The Guardians of Zion

The sound of running water. It soothed her, calmed her, Allowed her to reach out and search. He was on the way already: He was an expert on hiding all outward signs of his presence, be it sight, smell or sound. But she could feel him, touch him. She knew he was here and he knew she did. It was all a part of his plan. She could find his presence, but not him.

She slowly opened her eyes, letting the continued sound of the nearby waterfall, the brilliant light of the Sun and the beautiful green grass and trees overwhelm her senses. He was nearby, but neither of them were ready just yet. She might as well enjoy the waiting. She slowly got to her feet, picking up her wooden staff and slinging her pack over her shoulders. She began walking, heading down the small forest path closer to the waterfall.

As she got closer, the gentle sound of running water morphed into the thunder of thousands of gallons of liquid falling hundreds of feet to the lake below. His presence also morphed from a faint signal to a feeling like a hard to remember idea. He was certainly close now. It wouldn’t be long now, they both knew. Her heart began beating faster as she slowly moved to the center of a small clearing. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes again. And he jumped.

In a heartbeat, she whirled around, slinging her staff up with all the strength she could muster. It collided with his own horizontally held weapon mid flight, striking it in the weakened middle grip. He was sent flying back, but recovered with a role and landed on his feet. The two stared at each other with narrowing eyes. She was no more than sixteen, dressed in simple clothing with ebony hair and a nervous, but hopeful look. He looked to be middle aged but felt much older, clad in a jet black coat which matched his hair. A steady look of determination met hers, And she was suddenly dismayed.

He flipped the two halves of his broken weapon so the non-shattered ends faced outwards and fell back into a ready stance. Instead of disarming him, she had given him twice as many weapons! She responded and the two began slowly circling each other. The two shared more than a ready stance: Both faces held scars, On the outside and in, both held a look of wisdom far beyond their apparent age and both had a look of fierce determination, but a slight glimmer of joy in their eyes as well. In a blur of motion, almost as fast as their opening moves, the two lunged at each other.

She swung her staff, which he blocked and deflected. His counter attack was only barely ducked under in time and she stepped back, falling into a defensive stance. She continued to hold this position, letting him rain strikes down on her and looking for an opening. Just like he had taught her. Forcing her to give ground, he spotted a hole in her defense and exploited it, using one stick to force her staff above her head and the other to land a blow.

It stung but did not damage, just like they always did. Determined to take the upper hand, she turned on her heel, forcing him to choose between letting go of his weapon or breaking his wrist. His first stick went flying into the nearby bushes, while she again seized the offensive. He flipped his remaining stick into a reverse grip to better block and let her drive him closer to the treeline. Her drive finally payed off and the remaining half of his staff joined its twin somewhere in the bushes. She did a 360 turn with all the grace of a trained dancer spinning her staff in the air with one arm, before slamming it into the ground and kneeling, grinning at her opponent in victory.

The two locked gazes for a millisecond, just long enough for her to realize her mistake, before he seized her staff with both hands and gave a mighty swing. Having been holding on with only one hand, she was sent sprawling to the ground, disarmed. She scrambled to her feet and fell back into a ready stance, but the odds were stacked against her now. He had her weapon. But he himself had taught her to never assume an enemy is disarmed and helpless until they stayed down.

His lunges weren’t as strong as her’s were, but they were just as quick and had experience behind them. She was limited to four years of fighting training and a single, defensive style. He...had a little more than that. She steadily backpedaled, deflecting what hits she could with her hands and tanking the rest. The two fell into a rhythm, with her giving ground and him steadily driving her back, looking for a weakness in her defense. Unfortunately, he had taught her well and even without a weapon she was doing a surprisingly good job of blocking his blows. It also did not escape his notice that she was not just falling back randomly: She was leading him somewhere.

And indeed she was, darting back onto the forest path and ducking and weaving around his attacks as she focused in on the sound of the waterfall and used it to lead herself back. The sound of the waterfall soon became a backdrop to the continued clash between the two, as fists and staff collided with unexpected force. Soon the two stood and fought in a second clearing, this one right on the edge of the waterfall itself. Now in position, she set her plan into motion...and missed.

He couldn’t stop his staff in time, and it connected. She really wanted to react to the blow, which got her right in the nose, but she instead let the momentum carry her backwards and to the ground. She sensed his hesitation, obviously not having intended the blow to do real damage, and she used it. Feeling around in the grass, she found what appeared to just be a thick stick poking out of the ground. She firmly grabbed it as she leaped to her feet, unearthing a third staff. His hesitation was gone and he advanced once more. She threw off her pack and met him head on.

She had buried the new weapon last time she had visited the falls, anticipating another session in this area. Her foresight had saved the match: She had bruised her hands and arms deflecting shots and was steadily bleeding from the nose, thanks to his last strike. He was barely breathing hard. Still, the fight wasn’t over yet, and they both knew she had youth and stamina on her side. This lead him to take decisive action, as she discovered when the ferocity of his attacks increased, sending her into a hurried retreat. Determined to not lose her weapon again, She let her focus on the surroundings faltar in favour of complete attention on her target. When she almost backed off the cliff completely, stumbling and sending some small rocks plummeting to the water below, she hastily rethought this strategy. Not quickly enough however.

The staffs they used were all practically identical: smooth and thick hand crafted shafts of wood over a meter and a half in length. However, those who had spent hours practicing with them could tell that the center of the weapon was crafted from less resilient, more brittle wood. She had already taken advantage of this and he now returned the favour, delivering a powerful blow the the staff while she held it aloft as she tried to regain her balance. Now, the match was over.

She glanced at the remains of her surprise and tossed them into the falls. She had no training in wielding multiple melee weapons at once, and he had backed her into a corner. As there stares met, she could feel a clear message in him for the first time during the fight. “I win”. She paused for a second, before sending her own response. “Not yet”. In an instant, she wheeled about and leaped off the ledge.

As the air rushed past, she couldn’t help but wonder if she had made a mistake. The Northwest falls were much smaller than the larger waterfalls on the planet, but it still plunged about 220 feet, almost twice as far as she’d jumped before. Still, she supposed  it was the same principle no matter how far one was falling, so she closed her eyes (More to shut out the alarmingly quickly approaching lake than anything else) and began going through the motions. Meanwhile, the man was silently wondering who taught her to go jumping off cliffs. He shook his head as her form became smaller, plummeting to the water below. Given that she was twisting and turning, she was at least remembering the proper methods. This reminded him that he was, in fact, the one who had taught her to jump off cliffs. Or at least HOW to jump off cliffs. Shaking his head, he turned around and walked a few steps back. Tossing his staff aside he screwed up his mind in concentration, letting the sound of the water and feeling of the air pervade his thoughts. He sighed and then, in a single instant, he whirled about and took a running leap off the edge himself.

