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6/1/3030

Jack Yorke looked in surprise as Lloyd wheeled a rack of environmental protection suits into the Dawn Voyager's cargo bay. There were three Human models, one Eurypt, and two Altaic. "What's all this for? And can't you pay someone to do this for you?"

"Remember how I told you Risir hired you specifically for a job?" Lloyd says, waiting for Yorke to nod, "Well, you're going to be guarding and helping him on a dig on Lachesis II. That's what the suits're for."

"Wait, what's so awful about this planet?"

"Never been in the Lachesis system, have you?"

"Can't say I have. This'll be my first time."

"That system's got some trippy shit going on. Lachesis I and II share an orbit, close enough to Lachesis that most kinds of rock will sublimate. As you can probably imagine, breathing in rock vapor is not the healthiest thing."

"Why's there an extra Human and Altaic suit? And no Lupinus suit?"

"The extra human's for BOB-5. He's sturdy, but the conditions there wouldn't be very kind to his systems. There are no Lupinus HAZENV suits, so Roar-Ree's going to have to make do with an Altaic suit"

"That works. He'll be a little uncomfortable, though."

"He can fucking deal. And as to your second question earlier, paying someone to do this for me would involve paying them. I try to avoid that as much as possible."

"I was under the impression you had 'literally limitless wealth'"

"And I didn't get that way by spending cash on shit I could do myself. I'll leave you to it, then." Lloyd turns to leave, and then pauses at the door.

"Oh, and Yorke? I want a picture of that artifact he's digging up. It might be important."

Examining the suits displayed before him made Yorke think about the incoming mission and dangers that Lloyd explained to him, "This seems interesting enough." The thought manages to escape his lips and transfer into words. Reaching for his radio, he calls down the rest of the crew to give them the basic rundown of the mission.

Within the next few minutes, most of the crew is gathered around the HAZENV-Suits and examining them. He delivers a quick run-down about the objectives of the mission and the fact that they would be splitting into two groups on this mission.

"Wait," Roar-Ree says with his tone filled to the brim with confusion, "where is the Lupinus one? All I see is three human sizes, one Eurypt and two Altaic."

"As for that, there is yet for a Lupinus model to be constructed so you'll have to make due for the time being. BOB is taking the other one to help shield his plating from the conditions on the planet."

"You're telling me to wear the suit for fleshies?" BOB-5 replied overlooking the suit before him and poking it. "Well, it's better than having my systems fry in mid-mission. So what is our job, Yorke?"

"Team One will compose of myself, Har-Bak and Roar-Ree. Team Two will compose of BOB-5, Stefan and Basta."

Basta followed BOB and Stefan as they approached the site they had been given. Looking down at the site her captain, "Yorke...What exactly are we going to be looking for beyond a dig site?"

"Lloyd didn't tell me, just that it is highly important that we figure out what Risir was looking for on Lachesis I." Yorke responded, "Call back when you have useful information."

Pulling out her rifle she scoped the tents and the area around them. She saw Risir going about his work, digging currently.

"Damn...if he's looking for something, it's going to take him a while with just a few shovels. Maybe we should help."

BOB-5 shot a look at her, "We're here to guard, not play treasure hunter. We're best off scouting the perimeter first cat, then we can try to figure out what the Ira'Preja is looking for."

"He's right," added Stefan with his MK rifle. "Let's take a look around, and if he requires our help then we'll go down and help him."

"And by we you mean you," replied BOB-5 who chuckled a bit.

"HEY!!" yelled Stefan.

BOB begins to laugh ferociously, "Jeez you really are a naive aren't ya Doc."

"Ughh let's just walk around the perimeter..."

The trio continue to make their way along the area, weapons at the ready, fingers on the trigger. "Still I am also curious like Basta as to what he's digging up from that site," said Stefan.

"Ah, so you're here," Risir says, one Ira jogging up while the rest continue digging, "Thank you for coming at such short notice."

"No problem, Snakey," BOB-5 says, "You expecting an attack here, of all places?"

"No, but it never hurts to be prepared," Risir says, "And there are plenty of other dangers here."

As if to punctuate the statement, a small geyser of semi-molten rock erupts a few meters behind him. The rocks rain down, missing most of Risir. A couple sharp, fast moving points, however, penetrate his HAZENV suit. A few more of Risir break off digging, heading towards the injured Ira. It had started howling in pain, the sound occasionally lost in the sizzling of its flesh. Risir carried his dying Ira away, while he stayed to continue the conversation.

"Like that," he says, "Those rock geysers have killed quite a few of me. Fortunately, the objects we're excavating are a little more resilient."

"Why are you using shovels then?" Basta asks, still looking a little queasy.

Risir simply laughs, the sound fairly unsettling coming from a few hundred throats all around them. "They are stable. The planet is not. I'd rather debase myself doing menial labour like this than lose half my Ira."

"I see, well, rest assured that my 'lil squad here'll keep the restaya boys safe and sound."

