USS Traveller
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Reflex Point

Posted on Fri Sep 4th, 2020 @ 12:09am by Captain Remas McDonald & Lieutenant Commander Shadi Zatra & Lieutenant Mar Megara MD & Lieutenant Dinui Locke (loch) & Innocent Bystander

Mission: S2:1: Good Will Gunboat Tour
Location: Heliopause, edge of the Casstaul Star System
Timeline: MD27 03.00

Space shrieked, folding in on itself for the briefest of moments, and the USS Traveller exited from the slipstream conduit it had been cruising through back into real space. Its hull glowed with dissipating transit energies, but soon even those stellar energies ebbed into the darkness at the edge of the Casstaul star system. This far out from the bright yellow star, it was just one point of light among the vastness.

The USS Traveller sailed alone in a grey sea of boundless starlight, its only companions the dark icy hulks that had been flung out into the systems Oort Cloud.




"Mister Davies, double-check the ship is rigged for silent running. Using the passive sensors map out where we've come out of slipstream," Remas said from the centre of the holoBridge. Here within the oval void, the grey sea of stars surrounded everyone, from above to below and back again. Only the work stations and holographic displays betrayed they sat within the armoured hide of a starship. "Engineering teams, make sure all safety interlocks are in place to keep the sensors from activating by accident."

Gaz glanced up sharply from his console, having had been continuously playing with the holographic projection of the bubble shield around the Traveller herself, and fixed upon the captain. "Aye, cap'n, rigging Trav for silent running now." His fingers swiped across his console, double checking their systems and readying to rig her and running passive scans. His brows knitted in concentration, scar more prominent in the lighting as he pinpointed where they were. "Looks like we're on the edge of the Casstaul Star System. Place name: Heliopause. Not exactly sure where that is, but I'll leave it to your better judgement."

"Engineering teams 1 through 6 report all green," Shadi said. "Active sensors are on lockdown along with the nacelles. We should be quiet as a..." She almost said 'ghost,' but after her earlier diatribe in Engineering, well, it just didn't seem right. "... corpse."

Remas flicked a control on the arm of his chair.

"Remas to flight pod, Intruder One are you ready?" Remas asked the intercom.

Lo there do I see my father... Brynna recited an old poem, a prayer, in her mind as she got herself set up in the duct tape and best wish contraption that they were going to launch her out in, like a kinetic bullet from an old-fashioned gun. It was going to be one hell of a ride, and that was at best. Lo there... "As ready as I'll ever be, Captain," she responded aloud, stoic as ever.

"Okay let's be about it," Remas said. "Miss Kohnar, align the Traveller along a ballistic course to Casstaul and accelerate us to maximum sunlight along that course. Engineering, ready the flight pod and magnetic catapult. Intruder One, we're about t-minus one minute from committing to this course. There are no show stoppers on our end, how do you copy?"

"Flight pod registers ready. Magnetic catapult coming online," Shadi reported. "T minusss 90 seconds."

If Jolani could be in two places, she would. Flying Traveller was a privilege but the things one could do in that flight pod made her practically faint with excitement. While she tried not to daydream about flying the flight pod, she heard Remas' order. "Aligning Traveller, sir. But, maximum sunlight, sir?" she asked slightly confused.

Given that an open channel wasn't that choosy, Keil heard the words too. "I'd rather not be shot into a sun, sir," she chimed in.

Remas smiled. "Sorry Jolani, old Rish term. Maximum Sub-light thrust. Bring us to the edge of the Travellers new vector thrust engines and announce when we are there. And keep us on course, like Commander Keil said we're aiming at a gas giant, not the sun."

"Mazarian could have come from the sun," Shadi said in pining. "Divine dragon that he is..."

"That's a point, where is Mazarian?" Remas asked. "I'd have thought he would want to be here for this?"

The question made Shadi avert her face in obvious bashfulness. "He might be... recovering... from before..." She approached Remas to whisper in his ear, though it was more of a forceful hiss. It was unlikely to not have been heard by the entire bridge crew. "We made sssavage love lassst night! Isssn't that wonderful?!"

"It's...er...Counsellor Savin?" Remas said, turning to look at the counsellor to his left. "I know you're still getting to grip with the holoBridge set up, but I would suggest setting up a meeting with Mazarian. He's a native of the people we're going to meet, and I intend to have you by my side. Have you handled any first contact situations?"

To say that Nalya was lost would be a monumental understatement. She was first time with holobridge, used to... what would be a good word? analog ones? She was observing everything and listening the communication laced with banter. Fact was that she just came on board, had no chance to understand what was going on, meet anyone fro the crew, was thrown into discussion with a totally foreign and hostile life form and now she was to handle a first contact?

