"You have no need to be afraid of those here" Trannak told the Kalish female Caseya with as calming a tone as he could manage "They will not hurt you. They are not Hierarchy Scarrans. None here work for those groups you told me about".
"My mind is starting to know this..." she replied, and Trannak felt relieved that he had managed to stop her addressing him by rank every time they spoke, even privately "...but my heart .. struggles still. I am starting to come to terms with how life is here on this ship, here outside Hierarchy-controlled space – but there is still so much to learn".
"I am here" Trannak replied, nodding "I will help. I have, after all, more experience dealing with species apart from our own and I will pass this experience on to you". Caseya sighed softly in relief – I do not know if he knows this, but for one reason or another he chose just the words that would speak to a Kalish in a way we would immediately understand. He chose to state the information he wished to impart in terms of logic and understanding – which is something I would not have expected from any Scarran so much as a cycle ago. I am glad he is here, glad he tries hard to help me acclimatise to this strange new life among so many other species.
Trannak thought for a few microts, his hammond hand scratching his chin a little, before deciding I will take her to see the Switchblade in the hammond flight deck. The ex-Praetorian will be there, and for one reason or another she seems to have adjusted to their presence more quickly than the rest of us – it will also be a good time to see if she can read the colour-coded directional system as well.
He told Caseya this, and while she still shuddered a little at what those people used to be, Trannak thought she did not mind them so much just as people. For all that I have worked with Kalish and talked to Kalish before, every time I talk to one they always find ways to surprise me.
"It will be a bit of a test for you as well, of course" Trannak added "I am sure you have noticed the coloured lines on the floor and ceiling – these are navigation lines, they help us find our way to the most important parts of the ship. Since there are two flight decks aboard this ship, there will be a number 1 or number 2 on the coloured line for flight decks so we know which one we are going to". Caseya's mood lifted a little in the challenge of even a simple test of her memory and skills – I am not a soldier, nor have I ever served in the paramilitary sections of the Organisation, but Captain Trannak wants to test my memory and see what worth I may have. We were taught the basics of ship orientation, even the less conforming students such as me, and unless these people have changed the scheme completely then I should be able to find my-our way to where I have been directed to lead us.
I just hope I will not get Captain Trannak lost.
Lessons from past cycles came back to Caseya as she cast her mind back, and after just a few more microts her memory gave her the knowledge she needed – so she said "Blue lines... blue lines are the ones for flight decks. A lighter blue, if I remember correctly".
"Just so" Trannak confirmed, nodding "Since this ship is very large, there is a transit system to take us on longer journeys – we could walk to the flight deck we need, certainly, but this ship is so much bigger than the dreadnaughts for which we were both trained that it would take too many momens for us to reach our destination and I would most likely have missed the next meal. I don't like missing meals, as I'm sure you know by now".
"I remember" Caseya replied, nodding "You were performing a scheduled maintenance check on your personal small craft when the klaxon for Second Meal sounded. You forgot about the size of the ship and tried to run to the galley without using the transit system – you arrived, but all but a little of the food allotted for that meal was gone and you had to satisfy your hunger with self-heating ration cans".
"So I did" he agreed "A situation I am not eager to repeat. You were told by our Commander which colour the line for the transit platforms is – do you remember? What colour is it? Can you see the line from here?"
"It is..." she thought aloud, racking her memory for the correct information "...it is... white, I believe. Yes, a white line! " before she turned and pointed to the ceiling and added "That is the white line".
"Good, good..." Trannak told her in praise "You have the eidectic memory of your people. Navigate for us, Caseya – follow the line, lead me to the nearest transit platform. Then I will show you how to operate the transit cars yourself instead of needing to rely on others".
I am being trusted , Caseya thought as she tracked the white line along the ceiling and started to follow it – with a very small thing, certainly, but even when I was home with mother she did not get me to do big things or complex things even after one time. I was required to watch and to learn from her and from father, and when they had decided I had achieved proficiency then I was permitted to try something unassisted but supervised. Captain Trannak is testing me in the manner of my own people, Caseya decided with interest - giving me time to watch and learn and then testing me to see how much I have learned and committed to memory.
She led the way to the transit platform, slowly at first but with more speed as she continued and became more accustomed to it, eventually coming up to a door identifying the space beyond as a transit platform. I recognise the Scarran, and of course the Kalish as well, but I do not know this other language... will I be taught that language at some later stage? Are only the most trusted taught it? What people or world speak it? The glyphs or letters are not familiar to me.
"The door to the transit platform, well done" Trannak said "Come, we will go and call ourselves a transit car and proceed to the hammond flight deck". When he waved for her to open the door, she did that and let her head pan from side to side. Wide open platform... clean and tidy, unlike some of those nearer the Organisation, even on Kalian... and there is the pedestal. There should be one button on it, it will call a transit car to this location and then we can proceed in comfort, without damaging our bodies with a long walk over what might be many kilometras for all I know. She looked back at Trannak for permission to call the car, and he just smiled slightly before he told her "You do not have to ask permission for every small thing you do here, Caseya – since you know what you need to do, anyone here would expect you to simply do it unless you need additional instruction or events have not proceeded according to plan".
Once the car arrived, Caseya opened the door and almost jumped inside – Trannak just smiled slightly and briefly before following her and directing her to the front row seats and the small console there.
