better for me to stay here and work on this, I have to admit. Not that I feel perfectly comfortable with either of you going over there, which I don't..." He twitches a little, rubbing his bleary-looking eyes.

Vash grins, "I wouldn't go myself, if I had the choice, but... our choices are being made for us. Better that we run interference for you. And if any of those creeps come down here poking around the black box or whatever... you have my permission to smash in their heads with a spanner."

Sakura grins, "Vash. I'm going to go grab a shower and get into my formals. I won't be long."

Vash says, "Yeah, I should do that too. Come meet me on the bridge when you're ready... we'll go meet the family." Sakura slips out, to her quarters to get showered and changed for the evening's meal.

Douglas mmphs, then shakes his head to clear it. "Actually... Captain, I'm pretty sure that we'll get this done in time. I can finish it in two days, and we still have at least six days before we can use this. I can hide it in the machinery. And maybe an evening of verbal repartee aboard the Bellringer might help clear my mind."

Vash says, "Pretty sure is not an acceptable measure under the circumstances, Douglas. This is the difference between going home and going to the Ministry of Love, yeah? Are you certain or not? We're not taking chances. Besides, there's no guarantee they'll put us back at all."

Douglas looks at the pile of machinery for several good, long, few moments, then he nods confidently. "Yeah. I'm confident. I'm certain of it. And also certain that a bit of a break from staring at electrical diagrams will help." He folds his arms. "Captain, if they don't put you back... how in the worlds could I face Blue and Larrikan? Besides, there's no way I'd be able to really finish this without Sakura's help, and if we all agree to go over there and be relatively good, that'll increase our chances of them putting us all back aboard with little more than a pat on the head."

Vash says, "That's your call, Douglas. I don't trust these people half as far as I could spit on them. But if you're coming, we may as well go get ready. C'mon."

Douglas nods and heads up the lift with Vash. "Uh... Captain, do I even have a formal TAG uniform?"

Vash says, "Check your closet. We all got one. For just such an occasion, I'm sure."

Sakura stands in front of her mirror, straightening her uniform. She speaks to herself as she does, "Remember who you are. Watare wa Isha Murasaki Sakura. Mimoto Kakuninsho: TAG-Ichi-Rei-Go-Sichi-Ni-Ichi-San <<I am Doctor Murasaki Sakura. Identification TAG-1057213>>... you are better than them; you have honor and ethics." She smiles, remembering a line from a poem. "I then will own your prior claim, to love, to honor, and to fame. Until that time, my dear, adieu, I yet superior am to you."[1] She chooses not to take a weapon, as a show of faith. She does, however, take her communicator. She steps out of her room and goes to the bridge.

Douglas nods and enters his quarters, actually managing to find the thing. His first thought, after showering and drying himself, is that the dress uniform was put together for a contortionist with a neck two sizes smaller than his, and lacking shoulder blades. When he finally gets it on, it's a little more comfortable, even after many months of wearing trollish Bermudas and a light shirt. He tries to picture it as some sort of armor, but he can't bring himself to, really, as worried as he is about how Earth is going to stand against the Feds.

He looks himself over and considers; the uniform looks like it can carry a radio or com-pad as well as a sidearm. He's not likely to carry the latter, but maybe there's a place to put his spanner. He can say it's been with him long enough he almost feels uncomfortable without it, which would be true. The datapad he tucks away as well, after being sure to set it to 'mute' and not chirp when any messages come in, and also being sure to set the security on it. He suggests to Captain and Sakura-chan that they do the same, since the datapad is a direct link to Indigo's computers, and they don't need to be having to explain, while chowing down, why a message from the Master is chirping for their attention.

Vash decides to take his weapon, as well as a radio, and puts a mute on his pad. He sighs a little and straightens his collar. "I hate these things. Too damn tight around my shoulders. I feel like a hunchback." Arrangements are made between the two ships, and clocks synchronized. The Indigo's crew gathers on their bridge, wearing their formal TAG uniforms. The comm beeps, asking if they're ready. When they acknowledge, they are treated to a miracle their science has only yet to dream of -- matter transportation. The feeling admittedly isn't great; rather like being eaten alive by fleas.