"Excellent, I hope you keep your promise." The Ira replied, turning away from BOB to continue digging. The synth turned to his comrades, listening in behind him.

"Alright, ya knobhoggers, listen up! I don't want you two wankers fuckin' up this here mission, like ya did the last few! Don't make dumb fuckin' decisions. When your bloody conscience tells ya to do somethin', don't fuckin do it! It'll just get us all killed."

"Who put you in charge?" Basta responded.

"I did, kitty-kitty, now get to work! Patrol the area!"

"Bob, you have anything that'll detect those rock geysers?" Basta asks, trailing the Synth alongside Stefan.

"No. I don' go to these environments often," he replies, "Very little work to be found there."

Basta grimaces behind her faceplate, as they keep walking in silence, watching Risir scoop up the near-molten rock with care and dump them into carts that he pushes out to be analyzed.

Odd... Risir thinks, surveying the results of the dig through an Ira's eyes, The composition of this rock suggests it formed as part of the Lachesis system.

Another dozen Ira, these ones on his ship, cycle through the information he had collected on the objects.

And all sources point to this being a pre-Scouring complex. That rules out being a captured planet, though pre-Scouring tech might have something to do with the anomalies in this system.

Deciding safety in numbers, Basta cautiously followed Stefan for two reasons; mainly, she didn't want to get under BOB-5's metal exterior; but also she had to talk to him about a medical issue.

"Erm...Stefan?" Basta carefully watched the ground around the two of them as she followed him.

"What is it Basta?" Stefan kept his eye forwards, not looking back.

Basta bit her lip beneath the faceplate, "You know about Altaic biology correct?"

He nodded, still not looking at her, "Of course, what about it?"

Grabbing her tail, she nervously wrung it, "Well, you see...I'm sure you know about what happens to female Altaics every few months."

Stefan nodded again, but didn't say anything.

"I am the only female on board and in a few weeks..."

BOB-5 walked past the two of them, cutting Basta off, "She'll be a horny cat trying to hump everything in sight."

Basta glared at him, "Thank you for putting it so delicately."

BOB-5 shrugged and went on, "Any time."

Stefan looked back at her, "I already anticipated this, and I've made hormone suppressant for you that should last you through your heat."

Sighing in relief, Basta went back to patrolling. Looking at the Ira, she never could wrap her mind around how one person was capable of controlling all of those creatures with just their mind. She never bothered to understand the Ira'Preja, but to be honest, it really didn't interest her too much.

"Speaking of having hormones," said BOB. "Stefan how's that girl friend of yours doing?"

"Ugh uhh uhh uhh umm ughh well uhhh," Stefan begins to stutter a lot, causing him to shake his rifle a bit.

On the other side, Har-Bak was listening on to the radio chatter. "Hehehe, Yorke go to channel Alpha and listen to this."

BOB and Basta laughed at Stefan's reaction.

"Ok first off," replied Stefan finally getting a hold of himself. "Cassie and I are just friends. We've known each other for a while. Not much hasn't really gone on."

Basta smiles and looks at Stefan, Ah c'mon Stefan. We know you're lying. Besides all of those excuses of having to shut the medic bay says it all.

"Ah Stefan Stefan Stefan..." said BOB.

"Ok I hate it when you say my name three times like that BOB," said Stefan. "It really creeps me out."

"Fine, Kanoff. Fine," the Synth says, "But tell me this. That little exchange you had with that Terra Prima guy back on Bliss. The thing he said about 'bringing another little girl.' What was all that about?"

"Nothing," Stefan says, immediately clamming up.

"Now see, yer reaction says otherwise," BOB-5 says. "Since we're going to be here a while, why not tell your story?"

"I don't have to tell you nothin', bot." Stefan turned his head away from the synthetic towering over him, muttering under his voice. BOB leaned forward.

"Speak up, boy, watcha say?"

"I said I don't have to tell you nothing, you giant bucket of bolts!" BOB laughed in response and put one of his large metal hands on Stefan's left shoulder.

"I'm your superior officer, buddy."

"Funny, I recall Yorke appointing me above you when we started this thing." Stefan shrugged off BOB's hand and glared in his sole piercing red eye.

"I don't trust Yorke's judgment on that, and I think he'd reconsider when he finds out what a pathetic emotional wreck you are, Kanoff." Stefan stood in silence.

"Since the 'ol Cap'm won't ask the questions, I will. Tell me, why were ya discharged? People get discharged for reasons, doc, you didn't leave, you were forced to leave. Oh, and why the cybernetics? I can tell, Kanoff, those ain't for the helluv it, you got 'em for repairs, what happened?"

Basta thought better of her earlier conviction in safety in numbers. There was looking to be a row between the two, so she fled to the mess tent for some food. She took a small bowl of the meat stew and started to gulp it down.

"This is good stuff," she said to Risir over a mouthful.

"Ought to be," he replied, "It's expensive has hell. Even more than usual, recently."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. The Distress Terracide has brought prices up."