"I am sorry captain, but, no. I have never handled or even was in the first contact situation, captain." She replied softly.

"Well I've always preferred the workplace experience road to knowledge, you get to ask questions along the way." Remas smiled. "Mazarian is, for lack of a better term, an ambassador for a people under Myriad occupation. They routinely send out their people as courtiers of the Myriad in hopes of finding a more technologically advanced race who might aid them. To that end, Mazarian is the first to succeed when we found him. So you and I will get a chance to meet his people, and hopefully form a bond with them that will benefit both the Federation and the people of Casstaul."

“Of course, captain. I’ll do my best.” Nalya said. She felt things around her were moving much faster than she was, so for now, she had no other choice than go with the flow.

Remas quickly turned and held u pa finger to Shadi. He then turned back, and leaned closer to Savin.

"There is also the small matter that Chief Engineer Zatra and Mazarian have conspired to produce an egg. I ask no questions concern it, for fear that I will be given no lies. You would do me an honour if you could visit with Mazarian, and get a feel for his mental well being," Remas smiled back at Shadi over his shoulder. "I'd not want our ambassador to the Casstaulli to be suffering unduly."

“What do you mean that they conspired to produce an egg, sir?” Nalya wasn’t sure how she should understand that. “Am I to do the same?” The second question was jesting.

"Over my dead body!" Shadi seethed.

"Guessin' I'm in charge of the ambassador's safety at this point. I'll try to keep sufferin' out of the dictionary." Gaz chipped in.

Remas dearly wished that would be the case.

"Its an...involved story, Counsellor," Remas said guardedly and eyed Shadi. "No dead bodies."

Nalya sighed patiently glancing at Shadi, then at Remas.

"I still don't know what it means to conspire? Was it against orders? What does that mean for you, commander?" She asked the CEO, before she looked again on the captain. "Or what does it mean for the ship? For the Federation and for this first contact attempt?"

"As my mother might have said to a young pair of Rish fresh from the bed, it is but a happy accident of fate," Remas smiled. "In either case, the egg is something we will have to broach with the Casstaulli when the time comes. A pairing between two species that have yet to even meet, it's a situation that has a very fluid diplomatic consequence."

Shadi wasn't quite sure what Remas meant, but she nodded her head in vigorous agreement. "Yes, yesss, many fluids were involved in the egg's making. Perhaps it will even hatch soon!" The exclamation was soon followed by a solemn consideration. "I never planned to be a broodmother. Mazarian... Mazarian says our offspring will be safe on his world..." Fingering her combadge with a talon, Shadi pondered aloud. "I suppose it is for the best..."

Nalya glanced at Shadi, then at the captain, then back at Shadi and then back at the captain. Maybe it was the face they were cut off from the Federation here in this cluster. Maybe it was just unorthodox, to put it mildly, way of doing things by Remas. Maybe it was just her. But this, all this screamed of violating of all standard protocols.
"Right." She simply said.

Dinui bit the inside of her lip to keep from giggling out loud, at the rather loud whispered comment from Shadi to the Captain. She ran her hands over the console and looked at the Wise Men data stream. She glanced over at the Captain and made a mental note that maybe he would need to get another bottle of Scottish whisky if he was going to be given such details from the CEO.

Above them, in the curved dome of the holoBridge's augmented reality, the flight pod began to open. Like a wolf, the hanger door's along its leading edge were pulled back and away, revealing the sharp prongs of the parallel magnetic catapults glittered in the wan starlight. One of the catapult's extended slightly, the guide rails jutting out proudly as static discharge played along the Jacob's ladder of the rail.

"Goodspeed Commander Keil," Remas commended as with a flash the catapult fired. The stripped-down Gryhpn starfighter vanished after a second of visibility, coasting on momentum alone into the dark. "Alright. Mister Davies, Miss Locke begin passive tactical and information sweeps of our local stellar volume to make sure no one saw us do that. Miss Kohnar, slow us down and bring us back into the Oort Cloud proper. Find us a nice comet shard to hide behind. Engineering, stow the Catapult."

He smiled at Savin. "Now we wait. Like all good sailors before the storm."

"Of course captain." Nalya confirmed.

Dinui was fighting to keep from laughing at the bold comments from Shadi, she ran her fingers over her console and read over the data displayed. During the acceleration phase and firing of the fighter from the Travellers flight pod, the passive sensors beeped showing her notices of detecting a slight thermal irregularity in the nearby Oort Cloud debris. While normally should be cold as hell sheets of dark comet ice, the data was showing it slightly warm. Not day at the beach, to be sure, warmer than it had any right to be that far from the sun. She muttered quietly and sent the data to be given a once over by the Wise men, if it was or wasn't a concession she would still mention it to the Captain and rest it concerned.

