SUNSWEPT

Chapter 4 "Secrets"

"...I didn't hit 'im that hard." The deep voice penetrated the blackness.

"Weasley rat of a thing, guess it didn't take much" A new voice. "Oh, give em a slap will ya, I ain't got time to sit 'round here all day."

Jallif's face exploded into sparkling pain as he came fully awake. The room was dark and both figures were shadowed. Split-face was easy to identify but the other one, shorter, more businesslike, not so much. Jallif was sitting, his hands wrenched behind him and tied to the stool. He looked around franticly trying to place the new room.

"Hey, you shouldn't be sneakin' around where ya don't belong right?" The businessman was clearly addressing him but he hadn't a clue as to how to respond. Instead he used the pause to process what was happening. He'd been following Split-face unexpectedly into some sort of warehousing district. Why?

"You hearin me?" Split-face lifted his hand as though to strike again and Jallif quickly nodded to avoid another hit. The nod turning into a full bodied wince as Split-face further emphasised that he wanted to. "No.. no I wasn't sneaking!"

"No eh? And just what were you doin'?" The businessman was keeping his face in the shadows.

Jallif decided that for once the truth might just suffice."I wanted a way off the station?"

"By coming to warehousing? You stupid enough to try to stow-away?"

"No, i thought he might know one." Jallif nodded his head toward Split-face. "I... I was looking for him." He was remembering bit by bit and letting his fear do the talking. He wasn't about to divulge his deepest, darkest secrets, despite the compelling case made by Split-face's hand, but they couldn't kill him for wanting to ask the man a question. Could they?

The slap to his other cheek came so fast he didn't even register it until he was sprawling from the stool and trying in vain to bring his hands around to catch the floor which flattened his face. "Did ya have to? I'm pretty sure the space-gas was telling the truth." There wasn't really any concern for Jallif in the Businessman's question.

"What, I didn't like runt followin' me is all."

"Oh, put him back up... you might just knock him out again an' then we gotta wait another hour to find out." Split-faces massive hands lifted Jallif and the stool he was attached to clear off the ground with what must have been augmented strength. Once back on the stool with hands still fastened to it Jallif looked out from behind two very bruised cheeks. "Now, why exactly would you be following my associate here? And let's be keeping up with that honesty on this one eh?"

"I..." The truth then, why not? "I recognized him from the ship I came in on, the 'Snake"

This was not the answer the businessman was expecting. He shared a rather ominous look with Split-face which curled into a rather unpleasant smile just visible below the shadow line. "So you just saw him in the market and assumed he knew how to get you off this heap?"

"I hoped... I figured he'd missed the ship out as well."

The businessman noded to Split-face which was apparently a good thing because rather than another blinding hit, the massive man stepped around behind Jallif reaching for his bounds. "I'd say you're in luck then." With the removal of the ropes Jallif tried to bring his arms around and realized from their misuse that they must have been in that position longer than he'd thought. "We can get you off this bucket."

Split-face looked up at this partner suddenly. "We can?" This earned him a stern look from the businessman.

"We certainly can. And what's more? We'll take ya to wherever you want to go when we do."

Jallif couldn't believe what he was hearing which of course meant there was a catch. There was always a catch. Still, a chance to make sure he got back to Jita.. or even better; home... He couldn't pass that up. "Yeah? and what, exactly, do I have to do to earn this offer of yours?"

"Ah, we have a smart spacer here." The smile on the businessman was anything but reassuring. "We just need ya to play lookout for a little, disagreement we're planning."

Well that isn't ominous. "What sort of... disagreement?"

The businessman didn't leave the shadow but seemed to pull a matching stool from the corner behind him and perched on it. "See, there's this very despicable pilot and we here in Origin don't like her all too much. So, we're going to protest the launch of her next ship."

Jallif could sense more to it than that but again, he wasn't in a position to push it. "And what am I supposed to be watching for, the authorities?"

"You got it smart-man." How many names is he gonna give me? "That's all. You see authorities coming, you just press a button and wait for us."

"And wait for you?"