"Didn't know anything besides Skeavers came out of the place."

"You were right."

Basta kept eating for a few seconds before what he was truly saying dawned on her. "Wait... you don't mean..."

"Yep," Risir says, "Skeaver soup. It's a delicacy on A'Trini - that's the Ira'Preja homeworld."

"I'm a soldier and a fighter, not some damn treasure hunter!"

Har-Bak groaned as he, Roar-Ree, and Yorke walked up to the site. Roar-Ree nodded, scratching his ass so to not rupture his suit.

"I know this ain't exactly your forte, Har-Bak, but we really don't have a choice on what jobs we accept. Just remember to do whatever Risir says, and keep your mouth shut."

The Eurypt sighed, and Roar-Ree grumbled in agreement. As they arrived, they were greeted by one of the Ira, who pointed at a tent. "More information will be in there."

Yorke nodded, and the crew of the Voyager went inside.

The trio entered the tent to see numerous more Ira moving around and working intently. One stepped forward and addressed Yorke. "Ah, you've arrived. I assume you have been informed of your purpose here?" Yorke nodded. Roar-Ree cleared his throat and asked, "Hey, what are you digging for, by the way?" The Ira simply looked at Roar-Ree with a silence almost as uncomfortable as his suit, and returned to talking with Yorke. My suit is built for a significantly smaller species AND my employer hates me. Today is a good day. Roar-Ree thought to himself.

"Are you expecting an attack here?" Yorke asks, looking around at the bustle of activity.

"No," Risir replies, "But considering how few friends I've made, it seems prudent to have some protection just in case."

"Okay. Any other hazards I should watch out for?"

"Sometimes small pieces of rock geyser up and shred your suit. I've lost four Ira to that already."

"That sounds... painful."

"It is."

"Other than that, is there anything else we should do?"

"Walk around, make sure too many of me don't die, develop your characters... the usual shit for a guard job."

"Any information on what we're looking for, in case we see something?"

"It's an almost indescribably ancient complex. Ornate stonework, some quantum shit we still don't understand keeping it from melting, the works. Within the structure there should be a small octahedron on a pedestal. Should be solid white, according to my sources."

"Solid white, ornate stonework and small octahedron. Seems simple enough to find. We'll make sure that you find this structure, Risir." Yorke said with confidence at his employer.

"Sounds simple when written down, but isn't easy to find or else this would've been a lot safer of a rock to find something on. Regardless, you three will be assisting me in this line of work for the time being." Risir said dismissing the group and allowing them to leave the tent for the time being.

Opening the flaps to the tent and exiting, Yorke and his two companions continued to observe the excavation site and get a better feel for the layout of the surrounding area. "Well, he seems to have his workplace in order." Har-Bak spoke as he fully began taking in the layout of the desolate planet and busy work site.

"All things considered, then yeah it does look good." Roar-Ree responded to the comment and kicking a small rock that lay before him and launching it for a small distance along the ground.

"Do you know anything about Ira'Preja, Har-Bak?" Yorke asks.

"What do you mean?" Har-Bak replies.

"You see all the guys around you? All the Ira?"

"Yeah. What about them?"

"Those guys are all Risir."

"They all have the same name?"

"No. They're all the same being. Same mind, stationed somewhere else, controlling multiple bodies."

"Oh. No wonder they seem very well organized, if they've got some telepathy thing."

"It's not a 'telepathy thing,' Har-Bak. It's more like... Risir's Preja is his brain. His Ira are his limbs."

"I see..." Har-Bak says, despite clearly still struggling with the concept.

"...So are these all likes his body parts with minds of their own?"

"No, Har-Bak. They have Risir's brain, but his body parts all his bodies."

"....Um..." Har-Bak's four arms moved nervously at his side, showing his anxiety.

"Listen Scorp. I know this is hard for your little bug brain to think about, so just stop." Roar-Ree interrupted rudely.

The Eurypt stopped suddenly and glared with all eight eyes at the Lupinus.

"Listen here runt-"

Yorke stopped both of them, his voice cold. "Both of you better stop! Save it for the ship! We're on the job; Look professional."

The two soldiers glared at each other, but stopped.

As Har-Bak moved ahead and grumbled to himself, Yorke walked up to Roar-Ree. "You really shouldn't irritate him like that, Roar-Ree. Last thing we need is both BOB and Har-Bak trying to kill you." Roar-Ree looked down at his feet sheepishly, "Yeah, sorry, captain. He just wasn't getting it." Suddenly, Har-Bak laughed, and Roar-Ree and Yorke looked up to see him listening to Stefan stammer about his not-girlfriend on the radio. "She's not. Honest!" Roar-Ree laughed and chimed in. "You know I can hear you two in the med bay, right? I have super-ears and all that." Stefan stammered more, and Yorke chuckled and (graciously) cut him off. "Alright everyone. Back to work. Remember what I said about keeping it professional."

All of a sudden, Risir stopped working, heading over to another tent.

"What's going on?" Yorke asks.