    The room the Indigo's crew arrives in is well lit, and painted one of those supposedly calming colors. Half of the room is marked off in a grid, and each crewmember arrives standing at an intersection of points on the floor. Across from the room two operators work at a console, and the hum of machinery settles and quiets as they shut the complex gear down.

    What is probably the door is a dark rectangle in the wall, which slides to one side when someone walks through it. There are a group of controls next to it where a home-Earth person would expect to find light switches. The floor is carpeted with some neutral color of short nap rug, and trimmed with dark moldings. The corners of the rooms are slightly rounded, giving the space a vaguely soft look. A swoopy logo is painted on the front of the control pedestal, and again on the wall between the door and pedestal. The logo on the wall has a spotlight picking it out. A man and a woman wait, standing next to the control pedestal.

Sakura suppresses a shudder at the feeling of the transporters and makes a mental note to ask Douglas to do his best not to build one. Ever. She looks to her Captain. Vash brushes off one of his sleeves. He nods to the two, "Evening."

Douglas stifles a grimace at the sensation. Death of a thousand paper cuts. Ugh! No wonder they're so flaky, that'd drive me crazy after a while! He looks around a bit, keeping a neutrally bland look on his face, taking note of the grid pattern. Neat doors, he thinks. Betcha they're not pressure-proof. Oooh, track lighting on the logo. Let's just draw attention to that, why don't we...? He stifles his mental critic for the time being, turning his attention to Vash.

All four of the crew which can be seen are wearing very similar uniforms, consisting of black pants, shoes, and socks, and a white shirt or blouse. There is also a sort of tabard over the uniform. The two techs at the console wear one color, while the two standing waiting have on another. They are belted in place, and each crewmember carries a large pouch attached to the belt on the other side, containing who knows what.

The man smiles and greets the aliens, "Welcome aboard the Belvengeance, Captain Montoya, Dr. Murasaki, Mr. Percival. I am Captain Marcus Frederick, and it is a pleasure to be able to greet you face to face." He seems to be an earnest looking human, with short, dark hair just beginning to thin at the front. He is slender and just a little over average height, with dark eyebrows, brown eyes, a slightly bulbous nose, and a small but ever-present smile.

Captain Frederick introduces, "The others are on shift, and will be joining us briefly. This is Marcia Blair, our security chief." The chief smiles deliberately at the crew, before returning to her somewhat blank look of easy attentiveness. She has dark-blonde or light brown hair tied back at the back of her head, and is a little on the short side, although she has the compact, dense look of someone quite strong. She's also the only person visible who's carrying a sidearm.

Vash says, "Captain, Ms. Blair."

Douglas inclines his head politely in greeting. Okay, rule one for the evening's festivities: do not get the security chief annoyed. Maybe Captain and her can exchange security-stories. Man, that sounded so lame... Sakura nods slightly in greeting, much different than her normal bow. "Good evening."

Captain Frederick says, "Thank you for joining us tonight. I do wish we could have started the relationship between our people on a less strained note, and I hope we have the chance to work some of the ill feelings out." He smiles, adding, "We have a few minutes before the day shift ends and the rest of the guests can join us. Would you like to have a brief tour of the ship, or go and have a drink while we wait?"

Vash turns to his crewmembers in turn. "Doctora? Doug? What do you say?"

Sakura thinks... then says in English, "The former, I think, Sir."

Douglas perks his ears a little. From a purely engineering point of view, he'd like to see the ship. And from a sneaky-little-kitty point of view, nothing will let them go "ooh" and "ahh" like seeing the advanced technology. 'Look, Captain, they've got quantum-fueled transphasic warp drive. And I'm only able to make fire from two sticks!' Yeah, that'll go over well. "I confess to an engineer's interest in the tour, Captain."