At this point, any spectators of the magnificent Northwestern falls would likely be confused by the current turn of events. The first figure was moving too fast to get a good look at, but she appeared to be performing an intricate sequence of moves like a mid-air dance. Mere moments before the first figure hit the water a second, larger figure followed the first. This one was obscured by a black cloak, which trailed behind him like a cape. He dove with incredible velocity but seemed to stop for just a millisecond above the water's surface before plunging in with a force much greater than the first. Those nearby and versed in the proper ways would feel the gathering energy and disturbance in the air seconds before impact. Whatever the second figure had done, it produced a shockwave and a massive explosion of water. Any nearby spectators would be awed by the demonstrations of the cliff divers. To bad there was no-one around for hundreds of miles to witness this spectacle. The forest and water were the only witnesses, and they gradually returned to the stillness of nature: The roar of the waterfall and the lively sounds of the many creatures calling the trees, foliage and grass home.

Gradually, however, two figures made their way to shore, just beneath the surface. They seemed to glide with a grace not inherent to your average sentient Humanoid. Once close enough, they burst from the water, staggering breathless to the dry ground. The man, who had been supporting the girl, gently laid her down, before removing his soaking wet cloak and tossing it a few feet away. He turned and took a good hard look at his sparring partner, still sprawled out on the sand and breathing heavily, her eyes shut tight.

“Anything too seriously hurt?” he asked, although he did not speak. She slowly opened her eyes and took stock of what hurt, what was numb and what had escaped unscathed by her fall. “Broken left ankle and shoulder. At least one cracked rib and a few bruises” she responded, although she remained outwardly silent as well. He sighed and shook his head, half in exasperation and half in amusement. “Hasn’t anyone ever taught you to be careful around hieghts?” she smiled coyly in response, pushing herself up on her one good arm. “I’m afraid I’ve had a very neglectful Father”.

His response was indignant, but good natured and every bit as silent as their previous communications. The two continued for a short time, sitting on the sandy lake coast in the warm sunlight, trading jests and jabs in equal measure, without ever speaking a word. By the end, both were in high spirits, despite a lack of nourishment (lunch had been in the pack she left at the top of the Falls.) and the looming topic of discussion both were apparently happy to avoid, namely, The results of the sparring match. Soon however, the adrenaline wore off and the pain set in.

He knew, despite the extensive training she had received and her excellent progress in said training, she was still Human, And a young girl at that. As she fell silent, the ache and pain of broken bones setting in, he decided it was time to go. He retrieved his now dry coat and wrapped her in it, after helping her to her feet. Supporting her weight with his own, the Man began the slow trek to his home. True, she would be more comfortable in her own house. But it would add another 2 miles to the already lengthy walk, and his medical supplies were more readily available at his more simple dwelling, so he began the eight mile walk back from the lake.

Exhaustion having completely taken hold of her now, she didn’t much care where they went as long as it had a comfortable, warm place to sit down. He smiled as she fell into a half slumber while they made their way through the beautiful greenery of the Northwest Falls forest. It added to the load he was carrying, but this hardly made a difference to him. He had always tried his hardest to give her happiness, and it comforted his old, weary soul to see the slight smile on her face. He would have prefered it if it had not come at the price of her injuries, however.

So he walked on in silence, practically carrying his wounded sparring partner. His student. His daughter. And she was his daughter, make no mistake. Maybe not by blood (Both of their ‘blood’ families had passed away years before) but by just as strong as connection. The Man had never had children of his own, something he deeply regretted, but he considered her every bit as important if she had been his child by blood.

Yet, he was more than just her Father: He was also her Master. She had been afraid of her own shadow when he brought her in, so he had done the only thing he knew how to: He had taught her to fight. In his experience, being taught how to defend oneself  and, if need be, attack others rarely actually removed fear. One would simply spend their life on edge waiting for real attackers, rather than shadows. But with training, one could defend themselves from almost anything, fear or not. A good enough warrior could be said to be invincible.

And if she had proven one thing today, it was that she was a warrior: Strong, skilled and willing to do anything to win. He sighed deeply as the tree line began to clear and his house became visible. He wasn’t sorry he had taught her to fight or to defend herself, not really. The Galaxy was a dangerous place and these skills were important. However, he knew what a life of combat and adventures would be like, and seeing his little girl with broken bones was bad enough.

As she finally gave into sleep, he steadily walked on, supporting her as he had always done. But that time was coming to a close much sooner than he would have liked: She was getting older and needed a layer of silk to cover her steel, or else he would raise a weapon, not a daughter. And he had zero experience in teaching how to become silk. When she began snoring loudly, however, he couldn’t help but smile. Whatever the future brought, no matter what she chose, no matter where they went, for now they were just Father and Daughter. Seth let Samantha (Or Sam, as everyone else referred to her) fall into his arms, and he carried her the rest of the way.

Sam woke up slowly, gradually returning to the land of the living. She slowly opened her eyes and tried to blink through the fog of sleepiness. Looking around, she at first did not recognize her surroundings, but it swiftly returned to her. This small house (Most would call it a hut) was her first home. Although there was a door on every one of the four sides of the room (One leading outside, two to bedrooms and one opening directly into a restroom) this was what made up most of the humble abod: A comparatively large circular room that doubled as kitchen, lounge, study and whatever else Seth happened to need at the moment.

Its dirt floor and faded wooden walls lent a underground feeling to the surroundings, and objects of every size shape and purpose lay scattered across it. Her Father was a great man, but a lousy housekeeper. Sam slowly sat up, rubbing her eyes and shifting slightly, allowing the blanket she did not even realize had been covering her to fall away. It took only a second glance to find Seth: Her Father, having shed his heavy coat, was preparing dinner. Which, she realized, she should have realized immediately, as he was doing it over an open fire. True, most of the smoke was escaping through ventilation in the roof, but why on Earth he refused to get an actual Thermo-pad or even stove was beyond her.

She slowly climbed out of the makeshift cot leaned up in the corner of the room, and walked over to the Fire, sitting down across from Seth. He glanced up at her while tending the fire. “Hello there sleepy head” he silently told her. She smiled and settled down, taking to watching the burning fire. When she remembered the events of the day, she glanced at her arm and was unsurprised to see a silvery metal band wrapped around it near her shoulder. Seth may have prefered old school solutions to most things, but thankfully fixing broken bones wasn’t one of them. Sam carefully removed the band and stretched. Her shoulder, ribs and ankle were all sore, but healed.

Sam yawned widely and then settled down for the quiet evening ahead. However, she was surprised when she heard (Or rather, felt) Seth speak. “You did well today”. She looked up at him, confused. “You’re not mad? At the...cliff...thing?” He shook his head, looking up from his tending of the fire. “You did exactly what I trained you to do: Survive. A few broken bones are better than being taken captive by an enemy”.

“Besides” He added as he leaned back, taking his own seat on the simple dirt floor. “I am more focused on your technique and strategy than anything, and both of those are improving rapidly” They fell silent again, as Sam contemplated his words. She couldn’t help herself as she broke into a wide grin. Sam, a voiceless street orphan until the age of ten, cared more for her Father's approval than almost anything else, and they both knew it.