"Lunch. Feel free to join in."

Yorke waved Roar-Ree and Har-Bak over, and got on the radio.

"Bob, if Basta and Stefan get hungry let them join in the eating shit."

"And how the ‘ell’re they going to do that in those suits?"

"It's called environmental control, boltbucket," Risir says, interjecting, "If I remember correctly, the species that built you have had it for a millennium and a half."

The radio carried Basta and Stefan's snickers, entering their own meal tent.

"So, what do you guys eat?"

"I made a meat stew today. There's a lot of me, so there's a lot of it."

Upon entering the meal tent, the small group took note of the massive collection of Risirs all of whom appeared to be enjoying their meals. Risir motioned for the trio to follow him towards the massive container with meal being kept warm inside of it.

"Hope you three like it; this meat doesn't come cheap anymore." Risir said not looking at them as he served his own bowl. "Still, as my hired hands, take as much as you want so long as you leave enough for the rest of me."

Yorke began wondering what exactly what the alien had meant by expensive meal, he could understand the quantity and transportation of such a meal wouldn't be cheap, but still he kept some suspicions as he served himself. He was followed suit by Har-Bak and Roar-Ree who inhaled the meal deeply as he served himself.

"Risir must seriously know how to cook or hire some professional to make something that smells like this." The Lupinus exclaimed as they found their seats next to whom they presumed was their employer.

"Enjoy the meal." Risir said as he took chunk out of the meat that rested upon his utensil and slurped the meal with a sense of satisfaction in it.

"So, Roar-Ree. How'd you find your way off of your homeworld?" Yorke asks, between mouthfuls of stew, "I understand Lupinus don't have access to FTL."

"Well, some missionaries crashed on the planet. I rescued them from some of my people, and they taught me some stuff."

"And they took you offworld?" Har-Bak interjects, "I have a similar story myself, though the missionaries weren't as fortunate."

"No," Roar-Ree says, "Once I'd finished learning from them, I killed and ate them. Then I stole their ship and left."

Yorke simply stares at Roar-Ree, stunned. Risir chuckles. "And I suppose that's why you're digging into my Skeaver Stew with such gusto?"

Har-Bak gagged on his meat, startling his tent mates. He spit it back into the bowl.

"Excuse me! Did you just say Skeaver soup?"

Yorke choked, but at least managed to keep his food in his mouth. Risir chuckled, amused at the rather dumb-founded look on the Scorp's face. "Of course! This is a delicacy on my home world!"

Roar-Ree formed a grin with his fangs. "Hell, this is great! Who've thought, Skeaver stew!" He eagerly lapped up the rest of his food, then stood to get seconds.

"Are you fucking insane?! What if this is radiated or some shit?"

"Calm down. It's not contaminated. Why do you think it's so fucking expensive?" Risir said, now getting slightly annoyed.

Yorke swallowed his next bite carefully, but wanting to act like a thankful employee, continued eating. Har-Bak, however, was far less polite.

"Okay then...I think I'll just have a smoke. If I can find a way to do that, that is."

The Eurypt stood and left, while Roar-Ree and Risir could barely contain their laughter.

"Pfft. Pansy."

Roar-Ree chuckled as Har-Bak stepped outside, clearly uncomfortable with eating Skeaver. "You realize he's gonna blow himself up trying to smoke, right?" Yorke shrugged, “That’s not a major concern. What does concern me is why you killed the missionaries." Risir leaned in and commented, “I’m also interested in this story, Lupinus."

Roar-Ree put a hand up defensively and replied, “It isn't as black and white as that, Yorke. They trained me, sure, but I wasn't a friend. As soon as they got offworld, I was gonna be their slave, their pet. They would show the universe how religion domesticated the savage Lupinus! I had no interest in being a slave, or staying on the planet, so I did what I had to do." His defense done, Roar-Ree turned towards Risir and asked, “Can I get one last bowl?" Risir nodded, and Roar-Ree got up and walked off to get more stew.

Har-Bak stretched out in the shuttle, cigar clamped between his mandibles. Only pace for a smoke on this damn planet...

He re-entered his environment suit and stepped out of the shuttle, watching Risir swarmed out of the mess tent and got back to work. He walked back over and poked his head in, looking at Yorke quizzically.

"You coming out, boss?"

"Sure. Be there in a minute." Yorke replied as began entering his environmental suit as Har-Bak nodded and awaited near the tent entrance. "You going to be alright in here, Roar?" He asked with only the reply of slurping echoing coming to his ears.

"Yeah. Yeah. I'll be there in a minute." Roar-Ree pronounced through the mouthfuls of stew that entered his mouth. "You think Risir is going to let me take some for on the go? Because this is some of the best stew I've eaten in a while."

"Well, if we do our job well enough then I'm sure he'll let you take a canister home." He replied slipping his helmet back on. "See you outside once you're done here." Yorke began making his way towards entrance with Har-Bak, who was just finishing his smoke and putting out light.