"Good, you remember" he said with approval "You remember also, I am sure, that you can direct these cars by voice command – but you can also do so by typing in a location code manually or selecting one from a pre-defined list. Such a list would be of all locations you have clearance to go to in the entire ship – and to direct the car that way you would place your hand on the small pad beside the keys. Your own handprint and other biometric data has not been registered yet, but that will not take long and we can do that later". He gave Caseya a code, reciting it just the once, and Caseya's fingers flicked out across the keys, entering the code, then pressing the execute button to get the car on its way.
"Good" Trannak told her once more "You can also direct the car to go at its fastest safe speed with additional characters added to the code – usually we don't do that unless we need things from the stores for a time-critical mission or we have injured people we need to get to the sick bay. But I will show you how to do that as well later".
Caseya had still not lost even a little wonder at the vast size of the Cry Havoc, nor of the fact that it was her new home, and her head turned from side to side to look at each and every thing the car passed on its journey. There are so many places and things here, she told herself in amazement, even if many are only maintenance crawlways or other places only DRDs will ever go! There will be places to store things, places where pipes and cables go, corridors and walkways and living quarters and rail tracks for these transit cars and so much more besides – and I am being trusted to lead a Captain around without any other supervision or guidance!
Her ears started twitching as the car came closer to the flight deck, and Trannak asked "What is it? Do you hear something I cannot?"
"I can hear people" Caseya replied "Scarrans, I think. On the flight deck, just faintly. The door to the deck itself is quite thick and the walls may be insulated against sound so I cannot say with certainty".
"Very good" Trannak replied "I do not have the change that you do, so I cannot hear those things until I am much closer. That edge on its own will make you a valuable addition to many tasks at many times".
"At least it is useful" she said softly "I was not permitted time to adjust to it easily when it was put in me. I was simply expected to test my capabilities as directed and while others watched and catalogued what they saw. My own welfare was not an issue those science command staff wished to catalogue and measure, of course – not unless it impacted on extremes of tolerance that they required testing on".
Trannak signalled for her to proceed as soon as the car came to a halt, but when Caseya looked back without understanding he said "I forgot – you would not have been taught military handsign. I am so used to it that I forget sometimes that others will not be as used to it as me". Some part of me knows, Caseya added in the privacy of her own thoughts, though I do not know why – other knowledge is coming to me slowly, very slowly, I cannot remember where I have learned it, but as long as using it will make me useful and needed here then I will accept such knowledge as useful and helpful and worry about where it came from some other time.
"The voices from beyond the door are clearer now" Caseya called back "One is the leader of the former Praetorian. I cannot recognise the others well enough to identify them with the door closed". She opened the door and the two of them went in – and sure enough, the leader of the former Praetorian was there along with all the others who came with him.
"I could just barely hear you beyond the door" he announced as Caseya and Trannak came forward "though it was easier for me to identify you than for you to do the same with me, I think. There are only two Kalish aboard the Cry Havoc so far, after all".
Instinct made Caseya bow slightly, though the man called "No need for that here, we aren't on the capital world, nor at any official Hierarchy function, and definitely not within the walls of the Organisation on Kalian. Military protocol would dictate a salute and address by rank if we were in the company of those not of the unit, but for reasons of his own the Commander does not require such unless we are being sent on a mission – and then we will know because we will be addressed by rank by him or by the Sub-Commander".
Another of them came forward, a little more quietly, adding "Can we help you with anything, Captain? Few outside those strange humans associate with us much".
"I am helping our most recent addition become properly oriented around the ship" Trannak replied "I also know that, for reasons of her own, Caseya has adjusted to your presence more readily than others – so perhaps it might be good for everyone for us to be here. Some of you may have skills which she could profit from by learning as well".
One Scarran man, seeing Caseya tremble a bit, asked "Are you well? Have we upset you? Should we call the doctor?"
"I..." Caseya replied quietly and at least fairly steadily "...was taken to a ...medical facility... for these alterations in a craft like that one" before pointing to the Switchblade "I mean no harm to any of you... but my memories of ships of that type are not pleasant ones. Since the same ship also took me to my place of incarceration once I was tested further and my use to those scientists was ended, it might take a little time before I can go close to it without it affecting me negatively".
"We will go inside" the man decided, introducing himself as Rulok "We will show you there is nothing to fear about this ship. The Captain will most likely want to be with you at all times, of course, and I will bring Lirak and Annik with me. You will be around people you have seen before at all times".
Rulok flicked his hammond hand out to two of the other Scarrans, and they got up and walked over before introducing themselves to both Captain Trannak and Caseya.
"You help fly this ship?" Caseya asked Lirak before her fears could interrupt her "What is that like? Is it hard to fly because it is big? Is it easy to manoevre? Is it fast? Can it hold small craft? How many people can it carry apart from its crew?"
Lirak chuckled a bit before replying "If we fly at full crew complement we will need all of our team that you see on the flight deck – that's sixteen including Rulok. Even then that does not include pilots if we wish to launch small craft from the flight deck aft, nor does it include a medical orderly to assist our own medic".
"It can be tricky to manoevre at low-level in atmosphere" Rulok adds "because, as you correctly suggested, it is quite big. But less so than a Stryker, since this craft was designed to fly well in atmosphere".
"It has eight staterooms for passengers" Annik adds as the group headed over to the odd-looking dark grey ship taking up a lot of the room on that part of the flight deck "and less fancy accomodation for fifty or so troops. Crew quarters as well, of course".