Vash says, "Well, then, Captain, if you have the time perhaps a tour would be good, at that."

The Captain smiles, "I'm pleased to be able to do so. Come this way, and we'll start with the bridge and work downwards." He leads the way out through the sliding door in the wall, down a hallway to a central area with several doors next to one another. Before the crew can remember why this looks familiar, the elevator arrives, and they realize they've seen a lobby before. The Captain gestures them aboard while Chief Blair holds the door open. Once everyone is aboard the Captain says, "Bridge, please." The lift beeps and moves, depositing them there shortly.

The ship's bridge is a large, open room with control consoles around the outside wall and one huge view screen mounted forward and above. An elevated chair -- almost a throne -- with controls scattered across its wide arm rests, sits in the center where it can turn to a clear view of most things. In front of it a straight row of control banks has four crewmembers sitting at it, mostly keeping an eye on things, but still alert. The consoles around the edges of the room are only lightly staffed, as the main "day" shift has ended. Most of the displays are dark, although one shows the Indigo, bathed in golden light as it is being towed.

Douglas muses to himself as he listens. He said "please" to the elevator. I don't even say please to my engines. Well... okay, I do, but it's a matter of scale! He looks around the bridge, trying not to be too admiring, and admitting to himself that it's actually really quite comfortable, while trying to hide that. Somehow, I imagined them in cubicles...

Sakura spares a second glance for the monitor that shows their ship, entangled in the Belvengeance's snare. Vash says, "Quite impressive, yes." Sakura nods to herself as she follows along behind her Captain. A very impressive Flytrap.

The Captain smiles, "You've all seen a bridge before, I presume. This is where we monitor all systems and run the ship. We can dispatch crewmembers to any point aboard the ship from here. There are close to three hundred crew members, all of which are required to keep the ship running at its optimum." He asks Vash, "Do you mind telling me how many crew members your ship is set up to accommodate, and how many are required to operate it?"

Vash says, "You're looking at it." Douglas smiles quietly, trying not to look too proud. Simplicity, reliability, durability. That's his Indigo!

The Federated Captain says, "Only three crew members required for operation? That's quite impressive."

Vash says, "It's a very forgiving ship, yes. She's been good to us."

The Captain nods, then leads the way through a long sequence of hallways (which are numbered and color-coded reasonably clearly), using the lift to change floors. Engineering is a wide-open floor, with a couple of huge, hulking machines built into the central core of the ship, from which the rest of the ship seems to radiate out.

The Captain flags down a crewmember and introduces, "This is Hunter Reed, the officer in charge right now." Reed nods and says, "Yes, sir. Mr. Folk has already left to prepare for dinner." He continues, "I'm the Engineering second," and smiles, then points out the major pieces of equipment aboard, those being the power generation core, the space-warp engines, the in-system pusher drives, and -- their pride and joy -- the Gate-warp engine.

Douglas pays very close attention as soon as Reed says he's one of the engineers. He asks questions politely, such as what the power output for the core is, the principle the space-warp engines and pusher drives work on, and, of course, anything he can learn about the Gate-drive, letting himself speak 'techlish' for the first time in a long while. He's honestly curious, he admits, though he restrains himself; he's sure that the tour needs to move on.

He learns a few interesting things, though, jotting them down on a mental datapad. The power core is an annie, a matter-antimatter annihilation reactor -- theoretically possible, just beyond what engineers back home can do yet. The space drives are more obscure. They're not even like the gravity drive on Indigo, doing something to bend space around the ship. The pushers, at least, are similar to the grav drive. One last thing he gets: they've got power, and a lot of it. They don't seem to be wanting for juice.

The Captain watches, smiling happily as the engineers babble, listening to the conversation with half an ear but not saying much. Sakura nods at the explanation of the major equipment. He certainly appears to be telling the truth about the drives. Pity that for all their advancement, their Gate drive isn't nearly as efficient as the Indigo's. That might help them in the end. Their power system is larger and more powerful, but Sakura decides this is clearly because the ship has 300 crew and they all need lights and toilets.