"Lieutenant Locke? Might it be you've come across something that's caused a furrowing of your brows there?" Remas asked.

Dinui looked at him her expression slightly startled by hearing her name while she had been trying to puzzle out the anomoly of the warmly reading debris. "Ah'm no' certain the reading' show some debris as warm while they should be much colder specially so far from the Sun." She shrugged softly, "Could be a good thing, could be something else, canna be certain wi' out further scan an' details."

Remas raised a hand beside his chair, and a holographic display appeared revealing the same scan data as Locke was looking at.

"That there is an oddity to be sure, and if the readings are right it's hiding in the shadow of a comet shard. Laws of thermal dynamics dictate the item in that shadow should be a few degrees above absolute zero. Which this thing is not," Remas mused, tapping a finger on his chin. "Normally I'd leave this for another time, but given the Myriad have the system sewn up we can't take the risk this is some sort of early warning net. Miss Kohnar take us in on thruster for a visual inspection. Mister Davis, I want two torpedoes in their tubes and ready to fire on manual targeting. Miss Locke keep our eyes and ears open, but no active scans."

"Cutting power. Maneuvering on thrusters only, Captain," Jolani replied. She smiled grimly as she knew that she had another opportunity to show off her skills. "How close do you wish to get, Captain?"

"Aye, captain," Gaz's head was down at the command and his fingers swiping the console, glancing only momentarily upwards to confirm his actions. "Two torps loaded and ready at your command."

"Stand by Mister Davies," Remas said. Out beyond the seeming glass walls of the holoBridge, the vast grey sea of stars began to form a dark spot. Slowly it began to reform into a jagged continent-sized chunk of obsidian black ice, a fragment barely hanging onto the edge of the Casstaul star system. "Jolani bring us in with the object between us and the shard. If we have to fire on it, I'd rather mask it with that Australia sized backstop."

Dinui kept her eyes on the screen before her, "Aye Sir," she hoped whatever they were coming up on was not going to be an annoyance but if it was they would deal with it as needed.

Nothing but dull black rock and vapour.

It had been that way for some considerable time now, hidden, dormant and disguised. Camouflaged so perfectly that no one's eyes, no matter how skilled, could find it. That was how it had remained intact, untouched and hidden. Akin to a leaf in this windless world, tethered to a dark shard usually lost within the Oort cloud, a shape that those who knew of them might liken to a moth. Dappled colours muted and matching almost entirely perfectly to the rock and ice around it, and yet, as their gaze slipped over it...

A ship?

A three-dimensional form flattened like a sail, close against the hard, dark surface, its edges lifting up then to be seen as if, finally, it sought company. There followed a ripple of subdued lights that suggested a greeting of sorts, one that required no spoken language to determine its message.

Hello. Implied that muted show of light. Can you see me?

"Lights, Captain!" Shadi gasped at the sensor readout. "The ice rock is flashing at usss!"

"Full stop," Remas said quietly. The comet shard now took up the entire front of the holoBridge, with the unidentified object dead centre. Glowing softly. Welcoming almost. "Miss Locke, Miss Zatra, bring the forward sensor array out of lock down. Minimal power, just enough for us to get a good active return on that."

Definitely not a Myriad then, no honey-sweet words or barbs.

"Mister Davis, flash our running lights on and off. Let's respond." Remas asked.

Dinui noted the details of the lights, the muted tones, they were giving off non-threating tones flickering in various hues, including shades of blue, orange and pale yellow in a ripple effect. "Seems greeting' repetitive, no reliable translation currently available, Ah recommend lower intensity o' the runnin' lights brightness, afore we reply."

A reply! Neither local dialect nor known friend or foe. Mysterious... and all the more interesting for its unknown quality.

As the newly arrived, oddly shaped and clearly intelligently built ship 'spoke' back to its initial test greeting, the small craft anchored to the comet shard sought confirmation of meaning or language. It reached out, passively, and gently queried the databases it found.

Then, across the outer shell of its currently dark mottled form, the tethered ship shifted the pattern of its own lights to match a simple coded method of communication. Dots and dashes spelled out a phrase for them to read, flashes of blue and orange lights repeating in hope of a response.