Both men left the tent and began making their way around the campsite. "Can't believe that Roar-Ree can stand that stuff." He shuddered slightly at the thought of eating the creature that had once nearly killed him and the rest of his team.

"No accounting for taste, I guess," Har-Bak says, still looking slightly sick.

"Since we've all been talking about our pasts, Har-Bak, mind telling me a little more about how you left Courbohn?" Yorke asks, wandering around the still-digging Risir.

"If you trade me some war stories from the Centurion Civil War, sure."

"That sounds like a deal, Har-Bak."

The Eurypt cleared his throat, and asked a question. "Well you see, Yorke, there's two versions to my story. The official story, and then there's the truth. Which would you like to hear?"

"I'd like to hear both, actually."

"Okay then. The official story, what the government told my family, all the paperwork, etc., is this; I opened fire on my platoon alongside a squad of human terrorists. It's plain and simple. Myself and all of the collaborators were all killed in the crossfire. Have the droid look it up on GalNet, he'll come up with that story."

BOB's cockney accent piqued over the radio. "It's true, cap'n. To official records, Captain Har-Bak of the Courbohn armed forces was announced K.I.A. after working alongside terrorists."

"Now obviously, this ain't true. I'm the proof. What actually happened is this; Human medical personnel crash-landed on Courbohn. I had my men help them out, which is a violation of protocol. My commanding officer tried to have the humans executed. I intervened, and now here I am. I got kicked off my goddamn planet for showing mercy, while my murderous, scumbag of a commander got a hero's parade. He got medals, awards. Hell, he's probably got a goddamn holiday for himself."

The Eurypt signed, and turned back to Yorke.

"There ya go. The story of Har-Bak, the hero of the moon invasions who became Courbohn's most fearsome terrorist and a bedtime story parents tell their little babies."

Yorke looked at him, his comrade's tale surprising him.

Roar-Ree walked back to the shuttle, whistling as he held a sealed container with some of the stew inside of it. Risir had been kind enough to let him have some for the road. Y'know, for an eldritch abomination, he's a pretty good cook. He'd put it in his seat to take back to the ship, then he'd catch up to Yorke and Har-Bak.

"Well well. The military lying to cover their own asses. I'd me more surprised if I hadn't seen it a million times during the Centurion campaigns. Before and after, too," Yorke says, "Hmm... now where to start with that...”

"Cap'm, we have a problem," BOB-5 says over the intercom, "Kitty's overdosed on some liquor or another. Anat'Ara, Snakey calls it."

"Why the hell was she drinking on the job?"

"She asked for a drink," Risir chimes in, "And so I gave her one."

"Repeat that again, please." He responded hoping to have misheard the statement about alcohol. There hopes were simply shattered as Risir replied & repeated what was said before.

"She asked for a drink and I gave her one. Wouldn't exactly call that one smart for asking one on the job, but this will probably stop her taking another shot anytime soon." Risir replied still remaining calm about the whole situation at hand. "She'll be fine as long as the visions don't mess with her in the head too badly."

Yorke sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose becoming visibly annoyed about the whole situation. "Anything that we should know about the about the drink? And if she's going to fine afterwards."

"Well, the kitty ain't going to be gun-ho about taking drinks on the job anytime soon. You think for a bartender, one that enjoys bringing the subject up, that she'd know a bit more about this stuff than others." BOB-5 chimed in re-entering the conversation with the crew.

"It causes vivid hallucinations," Risir says, "auditory, visual, olfactory... you name it. Only occurs in non-Ira'Preja."

"And how will she be afterwards? I kinda need a navigator."

"Oh, it wears off in a couple hours. Depending on what she sees, the side effects could range from nothing to light mental trauma..." Risir trails off, looking in the distance. "Found it. How would you like to accompany me inside?"

"I'd be most interested," Yorke says, hefting a camera in a sealed bag. "Should we call the others?"

"No need," Risir says, "It looks like there's an entrance on the other dig site."

"You mean this thing's under that lake of lava?" Har-Bak asks, slightly alarmed.

"This is a Saar structure," Risir says as they walk towards the entrance, "If the ancient accounts of their engineering are accurate, it would take a black hole or another Scouring to make a dent in it."

Basta hesitated with her next spoon, technically it was poetic justice. After all the years of Skeavers hunting down Altaics for food and for playthings, it seemed fitting that they themselves were now food for the Ira'Preja. The only problem was that by eating the Skeaver stew...was she any better than the Skeavers?

The Skeavers hunted us down with the intent of killing Altaics, Basta considered, I had nothing to do with the death of the Skeaver that went into the stew. For all I know, this Skeaver was a mercy kill.

Basta tried to compose herself as she ate another spoonful, but clearly Risir could see her unease, "Fitting, isn't it? After years of hunting down other species for food, the Skeavers are a delicacy to us."

Basta took a deep breath, "I will admit it tastes good, but I really could've gone without knowing what meat this was." She looked around the tent, "Risir, you have any kind of alcohol around? After that tidbit, I'm going to need a drink..."