The Captain also shows the crew some storage units -- they look like storage units anywhere, with rectangular modules that lock into them; a shuttle bay -- which is a little larger than Indigo's and seems to use a force field as a door, leaving a very impressive view of space outside; and the crew quarters -- which are comfortable looking but not as roomy or well appointed as the ones aboard the Indigo. Having shown off his pride and joy, and seeming honestly pleased to have had the chance, the Captain asks, "Is there anything else you'd like to see, or shall we make our way to a lovely meal?"

Vash says, "I think that would be just fine, Captain. Lead on."

The Captain's dining area is a private room off the main mess hall. One wall of the mess hall is lined with windows to the outside, which are filled with strange streaks of light due to the speed the ship is travelling. The Captain's Mess also has one wall of windows, but, being a smaller room, this is more impressive. There is one table, set with enough settings for everyone, and a separate door which servers use through the meal.

When the two ship's officers arrive with the Indigo's crew, another of the Belvengeance's crew is already there. He stands when the others enter the room, and the crew is surprised to recognize him. Captain Frederick introduces him as Conrad McKurtz, chief medical officer. McKurtz greets the Indigo's crew, "Welcome aboard the Belvengeance. It is a pleasure to have a chance to meet you."

Vash nods. "Mr. McKurtz."

Sakura also nods to McKurtz. "Evening, Doctor."

Douglas inclines his head politely in greeting to McKurtz, not letting on that he recognizes him. He'd never admit it to Vash, but he feels a little more comfortable being here -- not being hijacked by them, mind you, but... a little more comfortable. Not as screamingly eager to rip them apart and tear their sinews and tendons and bones and... hmm, must be dinnertime.

After the crew has met McKurtz, the Captain invites them to be seated wherever they would like. In the space of just a few minutes the other crewmembers arrive, starting off a flurry of introductions. First Officer Gina Levy is introduced -- a tall, black woman with perfect teeth. A man who can only be described as obese, balding, and goatee'd arrives next. He seems jovial and easygoing, but is introduced as Bradley Franz, the "Administrative Lead."

He explains this means he's in charge of keeping track of all the minutiae that make the ship run, and knowing who is where at all times. As he talks, his capability as a super-organized person shows through his light exterior. Finally the Engineering Lead, Toby Folk, arrives, apologizing for being late; he apparently got distracted while trying to fix a loose door in his cabin. He's a slightly older man with thick looking, creased skin and big, rough hands, who seems like he could get out and push the ship if that's what it would take to get it moving again.

Sakura nods to each of the crewmembers in turn. It is a polite enough gesture, but compared to the bows that Sakura usually greets people with, it is very nearly rude. Douglas greets the others politely as he is introduced. He is, of course, intensely interested, but seeing Sakura-chan give just barely the merest hint of politeness, he decides not to rock the boat. Besides, he thinks, it says much about a person -- what service or organization they're willing to work in. So what does that say about you and TAG? Oh, hush up and try to enjoy dinner...

Vash nods politely to everyone he's introduced to, and makes an effort to be pleasant and at least marginally personable, if slightly distant. He reminds himself that he's here to run interference for their one shot at escape... so there's no point in making any waves. He wonders in passing what Douglas thought of the native technology. Drooling envy or professional hatred... heh, knowing Doug, probably both...

Stewards bring out the courses and appear quietly to keep drinks filled and dinner moving. The Belvengeance' crew asks interested and polite questions that they have been wondering about, repeatedly mentioning that they're happy to answer questions the Indigo's crew may have, and that it's perfectly all right to choose not to answer a question they feel is inappropriate. The Captain asks, "What organization are you with? We see a TAG logo, but are not familiar with it. Can you tell us what it means?"