She stifled her grin quickly however when Seth continued. “That being said, I think we’ve been spending too much time learning how to fight recently, rather than focusing on more practical skills”. “But…” she began to object and then faltered half way through. He raised his eyebrows at her and she finished quietly “But I enjoy it”. “I know you do” he sighed, as he sat up again and stirred the fire once more. “But there are other, more important things in life”. Now, he stared directly into her eyes. “Samantha, how much do you know of my career prior to retiring?” she was almost too stunned to speak. Seth had answered or avoided questions about his past as he saw fit, but had never brought it up before. “I...I know you traveled a lot” she finally responded. “I know you helped people. I know you fought in a war”.

At this, she paused, expecting some kind of a response. Her Father had always avoided the question of where he had learned to fight. However, he simply nodded. “Several, actually. Go on”. Slightly confused, Sam nonetheless continued to list what she knew of her Father's long career as...something, until she finally came to “And I know you were gifted this entire planet, Arketa, although by who and what for I don’t know”. The two looked at each other for a few seconds, before Seth broke out in laughter. “Have you been keeping track of everything I’ve told you for the last six years?” She blushed, embarrassed.

Seth stopped laughing and returned to the business at hand, although his eyes retained a glimmer of amusement. “In addition to all that, I dabbled in evangelical efforts now and then” Now this truly surprised Sam. She had always been a believer herself, her faith being the only thing sustaining her when living on the streets, but Seth only rarely acknowledged a spiritual belief. Then again, Seth Rarely spoke at all, aloud or otherwise.

Sam’s attention was quickly drawn back to her Father, as he continued on. “Admittedly, I was often too...busy, to really focus on such efforts, but I did play a hand in the foundation of a few missions. one in particular sits on the border between the Confederacy and the Skia-Andres Kingdom”.

“Isn’t that No-man's land?” Sam asked, surprised. Seth nodded, his attention again drawn to the dinner. Geography and History were not Sam’s strong suits, but she knew enough to know that that was a very dangerous area, sitting in an unclaimed area immediately between two superpowers that had always had a strained relationship.

Seth, almost as if he could read her thoughts (Which she reminded herself he actually could) then said “Which is precisely why their Shepherd has requested my presence, and why I have accepted.” It took a while for these words to register, before she burst out “Were going off world?”.

He frowned. “Well, I am. I never said I was taking you with me” However, upon seeing the look on her face he quickly backpedaled and reassured her. “Yes, we're going off-world. It will give me a chance to see a few old friends, and it will be a great experience for you. For now, however” he suddenly switched topics, standing up and pulling the pot out of the fire. “Dinner is ready. Let’s eat”.

An hour later, after a hearty meal of stew and an in-depth discussion of Interstellar politics, Sam stepped out of the simple house and saw that night had already fallen. She shivered slightly in the brisk air, but quickly ignored it as her mind raced with her Father's announcement. She had never left her Home-world (Indeed, she never had the opportunity) and was extremely excited and completely terrified at the same time. Wrapping her borrowed jacket (Even Seth believed in not letting his Daughter go out in the cold without a coat) tightly around her, Sam began the comparatively short walk to her own home. Since first reaching the age of thirteen, Seth had decided she needed a house of her own. So to him, the obvious answer was to have a veritable mansion constructed for her to live in. She shook her head and couldn’t help but chuckle, even three years later, when her house came into view: a sprawling three story tall building and with a grand respectfulness and manor about it, it was better suited for an ambassador than a single teenager. To be fair, she did have several friends visit on a regular basis (Namely the young married couple who ran planet security) and she was the Daughter of the planets owner she supposed. Still, it was a bit ridiculous to have a different bedroom to sleep in every day of the week. If she counted the Living rooms. After the streets and her father's home, she still wasn’t entirely used to sleeping in comfortable king sized beds. The memories of the streets of  Capital City briefly caused her to shiver (But not out of cold) before she shook them from her head and continued her walk. There was much to do before She and her Father left in a few weeks, but she still had a feeling she would sleep well tonight. With both the long walk to the top of the Northwest Falls and the sparring match, not to mention the side effects of the Bone Mender, she was still entirely exhausted. However, one question did make it through the fog filling Sam’s mind as she got closer to her bed:As far as she knew, Her Father did not own a ship of any kind. So who's transport were they taking?

Capital City: The least imaginatively named Capital City in the entire sector. A more accurate title would be “Only City”, as there wasn’t a single other community on the planet's surface with more than a couple thousand residents. Arketa was beautiful, but untamed and isolated, leading to few tourists, much less colonists. Still, this one bustling municipality was home to everything one would expect from a city: quite Suburbs, bustling business districts, a criminal element, many religious institutes of various faiths and starship docks.

It was at the later that Sam stood on the warm, sunny day. Not that anyone would recognize her at first glance, she supposed. Generally speaking, Sam never wore anything fancier than a T shirt and pair of jeans, sometimes a cloak. Today however, she was going off-world. The very thought caused shivers of excitement and anticipation, and a twinge of fear if she was honest. For this special occasion, she had retrieved her one and only dress: A sky-blue affair with flower patterns. Seth had said she looked beautiful, but then again, he always said that.

Sam shifted, nervously at first, but eventually out of boredom. As much as she couldn’t wait to meet the freighter crew that would be shuttling them to the mission (Sam had asked, and apparently the planet itself had not received a name yet), she had already been out here waiting for upwards of an hour. Eventually, she gave up and took a seat by the small pile of luggage she and her Father had packed. Careful not to dirty her dress, Sam sat and waited. Just as she was beginning to regret not bringing a book to read, her keen eyes spotted a fast moving speck, floating just above the clouds. It’s flight plan was erratic, it’s shape unnatural and path of descent could only enabled by stardrives. It couldn’t be anything but a ship.

Sam got to her feet again, anticipation rolling over her again. Granted, this was the only real Starship dock on the entire planet, so there was no reason to believe this was the vessel scheduled to pick them up, but it could still be...yes, it was! Sam couldn’t help but smile as the vessel slowly descended. It was the spitting image of a freighter stereotype: Disk shaped, medium sized and scarred by wear and tear. It was like something out of a cheap adventure novel.

Sam watched as the ship slowed and maneuvered to the point it could descend onto the platform. The closer it grew, the louder the roar of its powerful engines grew. Powerful gusts of the wind, thrown up by the ship's engines, whipped around Sam is it touched down. Two pairs of matched, triangular landing gear descended, one on each side of the disk-shaped freighter. Clouds of dust blew past Sam, kicked up by the engines and forcing her to cover her eyes. She frowned as the ship finally came to an halt, and the large name spray painted on the side became visible: The Blue Fairy.

As the engines die down, Sam puts on a smile, ready to greet the crew. Ten minutes later, she was still waiting. Something was obviously keeping them, and it made her impatient, paired with how much time she had already spent just standing around that morning. A closer look at the Blue Fairy confirmed Sam’s original assessment: a medium sized vessel, probably about two stories tall, that was obviously well used and had been in service for decades. On the outside, there was very little distinct about it: on the inside however, she was sure it would be a unique home, rather than a ship at all. This meant nothing if the people inside had apparently dropped dead upon landing.