I am being trusted to learn about this ship, Caseya reminded herself, for all that my memories of similar craft to it are not good – she thought more and added, with more than a little pride, I might actually be the first to be hearing this information! I will be required to tell others later, I am sure, so I must be diligent in learning and commit to memory everything that I see along with its place in the ship and what its purpose is. Then when I am required to report to others, maybe even the huge Commander, I will be able to give a complete and concise report and even navigate around the corridors in it.
"A drop ramp" Annik explained, pointing to the underside of the hull "If we carry vehicles or need to load supplies, that's where we do it once the ramp is lowered. Stand back and watch".
Once the others did so, Annik tapped out a short code and a slight hum follows, and Caseya squeaked in surprise when the drop ramp lowered down to the deck. She did not go in – instead looking back to Trannak for both reassurance and permission to proceed. He nodded and walked forward to her, assuring her "We will all go in together. I admit to being curious about this ship and what it can do myself, you know...".
Caseya's treblin hand reached out and she pointed to a spot along the deck maybe ten metras aft, and she said "There. The stairs are there, if I remember correctly. There is a levelator as well, I think, but I cannot remember where that is".
"Correct" Rulok replied "Well done. The stairs are there. We will not linger on the quarters deck, I think – since I doubt very much you will have seen the uppermost deck and the bridge we will go there. That's a lot of walking, Caseya – you are not tired, I hope?"
"I am not" she replied immediately "I am... a little hungry, it is my eating time soon, those times come more often since I was made this way. But I will not fall asleep here".
Annik headed up the staircase first, with Trannak and Caseya next along with Rulok, and Lirak coming up behind them all. Caseya looked at the floors and walls, nodding a little when she saw the navigation lines and matched the colours with places on the ship in her head. Lirak watched as she did that and nodded happily before telling Rulok, who nodded back – are they pleased that I recognise a bit of how to find my way around this ship, Caseya thought, or are they angry that I am not letting them lead me around? I think they are pleased, or at least they approve...
"You look to be doing well" Lirak asked Caseya, making her jump a bit "Being aboard is not bringing back bad memories? Or have we not been to those places yet?"
"People I know came aboard with me" she replied "so I put bad memories of coming aboard aside. Since we are not going to where the living quarters are I think I will be stable enough. I have no memories of the bridge or even the uppermost deck, since you have correctly deduced I have never been there before".
"The uppermost deck is not large" Lirak explained as they all continued up the stairs "Only the Captain's quarters, the bridge, and a briefing room are there. It does not extend the full length of the ship".
"I am permitted to go there?" Caseya asked with surprise "I was taught that to go to those places without clearance invited punishment".
"We are with you" Trannak explained "That is enough. Besides, you have been given sanctuary aboard the Cry Havoc, and before too long you will be cleared to go wherever you need to – so why not start here with this smaller ship? Isn't it good for you to be one of the first to come aboard as well?"
She actually giggled then, which relaxed everyone, before she told Trannak "Yes, it does feel good to be one of the first to go to any new place, more so an important ship like this one. I have not been the first to go to anywhere important for some time".
Every deck, they would all stop and test Caseya on where the coloured lines they could see led to – and she actually seemed to become more relaxed and even happier to be tested like this. Good, Trannak decided, I am getting to see her be herself, be happier and feel safe – I have seen her relieved to be in my company, but I have rarely seen her just enjoy the simple things in life like seeing new places.
"This deck is short!" Caseya called in surprise after looking back and forth along the corridor "I see lifepod doors ...one door there which I think would be the Captain's quarters... and one door further back on the other side from the Captain's quarters which would be this briefing room Lirak told me would be there".
"Turn to treblin" Rulok instructed her "That is the way to the bridge. You should see a door at the end of the corridor – the bridge is behind that door".
Caseya showed more active interest and excitement as she and the others headed to the bridge door, to the point of skipping onto the wall on a couple of occasions – Trannak saw this but didn't comment. It's good that Caseya is relaxing more, she has done that few enough times since arriving, and perhaps coming here will both put bad memories behind her and give her some good new ones to replace them.
Rulok opened the bridge door once everyone else had caught up to Caseya, and she gasped in surprise when she saw the bridge – it is not huge, but it is more expansive than the bridge on the pod I have flown before. There is the pilot's chair and there is the copilot's chair and that chair looks to be one for a senior tech to sit in and that one has a lot on instruments I have not seen before and a high-speed computer terminal with a holoscreen of its own.
"Astronavigation" Lirak explained when she asked him about it "Plotting courses between stars and planets. Surveillance as well – we can listen in on people from a long way off from that console, or find out where ships or people are hiding". Caseya ignored that console for the moment and walked over to look at the pilot's chair and flight controls – Rulok and Lirak watched as she did this and seemed interested that she had gravitated to these controls before those of the flight engineer's console behind the pilot's chair, and they talked briefly and quietly among themselves before helping her identify what some of the controls she did not recognise were for.
"Where's the other Kalish?" War Commander Harrigan asked, relaxing in the galley "You know, the one that Cap'n T recognised an' brought aboard?"
"Caseya is with the Captain at the moment" Keyah explained "I believe she is being given an orientation tour, as you call it – instruction on how to find her way around this ship, knowledge on where important places are".
Harrigan reached over for the small fold-down keyboard below the wall screen and tapped out a location query.
"She's with Rulok" Talannah stated, reading the result before her husband "If I read this correctly, she's aboard the ship they brought aboard with them".
"If so..." Keyah replied "then they probably know we queried their location. I know little of that ship, but it looks to be quite well-equipped with sensors".