Vash says, "The Aurora Group is a financial consortium interested in the potential establishment of trade with other Gate-faring races and organizations."

Captain Frederick and Bradley Franz seem interested in this news. Franz says, "A commercial interest doing exploration? That shows a great deal of forethought and initiative. I'm impressed." He considers this news for a while.

Conrad McKurtz tries to talk nicely to Sakura, doctor to doctor, asking her, "You're nonhumans. Does that make it harder to practice medicine? Where do the different species come from?"

Sakura shakes her head a little at the Doctor. "No, I don't find that it makes the Practice of Medicine difficult. I was trained to deal with Uplifts and with Humans. Uplifts..." she motions at her crewmates. "We're biologically engineered, enhanced versions of native animals of Earth."

The Belvengeance's doctor nods interestedly, "Really? So you have animal and human DNA elements? You'd share many common traits then, wouldn't you?"

Sakura nods, "Yes, we certainly do, Doctor."

Doctor McKurtz says, "That's very interesting. What led your world to develop such technology? I don't believe it's one I have actually heard of before."

Sakura shrugs a little helplessly. "I really don't know the 'whys,' Doctor."

The First Officer asks Douglas, "Your ship seems to have a very different set of capabilities than ours do. We aim for speed and flexibility. What are the design goals of your vessel? Do you know?"

Douglas thinks for a moment. "Well," he says, not at all hurriedly, "-mostly reliability, durability, and redundancy. Gate ships tend to be very tough ships; it was presumed they would be on their own in unknown regions, and have to face... well, whatever might come up, on their own."

The Captain asks Vash, "How long have you been away from your home? How long was your trip planned to be? Do you plan on returning?"

Vash says, "We have provisions for twelve months. We've been away quite some time... the trip was relatively open-ended. Look for someone to trade with... and if we don't find any, come home before the food runs out. We found someone to trade with, as it happens."

The first officer nods, "Interesting." Through this conversation, Bradley Franz, the administrator, is listening to all the answers, and thinking. You can almost see the wheels turning in his head. Toby Folk, the engineering lead asks Douglas, "Does your ship have any offensive or defensive capability?"

Douglas considers his answer carefully, not trying to take too long. "Well, offensive, not in and of itself. But of course, as you know, a soup can travelling at a good percentage of the speed of light in a vacuum makes for... well, very hot soup." Maybe talking about food will change the subject to us getting served... He glances down at the plate. Oh, foobar. They've already served and the questions aren't letting up. Oh, well...

The Security Chief asks Vash, "We have a report that you were significantly involved with the natives of Crossroads. While I must admit I find the idea shocking, our on-planet operatives reported that you had accomplished some amazing things. Can you tell us about that?" The Captain nods, "We're terribly interested." Sakura looks over at Vash, curious to see his reaction to that question.

Vash says, "You seem to know quite a bit about us, Captain. But no, we haven't done anything particularly amazing... someone saw fit to try and steal the Group's property for the purpose of conducting a revolution. We recovered our property. The Group's got no interest in fomenting the local politics." Douglas glances at Vash, at his answer, and nods quietly in agreement. And we don't either. We just want to be back there, back home.

The Captain nods, "That is reassuring to hear. Can you tell us about some of the things you were able to do? Spending time on a primitive world is something most of us can only dream about doing."

Vash says, "We met several of the natives, and some interesting local fauna that conform to some of the old mythic forms. It's a bit like spending summer camp in Storybook Land."

Marcus prompts, "Like what?"

Vash says, "Will o' the wisps, a swamp hag with whom we seem to have initiated a running dialogue, a few trolls..." He calmly omits the fact that the running dialogue consists entirely of an exchange of vulgarity.

Folk asks Douglas, "So, while you've been there, have you had a chance to assess the native technology? How close are they to space faring? The people we've got there are more focused on the sociopolitical aspect, and don't ever mention the good toys."