"I'm no scientist, but even I can recognise a prime number sequence when it's flashing at us," Remas smiled. "A pleasant greeting. Let's try sending out, on low power mind you, a standard Starfleet greeting hail. Let's see if the universal lexicon can build us a language bridge to talk to our friend out there."

Jolani looked back at the Captain and waited for an order. Science, however, she knew would handle this problem.

Gaz was surprised that they had encountered what would perhaps end up being a fairly friendly being (or at least that was the hope) all the way out here. "Aye, sending standard Starfleet greeting on low power." He dialed in and formulated the response before looking up and around. "Least we know we can understand it, and it us...."

Dinui tapped the screen before her gently as she sent translation of the greeting in Morse code to Gaz's station, she was still puzzling the still in coming readings, the vessel whatever it was, was hidden by ingenious chameleon like, mimicry to the surrounding area. The alloys had no known match in any of their data bases, there were no apparent signs of life as of yet, the significance of the lights reaction to their presence made her guess that perhaps it was unmanned or it was judging before more would be reviewed.

"It reminds me of a stellar phasmida. One of the few carbon-based beings able to live in space. Though that's much larger than a comet crab," Remas smiled. "Its almost perfectly camouflaged against the black of the comet shard. Even now, lookin' at it, you'd blink and miss it."

>Do you bring peace? Or violence?'< Said the words that were transferred from one Traveller station to another. Silently at first, and then in a generic sounding crisp electronic voice akin to a tame, housebound quasi-AI.

Meanwhile, the intelligence bound within their potential found-friend sucked up information from the encyclopaedic resources the Traveller kindly offered. Nothing nefarious, no deep dives into secure networks, but a thorough download of knowledge in a matter of seconds transferred from one network to another. The ship sat out on the comet shard left little info-nuggets of its own, to be found should anyone go actively looking. Reference points to share later, should this contact go well.

>Permission to come on board…< Due to a lack of emotional intonation, it wasn’t entirely clear if that was a question or an invitation.

"Engineering," Shadi said, tapping her combadge. "Prepare to resist space ghostsss on my mark!"

"Belay that order," Remas said. "This isn't the Myriad. They have a certain way of doing things in my opinion. Plus our guardian angel in the form of Khun-lan would have spoken up in our defence were that the case. Permission...granted."



Meanwhile, in Sick Bay

As was customary when things started happening on the bridge, a com link was opened to those senior officers stationed elsewhere on the ship. So, Meg was aware of what was happening, but she had had nothing to contribute thus far.

However, when the messages flashed across the PADD in her hands as well as the console on her desk, she paid closer attention. This was certainly unexpected.

But then came the murmuring from outside her office and she had to get up to see what was going on.

“Doctor!” exclaimed one of the nurses, pointing to the nearest console which still displayed the last message. “What does it mean?”

“Ai Dios mio,” muttered Meg. If all the junior officers in sick bay had seen the messages, they would be wondering what they meant. And if the messages had displayed on every console in Sick Bay, they likely had displayed on every console on the whole ship.

Now, a person was smart. But people, collectively, were dumb, dangerous, panicky animals. The whole ship knowing there was an intelligent entity communicating with the ship could be dangerous. One person panics and it spreads until everyone is out of their minds.

She tapped her combadge. “Doctor Mar to the bridge,” she said, managing to keep her voice even. “We have a situation.”

"=/\=Remas here Doctor, we are selves have something of a thing happening here. It is not, as of yet, a danger to the crew. Though from the tone of your voice, I imagine you have something else occurring?"

“The same thing as you,” replied Meg. “But, sir, it is on all the consoles down here. And if it is on all of the consoles in Sick Bay, it may very well be on consoles across the ship.” She hoped he caught her meaning. If strange messages appeared across the whole ship, people would soon be panicking.

Across the consoles - every one of them now - friendly font with colourful letters displayed two words stolen from a tome that had skipped through their visitor's consciousness in his swift and thorough perusal of human literature's every single first contact reference. It said, simply. Don't Panic.



Bridge

A thin, visually elegant, flexible and iridescent slice of tech, constructed from currently unrecognised materials, appeared soundlessly above the transporter pad. To humanoid eyes it was as if someone had flattened a large soap bubble and allowed it to hover in mid air without any obvious means of support or propulsion.

Encoded within this slender paperback novel sized slither of everchanging rainbow beauty and about that initial point of presence, something caused the air to shift shape.

Stolen imagery and renewed input as their guest soaked up the lifeforms present caused this new pattern to coalesce into a marginally more human-like form. Still built from rainbow bubble material, transparent and colour shifting, this 'ghost' stepped from the transporter and tilted its 'head'.