"Fine by me" Harrigan replied, nodding "None of them'll mind an' hopefully Caseya will be a bit more relaxed knowin' we're takin' an' int'rest in what's happ'ning to her".
Keyah muttered and mumbled as she deciphered the strange human words and mannerisms before replying "I would think that likely. I do not think she had many friends in authority before she came here – but you and the Sub-Commander have done much to help her feel welcome, and even those Praetorian-"
"Former Praetorian" Harrigan reminded everyone "They're with Cap'n Lazarus now in Tactical command".
Keyah acknowledged the correction before adding "-have been quite accomodating to her as well", then paused a few microts before adding "It is reassuring to see they have learned to treat Kalish well" and finishing her mug of tea in one go.
"Location check on us" Annik called from the surveillance console "Probably from the Commander. Nothing much to worry about".
"How can you tell?" Caseya asked without thinking, her curiosity in full control "What are these controls for? Where is it displayed and how is it shown that a scan was conducted? Can we tell where the scan originated from?"
Annik just grinned and motioned for her to sit at the console herself – once the squeak of surprise had finished, she did just that and listened intently and excitedly as Annik walked her through finding out where the location check came from.
"The galley" Caseya reported triumphantly "The Commander likes to relax there, I hear".
"He does" Rulok confirmed "I expect he was trying to find you rather than us, Caseya – but we could comm him and see" before nodding for Annik to show her how to call the galley. Harrigan's easily recognisable face appeared, grinning as he usually did, and Caseya giggled a bit before saying "You were trying to find where we were, Commander! We are on the... I do not know its name, it is the ship Rulok brought with him. We are on the bridge! I have not been on the bridge of anything bigger than a transport pod before!"
Harrigan laughed before replying "It's fun, isn't it? You actually got to go on that before me, did you know that?"
"I did not" Caseya replied, surprised "Am I the first of those here to come aboard? Have any of the Captains been aboard before?"
"A few people came aboard when we decided to bring Rulok's boys an' girls up here" Harrigan replied "Can't for the life of me remember who they were. But we've had bigger fish to fry with settlin' in an' earnin' money than we have time to sort out what makes that ship tick".
Caseya's face crinkled in total incomprehension before Trannak talked to her for a momen or two and Harrigan for about the same length of time after that.
"Sounds good to me, Cap'n T" he decided "You an' Caseya make sure you find out every little thing about that ship, report back when you got enough to tell me what it can do, then again when you think you got everything. Let Caseya do most of the work, it'll do her good an' give her something to keep her occupied. Harrigan out" before discomming.
I am the first Kalish, Caseya told herself proudly. I am the first person outside Rulok's friends to be admitted to this ship and over and above that I am the first Kalish to come aboard! I have been given an important job by War Commander Harrigan, I am encouraged to explore this ship and be curious about it and find out everything there is to know about it – I am encouraged simply to act as any of my people would act if they were permitted to do so on a ship they have never been on before. Captain Trannak, who has been friendly and more patient with me than I deserve, will be helping me – but I have been given the responsibility for both finding out about this ship but also for preparing a report for the Commander so that others can learn from what I have seen!
"I admit to being wary..." Karroch said "...but it looks like this Rulok and his people are making themselves useful, or at least making friends and assimilating into the crew".
"I'm not exactly at ease around them either" a larger Scarran, Rekketh, adds "but as long as they're being useful that's just fine by me. We need to find out what that ship they brought along can do anyway, an' if that means they get to be real people and come to trust the rest of us then so much the better".
"Stow that, Rekketh..." Harrigan replied, flipping his hand lightly from side to side "They get the same chances everyone else does, just like you did. I don't care what they did before, all I care about is what they're gonna do now".
Rekketh just nodded, while a Scarran who was muttering and grumbling as he meddled with some small piece of electronics added "I still think their demo techs are nowhere near as good as me! Oh, they've got the technical knowledge, I'll give 'em that... but they've not got the heart of a true demo man..." before he grinned at them all.
"You'd better not have a live charge there, mister!" Talannah barked, pointing at the object in Sturk's hand – Sturk just grinned again before passing it over and saying "I'm just making a new fuse, it hasn't even got a power cell in it yet. I'll test it later – with just a smoke bomb, if I have to...".
He thought for a few more microts, then took the fuse back and put it in one of his pockets before adding "Might go down an' see what that ship's like myself one of these days, Commander... it looks like it's fast an' it's got big guns too, an' everyone knows I like ships like that".
"Go ahead!" Harrigan laughed "Just don't get in the way of Caseya doin' her report, that's all".
"The other Kalish?" Sturk replied, curious "Can't say I've talked much to her. But I've been around Kalish at a few cells I've been to – even if they all think I'm strange".
"We all think you're strange too, Sturk!" Harrigan laughed again, much to the amusement of everyone else there (including Sturk) "But strange or not, you're one of us – an' so are Rulok an' his boys an' girls". Sturk grinned and nodded – does Caseya have any technical skill at all? Is she interested in demolition, or sanctioned burglary, or the other things I can do? Sturk shrugged, sure only that he didn't know what Caseya's likes and dislikes and hobbies were, but deciding to at least try and make her feel welcome and less wary of every Scarran she sees aboard.
"This unusual ship is interesting" Caseya told Trannak some days later when they were walking around it again "Not large like the ship we live inside, but very interesting and unusual in its way".