"And wait for us." Thats about the dumbest load of fedoshit i've ever... The businesman crossed his arms mater-of-factly. "Look, if ya can't do it, I'm sure we can find someone else to take out with us when we leave. We just need to know when the crowd is gettin outta hand so we can tone it down. That's all. And seein' as we all care so much about the cause and you really don't, we figured you wouldn't care if ya was hanging back by the door." Home... Split-face had also crossed his arms and was now grinning as he leaned back against the wall. Jallif could feel a trap, something about this whole situation just resonated and sent a tingle through his fingers. But he was used to traps, he'd made a life of avoiding them. And i'm bloody-well walking right back into one, ain't I? The offer was just too good.

"I'll do it."


*******

Phedrick walked calmly down one of nicer corridors of Icarus Station, broader than most station passageways, as befitted those residents who could afford the added amenities; capsuleers. That this breadth came in handy in the event of twenty plus capsuleers scrambling for their pods was less important to him at the moment than that he and his partner Jemmie could walk side by side with plenty of room for opposing traffic. Not that there was any of that; opposing traffic. A glance to his left gave him a bit of a fraternal smile. She had only yesterday attained official Field Agent status despite a more-than-average amount of field time for a Tech. He could see her pride in the pace of her step but the mentor in him saw more as well. There was a purpose, a control in those steps and in how she held her body that hadn't been there before. Not exactly the freckle-faced Security Cadet he'd decided to take under his wing only 18 months ago.

She still held rank in the Origin Security Service as Service Tech with specification in Neurobiology and Advanced Cloning Technique but after yesterday Field Tech Jemmalyn Droitacopius was also trained, and licensed, in advanced forms of personal combat and tactics. She now held the record for one of the fastest advancements from service to field of any tech, making her both envied and respected. Few besides Phedrick could understand or even know what had gone into such a fast advancement or the massive learning curve behind it. Jemmie had been Phedrick's partner for two operations now, the last of which had brought her face to face with wet-work in a way that had been unanticipated by the firm or even Phedrick himself. Her resourcefulness and guile had stretched both her limits as well as those of science.

They turned a corner and emerged into yet another corridor, no different from the last yet he knew via his implant that they had arrived. Approaching the first door on the left he touched the signaling pad to the right of the door panels. The pad luminesced and faded leaving only the outlines of his fingerprint. A creative security feature, but easily bypassed by someone with even a little skill. After only a brief pause the door slid open allowing Phedrick and Jemmie to enter the strangely appointed office.

Artifacts were displayed with reverence on or along walls colored burnt red-orange. Lighting In the room seemed to exist only to highlight the various pieces, some much older than Phedrick could place or recognize. What was perhaps most striking, however, was the use of wood in the trim as well as the desk itself. Who in their right mind would choose to surround themselves with such a fire hazard that had no purpose other than to be such? Jemmie leaned in as they walked toward the figure seated behind the desk, ostensibly their new client; "He's still moving in it seems." Phedrick looked in the direction she had indicated and sure enough, the paneling in one corner to the left of the seated figure was loose, the lighting feature improperly aimed, and an artifact unlit. Both came to a parade rest before the desk.

"Oh, now, I was hoping you wouldn't notice that."

"I'm sorry sir?" Phedrick hadn't expected to be greeted in such a way.

"I tried the desk in that corner yesterday but it just didn't have the right look to it." The figure gestured to the chairs sitting before the desk. "Please have a seat, no need to be so formal Lieutenant."

The use of his actual rank implied a few more connections than most clients enjoyed with the Service, but then he was a capsuleer. He and his partner each took their seats and at least tried to appear relaxed, most clients came to the Center so this little trip was not a normal sort of thing.

"I realize that I have you at a bit of a disadvantage and asking your department head to send you out here without telling you a thing was my idea of security rather than a good way to start a working relationship." The client leaned back in his chair, a calculated move to Phedrick. He was trying to open the discussion, make it feel more informal. Phedrick could play that game.

"It was a bit unorthodox. You are concerned about security within even the Service?" He forced a grin. "Security is kind of our thing."

"Security within was not as much what I was worried about." The client was choosing his words carefully despite the intended atmosphere. "Once you've accepted the operation, I want there to be as few breadcrumbs as possible to follow. You two are already near legends in the Service and while I needed your skills, I'm not too keen on others figuring out why."

Phedrick's mind whirred. He'd never accepted an operation in his life. He was assigned, period. It was easier that way anyway. His estimation of this capsuleer's knowledge of Service personnel was growing by the second and he decided enough was enough. With only a thought he accessed his network implant and started cycling a search for the capsuleer's face. To buy time as well as try to regain some footing in the conversation he replied; "Breadcrumbs?"