Seriously, where were they?  At that moment, a hissing sound could be heard on the small landing pad and a large sliding hatch on the side of the ship farthest away from Sam opened up, allowing a ramp to slowly fall to the ground with a whine. Sams keen hearing, honed by her lifelong inability to speak, picked up two voices inside the vessel, as she made her way over to the opening. Both voices sounded Male, as well as agitated. Well, one sounded agitated. The other was simply impatient.

Sam was know at an angle where she could see inside the ship: The door and ramp opened into what appeared to be a Cargo bay, filled with numerous random, disorganized objects strown about. Canisters, crates, fuel cells, starship parts, tools and much more. Even Seth would be impressed by their lack of organization. Sam quickly spotted the two speakers: As expected, they were both men. Both were of roughly average height and sported dark brown hair. The one standing closest to the entrance had his back turned, caught up in the loud conversation between the two. His worn, jet black jacket and it's style and symbols marked him as the ship's pilot (Or simply fond of black jackets).

The second figure was deeper in the cargo area, kneeling over the controls of one of the larger crates. He seemed much less interested in the conversation, focusing on his work and occasionally taking a drink of what looked like a bottle of milk. This man was cut from the same stock as Seth, with a gruff stubble of a beard and a preference for long coats, it would appear. The two men were caught up in their work, so Sam decided she could wait a little longer and listen in.

“Are you serious?” The Pilot was practically yelling. “After Jade? After Dr. Waynewright? You’re really picking up another Asynithis after that?”.

Sam raised an eyebrow at this: Asynithis was merely a modern term for wizard, although her Father prefered the classical title. Dr. Wainwright, however, was just an anthropologist. Infamous for being highly… eccentric, but Sam had never heard of any indication he was able to wield magic, or his traveling on a small-time cargo ship.

“I’ve explained this a hundred times already” the second man wearily said, not even looking up. “This is different: These passengers are more than safe”. The other man scoffed, and even with his back turned, Sam could tell he was rolling his eyes.

“That’s exactly what you said about Wainwright. Will these passengers also purposely lead us into a nest of Choros Drakons?”. Now that was interesting. Choros, more commonly just referred to as Space Dragons, were some of only a handful of species that lived in deep space. Why anyone, even eccentric professors, would enter a nest of them on purpose was beyond her… “Jack.”

Sam looked up to see that the second man was getting to his feet, having looked up himself. “Our welcoming party is here” The second man turned and his expression immediately changed from exasperation to polite greeting.

Now that she could see both their faces clearly, it was obvious the two were either brothers or clones, with the only real difference being the first man, Jack’s, clean shaven face. Judging by their yellow eyes and lack of forehead ridges, the two men appeared to be Isk hybrids.

“Greetings!” The second man leaped down from the ramp, landing with cat-like agility. “Captain Skid Sa at your service. You are?” Sam hurriedly signed her name and intentions: Her Father's telepathy was sufficient to allow the two of them to speak with each other, but she had retained her knowledge of sign language for speaking with others.

Skid carefully watch her hand movements… then turned back to Jack. “Well, depending on what variation of Confederate standard she’s using, she is either one of our passengers or would like to feast on our innards”.

Sam blinked. She might be a bit rusty, but she wasn’t THAT bad. Skid seemed not to notice however, or possibly just didn’t care. “Those aren’t mutually exclusive, Jack”. The pilot just rolled his eyes as Skid turned back to Sam.

“Welcome aboard the Blue Fairy, ma'am. Me and my crew would be more than glad to help with whatever you need, but first: We're here for a hero”

In many ways, Capital City was the absolute picture of idealism. Very low crime rate, Little to no civil unrest and a overall friendly atmosphere. However, Arketa still sat outside of any official government borders, in the depths of frontier colony space. A lack of any laws could attract any kind of unsavory individual.

Currently, it could attract some of the worst individuals out there. “Street Pirates” is what civilized society referred to them as. Seth referred to them in terms much less endearing or civil. Unscrupulous Off-world criminals, they lived in the shadows cast even here on Arketa, committing whatever current acts of depravity they could think of.

However, one practice in particular had caught Seth’s eye, for more than six years. He had thought to put an end to it, but he must have been mistaken. Seth was the undisputed ruler of this world, true, but he had learned in his youth the impossibility of micromanaging an entire planet. But this. This was different.

Seth strolled down the main street of Capital City's industrial district, nodding in polite greeting to those who recognized him. Those who called him a “Legend of his time” would be shocked to see the citizens uncaring reaction, but he prefered it that way. It was much easier to go about one's business when one wasn’t being constantly congratulated for work he did over a century ago.

Continuing down the roads, Seth noted the scenery as it slowly changed from bustling businesses to those which had not made it. Broken down and abandoned, these buildings were once little more than a home for the orphans or homeless. Seth’s attempts at reform had largely cleared up the area, but rumours were that Street Pirates had moved back to their old haunts.

If this was indeed true...Seth stopped, searching the area for the old “Arena”. The Confederate activists who spent so much time and money abolishing dog fighting clearly had not spent much time in the depths of frontier space. It wasn’t that he disagreed with their sentiment, he mused to himself as he spotted the old, disused factory. It was just that a lifetime in space and crime left men desensitized towards the very idea of Humanity. So when Dogs were in short supply, they made due with whatever or whoever they could find.

Seth narrowed his eyes and began walking towards the out-of-use factory. The interior had been “renovated”, with stands and a pit to display the battles that took place there. Seth may have spent his entire life dealing with the worst characters in the Galaxy, these men still stood as some of the worst in his view, likely the result of his personal connections.

It had taken months before Samantha was even willing to explain what went on here. After that, and his...less than civil response, the Street Pirates had gone into a mass Exodus, he had hopped permanently. But he could hear them: An average man would hear nothing, but his senses were bolstered by a power beyond that of an average man. And they were in there: At least four men, all with deep, rumbling voices, were speaking in low voices.

Their conversation was about as crude as one would expect, their preparations for the night's activities apparently being “finished”. Two more people could be heard, although barely. Both were considerably younger and obviously afraid, frightened whimpers being their only true sound. Seth’s attention was suddenly drawn away from the sounds within to something in the air, a disturbance, a gathering of energy.

Who around here could, or would, summon such power? looking around, he saw nothing, but the feeling in the air was unmistakable. Seth glanced down and found his fists clenched tightly. He shook his head as he unfolded them and took a deep breath. Unable to detect his own gathering of energy? He must really be getting old. Seth paused a while longer, allowing himself the chance to calm down.

Six years ago, he had made a pledge to never again take a life, especially in the name of his Daughter (The last thing the Galaxy needed was for him to go Knight Templar). If he went in that building already enraged...well, the less said about that the better.