"Some of Lieutenant Rulok's former team have noticed your interest in it" he replied, nodding "The one named Annik wondered if you had been earmarked for pilot training at your Organisation when you were there. While I think they were at the Organisation or had been through it at one time or another none of them know very much about it at all. Nothing important, anyway".
"Kalish there were not encouraged to speculate about the Organisation's puposes either" Caseya replied, twitching a little uncomfortably as she cast her mind back to those times, cycles ago "Not beyond the offical publicly available version and what part they might have to play in it. We were encouraged to report those who did indulge in such speculation to the authorities. It was commonly suspected that rewards or commendations would be given for successfully proving a person was thinking this way – especially if they were found to be taking action because of it".
"It would be considered subversive" Trannak agreed, nodding "Official directives place the responsibility for remedial action in the hands of special sections of the police or, if it took place in the capital world or Kalian, possibly the Praetorian. Praetorian would automatically assume command if such things were suspected of taking place close to government headquarters or other politically important facilities". Caseya nodded but didn't say anything else before opening a door to some of the troops' accomodation – she talked to Trannak and asked him a few tentative questions about them, which he answered as much as he could. She is much less edgy here now, Trannak decided, but I think she still has bad memories of her time aboard similar craft – or simply from when she was back on Kalian, or from her bad experiences with Scarrans. His thoughts strayed to some of the members of his own former unit, and he wondered where they were now and what they were doing for a few microts before grunting softly and turning back to the matter at hand.
"Caseya..." Talannah asked after a meal, some time later, startling her.
Caseya looked around with some apprehension and fear, seeing no one else in sight, before bowing her head slightly and briefly before asking "Sub-Commander? May I help you? Do you have some directive or task for me? Have I failed in some way?"
"You do not have to follow..." Talannah replies, shaking her head "... the same protocols as you did just then – which I am assuming were from your time at the Organisation".
When Caseya nodded to confirm Talannah's guess, Talannah resumed her speech with "My husband favours a looser style of command here – I think he wants us to feel comfortable together and form bonds of friendship and trust, and believes this will help us to perform better in missions. So far, among most of the unit as it stands, this seems to be working".
"Less so with this Rulok's people" Caseya replied without thinking, before squeaking with fright and bracing for a slap or other punishment.
"Don't worry about that" Talannah encouraged her more calmly, resting a hand on her shoulder – Caseya still flinched a little until she realised Talannah was actually trying to be friendly, after which she relaxed a little and looked up at Talannah as if waiting for orders.
"You are correct, unfortunately" she sighed, nodding "Rulok's team should be a genuine asset to us – but beyond my husband and I, plus Captain Trannak and yourself, and the other humans, they have not seemed to gain much trust among the others. You have helped them to settle here, Caseya, and perhaps may help them to be accepted among the others as well". Caseya smiled a little then – I am doing well, she decided, I am adjusting to this new life and assimilating into the crew – though she twitched a little and whimpered after a momen or so.
"You are safe here" Talannah reminded her "No Organisation discipline units or Scarran police or others are here for you".
"I was remembering the time at the scientific facility" Caseya replied quietly, slowly calming down "It was not good there. Testing was constant and extreme. Several times I was dismembered to see if my limbs would rebond more quickly due to these alterations I was given. Other times my limbs or smaller body parts were removed to see if they would regenerate completely. More times than that I was tested for endurance physically and mentally. Twice I was subjected to a mindbreaker unit until a senior scientist decided what they had done to me rendered me immune to the machine's effects".
Interesting... Talannah thought to herself. Nrakal has either stated or implied the project was designed to do the things Caseya has revealed – and that she has remembered they tested her this way shows they are trying to recover the Bio-Reasearch Project 12 enough to proceed beyond what Rulok says they possess and performed on those like him. That they are proceeding this rapidly, and even testing the program on Kalish and possibly other subject species, makes me uneasy – and I was not even born into this movement Karroch, his late father, and so many of the others were born into!
"Got ya, love" Harrigan replied when Talannah commed in with her news and opinions on it – then he discommed and said "Well, you prob'ly heard some of that – looks like the big bad wolf wants to make more just like our new friends an' maybe tryin' for some like me. That they're trying it on other species shows they're gettin' a bit desperate – I ain't known your lot for long, but I get the impression that the bad guys wouldn't do that unless they felt backed into a corner or that it's worth the risk some other way".
Karroch was actually the first to respond – he rumbled a little in thought before nodding and saying "If I understand your human words correctly, sir... then I would think you are correct. I don't know if they feel desperate for some reason... but I think they would consider experimenting on other species than Scarrans to be worth the risk for some reason. They would not have done so with you, sir, if Hierarchy science command had not thought the potential reward worth the risks".
"I might be human, Karroch..." Harrigan reminded the young man "... but I know they used me as their lab rat so that if it went pear-shaped it wouldn't go pear-shaped on a Scarran they could use. Otherwise they'd do it on their own guys right from the get-go".
"I concur" Nrakal added, nodding "When I was on the project staff, what I saw and read confirmed your supposition, War Commander. To be honest... stage 1 viability had been established some time before your own transformation – and once the project notes for that level of change had been passed on to upper echelons of science command or even higher, other facilities for administering it to combat units would have been set up and put into operation. Thus we have Lieutenant Rulok and those who came with him".
"I'll leave the political agenda relating to the project in Councillor Shuljek's hands an' the other councillors too" Harrigan replied "The less I deal with that side of things, the more chance I got my brain won't leak outta my ears".