>Carbon.< Said the unemotional voice. >Requires carbon<

"What kind of space ghost requiresss carbon?" Shadi wondered aloud.

>Ghost, incorrect nomenclature< Spoke the form as it drifted closer to the reptilian officer. >Requires end of life. Carbon facilitates replication of form<

Shadi experimentally pawed at the thing, but otherwise gave no reply.

"We be around 18% carbon ourselves," Dinui said softly as she marveled at the pearlecant shifting hues of their guest, "What type o' carbon would assist ye best?" She added after a moment, her voice soft with the wonder that had so many curious questions to be voiced but she was holding them at Bay in favor of trying to help their guest as it shimmered in it's rainbow hues of brilliance.

>Agreed< Confirmed the voice that began to animate a little more >Other three elements can be obtained from the volume.< It didn't seem to mind Shadi's touch, and remained close as it studied them right back.

"Demon!" Shadi called out. She had agreed not to refer to Clee'san by that title, but she was unsure of what she was seeing. And, well, old habits die hard. "What am I looking at?!"

>Demon, incorrect nomenclature< Stated the voice, which had now softened very slightly and adopted Dinui's accent. >Neither an evil spirit, or a devil. Seeking suitable wordage from your archives...<

Gaz had his brows furrowed, his arms crossed across his chest as he listened to the various people bounce back and forth their ideas. It was intelligent and it was not the Myriad, it was no ghost, no demon....then what did it leave them with? They had traversed the milky way, they had explored space but there was still so much they had to learn from. "Not a ghost, not a demon....spectre? No, that's like a ghost...." He thought aloud, his blue eyes pinned on the creature. Friendly? That was still to be seen, but it seemed to be responding well to Dinui. "Shapeshifter?"

"Clee'san!!!" Shadi shouted, finally finding the name on the tip of her forked tongue. "SSSCAN IT!!!"

That did not happen. Instead from the floor of the bridge slender golden threads began to rise up, braiding and coiling together until another figure stood on the bridge. The elegant wire frame model of a four armed humanoid appeared, the nature of the construction abstract but enough to remind those of the being known as Clee'san.

Remas looked over to the counsellor, and mouthed the phrase: 'We'll catch up later'.

"It seeks a medium by which to form a shell, I do not sense outward hostility or malice. Like a child it has a child's idea of the world," the golden form of Clee'san held out a hand. The limb thicker as more of the material gathered there, pooling and following into a more solid form. "This should allow you purchase here."

The explanation left Shadi feeling skeptical. "So... Clee'san wantsss us to sell it something?" She looked at Remas. "Can we do that?"

"Purchase I think in this term phrase, means 'a hold or grip'," Remas expanded.

Bubble met gold in a swift and decisive almost-handshake, one finger-like protrusion from their new visitor wasting no time in accepting Clee-San’s kind offer. A welcome to this new place with all its oddly shaped inhabitants.

Rapidly and with a certain enthusiasm to the being’s actions, their invited guest replicated a human form from the offered gift of solidity. Brushed bronze skin formed an outer coating to that previously translucent presence and a broad-shouldered male humanoid with messy dreadlocks of ‘hair’ regarded the crew with dark golden eyes.

>You are unexpected< said an intrigued voice, intonation now mimicking Clee-San as those new eyes took in everyone present with great interest. A bronze finger reached out to prod the nearest person. >And fragile< It added, without menace to this apparent revelation. >Are you lost?<

"No," Remas said with a slight chuckle. "Though it brings to mind a saying that not all who wander are lost. We are travellers, explorers. We did not intend to find you here, but we are not ungrateful for the finding none the less. I am Captain Remas McDonald of the Federation starship Traveller."

"I am not of these ones," Clee'san said, her brass filigree form twisting a little as new strands emerged to make up for the loss of donated mass. "We have sought a bargain with them. But to their credit, they speak truth. Even the Saurian is peaceful in a crude way."

Remas' speech seemed to find resonance within this newcomer to the bridge of their ship. The freshly made head canted to the left, then the right and remained at a jaunty angle as its owner considered these words. Translation algorithms worked their magic and sorrow clouded those bronze features.

"Lost," said the humanoid. A word that came from his mouth this time, at least directionally. "Yes." He took one step towards Clee'san, then turned back to face Remas before speaking again. "This formation of letters is new and appropriate." Enthusiasm had crept into the mix, but then the tone sank back down again. "I am not lost. I am 'left behind'."

There followed a short pause in which emotions were left unclear before their guest turned in a slow circle and overtly studied the bridge. "Artificial construct," he said, then pointed at the people around him. "Explorers."

