I felt uncomfortable as K and I stood in the elevator heading down to the vehicle bay at the base of the cliff. She didn’t speak. And despite my curiosity about her, I didn’t speak either. I felt as though it wasn’t a good time to be probing her for information, particularly about her past. I watched her standing beside me in the rectangular elevator; she was gazing intently at the doors.
My gaze wandered toward them as well. It was clear that she had difficulty judging her own strength. I wondered if that had caused her many problems in the past. I wondered why she was here.
The elevator slowed to a halt. My insides felt strange from the shift in momentum.
When the doors opened, K motioned for me to follow her and she led the way into the halls. We were now well below the landing pad I had arrived at, and the cliffside that the main portion of the station was built on. Down here, the halls were darker, with few windows, and the walls appeared rough, unlike the refined design of the station’s upper levels. Clearly these halls were designed with practicality in mind, but not luxury.
I followed K through the lower levels of the station. We passed by several technicians, some of which were working on repairing a set of light fixtures in the hall. They nodded at us as we passed.
K strode ahead confidently, her head and chest held high, and I followed behind her quickening my pace to keep up. The closer we got to the vehicle bay, the more excited she appeared.
We entered the hangar to the sound of echoing machinery and voices. Staff moved this way and that in the large chamber. Open, box-like hover-lifts glided across the smooth floor and over thick power cables which ran along it. Work lights were set up on tripods to illuminate a damaged all-terrain vehicle while three mechanics worked noisily repairing it.
“Wait here a minute,” said K, before darting away, weaving between machines and workers, and out of sight.
I stood amidst the bustle of the hangar, not knowing which way to go. A whirring sound grew closer behind me, and I ducked aside to let a shouting hover-lift driver skim past me. Everywhere I looked, the people down here were staring at me, their expressions ranging from mild discomfort to disgust. I frowned with my eyes, though they probably couldn’t tell.
I glanced around in time to see the three mechanics had paused their work to stare at me. When I caught eyes with one of them, the other two went back to work, but this man stood up, and strode toward me. Had I not hesitated, I would have had time to walk away, but I suppose my curiosity got the better of me; instead I turned fully to face him.
He wore a mechanic’s uniform with TAU-blue colours, though it looked stained with oil. He appeared to be in his fifties, with hair that had just begun to grey. He had short stubble outlining his face, and I thought I detected anger in his eyes.
In an instant, he was a mere foot away from me, his hand pointing powerfully, accusingly, at my face as he looked up at me. “What are you doin’ down here, huh, skiller?”
He continued, shaking his finger. “You tryin’ to play dumb? I’d tell you to get lost, but it looks like you already are.”
The other two mechanics were now staring at us, and so were several others. I took a deep breath in, and replied “My name is Talcorosax, I’m here because-”
“You don’t look like a mechanic to me. Or a human, for that matter.” He lowered his hand, but seemed to stand up taller. “This is a TAU station. Terran. Astral. Union. Not skyther. Not Astraloth.”
I raised my hands slowly in defense. “I understand. You must not be used to seeing skythers-”
“Not used to ‘em?” He laughed in bewilderment. “Girl, I’ve seen what you skillers can do. How much hate your kind has for us. How much joy you get from killin’.”
A spark of rage ignited inside me. I stood motionless. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this accusation. Not to mention being misgendered. This man clearly had no idea about us.
After a moment of silence, he continued. “Get out of here. You’re making us all uncomfortable.”
I trembled. “You… don’t know what you’re talking about. We don’t hate humans; well maybe some skythers, but-”
“I won’t say it again! Get out of here, or I’ll call the Director.”
The noise of talking in the chamber had ceased. All eyes were on us.
My blood felt hot. I stepped toward him, trying to look intimidating. I stood a few feet taller, towering over him, and a voice jumped out from within me. “We aren’t like that! What’s wrong with you?!”
He stumbled back, a look of terror on his face. “Help! It’s threatening me!” He backed up, and made sure the space between us was sizable. No one made any motion to help him, but I noticed then that no one stood near me either.
I glanced around the room, hoping to see a sign that someone was sympathetic, that someone knew what I was trying to say. Each face I turned to looked away, and slowly everyone returned to their work.