Stefan sighs a bit as he continues to walk with BOB. "Do you really want to know? It's not like there's any point in me telling what happened."

"Hey we've got time, besides it's better than having to walk around this shitty place without doing anything," replied BOB.

"Fine," replied Stefan He clears his throat a bit. "This was back about 7 years ago, before I worked with a back alley doctor."

The two continue to walk around the perimeter. "My unit was sent to Kyon to prevent a nuclear device from detonating. When we managed to fight our way through the city, a spec ops unit beat us to it. We were assigned new orders to clear out any remaining Insurrection presence and assist any civilians seeking shelter."

"I assumed you were successful eh?"

"No....we weren't." Stefan took a long pause. "We were ambushed by a contingent of Insurrectionists that were laying low and regrouped after the failed attempt to detonate the device. Only me and a couple others were able to get out. No one else made it..."

"Was that one of the reasons why you got discharged?"

"You know, that was the most disappointing day of my life...."

"It's what happens in war Kanoff."

"It's...not that BOB. During the attack we spotted some civilians, and among them was a little girl. We knew we wouldn't be able to take all of them, but her mother asked me to save her. After I took the girl from her mother's arms, we were attacked once more but this time an Insurgent battle tank was put into play. There was a blast that killed all of the civilians; I was lucky enough not to be in the major blast area unfortunately shrapnel blinded my right eye. But I managed to protect that girl."

BOB continues to listen with interest and curiosity on what happens next. Stefan stops for a bit and looks up.

"We were able to make it out of the city, called for evac and airstrikes to take out the remaining Insurrectionists we couldn't get. Unfortunately, I let my guard down. The little girl tugged on my uniform and smiled. I kept telling her it was going to be okay....but then shots rang out. An Insurrectionist sniper managed to get two shots at me. One hit my left arm. I kept took cover behind some foliage and checked on the girl. That second shot would've been fatal, if it had not went through the little girl's heart. The little girl was still smiling at me, and I couldn't bear to look at her."

Stefan kept looking up at the sky.

"I fell to my knees and realized that I failed. Failed to give the girl a longer life than what she had, a life that she deserved..."

"You need a drink, eh?" Risir says, "I'll grab you one. Made from a frond from A'Trini." As he says so, another one of his Ira comes towards the table with the bottle in hand. "It's good stuff. Shouldn't impair your judgment. Too much."

The Ira out of sight of the team grinned. This drink had a strong hallucinogenic effect on those not of his species. Few knew that, as the drink was rare off his homeworld.

"Well kid, can't say that's how I woulda done it, but shit happens mate, life sucks. Lesson of the story is don't get attached to fuckin' strangers." BOB replied.

"What?" Stefan replied.

"What? Is my English not on?"

"You don't understand."

"Kid, I understand. I've seen shit that would make you want to put a bullet in yourself."

Basta stumbled back out in her environment suit, scanning the Ira working around her. She yawned, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.

This is one of the better jobs. Not too hard, no one shooting at me...

"Why did you leave us?"

She whirls, staring at the empty space behind her. She'd thought for a second that she'd herd her mother whispering, but saw nothing.

I know I didn't drink that much...

"Whhhhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?" the unseen voice rasped again, "Why did you leave them to die?"

At that, Basta started. Her mother never knew she was on Ansra. Her head turned as if on a swivel, trying to see who was talking and where. The stench of dead Skeaver started to fill her suit.

What the hell..?

She shuddered as the smell reached her nose. The aroma of the stew had been replaced with the smell of the Skeaver-ridden Ansra that brought back the fear of her being the slave to them.

"You knew where they were....and you left our best and brightest to die with those rats...."

Basta spun around to the voice, only to see an Altaic tail vanish behind a tent. She sprinted after it, but as she turned to corner, no one was there.

Okay...this isn't happening. Priap told me mother was at home and that I'm a navigator now. She thinks that it's a courier company, not the BCA.

As she backed up, she felt a pair of hands run down the sides of her arms, just like how her mother used to when she was a child. Too scared, she froze in place and turned her head, but didn't see anyone there.

She considered getting on the radio to call Yorke, but Basta knew that he wouldn't believe her. He'd make her use the therapist and that she was clinically loony.

"If you had just stayed home, you'd have a family by now. Instead you ran off to be some slut on Ord Melul..."

Basta's soul sank. Her mother thinking she was a slut? She sank to her knees trying to hold back tears.

"You though that be a navigator would make me feel better? I was supposed to have grandchildren! Did you not even think of me? You selfish bitch, you didn't care for the scientists just like you didn't care about me!"

"At least you didn't have to carry a dead child in your arms," said Stefan.

BOB gave him a cold stare.

"Look, sorry I didn't mean to backlash at you."

"Ehh none taken," replied BOB. "Hmm now where did our horny feline go?"

The two looked around them. "

She can't be in her phase yet," said Stefan. "Otherwise we would've seen her exhibit the behavior already."