"Oh, an old tale meant for children. Clues, Lt. Gein." The client smiled exactly as Jemmie emited a soft "humph" and Phedrick's implant displayed the entire public and non-public file of one Xepharious Wryn. Jemmie must have been accessing it as well, a 'humph' perfectly summed up Phedrick's feelings. This wasn't exactly a Paradox Coordinator they were dealing with, but he was pretty much the next thing to it. That meant that their new client had the kind of pull to discover not only the personnel file of most any member of the Service, but he had also been around long enough to build connections with the very capsuleers who secretly built the Origin Security Service (OSS) themselves. He was even noted as having top clearance within his Service file. There was one more factor that caught his attention. He wasn't yet linked into the Coordinator Network and that meant that he still had a sort of autonomy from the hive-mind that ran the system. He could have secrets. Now Phedrick was choosing his words with care.

"Mr. Wryn, You know as well as I do that my partner and I were assigned to this operation." He leaned forward in the chair to emphasize his point. "How exactly do you intend to build trust with us, as the relaxed nature of this interview implies, while playing games with us. Further, offering us any sort of choice in the matter also seems just a bit moot given that the Director, or our department head as you so carefully put it, would have turned you down right off if she had had any doubts." Jemmie spared a moment to raise an eyebrow at him. While she was certainly accustomed to his direct nature, his tone must have seemed terribly impolitic. He had to trust that he had read Xepharious with his usual accuracy.

The client smiled again, this time standing to extend a hand. The motion seemed to dispel the presumption in the room and both Phedrick and Jemmie started to stand once more in reaction to the offered gesture. "Xeph, please." He shook Phedrick's hand then moved to Jemmie's. "Your reputation and the particulars of this mission are such that I insisted that you be given a choice in the matter as well full operational participation."

Phedrick and Jemmie exchanged glances as they all retook their seats. "Would we not have had full operational participation?" They were used to working on their own.

"I'm planning to assemble a team actually, and for at least the first phase, your roles may be somewhat more coaching than actual fieldwork." He caught their sudden looks of dread. It sounded quite a bit like Tech work. "It won't all be classroom, trust me. But it may seem that way at first."

"What exactly are you planning for us to do?" Jemmie spoke up.

"Ah, and that's where we come to each of you. I have the facts of it," He tapped his head lightly. "but I was wondering if you could give me your own debrief of Operation Overreach." He ended the request looking specifically at Jemmie who in turn looked to Phedrick.

"I guess it all started with me botching the mission." Phedrick gave a sort of self-effacing chuckle but Jemmie's look implied that he had done no such thing.

"His cover was blown though even now we don't exactly know how." She corrected.

"They tracked me back to the office that we were using as our base of operations on one of the industrial platforms at Skyreach; surrounded us. Jemmie, acting as my assistant, was already patched into the local network and as per our exit scenario, disengaged the entire compartment thus trapping them as well. We were about to detonate the compartment when I observed that if they had discovered our real identities, they might gain access to our secure digital backups as well." He looked to Jemmie who picked up the recounting.

"If we were going to die, I mean really die then the mission would have been a complete scrub. I had already been researching a few of the lower cronies from the terrorist cell, a couple of the very same ones that had been on our nice little floating industrial compartment with us, when I had the idea to swap our digital imprints in for theirs." She paused.

"They didn't have it, access to our secure imprints that is, but there was no way for me to know at the time. So I went for it, and broke more Clone Laws than I care to recall at this moment."

"But it worked, didn't it." Xeph was smiling behind intertwined fingers.

Phedrick resumed, "Next thing we knew we were waking up in strange bodies with only an awareness of the mission up to our last scan. Piecing together what had happened as well as trying to field-test brand new synaptic pathways proved to be a bit more challenging."

Xeph was leaning in now, clearly listening very actively. "But they did eventually work yes?"

Jemmie this time, "Well yes, but we came out of the clone vats so totally unable to function that the med tech threatened to off us right there and try for different clones. They did try a re-scan and re-boot a few days later but by that time I'd gotten ahold of one of my stashes of neural-repair nanites via drone and quietly had them slipped into our next clones. The second cloning went a lot better and the first was dismissed as a fluke, any residual issues on our second clones as our digital selves compensating for the bad clones. In short, we got really lucky." She looked reflexively at Phedrick. "We disproved Oshburn's theory that human autonomic systems couldn't handle inter-transplant without Capsuleer technology, not that we could ever publish it."