But that by no means meant he was about to stand by and let them continue this on his world. Closing his eyes tightly, Seth let his consciousness slip away, deep into the fabric of the air around him. He took it all in: The Sights, the sounds, the very feeling of the city. Enjoying this immersion for only a few seconds, he quickly narrowed his focus on one specific area of the city, then one specific building, then one specific person. Nowadays, almost everyone had some form of neural or mental implant. They were convenient, relatively risk free and made everyday tasks much easier to complete. And when augmented by Seth’s telepathy, he for all intents and purposes had a ready made emergency beacon at his proverbial fingertips. Only a slight “nudge” was needed to inform his contact of his position and the situation. That task completed, Seth slowly faded back into the physical world.

The Defense Force (Aka police) would be here in a couple minutes. But that was no reason he couldn’t give the men inside a little personal attention first, just to remind them why they left Arketa in the first place. Your average man would sneak in, get the drop on them. But no matter how much he would sometimes wish otherwise, Seth was not an average man.

So his point of entry was much more direct. With force that would be impossible for anyone but a wizard, Seth threw the doors wide open with a defining crash. He smiled as he picked up the reactions of the people within. The men were suddenly afraid. The children were confused. Seth composed himself and lazily strolled forwards. Time to say hello.

“Or something like that” Sam signed. She wasn’t entirely sure why the captain was so fascinated with her Father, but she was happy to explain what he was likely doing at the moment. She also wasn’t sure if he really was setting up the Defense Force to handle things while they were gone, but it seemed the logical answer. What she did know is that the crew of the Blew Fairy seemed to have designed themselves after her favorite stories. Everything about this odd group of people was reminiscent of the library of stories sitting in her living room. Honestly? It was kind of unnerving.

There was, of course, Skid, the honorary Captain. Honorary because the crew was more like a family than anything else. This was probably helped by the others being largely related to him: The pilot Jack, Skids Brother, and the medical officer Eleanor, his wife.  The other three weren’t related by blood, but in the short time Sam had spent “talking” with them, she had discerned that they might as well be.

She wasn’t sure what Arthur did on the ship, but he had obviously been friends with the brothers for ages. There was a mechanic, Mike, but she had only actually got a glimpse of him, before he returned to the engineering room. Sam wasn’t sure if he was fixing something or just anti-social. The sixth crewmember was...odd. Given the earlier conversation between pilot and captain, Sam was surprised to find an Asynithis serving as the ship's weapons specialist. She supposed it was because she had never met another Magic wielder aside from her Father, but the presence was unnerving.

Looking to be Around the same age as the other members of the crew, although that wasn’t much to actually go on when it came to Asynithis, she had snow white hair, piercing blue eyes and apparently went by the name of Psi. Or Sigh.  She wasn’t as obviously powerful as her Father, but her presence was still foreign, briefly distracting Sam. Than Psi had gone to the edge of the platform to stare at clouds.

Sam didn’t have much time to consider this, as she was immediately drawn back to the conversation between Skid and Jack. “You could have told me” Jack disgruntled pointed out. “And before you say it, ‘Asynithis’ is not the same thing as ‘The single most influential man in Galactic history”.

Skid just shrugged, taking another sip of white liquid (It LOOKED like Milk at least) “I wanted it to be a surprise. We’d come here for our regular pickup of the Missions supplies and transport both them and our esteemed passengers at once. Which reminds me” he briefly looks around, as if hoping Sam’s Father would just appear. “We still need to get those”. Jack rolled his eyes, before giving a shrug of his own. “I’ll take Eleanor and the cart to pick them up so you can be here when he shows up”. Skid nodded in thanks as Jack climbed back into the Blue Fairy and the driver seat of the “cart” (What appeared to be a refitted jeep). He started it up and backed down the ramp, slow enough to allow Eleanor jump on. As the two drove off, Skid turned to Sam. He opened his mouth to say something, but paused. “I just sent the translator on an errand, didn’t I?”. Sam nodded, bemused. The two looked at each other for a minute. “Er...Cards?”

As it turned out, Skid was rather bad at cards. For one thing, he appeared to be under the impression there was only one kind of card game, simply called cards. For another, well, He didn’t say anything, and took it in stride, but losing half a dozen games in a row to a teenage girl couldn’t have been good for his ego. Still, Sam enjoyed herself, sitting on a bucket in the warm sunlight, playing cards on a makeshift table and listening to the Captain drink and talk on (And on, and on…)

She supposed she should be worried about getting her dress dirty, or what was taking her Father so long, but It was hard to worry on a day like this. “Well, that’s game. Again”. Sam was brought out of her brief daydreaming by Skid’s announcement of her seventh straight victory. “Don’t let it go to your head” Arthur said from behind Sam. “Skid never wins at this. He lost against a Kcalas once”. Sam immediately lost any hubris she might of gained over her victories: Kcalas were a race of sauropods.

While Skid objected strongly to this assessment of his card-playing ability (“He was cheating! I saw him pocket an ace”) Sam looked around towards the landing platforms entrance to see if the other, or perhaps her Father, had returned yet. As it happened, they both appeared to be heading their way. Either that, or Jack & Eleanor had returned with an oddly dressed hitchhiker. The other stood up and watched as the Cart pulled in, stopping short of the ramp. As it turned out, her Father had indeed ran across the other two getting picking up their cargo and hitched a ride back.

For some odd reason, Jack was very smug about meeting her Father before Skid (Although Sam could’ve sworn she heard Eleanor mention to Arthur that they really had thought he was just a hitchhiker). She supposed it had something to do with why these people kept referring to him as a Hero, but there was more pressing matters at hand. Sam quickly gave Seth a hug, before taking a respectful standing position, subtly moving closer to the Blue Fairy’s entry ramp.

She hadn’t thought the ship would interest her this much, but she found herself itching to tour its interior. However, Her Father and the crew (Minus the Mechanic) seemed to be deep in conversation, discussing something or another. Sam listened carefully, but quickly stopped bothering: They were discussing the flight plan from here to the Mission.

Sam sighed and leaned back slightly against the ship. It seemed this day would have more memories of standing around lately than anything else. “You’re nice” Sam started, turning to see Psi standing right by her, arms folded and a far off expression on her face. Sam was only able to give her a look that said ‘Excuse me?’ but it seemed she understood nonetheless. “I said you’re nice. That’s a good thing. We don’t meet enough nice people” And with that she walked up the ramp and into the ship. Sam watched her go confused, but there was no real time to ponder what had just happened. “If we can help you get the supplies aboard your freighter, we can leave all the sooner” at her Father's words, Skid actually frowned, the first time he had shown anything but pure excitement since Seth had arrived. “She’s not a Freighter, she’s a ferry” he said, almost defensively. “Freighters haul cargo. We take people and supplies. There’s a difference”.

Sam wasn’t sure she believed him, but at least it explained the name. She wasn’t sure if her Father believed him either, but if he had any reservations he didn’t show them. Instead, he had merely nodded and gone to help with the cart, before Skid stopped him again. “And the thing about ferries, or at least this one, is that the passengers don’t normally help with the work. You two just stand back, relax and get your bags ready as it were, while we get this stuff out of the way”. Seth just shrugged and walked over to where his and Sam’s luggage sat.