As she lay kneeling, Basta starts feeling a wetness in the bottom of her suit. It starts to rise, matting her fur, and she recognizes the smell filling her suit. Nothing she would have smelled before she left Ord Melul, but it had been common enough since then to be easily recognizable.

Blood.

She lets out a shriek, and starts sprinting towards the shuttle, where she could take off her suit. She hears the rising blood sloshing as she runs; a few meters from the door, it reaches her face. Taking an unwilling swallow of the liquid, she feels it slide down her throat, smoother than fine whiskey.

There goes any enjoyment of whiskey ever again... she thinks, half-delirious with fear.

She hurtles into the shuttle, and starts tearing off her suit. After she throws off the helmet, seeing and hearing the blood splashing to the floor, she yells in pain as the suit starts to grew small, barbed spikes, refusing the let her escape her torment. She rips off the suit, piece by piece, yelling in pain as she does so. Finally free of its confines, she dashes into the ship and curls up in a fetal position, shivering and trying to will the sudden horror to end.

"What the fuck?"

Stefan just stares as Basta, screaming her head off, sprints to the shuttle they had taken down to the surface.

"The Anat'Ara must be kicking in," Risir says, grinning nastily, "I hear the hallucinations it causes in non-Ira'Preja are quite vivid and horrifying."

"Wha' happened here? 'Lil kitty get rejected at the prom?" BOB followed Stefan into the shuttle, confused.

"She got high." Stefan says.

"High on what? Some bad cat nip? This 'lil bugger looks like she saw whatever the fuck goes on in Slip-Space."

"Fortunately, it's not as bad as that." Risir replies.

"Did you know this would happen?" Stefan asks.

"Of course."

"Well, then why the fuck did you give her some?"

"And I hope that answers your..." Risir breaks off, looking towards a dig site.

"Bingo. We found it. Care to accompany me inside?"

"Sure," Stefan says, "Should we get Yorke over here, too?"

"No need. We found an entrance on their side, as well." Risir pauses for a moment, sending a scathing look at Basta. "Leave the drunken idiot here. No telling when the Anat'Ara will wear off. Best if she's not in the structure when it does."

"One thing I've been meaning to ask, Risir," BOB-5 says, "Wot the 'ell is with all those apostrophes in the Ira'Preja tongue?"

"It's a shorthand for 'the combination of,'" Risir replies as they walk towards the entrance, "So Ira'Preja is 'the combination of body and brain.' Anat'Ara is 'the combination of drunkenness and trolling.'"

This prompted a curious glance from Stefan.

"It was named after we discovered its effects on other species," Risir says.

Basta sat in the ship, curled in a corner, clutching her tail.

This it...I think I've lost it. The voices, the tastes, the wounds...just make it stop.

She closed her eyes and began to cry. Unlike the last few missions, there wasn't going to be any amount of liquor that would be able to blotch out those memories.

She turned on her comm, "St...Stefan...something is wrong with me. Please...help."

Stefan heard her message on the comm and stretched a bit. "BOB I'm going inside to look after Basta, you good with covering this area?"

"Yea sure go ahead," said BOB. "Otherwise she'd be constantly calling all of us individually on the comms. Go on, I've got this."

"All right then." Stefan picks up his MK rifle and heads inside the tent.

Stefan looks to find Basta near the corner. "Ah jeez..." Stefan went over to her.

"P-pl-please help..." she said.

"Shhh don't worry I'm here Basta," Stefan picked up Basta and carried he.

"Some fancy-ass shit," BOB-5 says, looking at the ornate entrance to the Saar compound.

"Not a patch on the front entrance, if you'll believe it," Risir says.

"The hell is this artifact you're trying to find?"

"Stories are unclear, but it seems to be part of a weapon. Or part of an immortality device. Whatever it is, it's something either Sela Xaxis or Lloyd wants to keep hidden."

"Oh?" BOB-5 says, slight bit of menace entering his tone, "Why do you think that?"

"There's only the most oblique references in the parts of GalNet I have access to. Sela runs it, and it's common knowledge that Lloyd has a hand in it, as well. Since it contains stuff from when they were alive and experienced, it stands to reason that it's something they want to keep hidden."

"Well shit my fuck, Risiy boy. I take it we gon' be finding out what soon?" The synthetic stood hands on hips at the entrance, bantering without even looking at Risir, his vision focused on the compound.

"Precisely." Risir answered, doing the same as BOB.

"Not sure if I should be shittin' out bolts and pissin' out oil or look forward to this shindig. Would Lloyd...approve of this?"

"Just wait and see."

"Why you wan' this shit anyhow?"

"Wait and see."

"Whatever you say...mate."

"That's....slightly reassuring."

The crew followed Risir as they were led through a dark tunnel.

"I'll...."

"Be..."

"Damned."

The crew of the Dawn Voyager stared in awe as they saw what Risir spoke of. Ornate statues and carvings, showing figures of a species unrecognizable in a language lost to history. Further ahead, several Ira were examining an odd geometric artifact on a pedestal.