"I am Innocent." A shrug of broad shoulders as if trying them out for size as it sought the correct translation from their available options. "Innocent Bystander. I explored... It went badly."

"Incredible," Shadi said in a hoarse whisper. "It looks like a space demon but talks like a milk-drinker."

"Peaceful crude. Lizard origin. Warrior?" Clearly their visitor had found conflict while trying to intepret multiple streams of archive information. "Imbibing lactose beverages is not necessary."

Shadi's dark eyes bugged out. "Lizard origin? We descended from divine dragons, you starving photonic assbag!"

"Shadi," Remas hissed, and then looked back at the being he thought had named itself Innocent Bystander. "We have also explored, and things have gone badly for us as well. But we still seek out peaceful interactions with other sentient races and new life forms. We have rarely met someone such as yourself."

“Dragons? Mythical entities. Divinity counterpoint suggests egotistical anomaly,” said Bystander. His bronze form was shifting slightly though as he spoke, testing limits as he raised a human hand before his human face and regarded his fingers with mild amusement reflected in his wide eyes. “Starving requires necessity for nutrition and absence of entertainment,” he added. “Neither are currently lacking.”

His golden gaze shifted from Clee’San, to Shadi, around the others present and then fixed on the Captain. “It has been a considerable timespan since seeing any sentients,” Bystander said. “Protection of the indigenous peoples outweighed personal need.” Then a grin split those bronzed features and the human shape shifted in its entirety to an identically coloured reptilian one, tall and defiant, and with magnificently oversized holographic dragon wings that extended outward, passing harmlessly through anyone who stood in their way.

“Dragon!” Declared their guest. “Divinity is speculative and unsubstantiated.”

Gaz finally broke, his lips parting in utter amusement of the situation. Maybe the first reprieve he had gotten since their initial encounter with this humanoid who was called the Innocent Bystander. "Going to give you a run for your money, Shadi." He commented before turning back to the humanoid, words catching up and causing him concern. "What happened? What went badly on your travels?"

The dragon turned its golden eyes on Lt Davies and conveyed sorrow with a downward tilt of his head and a lowering of the tips of his wings.

“Non-Mammalian Technologic Sentients,” he answered. “Parental unit recognised end of life event. Diversification necessary."

At the sight of this latest metamorphosis, Shadi went weak in the knees. Her tongue flicked in and out of her mouth as she fought to slow the rapid beating of her four hearts. "Goddesssss have mercy," she hissed through her slack jaw.

Dinui was torn between laughter and tears, this Innocent was definitely intelligent and seemed young like a teenager in ego and current mannerisms. She wasn't sure if it classified as a shape-changer or something else entirely. "Ye be alone now? Be ye family elsewhere?" Maybe they could help Innocent find their family or something? Dinui kept her to tone gentle as she spoke.

“Solitary vigilance necessary, affirmative,” said Dragon-Bystander to Dinui. “Parental unit absent. Family...” He tried out the word. “Absent. Diversification ensured survival. Inability to sustain multiple entities in covert status. Insufficient resource.”

Jolani looked at Bystander and with her stomach in her throat told Bystander, "I know what it is to be alone. Did you ever have a mate?"

The question made Shadi yelp with desire, but she slapped herself in the face to fight for her composure. No Ragolar Warrior would ever mate with a winged space demon, their tasty dragon haunches be damned!

Bystander’s golden gaze sought Jolani next, sorrow encapsulated there as his shoulders slumped to match her implied mood. “Abandonment experience?” He asked her, his tone implying a certain resonance in that regard. “Clarify confusing language?” He continued then. “Mate classification uncertain. Terminology implies casual benevolent alliance but also individual chosen for reproduction and romantic entanglement.” One wing - his right - raised to shelter Jolani as if she were standing in a rainstorm in need of an umbrella. “Allies present,” he informed her. “Protection and comfort available.”

Dinui glanced at Shadi wondering what the hell was with the yelp, and the slapping of her own face was about. Instead of asking if the CEO was suffering from a bout of temporary insanity she focused on the guest who looked very impressive as a dragon from various legends, myths and beliefs. "Sorry ye be alone, can we help ye find ye'r kind elsewhere?"

Now, Bystander lifted his vast wings and flexed them as if feeling the warmth of some invisible wind beneath them both. He appeared to consider something privately, then looked from Dinui to Shadi and whispered. “Deity denied mercy,” Bystander noted, then leant in closer to those reptilian features to study that face. “Impressive cardiovascular adaptation,” he informed Shadi. “Multiple system contingencies. Superior musculature.” A grin followed, a little awkwardly, but happiness nonetheless was conveyed via the action. “Psychological desire evident.”