Douglas blinks at Folk's question, and has to grin a little. Oh, I have no idea if you would believe me, but... "I did some, mostly hands-on work with what they have. The trollish have combustion-powered ground vehicles, and some were working on powered flight." He doesn't mention that the natives know magic, and enough to give anyone at least pause. He can't help but grin a little at Vash's mention of the trolls.

On the other side of the table, the medical officer nods thoughtfully at the vixen's response, asking Sakura, "How did you ever manage to cope with the different language so quickly? It took our staff years to figure out enough to pass unnoticed."

Sakura smiles at the Doctor. "Uhm. I have a fair bit of training in languages. I pick them up fairly easily..."

McKurtz nods, then asks, "That must be very helpful. How did you all learn to speak it so quickly? The report we got was quite confusing, and spoke of your integration at an unheard of level."

Sakura looks over at the Captain. Vash nods to Sakura. Go on... it's not like they'll buy it anyway. Sakura smiles at the other Doctor. "We were sent on a quest for a specific item by one of the professors at the university. Out of this item he crafted translators for us."

McKurtz, very much the modern scientific doctor, asks, "A quest? What do you mean? You had to do him a favor?"

Sakura frowns, "Not really a favor. We had to travel to a lake and convince the swans there to give us a pearl from the bottom, at the full moon. When we returned, he combined the pearls with some of our blood and some other things to craft our translators."

Folk smiles to Doug, "Really? Powered ground vehicles? Cool. Developing powered flight?" He then adds, "Oh, you haven't seen the dirigibles yet, then, have you?"

Douglas coughs a little, casting a brief glance at the oddly silent Administrative Lead. Why is him not saying a thing, yet paying so much attention, bothering me? It's not like the security chief is plying us with questions. He remains quiet, though, letting Sakura tell the tale of the question, but blinks to Folk. "Dirigibles? Really? No, we didn't see any, actually; our orbital recon was brief..."

Folk nods, "Yes, apparently they use them to do long-range trading. Our staff booked passage on them to move around at least once. They're quite a feat of basic engineering, although I didn't get details about how they're powered or filled." He sighs unhappily and adds, "That's what happens when you just send soft-science people."

Marcus asks Vash, "Have you visited any other gates?"

Vash says, "Just one."

Marcus asks, "Did you find anything notable?"

McKurtz continues to remain slightly baffled by Sakura's reply, saying, "I... don't understand. How did that make a translator? How did you get swans to do something?" The First Officer gives Sakura quite a look at the mention of drawing blood. The doctor, naturally, isn't bothered.

Sakura smiles apologetically. "I don't know how he made them. We didn't see. The swans, though... they transformed and they were ever so nice. They were kind enough to do it for us when they went back to their swan form."

Douglas smiles quietly. "It was a Quest," he says simply. Why not? It was good enough an answer for him. He looks to Folk thoughtfully at mention of the dirigibles. "We didn't know that. Interesting..." He blinks then, and gets a bit of a mournful look, glancing to Vash at the mention of the other gate.

Vash says, "Nothing notable, no. Just a dead planet."

The Belvengeance's captain nods, and says, "There are several of those. Not very interesting, really. I expect you didn't find anything worth trading there. I'm sorry that you won't be allowed to trade with Crossroads, but there may be many things that would be quite lucrative to trade with the Federation. It sounds as if your society is advanced enough that destabilization is not as much a worry."

Vash doesn't say anything at that. We'll see who's making the rules, Captain. "That's for the Group to decide. We're simply the scouts."

McKurtz looks at Sakura with bafflement, "'Transformed'? Swan form?" and seems to have utterly no frame of reference for this. He gives up, bemused, and says, "It must be nice to get back to your ship, and hot showers and air conditioning and things, though."

Sakura shakes her head a little bit at the other Doctor. "Not particularly, no."

Douglas gives a bit of a start at the Fed captain calling the tomb that was Io "uninteresting." And... "won't be allowed"? No... I'll take Captain's lead on this. He nods in agreement with Sakura. "I can't say I am either, really."