Skid meanwhile instantly made good his offer, directing Jack and the others as they began loading their pick-up. As Sam watched the group work seamlessly together, she noticed the Captain briefly pausing and conversing with his wife. “We need to get Off-world as quickly as Humanly possible. If you could get Mike to warm the engines, that’d be great” Eleanor nodded and gave him a quick peck before climbing up the ramp into the ship.

Seeing her opportunity, Sam quickly glanced across the landing pad, making eye-contact with her Father. He briefly nodded in return, and she burst into a wide grin. Careful to stay out of the other Crew workers way, Sam followed Eleanor into the Blue Fairy's cargobay. She paused momentarily to take the area in: It was a lot bigger than she had at first thought, stretching in either direction out of view of the bay doors. The wide assortment of crates and instruments were joined by objects she couldn’t even recognize and what appeared to be a miniature ball court. A narrow walkway encircled the room, the second story apparently being little more than one long catwalk. Given time, she would love to fully explore the area. But Eleanor was walking straight ahead towards a door at the end of the room, so Sam hurried and caught up with her. Eleanor just glanced around and, noticing her, briefly smiled before turning and walking through the door.

Sam followed and immediately discovered she had found what could only be the bridge. It was a large room, most likely taking up a majority of the Blue Fairy’s center and standing two stories tall, like the Cargo Bay. The floor slowly elevated the more you walked in, creating a gradual ramp up to a wide platform. In the exact center of the room sat a large metal ring, suspended by a thick pole from the roof and floor. On closer inspection, it appeared to be the pilot's station. A leather seat took up one end, while a control panel and throttle like controls sat on the other. If her guess was right, which was a big “if” given her lackluster knowledge of mechanics, then the ship was steered by motion control: The pilot would use the controls and his chair would swing in one direction or the other, and the ship would move with it.

Her attention was drawn away from the pilot's seat at the sound of a door opening: At the far side of the room, Sam could see Eleanor walk through a entrance identical to that of the cargo bays, only this looked like it lead to an industrial complex. From what little Sam could see, what she guessed was the engine room was a mismatched mass of wires, tubes, panels, vents and a good amount of objects she couldn’t even begin to identify. Eleanor shut the door behind her, apparently signaling Sam to remain on the ‘bridge’.

Looking around, she now noticed the presence of a identical large door on every side of the room, as well as a fifth, much smaller entryway by the engineering section. Walking up to stand by the pilot's chair, Sam noticed the wait high ‘wall’ surrounding the platform was actually a series of control stations and panels. Smaller, swivel chairs sat periodically around the circle, presumably for the other crew members. Taking a seat, she spun around slightly, letting it all sink in: She was in a starship. She was going off-world, to the stars!

She was in a starship, Off-world and was going to the stars. She was also kind of bored. A few days later (Two to be exact) found Sam sitting in her quarters aboard the Blue Fairy, reading a book on locale geography/astronomy. As Mike had explained, once he had finally left his duties as mechanic, despite their ship being a model known for it’s speed, it still would have taken them a full year to traverse the entire Galaxy. Thankfully they weren’t traveling nearly that far, but there was still only so much she could do to be entertained by exploring a medium sized ship.

It didn’t help, Sam bitterly thought to herself, that she herself had chosen to focus more on combat than social skill. It wasn’t that she was incapable or rude, or anything like that: She hadn’t been raised by wolves after all. However, there was a big difference between basic politeness and spending days in a semi-confined quarters with half a dozen people she had just met. And, as much as she didn’t want to admit it, being mute did make it harder. Sam firmly believed she was just as capable as anyone else, but it was hard to strike up conversations when only a third of the people present could actually understand anything she said.

Sam sighed and closed the book, finding herself distractedly reading the same line three times in a row. She stretched and walked to the Window (or “Porthole” as Captain Sa called it) gazing out at the seemingly endless field of blurred stars. According to the crew, this room was the only quarters on the entire ship with a view of the outside, leading her to choose this smaller room on the second floor rather than a larger area on the bottom. The view was spectacular, the endless void illuminated by beautiful points of shining light.

More like streaks, actually. The Blue Fairy was currently T.A.F.T.L.S (Traveling At Faster Than Light Speeds) so the stars were only very briefly seen and were actually blending together to form a continuous cocoon of light. Sam had been breathless when seeing it for the first time, and even now she found herself just staring out at space. However, realistically she couldn’t spend the entire trip stargazing. Sam glanced about her bare quarters and located the padded chair, leaning against her bedstand.

Picking it up, she moved it over to the Porthole and sat down, propping her legs up and went back to watching the stars flash past. She figured she could still think of something to do while watching.

Instead, she found her mind drifting off to other subjects. Her largely furnitureless room  (The more extravagant rooms were all on the first level) did little to bring Sam back to the subject at hand and she slowly let her thoughts carry her away.

She remembered talking with the young couple in charge of the Defense Force just before going to the landing pad. Outside of Seth of course, Isaac and Zoe had been her closest friends since being taken off the streets. It wasn’t uncommon for them to visit her every week. The thought of old friends naturally brought to mind prospective new ones. With her Father around, Sam had ceased using sign language, instead allowing him to translate her thoughts. This meant she didn’t know Jack-the-pilot-translator as well as she probably should. She had managed to confirm that both he and his brother were indeed of mixed heritage: A Human Father and Isk mother. Oddly enough, they seemed to have divided on their cultural heritage, with Jack generally self-identifying and acting like an average Human, while Skid seemed to take after their Mother. However, this was far from the strangest aspect of the crew.

That honor easily went to Psi. Minutes after taking off, Sam had ran into Her in the Cargo Bay while she and her Father touring the ship. Hanging upside down from the catwalk. Seth didn’t seem to be curious, or even surprised, by this behaviour (And even talked at length with her). Maybe it was a common trait for Wizards. Or maybe it was just because Seth rarely showed any signs of being caught off-guard by anything. This brought back memories of his off-hand conversation on the night he announced the trip. For him to just openly acknowledge some of his past actions at all was rare, and to calmly admit fighting in a war? Or wars? It raised more questions than it answered. The idea of what her Father actually did when he was younger, that had earned him so much fame and respect, provided a lengthy pause of thinking. Which brought up yet another question: why this crew?

Nothing against them personally of course, but someone who owned a planet could have afforded a full luxury cruiser and Confederate escort. She knew he wasn’t fond of being recognized, or people in general for that matter, but surely an enclosed space like this with complete strangers wasn’t better. Sam shook her head and got to her feet. she wasn’t coming up with anything and even the stars were losing their luster. She stretched heavily and glanced back at her book.

It failed to get her interest, so she walked for the door instead. She almost walked straight into it before remembering there was a button to open it. Sam realized it was kind of stupid, considering her house had nothing but normal doors, but her experience in the city had lead her to expect a starship to sport automatic doors. Stepping into the hallway, she glanced around. Unsurprisingly, it was empty, with nothing but identical doors lining  the walls.