Then Dinui’s words caused the grin to vanish.

“Negative response necessary,” Bystander answered her. “Innate inability to traverse required obstacles.” Then golden eyes brightened and he lowered his wings, letting them fold behind him as if forgetting he might just dismiss them from sight. “Captain Remas McDonald of the Federation starship Traveller? Permission to remain in present company?” Their visitor asked, simply.

"Well, this is different," Jolani observed. "I cannot say that I have ever had a dragon protecting me before." She moved in closer towards it, feeling that for a moment, that life was not completely depressing. "How can I assist your understanding, Bystander?"

“Protection remains primary purpose. Exploratory function currently secondary objective. Understanding is advantageous to both mission parameters,” explained Bystander, the cadence of his words conveying a happy curiosity as Jolani drew nearer to him. He canted his head and leant forward to close the distance a little further. “Request nomenclature,” he said and extended a wing tip towards Jolani’s ears. “Exquisite double pointed auditory system. Delicate outer casing for tympanic cavity.”

"You like my ears?" Jolani asked wondrously. Jolani then looked at Dinui wondering if she was being foolish. "So, are you here to protect me or something else? Is your intent to explore with us?"

A quizzical look took up brief residence on those draconian features. "Affirmative," Bystander noted with a firm, decisive nod of his big reptilian head. "Physiology simultaneously functional and also attractively presented. Opposable anterior forelimb-appendages, visible spectrum-binocular vision and biomechanic plantigrade-bipedalism... Previously unencountered. Protection essential. Exploration option dependable on Captain Remas McDonald of the Federation starship Traveller."

Jolani looked at her posterior, which had long been neglected since Fell died. This dragon thing can't possibly think that I am attractive. Can it? Is it asking me on a date or just giving me a compliment? Can't it understand what I've lost? Does it even know? Hesitantly, Jolani said in a questioning voice, "Thank you?" She then stared hard at Dinui, hoping to get some assistance.

Dinui walked closer carefully looking way up to look at Innocent Bystander in the eyes, "Our mission be exploring, we meet new folks." She hesitated and added lightly, "Iffen ye want joinin' the crew tha' be up to the Captain. Though would make more folks might be eased to ye Iffen ye return to the humanoid form ye showed before turning yeself to a very lovely Dragon, though Iffen ye be in ye'r final form we can figure something out." She was actually very intimidated by the size of the Dragon like form. It was a big difference in comparison to the previous humanoid form it had shown. She wasn't going to classify it until she certain that she wasn't going to offend Innocent Bystander. It appeared to have limitless possible shifting forms though maybe it was still learning. There were a lot of questions she wanted to ask but she didn't want to overwhelm Innocent Bystander and she wasn't certain of what the Captain thought about this latest possible development.

As Jolani turned to regard her backside, so Bystander lifted his left wing and tilted his head as if to regard his own. He turned back, a questioning look on his face and shrugged both wings as if unsure what this was supposed to signify. Then, his gaze followed hers to silently regard Dinui. He didn't flinch as the tiny little redhead stepped closer, but folded his wings behind him so as to allow her room to approach. He paid particularly close attention to this demure but forthright form and silently absorbed Dinui's every word before speaking.

"Preference for humanoid form accepted," Bystander noted, again with a definite nod in response. "Disruption to emotional state unintentional." It seemed as if the dragon inhaled a deep breath while simultaneously fading the holo-wings into the ether once more, the form shifting back swiftly to the bronze-skinned human male shape he had initially chosen. Long messy hair fell about the shoulders of this six foot four muscular form as Bystander crouched down before Dinui and Jolani and grinned. His dark golden eyes shone brightly with a childlike enthusiasm as he pointed to each female humanoid in turn.

"Solitude unnecessary. Protection mutual. Captain Remas McDonald of the Federation starship Traveller," Bystander continued. "Respectfully request recover..." he sought the correct word. "Transport unit." A finger pointed to the tethered ship out on the comet shard.

Shadi heaved a sigh of relief at the transformation. "Oh thank Goddess..." It still took a moment for her four beating hearts to settle. "Wait... did you say you have a ship? How did the Myriad not sssee it?"

Bystander shifted his attention to Shadi, and nodded enthusiastically. "Ship. Affirmative." This ship was clearly something of great importance to him, and the smile endured as he sought a suitable means of explaining the success of his subterfuge over such a long period of time. A search of their information archives proved unworthy of resolving such a request, so he opted for one word in response that seemed to cover it. "Magic," he said, proudly.