Xeph appreciated the necessity that prevented the incident from becoming public as well as the chagrin it seems to cause the scientific minded agent. "What were some of the side-effects, out of curiosity?" Specifics had not been in the official report.

They looked at one another, unsure where he was going with it and not too excited to recount feeling so powerless. Phedrick spoke first. "Like being trapped in your own body-"

"Trapped in someone else's body" She corrected.

He nodded. "Right, at first it was like learning to blink all over again. Much worse than honing a new implant or prosthetic I can tell you that."

"But the proper cocktail of neural-repair nanites helped?"

Was his tone actually hopeful? Phedrick looked to Jemmie to answer.

"Yes, but it still took weeks to get past the after-effects, a sort of extreme muscular disorientation." She again exchanged glances with her partner. "I must say that I'm starting to wonder about the nature of this assignment."

Xeph accepted the query and leaned back once more. His began to rub his short beard between thumb and finger before finally countering. "I have reason to suspect I may know at least some of how your cover was blown." Both agents stiffened. "I'm planning a very special operation, one for which your ingenuity, ability to adapt, and frankly your existing knowledge of our enemy are particularly suited. Before we really get started though, I need you to find someone for me."

"Oh?" Phedrick felts as though they'd been diverted again but at least they were talking specifics.

"Xer name is Bee3 and as of the Prith Junction Attack in YC116, xe is officially dead."

Phedrick had to access his implant to find it but the Prith Junction had been maliciously targeted by anti-AI zealots. The cult had been so possessed of hatred that they had not only whiped out an entire AI community, they had hacked and deleted the digital backups for the community's members as well. Phedrick was just reaching an excerpt of what had made the Prith Junction so special when Xeph resumed.

"Prith Junction had been attempting to produce sentient AI offspring of a similar style to human children. They were using complex algorithms to try to randomize characteristics of each parent mind much like a human child." Xeph saw a question forming on Jemmie's face and nodded to her.

"But that community was destroyed almost immediately after they formed. With the destruction of the digital backups it was a complete loss." To someone as neurologically minded as Jemmie, Phedrick could only imagine both the emotional and scientific toll the tragedy would have had on her.

"True, all parent members of the community were killed, permanently." Xeph smiled as his specific words set in.

"They succeeded!?" Both in unison, Phedrick's a question; Jemmie's a declaration of triumph.

"They did."

"Well, where has this child been then?" Jemmie was clearly caught up in the hunt and Phedrick had to smile to himself at just how well their new client knew how to weave a story to effect.

"If you were a child and awoke to find your entire family and community murdered and the walls closing in what would you do?" Xeph saw Phedrick's knowing smile but couldn't resist.

"Xe ran and hid, of course." Phedrick knew the question had been aimed at his partner but like any good detective, the narrative was starting to play out for him as well. "And I'm guessing you know where."

Xeph was enjoying himself entirely too much at this point. "When demolitions crew G342 went to disassemble the first of the old Indigo City pilot systems, they noticed an abnormal precision and energy usage within the system for one specific space-way trafficking algorithm. When they queried it, it seemed to disappear. The crew recorded it as an equipment glitch and moved on with their work."

Phedrick had a momentary image of some child playing traffic cop with battleships before Xeph continued. "I just happened to be scanning several of the data mainframes looking for the sabotage that I suspect our Skyreach friends, or at least their parent organization, may be up to, when I noticed an abnormally large emergency data dump into the now dormant clone maintenance mainframe."

"So, we're looking for a scared, lonely, and likely starving child somewhere in the nearly abandoned Indigo Station." Jemmie was already taking notes and planning her ingress, the field training kicking in full. Phedrick recalled with amusement what it was like to be so freshly into the field.

"A nine year old female clone, to be exact." He saw the question in their faces. "From the early days, before they gave up on trying to find a viable pre-pubescent solution."

"She must be half starved by now." Jemmie rolled with the explanation and once more focused on the child. Phedrick was still wrapping his head around the potential of AI children clones and some unsettling questions raised by such potential.