As far as she knew, no-one else had a room up here and everyone would be busy with… whatever it was they were doing at the moment. Closing her quarters door behind her, Sam slowly walked down the hallway, still deep in thought. All too soon, without resolving anything in her mind, Sam came to the end of the hallway and had to turn around. The Bridge, CargoBay and Engineering room didn’t actually have a true second story, so the ship’s upper half was divided into two separate portions. Turning around, Sam paced the hallway in the opposite direction, with no other apparent options. She remembered pacing back in forth in the “Arena”, fearfully waiting for her turn

Sam’s mood dipped considerably at the memory of her childhood. She rubbed her head, trying to distance herself from that. Yes, it had been more than six years ago. But memories did not go away just because you refused to think about them, and her dreams could still sometimes be haunted by rememberance. And then it came to her, like being hit with a freight train. An inordinately big grin took hold of her face: Sam knew what she could do.

Seth sat quietly on the edge of the Cargo Bay's catwalk, eyes shut tight and his legs crossed. Anyone watching him would likely make the reasonable assumption that he was meditating. In truth, he was just trying to quell motion sickness. Space travel had never really agreed with him and it had been a very long time he had had to deal with it. The constant humming of the ship's engines was an omnipresent reminder of their current hurtling through the cosmos, while the almost imperceivable rattling reminded him of the Blue Fairy’s age.

Not wanting to stay focused on that, as it wasn’t exactly helping his motion sickness, Seth opened his eyes and allowed the other sounds to grab his attention. The other sounds being the warm conversation and laughing from the Cargo Bay below. What Both he and Samantha had thought was a ball court of sorts was actually a sparring ring, in which Arthur was currently demonstrating the moves of a master level understanding of Polemas martial arts. The pattern of his swordplay was unmistakeable.

Most people, civilian and soldier alike, would question the use of swords and other melee weapons in an age of starships and interstellar empires. However, two factors made them a deceptively useful weapon: First, every major faction and military in the Telos Way, save the Confederacy, made use of ranged energy weapons. Although Superior in practically every way to traditional firearms (No reload, faster firing rate, multiple settings, more powerful, etc) their energy bolts travel much slower than a bullet and would be deflected by certain metal alloys. Someone with good enough reflexes and a well crafted sword could make themselves a serious threat in a battle, especially at short range.

That, or he just thought swords were cool. He himself enjoyed melee combat over a firefight any day. The other three, Jack, Mike and Eleanor, were split between conversing with Arthur and inspecting the supplies they had picked up. “Seriously?” Jack exasperatedly asked, throwing the cover off a long metal crate. “Vomva 8.K? What do they think we’re doing, blowing up a planet?”

“Are you sure? It sounded worse this time”. Arthur was saying, without breaking stride. Again, Seth was impressed. “What are you now, a Mechanic?” Mike dismissed, before crunching down on a piece of fruit. “The Blue Fairy is fine. Her engines are operating at 110%”. Both conversations melded together as Seth closed his eyes again and fell back into thought. The sound of a door opening and footsteps did not concern him at first, but the cessation of conversation below caused him to look up again. To his amazement, Samantha was standing by the sparring ring’s line, dressed in a jumpsuit and holding her sheathed “Wings” style sword.

Seth did not need a telepathic contact to tell she was nervous, but she resolutely walked up to the others and the ring. They, ever the good crew, had fallen silent, unsure of what their passenger wanted. Seth pulled himself back from the edge of the walkway, standing out of sight of those below. His Daughter, meanwhile, took a deep breath, pointed to her sword, then to Arthur, then to herself. It took a couple moments for the meaning to dawn on them. “You want to spar?” Arthur asked, unsure. Samantha nodded and the man shrugged, raising his sword into a beginning stance. Samantha’s relief was palpable as she stepped into the ring, unsheathing her ornamentally crafted blade (Seth’s present to her for last years birthday).

The two saluted each other with their swords and began slowly circling each other as the other three watched, their earlier conversations forgotten. Arthur made the first move, with a direct overhead swing. A simple blow, merely meant to test her strength. Samantha obviously knew this, and deflected it with a altogether unnecessary backhand. However, she passed up on the opportunity for a counterstrike, keeping a two handed guard stance. This, Seth reflected, was exactly what he had taught her. He had, and still did, earnestly hope Samantha was never in a situation where she needed anything more than defensive martial arts.

This clearly showed as the match went on, with Samantha never going beyond deflecting Arthur’s attacks. The older man continued a probing offense, using a variety of different strikes and angles to test for any gaps in Samantha's swordplay. Seth was satisfied to see that there was no immediate gaps in his pupils move-set, as the fight slowly escalated. With his trained eye,  Seth could see that Arthur wasn’t going to overwhelm Samantha directly, but she in turn wasn’t going to even try to take the offensive.

It was far from a slow, carefully paced stalemate however. Both fighters were moving increasingly fast and aggressive with each swing. Soon, the two were practically dancing across the sparring ring in a display of swordsmanship and dueling prowess. It came to no surprise, then, that it ended in seconds. Arthur finally managed to goad Samantha into an offensive strike and, catching her blade with his, thrust upwards. Samantha’s blade clattered to the ground and the match was over.

The three other observers briefly paused at the sound of victory, while Arthur congratulated his opponent on her effort. Samantha herself was wearing a huge grin, practically glowing with the exhilaration. Seth allowed himself a small smile as his daughter retrieved her sword. She really did enjoy it, and she really was good at it. Arthur, who Seth decided wasn’t a half bad duelist himself, extended the offer of a rematch, which Samantha eagerly accepted. Sparring must be the pastime of choice aboard the Blue Fairy, as Eleanor and Jack soon joined in, making for a two on two battle. Seth leaned on the Catwalks rails, silently watching the spectacle.

“Impressed?” Seth looked around, only now noticing Skid was standing just behind him, holding a cup of hot milk (Steam was still wafering off of the top). “Yes, actually. You keep your skill polished well”

Skid nodded and walked up besides Seth, leaning on the railing and taking a deep sip from the cup. The two watched the fight below in silence a few moments, then “Understandable, considering the jobs you generally take”. Skid glanced over, surprise showing just beneath his expression. “I’ve been following your exploits” Seth explained, without looking up from the sparring match. Still, he could see the Captain smirk slightly out of the corner of his eye.

“You, following MY exploits. Now that’s something I never expected. And really, we do more relief missions than anything else. It’s not that impressive”

Seth allowed himself the smallest of chuckles. “Captain, I’ve been telling people that for almost seven hundred years” Silence again, before Skid broke itAgain.

“Is that why you chose us? For your transport I mean. We’re good, certainly, but you could’ve afforded the best”. Seth Considered a moment, before simply shrugging. “That, and your choice of uniform”.

At this, Skid genuinely laughed. “I’ll have you know I got this hat and coat from my cultural heritage, not you” With a final gulp, he emptied the cup and glanced down at the still raging match below. “Well, while the others are busy, should we compare notes on the situation at the Mission?”

Seth sighed and pushed himself up. “Lead the way” this wasn’t a pleasure cruise afterall. As the Captain walked out the door, Seth turned one more time and briefly contacted Samantha (Due to the close confines of the ship, Seth had ‘muted’ the telepathic link between himself and his daughter. Privacy and all that).