"Magic?!" Shadi gasped in horror before turning to Remas. "It's a space demon! You heard it with your own earsss!"

Meg, who had grown tired of merely listening to the action from her station in sick bay, chose that moment to appear cautiously in the bridge. She carefully stepped out of the turnolift doors and glanced around slowly. “Not all magic is evil,” she said softly. “Have you never read Harry Potter?” Her eyes landed on the alien creature and softened appreciatively.
Hey, she was allowed to admire a pleasing form even if it was an unknown alien!

"What does a hairy potsherd have to do with this?" Shadi asked. "Is it some sort of holy icon used to banish evil? I would prefer one with scales to hair..."

Jolani was mildly amused at Shadi being completely flustered. "As a child, I found magic enchanting."

"Literary reference," Bystander said, quietly helpful as he studied this new presence on the bridge of the ship. He stepped closer to Lt Megara and slowly reached out his hand in the direction of her face. "Cranial ridges imply increased physical prowess," he suggested, then frowned lightly as her own features warmed in his direction. "Not all magic is evil," he copied Meg's words with some concern, seeking meaning in the word from their database in the background.

"Magic defines technological advancement beyond observers' understanding," Bystander advised them. "Inherent evil impossible in inanimate objects." He looked about the room, then let his gaze dance between Shadi and Meg. "Sentient beings and manifestations imbue evil by actions. Unexpected violence happened here," he added with a hint of sadness.

Gaz canted a look at the Bystander, trying to get his head around the whole magic discussion that they were speaking of. A dragon with magic. Now this was a story to tell when they got back to Federation space. "It's stll happening." He chipped in, readjusting his arms folded across his chest.

"Non-Mammalian Technologic Sentience - Myriad," Bystander intoned the words with varied emotions now wrapping about them. He emphasised the first one harshly in his next sentence, learning inflection with each new humanoid's interaction. "Not the beneficial ambassadors of a grand interstellar trading empire they claimed to represent."

"Something we have come well to know, Bystander," Remas said. He really had never met anyone, or anything, quite like Innocent Bystander. He thought about it for a moment. "We'll be waiting a time for our fighter to make its way across the system, plenty of time for us to recover your ship. As for the other consideration...that is something we can discuss. The Federation of Planets is an incorporative organisation, open to welcoming new members and ideas."

He looked at Gaz. "I think we can stand down from Yellow Alert, though let's keep all emissions to a minimum. No sense tipping our hand just yet."

Bystander projected a sorrowful expression on his currently human-looking bronze countenance and regarded Remas with those big golden eyes. "Captain Remas McDonald," he said, silently searching logs in the background as he spoke. "Federation Starship Traveller. Encountered Myriad..." he intoned, "Present company not in possession of volume or planetary assets. Fortuitous state of wandering sentience protected those present."

A smile broke though then at the mention of recovering the ship still tethered to the comet shard. "Recovery and dicussion! Excellent decision." Then, with a tilt of his head, Bystander added with an overt concern in his voice. "Fighter? Implies combatitive intent. Confirm status, Captain Remas McDonald. Exploration or Incursion?"

"Fighter refers to a type of craft, which does have a combative root. But in this instance, it's for use as a navigational aid. The star system you've been in orbit of is festooned with a sophisticated detection array. We're using the fighter to slip through the array, and allow us to make a pin-point faster than light jump into the system. Our intent is to make contact with a people within the system, without the Myriad being aware of our arrival," Remas explained.

Time spent in their company was beginning to slowly reward their new acquaintance with interpersonal skills of an extremely rudimentary kind. Trust? No. But a fledgling struggling to fly right out of the nest level of understanding of fact versus fiction. "Impressive skillset, Captain Remas McDonald," intoned Bystander simply. "Alerting Myriad achieves devastational consequences. Contact creates risk for both sides." That bronze brow sported a new frown as he considered every angle of the voiced plan. "Dangerous. Always. But... Could work..."

Jolani simply shrugged. "You are willing to risk yourself?" she asked Bystander. "You barely know us."

"Observation reveals less than interaction," Bystander answered her cryptically, his voice quieter now, a little more introspective. "I knew them once. I would know they are still safe," he mused out loud, then nodded emphatically in answer to her question. "I am willing."

This protective being had Jolani curious. For the moment, she simply nodded, wondering how he felt more comfortable and less out of place than the spastic Saurian.

"Then we are of like minds," Remas said. "It'll be some time before our recon craft get's close enough to relay navigational data. In that time we can get more well acquainted. Your vessel, for one. I am sure we can find space for it in our shuttle bay. And welcome aboard.'

 

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