"Xe activated the clone only yesterday and there are at least basic emergency supplies near the vat storage. It was clearly a planned escape so I think we have some time." Xeph initiated the transfer of several files to each of them, names on each file including Bee3. "We have a few other points to discuss but then I would like to have the 'yes' or 'no' from each of you before charging off to Indigo."

Phedrick began opening and digesting each of the files with a sort of awe. This team and the structure behind it was unlike anything he'd ever been part of and he suddenly understood why the capsuleer was asking for full commitment on a personal level. The details alone would take weeks. But it was the immense role to which he and Jemmie were being slated that left him only able to nod for Xeph to continue.


*******

Her comm chimed an incoming call as Meyan lay lazily in the weightless suspension chamber that she'd chosen as her bed. Some of her friends at Uni used to joke about spacers using the strange form of sleeping chambers, rather than a simple bed, but she was starting to find the sensation oddly restful. And resting was exactly what she was doing. The job was lined up but without a functioning lab, even the temporary one being finished at Icarus, she had a bit of time to finally settle into her new home. An advance on her first month had resolved her rent and loan issues and even left enough for her to purchase some decoration for the flat. A simple holoprojection system now added a few plants and a reproduction oil painting of her favorite of Renaissances many waterfalls. The comm chimed again outside her notice. Two white chairs and an additional projected 'glass' table gave the room at least a semi-sophisticated place for guests; not that she ever expected to have them. There were just some things you had whether you used em or not. The holo system and table had been a splurge for her. The idea of something that was solid as glass and in the next moment not even there wasn't foreign to someone planet bound as she had been in her youth, but outside the confines of stations and starships the luxury of space just wasn't as big of a deal. Sure, some wealthy execs had used the stuff in their offices back planetside, but it wasn't nearly as plentiful as she was finding it up here. And the extra space was luxurious and practical for daily exercise. The comm chimed once more, finally rousing her from her musings. She rolled out of the field and came to land on her feet. Walking through where the table would/could have been, she collected her comm unit from a shelf near the door. "Yes?"

"Oh, Hi Meyan, It's Solu, did I catch you at a bad time?" Meyan checked her chronometer; mid-afternoon.

"No?" Why would Solu be calling... wait was she supposed to have been at some sort of orientation? She hadn't heard... She started rummaging through her data pads looking for any indication of something she was missing all the while wondering why Solu hadn't responded right away. She must have been late for something otherwise why-

"So, there is going to be a bit of a party tonight, celebrating the launch of Shar's new ship. I know you haven't gotten to meet a lot of people yet so I thought you might want to come." Did she seem nervous? No... it was just Meyan being nervous.

"Uh, yeah. That would be nice." Wait, would it? That was a lot of people she didn't know. "Wait, do I need to dress up... Who is the party for?"

Solu tried to stifle a giggle as she recognized a sudden nervous aspect of Meyan through the comm. "Don't worry, dress as you like; it's the S'up again so nothing formal. And it's for Sharlandra, she's launching her new Pheonix this evening, the thing is pretty much insanity in a hull but it's a pretty big deal." She cut off as though wanting to say something else but didn't.

"The S'up?" She'd heard Sharlandra's name before but often in uncertain conversation, but S'up was new to her. A phoenix was a pretty big ship if she remembered her naval history.

"Sorry, Sunny-side Up. S'up for short. I can meet you there if you like."

"Sure" She smiled to herself. "I suppose I should find something to wear then."

Solu's tone was somewhat buoyed as she said good bye but Meyan didn't notice as her mind suddenly turned to a sudden scramble of having to prepare for a party she hadn't expected. Why hadn't she paid more attention to her friends back at Uni when they were always going out to formals and on the town; she felt suddenly inadequate in the makeup department. At least her hair was short and simple enough not to have to fuss with. As she moved to her closet and started moving aside far too many business-wear outfits and far too few leisure options she realized with a moment of regret; she had forgotten to say thank you.


Four hours and a trip to a local boutique later Meyan, feeling a bit more formal than she had intended, stepped up to the doors of Sunny-side Up wearing a simple sleeveless amethyst and silver satin dress that fell to just above her calf. She'd originally tried on several sleeved affairs and after a rather absurd self-berating in the store, which she was convinced must have looked ridiculous to any other patron, had decided that tonight was the night to risk it and trust in the wisdom of her Uni friends who never would have been caught dead in sleeves at a party. The violet hue had not clashed with the green of her skin and with the silver to offset the otherwise similarly deep jewel tones of dress and skin; she had at least a chance that people would notice the dress first.