After the Scarrans had deciphered Harrigan's human idiom and laughed, almost everyone was surprised when Sturk raised his hand and suggested "Might wanna talk to Caseya then, sir – she's been in one of their facilities some time not long ago. Kalish mem'ry's usually good – if she remembers anythin' much we might be able to go in an' take the place down – even find out how good they're doin' ".
"Kalish memory is good as you say, Sturk" Keyah said, nodding "I do not know if Caseya will remember much about her time at this experimental compound, even less if any around her were lax enough to say anything about the facility or where it was – but perhaps if someone she trusts could ask her a few questions, we might learn something while it is still current enough to act upon".
Sturk just nodded, and after Harrigan dismissed the meeting he called Keyah over to him along with Nrakal.
"We'll talk to her after the next Meal, I think" he told the two of them "or at least ask her if she minds talking to us about it. I want you along, doc, cause you know what the facility should be like an' what Caseya may have seen if she tells us anything – an' she might feel a bit safer if you're there too, Keyah".
"A good idea, sir" Keyah confirmed, nodding "The presence of another Kalish would aid in securing the information you seek, though it would not ensure it".
"But it should increase the odds" Harrigan replied, raising an eyebrow in query – and Keyah nodded and replied "As much as anything will and more so than some options, sir".
That the next Meal proved to be Caseya's next eating time worked in their favour. Rulok's team all watched with some interest as Caseya just ate and ate and ate with litle sign of stopping, while those born into the Blood Hand looked at her briefly and nodded before continuing on with their own eating.
"Eat, eat" Keyah encouraged her when she looked up with worry "You have been through other eating times since you arrived here – it is as it was then, you are permitted and encouraged to eat as much as you need. Moratha is accustomed to the eating needs of our people".
"I am glad" Caseya replied, finishing another haunch of roast pronger "Even though I have now been here with this unusual selection of people for some monen now, it still surprises me that they accomodate me as much as they have. I would have thought my gorging would upset people and invite punishment since Kalish are in the minority here".
"Only loyalty matters here" Keyah replied, thinking about it again herself as she spoke "The War Commander does not seem to care what species anyone is. I find it unusual myself – but it is good, I think. No one is given a workload their species would be incapable of – we are expected to improve, yes, but we are not expected to achieve a Scarran's physical standard, for example, unless we are a Scarran. Nor are they expected to achieve our people's recall – though they are expected to improve themselves there just as we are expected to improve our own physical skills".
"Those hoo-mans are odd" Caseya said when she emptied her current plate "This place seem to be one huge adventure for them, they always seem to be happy about something".
"They are a trying people to be around" Keyah sighed "but the ones we have here are friendly to all of us, even though that man who insists we call him Troll constantly complains during physical training even though he is not that feeble".
"He seems much like many males are anywhere" Caseya replied, nodding and smiling just a little "He has found a female he considers appealing and is trying to win her affection and secure her as his mate. It is unusual in the extreme that he chose one not of his own species, after all the woman Jane is here and she is hoo-man, but the War Commander himself has married a Scarran, so such a thing is now established as behaviour not requiring discipline".
"I understand these ...humans..." Keyah explained, correcting her pronunciation of the name of Harrigan's species as she thought about it "...at least those here with us... are more tolerant than either of us would have expected them to be, especially since I have been to their home planet and seen other humans there as well" before grumbling and adding "but that male Troll seems more concerned about the object of his attention being female than by them being human".
"I remember" Caseya replied, giggling a bit before adding "He has even tried pressing his affections on you before until you brought discipline to him".
"He did" Keyah confirmed "The human Captain, Lazarus, brought sufficient discipline to the situation – I did not even have to do anything except grumble".
Caseya instinctively looked around for a way to escape, obviously frightened, until she saw Harrigan was one of those coming towards her as the galley emptied.
"I am sorry..." she apologised, bowing slightly "I should know by know you treat me well and do not intend to cause me harm. Might I help you in some way? Do you have tasks for me?"
Harrigan actually looked sad Caseya acted in such a subservient and fearful manner, though it was Trannak who laid a hand lightly on her hammond shoulder and said "You don't need to be frightened, Caseya – those here with you now are known to you, and you know they all treat you well. The War Commander is here, Sub-Commander Talannah is here, Doctor Nrakal is here, and Keyah is here. See, there is even another Kalish here to help you". Caseya relaxed into Trannak's touch until she realised what she was doing and squeaked in surprise before straightening up and identifying each of them by name – and, Nrakal was interested to hear, by scent as well (or lack of one in Harrigan's case).
"We just want to talk to you a bit" Harrigan asked after a few microts "Talk. I know it's prob'ly not gonna be easy for you, but it might be helpful if we asked you a few questions". They wish to question me about the scientific facility, Caseya decided – I had expected someone to do this at some point, and I had expected them to do so sooner than this. Why have they waited? She thought a little more and decided they are taking a calculated risk – they think I will be more likely to reveal something if they wait and secure my trust, even though with any other people they know they could reasonably expect them to have forgotten anything useful after this length of time. Then she remembered Keyah was there and decided Keyah maybe have advised Harrigan on this – Keyah would have explained the virtues of our people to him and reminded him I would be much more likely to remember things he may wish to know than even any member of his own species.
Caseya couldn't help but smile as the questions started – food has been set aside for me to eat during my questioning, she realised. I am still a little hungry, before she sniffed and actually clapped before calling "Fureen!" and gesturing for the entire serving dish. Keyah smiled a little and Harrigan more so as everyone watched her eat a while before the first questions came. First Caseya was questioned about the flight to the facility – this went on for some time, but since Caseya was drugged for much of the flight she remembered precious little of use.