Again, McKurtz looks baffled, as if he can't fathom why one would want to possibly stay on a dirty, primitive world. He merely says, "Oh. Well. I hope you'll enjoy your stay at the training center. It's supposed to be quite nice; I've not been to this one."

Sakura nods a little at McKurtz. "I suppose I have no choice but to make the best of it, really. May I ask why we're 'not allowed' to trade with the Crossroads?"

McKurtz looks a little surprised at this. "Ah... perhaps the Captain would be best to explain." Sakura smiles at the Captain, expectantly.

Captain Frederick turns, and looks momentarily dazzled by the vixen. Prompted by McKurtz, he explains, "Oh! I'm sorry, but it simply wouldn't be possible for you to trade openly with Crossroads. Your tech level is too high. Even the ability to travel in the ways you would obviously have to be traveling could cause reverberations through their society, religion, and stability. We don't understand those things well enough to risk meddling with them. Until a society reaches a certain level of sophistication, the Federated Civilizations works very diligently to protect it and allow it to mature and develop on its own, uninterrupted path."

Sakura nods at the Captain and discontinues her questioning, before she blurts out something inappropriate. The dinner seems to have wound to an end, with coffee and a desert vaguely resembling flan, except that it's blue.

Bradley Franz finally speaks up, "Well, Captain, it may be that some limited trade could be arranged. As the locals already seem used to the idea of travel between very different areas, some more foreign foreigners may not be that destabilizing, and if the items traded were of appropriate tech-levels, it could be allowed. And, as any advanced civilization can mass produce things much more inexpensively than one of this apparent level, it would still be quite possible for your organization to turn a tidy profit." He smiles, adding, "There would be some bureaucratic overhead, but nothing stifling, I'm sure."

Vash says, "Again, that's something you'll have to work out with the Group yourselves." Sakura nods at what Vash said. They certainly aren't in a position to speak for their company, nor are they interested in trade.

The Captain settles back from the table, saying, "Well, thank you for coming. It was fascinating to speak with you, and I'm sure we all picked up a great number of things. I hope you enjoyed the opportunity as much as we did." The other Belvengeance crewmembers nod, smiling. Marcus continues, "We're happy to send you back to the security and comfort of your own ship, if you like, or to welcome you as guests here."

Vash nods, rising carefully. "Very gracious of you, Captain. We'll be wanting to return to Indigo, though. I hope you all have a good night." Douglas nods quietly, standing as Vash does.

Sakura rises as Vash does, setting her napkin down on the table. "Thank you for the meal."

Douglas says, "Yes, thank you very much. Thank you for the tour, as well."

The human captain nods, "Marcia, if you would escort them, that would be very nice." The security chief nods, and after a polite round of good-byes, leads the crew back to the place they arrived. Two different operators go to work on the console, and the strange, gnawing sensation takes over the uplifts. They find themselves returned to the bridge of the Indigo.

Vash shakes his head. "Well, at least if they've drugged us we can pass out in our own beds now."

Sakura can't suppress her shudder this time. "Those transporters are horrible. I want another shower after having to go through that twice."

Douglas loosens his collar. "I'm going to make a quick check of the security, double-check the logs, see if they've been tampered with, then visually check the machine in the engine room. And also see if the plans in the library haven't been tampered with."

Vash says, "I'm going to check the Security console one more time before I go to..." He pauses, looks at his wrapped up knuckles and sighs. "Go to the crew deck and read a book, I guess."

Douglas nods, "I'll go right to the engine room, then."

Sakura waves to Douglas and Vash as she leaves to return to her quarters for another night of lying awake. "Good night."

The ship reports no changes and no security breeches. Everything is right where it was left, and undisturbed. Vash hms over the console. "All clear." He flexes his fingers in the bandage and sighs. "Back to work. And our last hope's a maniac robot. We're screwed."



Sakura's quotation is from this poem:




Last modified: 2002-Mar-17 18:04:31

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