The door panels slipped open and a cacophony of sound erupted from the bar enough for her to wince. From booth, to wall, to bar the place must have been so full of capsuleers that she nearly turned around and left right there. It was the young man from VaskTech who saw her, recognized her, and waved thus preventing what was about to be one of the fastest wormhole retreats in history. Watching as he separated from his friends to walk over to her, she would have been blind not to notice the excited surprise in his face. "Meyan, is that really you?" She had taken a few steps into the room as well and he extended his free hand to greet her. "I don't think I ever got to introduce myself the other day; Delyyn."

She took his handshake, firm, purposeful but not overly aggressive. "Nice to meet you." She had to raise her voice to be heard and she looked around again at so many people. "I didn't realize it would be so busy."

"Oh, Shar's a pretty popular gal, and this is kinda home gravcourt for the Paradox. Hey, you should ditch the labcoat more often, if you don't mind me saying." He'd stepped back and for the first time in a while she honestly felt as though the comment was genuine and in reference to her choice in dress rather than her skin. It felt good and an involuntary if still shy smile came to her lips. "Come on, I'll introduce you to a few of the fun ones."

She let herself be lead through a small pile of people as Delyyn moved to the far end of the bar where three capsuleers sat joking and liberally enjoying their drinks. "Hey, so this is Nina, Aaron, and his sis Anna."

She took Nina's offered hand, thinking that his face looked familiar, then moved to Aaron's and Anna's. "Nice to meet all of you, You're members of Alexylva?" She wasn't sure how else to initiate a conversation with capsuleers. She was even surprised that they weren't all just talking via their neural links. That's what they did most of the time, right?

It was Anna who responded; "Yep, though it's not as glamorous as you make it sound. Mostly it's just putting up with these gas-heads." Her insult was clearly aimed at Nina and Aaron who both produced a mock-offended look as if on cue before smiling into what must have been a common humor among the group. Even Delyyn joined in on the joke and Meyan felt less out of place.

At the other end of the S'up, Solu stepped back from a conversation she'd been having with a fellow capsuleer. It seemed that the construction on Indigo was moving further ahead of schedule than they were making public and bids for commercial space were going to be released publicly next month. Promises of opening the bids to capsuleers first teased through her head as she realized with chagrin that her original source hadn't been as reliable as she had hoped. She would be able to get ahold of the schematics for her top spots in about a week, but that was going to leave very little time to scout out the best location for her to build the new headquarters much less draw up the specs and get them on file to be built as part of the final construction and refit. How she was going to find time for all of it, run her current shop, and still get out and patrol luckily wasn't too much of an issue. The fluid router in her arm hummed gently as her other bodies sprung into action. One started pulling up schematics for her new headquarters in her personal office while another wrote up an E-mail to the Indigo Port Authority for access to expected shiping traffic patterns and to try and slip into the property bidding early, it wouldn't do to find a great place with no commercial traffic, no matter how big the suite. A third 'her' began talking with her boss's secretary, trying to find out if the workaholic master of VaskTech was already working on a visit to the site. It would be nice to get some firsthand views of just how the construction was going and plant some ideas about getting his help in securing that perfect spot.

Looking about for him; he certainly wouldn't want to miss a corp event, even a party, she decided to ask him in person as well. She finally found him with one of his employees in a small group at the far end of the bar just as the network chirped up.

::Hey, lets go grab some frigates and swarm Shar:: Tezra

::What, like little buzflies?:: Solu's response.

::Whatever, let's take this party out to where the real launch is happening:: Aaron

"Hey, why not?" Nina's non sequitur caught Meyan off guard but a quick glance to Delyyn who simply rolled his eyes in response informed her that random spouts of response was common enough and she wasn't the only one. Aaron and Anna were already setting their drinks on the bar and there was a general shuffle about the bar as she noticed a vidscreen at the far end start to display a massive bulk in space, hidden within a scaffold gantry, and suspended within what looked to be a tower's protective force field.

As the three capsuleers started gathering their effects Meyan finally caught sight of Solu who was walking over to the group. She tried to wave but she was tucked behind Delyyn and Solu only seemed to be looking at Nina. It was Aaron who spoke first, catching Solu's attention. "Hey, you coming too?"

"What? No, I think I'll let you all go bother Shar on your own but I needed to talk to you quick Nina."