"I am sorry about this" she said when Talannah looked at her "Perhaps I was sedated to keep me from remembering useful information just as much for medical purposes?"
"A distinct possibility" came the response, from Doctor Nrakal to Caseya's interested surprise – after which the Doctor questioned her in detail about the layout of the facility itself. She was much more edgy and uneasy now, but every so often Trannak would actually whisper something to her and she would calm down – Harrigan and Talannah both noted this as Nrakal questioned her.
"Does she even know he does that?" Harrigan whispered softly, and Talannah replied "I think she does, John – I think she's well aware he's Scarran in spite of that, but also knows he was the first to show trust in her and help her feel welcome and feels some need to repay his efforts on her behalf. Whether he does what he does with some end in mind or simply to help her relax I haven't a clue".
"Let's just run with it, then" Harrigan whispered back, to which Talannah nodded "Better not try fixing something that ain't broken".
"A fairly large facility" Nrakal thought aloud when Harrigan called a temporary halt to questioning "Not quite like the one where your own alterations were made... but close enough, and the difference suggest other projects were operating there, either with similar aims or simply to take advantage of the location in relative security".
"Could that happen at any planet with a large Hierarchy presence?" Harrigan asked, but Talannah shook her head and replied "Most likely not, John – which narrows down the number of likely places where Caseya became changed considerably" after which she spent some momens tapping out commands on the small keyboard under the nearby wallscreen. Maps flicked on and off, but Talannah kept growling and murmuring, discarding some and marking others as possibilities. Trannak smiled at her reassuringly and said "See? You are safe. We are nor hurting you or being hostile in other ways as we question you".
"I genuinely want to help you" she replied apologetically "but I remember so little!" and whimpering – to Trannak's relief she was not frightened, but experiencing digestion pains again, so he looked at her briefly. When she nodded, he started rumbling softly and gently doing his best to soothe them. Keyah glared at him a bit then, but Trannak just rumbled a little more loudly and moved slightly to position himself between Keyah and her – Keyah nodded, snorted a little, then leaned back in her chair. Either she does not like Caseya or she does not trust me, Trannak decided - but although she accepts my authority in combat I suspect she does not yet trust me well out of combat yet. I will see to Caseya's needs here first, see to it she relaxes and feels same and welcomed here, then perhaps Keyah will relax as well.
Trannak started asking her a few questions as well, making sure his tone remained quiet and reassuring at all times. Caseya slowly started to relax and be calm, even smiling a little in either relief or happiness as she saw Trannak treat her well. He is good to me in front of our superior officers, even our Commander – I do not know if he likes me, or even if I like him, but he wants me to be safe here and perhaps he even wants to be my friend. It is unusual for any Scarran to want to be a real friend for one of my people, she knew well – I am one of the only ones I know who has experienced even the remote possibility that a Scarran likes me and wants be be friendly and help me, I should show him I appreciate this effort on my behalf by answering as many of his questions that I can. Will he ask for a commendation or give a positive report about me if I answer well? I do not know, perhaps he will – he has given more positive reports about me since I arrived here than I received in many months if not cycles at the Organisation, I do know that.
Captain Trannak is talking to the Sub-Commander about me, Caseya decided as she watched the two of them a bit – they are talking about what I have told them. Have they found the facility where I was taken or one like it? Have I been of that much help to them?
"We do not know if it is the facility you were incarcerated at" Talannah replied when Caseya asked about that "But my John and I, along with the Doctor and Captain Trannak, feel there is a promising site for a similar facility not too many days travel from here".
"There may be people imprisoned there..." Caseya revealed, fearful and shaking a bit until Trannak rumbled softly and rested a hand on her shoulder again "Perhaps some of them are rich and would reward us if we freed them? Perhaps there is useful information at this facility? Would it even be possible to go there and investigate the facility safely?"
Harrigan and Talannah talked for some momens before Talannah called Captain Lazarus to the galley. He and Koronna arrived a short while later, and Lazarus asked "What's up, Harrigan? Work to be done? Or has Troll been whining about running like he did when we first got here? I'll get Karroch an' Rustuk to give him more PT if he has...".
Harrigan snorted and grinned before telling him about what he had learned from questioning Caseya.
"Dunno if I'd be able to get a team in there myself if so, you know that..." before he paused and asked Koronna something. She smiled briefly and nodded, squeezing his shoulder briefly and getting a slight smile in response, adding "If they can... perhaps people will trust them more. No one really knows what they'll be like under fire yet. You've tested everyone else in combat, why not them too?"
"Get Rulok an' Lirak up here now, Cap'n L" Harrigan decided immediately, snapping his hammond finger and thumb "Let's see what they got to say about this. With what they used to do, either they know about places like this or they been in ones like 'em".
"The Commander wants to see us, Lirak" Rulok told his first officer "By the sound of things, I'd say something important is happening".
"If it's something that lessens the tide of suspicion against us here, then let's do it quick" Lirak grumbled back "We're an unknown quantity as far as everyone else is concerned, for all that we've done all that local work since arriving here...".
"That's all been simple stuff we can do, as these humans say..." Rulok replied as the pair of them left their quarters and ran for the transit platform "... 'with our eyes closed'. Simple work, nothing taxing Let's hope we get something harder to test our skills and maybe people will see we're good for something here".