My heart sank a little. I wasn’t sure what to feel.
The mechanic, who had made his way back to his friends, uttered “It shouldn’t be allowed to have that E-gun in here…” The other mechanics talked to him more quietly, seemingly urging him back to work.
I wanted to tell him I was a Prince, and that meant my duty was for peace, but I felt the focus slowly drifting away from me, and gave my body a quick shake, trying to reset myself and clear those thoughts. I wasn’t here to start fights, or to finish them. Not even in the name of truth and understanding.
I swung around to face the sound of the voice. The woman was standing behind me, and stood about five and a half feet tall. The first thing I noticed about her was her hair; the left side of her head was shaved, the rest of her hair sprawled out in short, purple dreadlocks. Her left cheek had a purple spiral tattoo emblazoned on her dark skin. She was wearing silvery blue armour plating, with a large E-gun of some kind slung over her back, an E-pistol at her side, and what looked like a retracted molecular sword. I was relieved when I noticed she was smiling.
Despite the relief, my ears drooped backwards in embarrassment. “I- Sorry. I’m not usually like that.” I cleared my throat and twitched my mandibles.
She raised her hands up to me, shaking her head. “It’s okay, it’s okay. You’re the loro researcher, right? How about we take a walk?”
Glad to leave that mechanic, I nodded and followed. She led me toward the bay doors, so we were further from most of the mechanics and other staff, now standing surrounded by several vehicles of various sizes. The sounds of metal clanking and workers chatting echoed through the room.
She stopped, and I gestured to shake her hand. “You already know my name. What’s yours?”
“Joëlle Weidman. Round Table.” Her grip was confident.
I paused for a moment. “What brings an RT to an establishment like this?” I tried to sound less interested than I was when asking the question.
She eyed me carefully, the smile still on her face. “You… don’t know what they’re doing here, do you?”
I shook my head.
She sighed. “Well, neither do I. I was hoping you’d have some more information.”
I chuckled. “I understand, I’m incredibly curious about this place.” I tilted my head to the side. “You didn’t answer my question though.”
“Right. Well, I wasn’t just trying to get information from you, I actually also wanted to give you a bit of a warning.” She paused, and squinted slightly. “Talcorosax, right? That is your name, just making sure.”
I nodded again. “Yes, you had it right the first time. What kind of warning? It’s not about being unwanted in a TAU operation, I hope?”
“No, it’s not that. That guy was just being…” She exhaled. “I don’t know. That’s not important right now. Just a few days ago, TAU authorities received communications from a civilian transport which had found its way into the system. They claimed their sensors picked up some kind of ship but couldn’t identify it, and it wouldn’t respond to their hails. In fact, when they tried to hail the vessel, it warped out of the system. Apparently it spooked them enough to activate their distress signal.”
My interest was piqued. A mysterious ship? I stroked my mandibles thoughtfully. “That is strange… what else is going on?”
“Well,” she said, “TAU control forwarded the sensor logs to Round Table, and my team and I happened to be in the area, so that’s why I’m here. We’re meant to wait around here, to make sure if anything bad happens we can counteract it. And if we’re lucky, to find out what that ship was.” She scanned the room with her eyes. “That ship, whatever it was, it didn’t look like anything from Astraloth or Earth. We suspect the valicorr.” She locked eyes with me. “And if it was a valicorr ship, that’s not good… because it’s bigger than any ship I’ve ever seen.”
I gulped, and looked around the room. “So, your team is here on Voren with you, just in case this ship shows up?”
“Exactly. I wanted to warn you because, if it is valicorr, there is a small chance they’re here on Voren somewhere. If they’ve been monitoring the station…”
I nodded, understanding what she was implying. “They might know about the loro ruins; they might even be there already. Why didn’t Director Aali inform me? I asked him about the valicorr and he acted as though there wasn’t any concern.”
Joëlle shook her head and sighed. “I’m not sure. But I guess he didn’t think it was worth mentioning. We’re only theorizing that it might be a valicorr ship. Whatever it was, it might not even show up again in this system. Nonetheless, the Director was pretty evasive when I was speaking with him as well.”