Aaron shrugged while Anna just rolled her eyes in amusement at Meyan before following her brother, and a good portion of the bar's population, out of S'up and towards the docs. Nina turned from the pair back to Solu. "Should we find a table?"

"That would work, it shouldn't take long." Solu looked to Meyan who was simply waiting patiently. "Do you mind? I don't mean to break up the conversation."

Meyan simply shrugged and shook her head, using the pause to signal the bar attendant for another drink. Delyyn smiled and shook his head as well but as Solu turned to follow Nina to a nearby table he seemed almost too eager to have Meyan's attention all to himself.

"I hate it when they do that network shit, just like the boss to talk shop at a party though" Delyyn's tone was light and friendly and he shook his head and smiled as he leaned towards Meyan in a conspiratorial sort of way.

Solu caught up to Nina as he set his drink down at one of the standing tables beside the bar. She circled around to the far side leaving her a view of Meyan as Delyyn resumed his account of the 'Construction of the Tearinx' "So, when can I start hunting for labspace?"

Nina smiled and shrugged. "They won't even let me in yet. Why the rush?"

Her eyes had drifted back to Meyan. Delyyn was clearly excited by the launch, as well as his role in it, but Meyan only seemed to be politely listening, not really as interested. To Nina; "I'd really prefer something with a window this time." She'd meant the comment with a little humor and added a smile to reinforce it. "I just don't want to get beat out for the best traffic spots."

Nina seemed to consider the business aspects, reading through the surface; the very fact that she was asking him meant she was looking for his not inconsiderable support to obtain said space. Solu, on the other hand, found herself glancing more and more to Meyan who was was now clearly bored but too over-polite to stop the exuberant Delyyn. Should she go over and save her?

"I'll see what networks can be pinged on this on, we may be able to get you that spacescape office." He smiled and looked to the door. "I could try a few people now..."

"Sure, go for it." Nina and his work were never parted for long and she couldn't deny him the excuse to get back to it. "I think I'll stay here a bit longer, for the launch at least."

Nina turned to leave the bar, waving back at Delyyn and Meyan before leaving. Solu sent a quick parting over the network before turning back to finally join the other two. "Delyyn was just telling me about some of the new tech that was going into that thing." She nodded to the screen where the Tearnix's first hints of movement were being met by an eager Daredevil suddenly swooping in to claim 'first to the finish' status for the frigate swarm that was soon to follow.

"Yeah..." Solu sensed a chance to move the conversation more towards common ground. "I had to sit Shars new clone in the booth for a solid three hours to get all the new implants set in there. Some really advanced stuff." She smiled as Meyan reached for a fresh drink without taking her eyes away. "Of course, the next time I have to do that I'm hoping to have your expertise to speed it up."

Meyan did blush slightly at the compliment but it was Delyyn who spoke next. "Hey Meyan, here it comes!" Sure enough, a flurry of frigates dispersed momentarily to reveal the bulky-sleek Blue Tiger painted nose pulling out from its moorings and picking up speed. The conversation in the bar seemed to stop as those remaining, primarily non-capsuleers she noticed, all turned to watch the beast emerge fully and begin maneuvering for entry into warp.

"Where is she going?" Some of the frigate escorts were already initiating their own warp vectors while others seemed to be targeting the Tearnix. "And are they actually targeting her, a joke maybe?" She recalled the nature of Anna's teasing only moments ago.

"What, the frigates? Yeah... but they are just giving her a send-off, watch and you'll see." Sure enough a moment later the few remaining frigates seemed to emit, what Meyan could only assume was, a webbing beam and the massive vessel seemed to swing violently on its access, lock into an acceleration vector, and leap into warp as agile as the frigates which were now coming to land in no real formation all around Icarus.

"Oh, it's coming here!" She hadn't meant to sound so stunned as she finally put together where the Tearnix's maiden flight would take her. Something about a vessel so large that it couldn't even dock at the station sparked a sort of gut instinct of fight or flight. After hearing so much about the sheer firepower of the very same vessel that was pounding toward her faster than light, that instinct had come unbidden and was out there faster than her mind could have caught it.