Samantha, already expelled from the match, looked up at the walkway, suitably surprised to see her Father standing there. “I’m proud of you”. Her smile was one of the biggest he had ever seen her sport. He returned it, turned himself, and followed Skid out the door.

Half-way through the voyage, Sam practically didn’t even know what the word anxiety meant. A couple more days, and she might as well permanently join the crew. According to them, beating (Well, stalemating) Arthur in a sparring match had already made her an honorary member. Funnily enough, that excluded the good captain Skid. The proud Isk heritage of swordsmanship was largely lost on the firearms-preferring captain.

Then again, Skid and Jack’s chosen acknowledged ancestry apparently had more to do with their Human Father and Isk Mother’s choice names than anything else. And Sam really couldn’t blame them for choosing Skid and Jack over Percival and Kis respectively. As far as actual inherited traits, “He got increased breathing capacity and photographic memory, I got alcoholic/Lactose processing” (according to the Captain anyways).

But regardless, Sam found herself fitting in rather well with the crew. Skid and her Father had spent most of the last day or so in deep discussion over the situation at the Mission (Apparently neither had been fully aware of the situation there) leaving Sam to interact with the others. And this had only reinforced the idea that these people were living caricaturas.

Eleanor, aside from being the team's living crutch as their medical officer, turned out to be something of a theorist. Despite Sam’s inability to respond, she seemed more than happy enough to share many a scientific and philosophical view on the Telos Way. “Just think” she cheerfully mused while cleaning out a shelf in the medical bay “Our worlds sit on the very end of the Universe. What if it’s not only geographical, but chronological Or spiritual as well?”

This was in direct opposition to Mike and Psi. The former almost permanently resided in the engineering section, although that could just as well be due to the older ship requiring extensive mechanical oversight. The later...well, she wasn’t entirely insane (as rude as that sounded). She was just a little eccentric, which Sam supposed wasn’t that unusual, judging by her Father. For the most part, she was just a kind, quiet woman. Sam just had to get used to turning corners and finding her hanging upside down from various objects.

The last crew member went by the name Arthur, but ‘Troy Handsome of the galaxy patrol’ would probably be a better title. Pitch Black hair, sky blue eyes and over six feet tall, he really did give the impression of a mythological hero. This went beyond his physical appearance as well: Honest, Kind, friendly, nobel etc. All he needed was the white armor and fiery steed (He already had the swordsmanship skills). Sam was unaware what, if any, role he played for the crew, but she could see why anyone, especially old friends, would recruit him for work aboard a ‘ferry’.

Above all else, this collection of people had taught Sam one thing: She could go beyond her comfort zone. If she was honest with herself, her excitement over the voyage was the only reason she hadn’t been terrified by the very idea. Before the boredom and then friendship, it was all she could do to keep from shaking with eagerness,than nervousness, then back again. Being ‘trapped’ with strangers in small confines, deep in an endless void, light years away from the only home she ever had, was turning out to be more enjoyable than a sparring session.

But, she reminded herself, this was little more than a intermission. The purpose of this excursion was to save a mission field. Everything else was merely inconsequential. That didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy herself of course, or acquaint herself with the crew, but she shouldn’t lose sight of the first goal and final purpose of the adventure. She had been taught that much on the streets. If you lost sight of a goal, you would not only almost certainly fail to accomplish it, but also had a good chance of getting killed in the process.

Thankfully, here, getting distracted from the mission meant showing up late to a briefing. Which she did. The Cargo Bay doors slid open and Sam hurried into the room. She had been back in her room finishing a book before her Father had called her, explaining the entire crew was needed to discuss the situation at the Mission. With a quick glance, Sam determined that everyone was already here, save for Psi whom she had passed on the Bridge. Given that the Blue Fairy pretty much required a 24/7 monitoring, Psi was the logical choice, as she could listen in via telepathy anyways. Sam could not, and thus quickly took a seat on the floor alongside Eleanor.

The other were mostly sitting on crates, while Seth and Skid stood by a table setup in the sparring ring, mulling over a stack of papers. After a few seconds, the two looked up, apparently finished with whatever it was they were doing. Seth gathered up the papers and moved them to an aside crate, while Skid took a long swig of milk, before setting that aside and addressing the gathered crew (And Sam).

“Alright everybody, listen up. You all have a rough idea of what’s going on, but I think the bigger picture is worth explaining” Seth walked back to the table, with...a hand full of gravel? He carefully placed it on the table and selected two of the biggest pieces. Noticing Sam’s confused look, he quickly explained telepathically (“Psi lent them to us”) while at the same time continuing his vocal explanation.

“The Skia-Andres Empire, formally the Skia-Andres Kingdom, and the Central Confederacy share a border of unclaimed space known as ‘No-man's Land’.” He placed the two stones down opposite each other, before chalking out a line between the two with a sharper rock. “According to various treaties, neither faction is allowed more than a token military presence in this area. The Confederacy only has a single Capital class ship in the area, The Maiden Voyage”

Skid chimed back in at this point, placing a few of the smallest stones down on the line. “However, settlers who are officially not allied or supported by either side are placed under no restrictions. This includes the Mission”. He pointed at one. “It’s planted on Scorpius VIII, a Class-M moon orbiting a gas giant. Most of it is covered by ocean and ice caps. The comparitivly small landmass’s are mostly Jungle, save for a few mountains and valleys here and there. There isn’t an indigenous race, and no known resources of strategic value” Skid stopped and took another drink of milk, while Seth took the briefing over.

“Or at least, that’s what we all thought when we set up the Mission. Recently, a prospector has discovered vast veins of Metalle-Vma in the western Ocean”

“Metalle-Vma” Mike cut in “Practically worthless in the Confederacy, but the metal of choice for ship construction in Skia-Andres space”

“Correct” Seth affirmed. “This is what’s causing the crisis. The Empire itself has more than enough ‘M-V’ and, under the reforms of High General Achaav, (Sam detected a faint amount of bitterness in those words, but didn’t know what to make of it) they are willing to honor their treaties. Frankly, The Empire sees the Confederacy and associates as largely beneath notice anyways”.

“Then what’s the issue?” Jack asked. “To put it bluntly” Skid answered. “There are forces at work here much less scrupulous than the Empire”

“I still don’t get it” Jack continued. “You said the M-V was discovered on the other side of the world. It’d be doubtful if the Mission and any mining operation setup there would even interact”

“Logically, no” Seth replied. “And if it was actually the Empire at work here, then we wouldn’t have a problem. But like the Confederacy and its City-States...” He grabbed another six or so pebbles and placed them in the ‘Confederacy’. “...The Empire is not entirely one entity. It was, after all, a Kingdom not to long ago. Its Noble Houses are still very much in existence”.

“And its Noble Houses are not always willing to follow the High Generals reforms”. Seth stepped back a little as Skid continued the explanation. “First and foremost House Toxo”. The Captain added his own handful of small rocks to the Imperial side, before pulling out a noticeably jagged specimen.