Risir smiled, glancing back at the stunned figures. "Are you impressed?"

Har-Bak eagerly nodded his head, scanning around the large structures.

"Pretty fucking cool, I'll give ya that."

As Yorke and Har-Bak marveled at the discovery, Roar-Ree caught up to them. Panting, he found himself literally breathless at the sight of the ruins. "Holy moly." Risir looked at Roar-Ree and said with visible pride, “Amazing, isn't it?" Roar-Ree nodded, “This is incredible. An entire species lost to history, until now." Risir scoffed, “Lost my ass. The Saar still have had a huge impact on the galaxy. The last remaining one even runs GalNet." He signaled for the others to follow, then said, “Well, we're not here to stand around. Let's take a look, shall we?"

"Doesn't look so fancy indoors," Har-Bak says. The impressively ornate stonework on the outside quickly gave way to a sparse, Spartan interior, with bare walls and stone. It was the same material, same language on what was likely signs, but the aesthetic was completely different.

"Standard Saar architectural sense," Risir says, "The outside's fancy shit to draw the eye, but the interior is functional. You can see more of it in about half the GalNet archive stations."

They continued walking, checking each and every room to see if they can find the artifact. Eventually, they come upon it. Just like they expected, it was a small octahedron, about the size of Yorke's fist.

"Is this it?" Observing the small object and preparing the camera as abiding by Lloyd's orders. The object suspended in the air, held aloft by air streaming from a duct, and giving off a small glow from the heat.

"Well, yes it is. This little thing is what I've been tolling for so long and now it’s finally standing, rather floating before us." Risir began grinning looking at the object his eyes filled with joy and curiosity. "Hope you all weren't intending on making the discovery of age because no one besides us is going to know what we found here."

"Can I at least write home about it? I'm sure the folks back in that trash heap will be more than proud to figure out Ol' Bobbie discovered ancient shit."

"No," Risir says, walking up with BOB-5. "I want this kept under wraps until I'm certain what it is."

"You sounded fairly certain earlier," BOB-5 says, "Especially about the part where Lloyd might not be too happy with this."

"Wait, what?" Yorke says, perking up, "If we piss Lloyd off..."

"You won't. I might," Risir says, trying to placate the mercenaries, "And that's exactly why I want this kept under wraps. That includes the robot's recorded data banks."

"The BOB-5 model doesn't have any playback functionality."

"But someone could still access your data storage."

"The original BOB line had military functionality," BOB-5 says, "Every model uses a programming language that is generated using fragments from hundreds of different languages on activation. I assure you, no one can access those but me."

"Very well, then," Risir says. "I think I can take this from here. You are free to go back to your ship."

The Dawn Voyager crew gets in their shuttles and return to their ship; the shuttle containing Yorke's party had lively chatter, while the one containing Bob's party was far more subdued. They returned and disembarked, Roar-Ree heading to his room while Stefan and Har-Bak manhandle Basta into the med bay.

"Bob," Yorke says, "Come with me to the comms room. We have a report to make to Lloyd."

"Right behind ya, Yorke." The machine replied non-nonchalantly and followed his captain towards the nearby comms room. "So, you ain't exactly trusting this Risir character now either right?"

Upon entering the comms, Yorke went towards screen and called Lloyd, who picked up immediately. "I'm hoping the mission was a success or at least that you're here to inform me that progress is going well. Because there is no conceivable way that you could mess up walking around a camp site."

"Well, we have an update that will be sure to make your day."

"Then let's hear it."

Motioning towards BOB, the mech moved closer towards the comms unit. "I got something to show ya Lloyd. And I'm sure it'll crack a smile on that ancient face of yours."

"Let's see it, then," Lloyd says, watching as BOB-5 opens his palm and activates the quantum-linked holographic tech within, specially constructed by Lloyd. A white, regular octahedron springs into existence. At the sight of it, Lloyd jumps up and peers close to the screen.

"Are you sure that's it?" he says, voice tight and urgent.

"Yes," Yorke says, "This is exactly what he was looking for."

"What does he know about it?"

"Very little," BOB-5 replies. The glare Lloyd sent his way would have flash-frozen a star. "Well, it's true. He said it might piss you off, and that he had conflicting accounts if it was a weapon or some immortality thing."

Lloyd cursed in several languages; some human, some alien, and some that had not been spoken since the Scouring drove those who spoke it to extinction. "If this is what I think it is... if this is what he thinks it is... hell, even the fact that he thinks it's something is cause for alarm." Lloyd narrows his eyes, restoring his usual impenetrable calm in an instant. "Threat assessment. We need to see how bad this is. Yorke, get your crew in here. I've got a new job for them."

Yorke left the comms room, leaving only BOB-5 and Lloyd.

"This is bad, boss," BOB-5 says, "If this is what you think it is..."

"Even if it isn't, Duster, we have a security breach. If it is, then 'this is bad' might turn out to be the biggest understatement in galactic history."

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