“How did you even know I was coming? From what I’ve seen, I doubt he volunteers much information about anything.”
She smiled. “Well, we’ve been here a few days. He’s not the only person to talk to on the station, and a lot of people were talking about you. They’re surprised that a skyther was sent to investigate the ruins. I think some people don’t trust that you have the credentials.”
“Well,” I said, narrowing my eyes as I looked back at the angry mechanic at the other end of the room, “I do in fact have the credentials. I’ve studied the loro quite extensively, and as a registered member of the loro researcher’s society I’m qualified to interact with loro remnants under the treaty.”
She nodded. “I understand. Some people just wish they sent a human.” She caught herself, and raised her hands in defense. “I- I’m not saying that’s okay! Or, it’s not okay?”
I tilted my ears forward in attempt to calm her, before remembering she might not understand the social cues. “No need to worry. I am used to others being… xenophobic.”
“Okay. I-” She breathed out. “Never sure what to say. I’ve met quite a few good hearted skythers and I don’t want it to come across as though I’m prejudiced.”
I noticed K approaching us from the side, armed with an E-pistol and what looked like a large, retracted molecular sword on her back. She squinted, and brushed something off her cool blue forehead, and for a brief moment the bony ridges there caught on the spikes jutting from her hand. She shook her hand before stopping right next to us, giving me a quick look, and then turning to the RT.
K’s orange eyes pierced Joëlle’s brown ones. Joëlle cleared her throat and glanced at me.
A little flustered, I hesitated, before saying “K, this is Joëlle Weidman, an RT. Joëlle, this is K. She was sent to escort me to the ruins.”
“RT?” asked K.
“It means Round Table,” I said. “They’re a branch of the TAU military, but they operate outside of normal protocol, mostly governing themselves. And their primary directive is to protect the innocent, and uphold the peace.”
“Right, like Arthur’s knights, I get it,” said K.
Joëlle forced a smile, and reached out her hand toward K in greeting. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, K.”
K spoke as she turned her body away from her, and half-heartedly raised her hand in a wave. “Hey.”
Joëlle slowly lowered her hand and looked between me and K, as K continued. “Osax, let’s head. I’m dying to get going.”
I nodded. “Alright. Do you know which-”
She walked past me, heading for a hover-car that looked swift and big enough for a skyther to be comfortable. “Yeah, I do. It should even have the ruin’s coordinates programmed into the navi-system, or so the supervisor just told me.”
K was already getting into the vehicle when I turned back to Joëlle. “Sorry,” I said, “we’ll have to continue this conversation later.”
She smiled as she began walking away. “If I’m still around, I’d like that. With any luck, high command will deem this system safe and we’ll be on our way. In any case, good luck out there.” She winked.
“Thank you.” I lifted my ears in a smile.
“Oh!” she said, before raising one arm up across her chest, then waving it to her side as she bowed. I returned the gesture, and warmth filled my heart. Not many humans knew that skyther goodbye.
I secured my seat belt in the hover-car’s tall cockpit. K was already seated to my left, and she’d positioned the steering control armature in front of herself. Her eyes gleamed as Voren’s stark white atmosphere flooded into the chamber while the bay doors lifted open, and she grabbed the controls. Blips appeared on the navi-system and quickly calibrated to our position, with a clear marker flashing, representing the loro ruins, far away from the station and deep in the cold, harsh atmosphere.
I peered into the white blizzard, and the flashing marker seemed to beckon me. What was out there?
Turning back to K, my body began to fill with adrenaline. Her entire body was poised for our craft to lift off, as the doors lifted higher and higher. A smile crept across her face, and her head tilted down as she stared through the windshield.
“All systems online.” The hover-car’s onboard computer reported.
I tilted my head slightly, my furred ears dangling at a skewed angle. “I thought I was going to drive.”
K tightened her grip on the controls, and shot me a glance. Her eyes were on fire, and a wide grin emphatically displayed her determination; fangs, tusks and all. She spared only one word for me then. “Tough.”
And without any more warning, her eyes locked forward, and at a blistering speed we tore into the open air.