Solu looked to Meyan, her face one of comfort and again about to speak when Delyyn reached over and bravely put an arm about Meyan's shoulder, pulling her to his side for a sort of friendly consolation. Focused on the screen, Meyan barely noticed the gesture but seemed to feel a sense of reassurance as Solu once more turned to look at the screen but her mind lingered on the gesture. She was suddenly feeling a rather distinct dislike for Delyyn's smooth charm but could find no way to do anything about it. They all watched as a flash of light suddenly became the Tearnix in sudden deceleration straight for the central towers of Icarus station, the same towers that sat just behind Sunny-side Up. Almost in unison the population of the bar turned to look out the bay windows overlooking the docks as they quickly filled with the nose of a dreadnaught. Moments of shocking silence went by until the ship came to rest relative to the station. The news anchor seemed to find his voice again and resumed a rolling commentary of what must be going through the pilot's mind. One by one the patrons resumed their conversation or turned to watch the projection. A few remained gazing out at the massive new neighbor.

Meyan shivered despite herself and finally noticed that she had a hand on her bare, green, shoulder. She turned to look back at the screen, using it as a cover to look at Delyyn's face. He was still staring out the window but there was no malice or disgust in his face. Certainly a bit of cockiness, but at this moment she didn't much mind that. Nor did she mind the look of pride that came over his face as he watched the manifestation of much of his hard work coming to a full stop and station-keeping within tender range of the station. "You said you and Nina helped install the -" She cut off mid-sentence as something from the screen caught her eye. A reporter had been covering footage of several demonstrators within the impromptu bazaar near one of the civilian docking rings when a sort of flash went off near one of the docking bay tunnels. A strange sort of gas seemed to fill the room and by the time it cleared moments later every sentient being within view of the camera, including the reporter herself had begun violently assaulting one-another in blind rage. The network cut back to sudden motion about the Tearnix but not before catching the grisly horror of a child being torn apart on live feed merely a meter away; the image imprinting itself on every viewer's soul.

Oh, you have got to be shitting me!" Solu was suddenly in motion, not even bothering to apologize as she sprinted for the door with augmented speed. A flurry of curses Meyan couldn't even understand trailed behind her, all generally aimed at explaining exactly where she was about to send whomever was responsible. Outside, the Tearnix was realigning for Eidolon anchorage as two or three massive battleships along with rep cruisers burst from the Icarus docs to join their frigate mates. Again, targeting activated and once more the hulking dreadnaught was smothered in webs. Moments later, this time as one fleet, every frigate, cruiser, battleship, and the Tearnix leapt into warp.

"I... I gotta go." Meyan looked back to Delyyn who was, in a moment of sudden concern placing his other hand on her left shoulder. "I'm sorry Meyan but I need to go. Vox was in that bay, I know he's got a fresh back-up but.. I, I gotta go make sure." Meyan looked up, still unable to shake the gory images enough to respond. "Will you be ok here?"

She had just enough awareness to look around at only a few people standing in stark stunned silence as the screen cut to a news anchor trying desperately to relay details they didn't have. With no idea what else to do she simply nodded and carefully slid into one of the bar seats beside her.

In what would have normally been a very startling gesture Delyyn leaned in and kissed her on the forehead before leaping to his right and sprinting for the door. Meyan just sat at the bar, a bystander to it all. Some part of her thanked whatever sanity at the network had refused to cut back to the chaos but the anchor was already reporting that emergency pressure bulkheads had been activated and the filtration system crashed mere seconds following the gas bomb's detonation. Experts were also reporting the most likely culprit as a bio-nantite agent whose use had been banned the moment it had been discovered last cycle. Somewhere behind the shock Meyan the biologist made the connection and realized in vivid detail how each and every sentient in that bazaar was having their cells or circuits violated. For those unlucky enough to be human, the bio-nanites were invading each and every nucleus, in each and every cell of their body. The neurons and parts of the brain which handled empathy and other impulses we being hardcoded; rewritten to know only rage in its rawest sense. Every part of the brain except the pain centers. These were being changed as well; enhanced into a sort of delayed fuse. Just long enough to permit undaunted aggression, but just short enough that right before that person died... Just before they could slip from consciousness the pain would come; magnified tenfold and so powerful that the victim would literally die of overwhelming pain. She was vaguely aware that something just as horrible was befalling the sentient AI in that room as well but it was the realization that what she knew was happening inside them had just happened before her very eyes, and to a child who had no hope for the miracle of scanned-cloning, that left her so completely adrift. Meyan cried.

*******