Lirak looked at the keypad, then nodded and tapped out a code – and nodded approvingly when the car moved off and listed its destination as the galley as well.
"You can just use voice commands, mister..." Rulok reminded him with a chuckle, though he also added "... though sometimes it's a good idea to know other ways of doing things too...". Lirak just nodded and waited for the car to get where it needed to go – I hope both more trust and tougher missions come our way, he thought to himself, the current state of mistrust is not good for the unit and the current work coming our way is not hard enough to be keep us well-trained enough to be useful. I might be getting old now but I'm not dead yet and I want to do something more than mediating trade disputes on Market Street...
"Good, you two got here" Harrigan said as soon as he saw them come in through the door. Both of them nodded and even saluted as they entered - Talannah nodded and returned their salutes, though Harrigan said "As you were, the pair of you – this ain't a parade ground, no need for that stuff here right now".
Rulok and Lirak just nodded and stood at ease, hands clasped behind their backs, and waited for any orders – they nodded again and sat down when Lazarus told them to sit, and turned to face their Captain when he added "Harrigan needs to ask you some stuff, you two – stuff you're likely to know more 'n anyone, it seems".
Both of them listened intently, asking the occasional question of their own, as the situation was explained to them.
"Show us where the suspected sites are, please" Rulok asked with careful respect – Talannah nodded and brought them up on a star map on the wallscreen.
Rulok and Lirak talked at length between themselves for some time, pointing to various places on the map as Caseya watched with some interest – I can actually hear them quite clearly she deduced these alterations, however unwanted they are, are actually useful for something and are helping me find out useful and interesting things.
"You can cross those last four off the list of possibilities right now, Commander" Lirak said eventually "We've either been to them or know those that have and none of them rank above Level 5" before Rulok stepped forward and indicated one particular world – Caseya also came forward, interested despite her life experiences, along with Trannak and both Talannah and Harrigan.
"Most likely site in this region of space" Rulok stated "is here, at Miclatze. It's a Level 10 facility, very secure, tough to get in – but not impossible".
"Can you guys get in?" Harrigan asked immediately, and Rulok replied "Possible? Yes. Probable? Unknown – but the odds are better than for anyone else here as long as our idents haven't been purged from official records or been put on wanted lists". I never thought we may be tasked with breaking into one of the Hierarchy's most secure and secret military bases, Lirak thought to himself – but if our Commander considers what might be happening there as a threat to his unit, which now includes us, then we have better odds of doing what needs to be done than anyone else aboard, that much is certain.
"What're you gonna need?" Harrigan asked "Say the word an' I'll get everyone movin' right away".
Rulok smiled briefly and replied "I appreciate the enthusiasm, sir... but we stand the best chance of succeeding in finding out what goes on at the Miclatze base if only those who were formerly part of my teams go, with the only additional personnel being those critical to mission success".
"If both Rulok an' Lirak go in with the troops..." Harrigan said next "You're gonna need another pilot. Since I'll be up to my eyeballs in work here that leaves Hellbolt".
"That Nebari?" Lirak asks in surprise "He has a large craft rating?"
"A provisional..." Talannah confirmed "...one, or at least enough unofficial training to qualify – he's taken the helm here more than a few times now as well".
"It'll have to do" Lirak decides "I'd prefer to have you on the bridge of the Switchblade, sir, while we're out on mission... but as you told us before, you're needed here".
"I'm adding myself on this too" Lazarus added "I might not be ablt to fly that thing you brought with you – but I'm responsible for all of you and I haven't sat back in my office before when there's work to be done an' I'm not going to now either".
"I will come with you, Captain" Koronna added before Lazarus thought to stop her "Almost the entire Tactical Command is already assigned to this mission, so I should be there with you".
Lazarus just nodded and said "Glad to have you with me, Koronna..." softly enough that only Harrigan heard, though he didn't say anything about it.
"I do not know for certain..." Caseya told Trannak as quietly as she could "... but the name of that planet sounds a little familiar. Perhaps I was there... perhaps someone at the facility that made me this way mentioned that world... I do not know".
"We may need to go ourselves, then" Trannak replies "I know you do not want to go... that it will upset you... but it will increase the odds of success if it does turn out to be the facility you were taken to, or even one like it, since you will know the terrain even better than Rulok or Lirak will".
This is very frightening, Caseya decided. I do not wish to go, do not even want to be insystem if possible, but whether I want to go or not the Commander has spent much in resources and effort and trust on my behalf and I must not be seen to just take and never give anything back in return. She cast her mind back to her time at the compound she was imprisoned at – people may be held here, I may be able to help free them, and this will be good to be a part of even if I am killed there.
"I have suggested to Caseya that her presence may be helpful, Commander..." Trannak said when he told Harrigan of this new development "though she doesn't wish to go, she also wants to show others she is useful and can earn her place here – I think she has done so already, but I don't know what everyone else thinks".
"It is as Captain Trannak says, Commander" Caseya adds "I do not wish to go – but I understand if you send people to this place you will need to minimise the risk to them and maximise the chance of success. If that means I need to go then I will go".
"I will be with her" Trannak adds "Practical realities will mean no one from Rulok's detachment can be spared to watch out for her, so I should be there to do this since Caseya seems to trust me more than she does most people here apart from yourself and the Sub-Commander. Juroch can lead the small skulker corps detachment until we return".
Harrigan turned to face Rulok before he asked "Is Miclatze actually on any regular star maps?"
"No" came the reply, and when Caseya turned to see who spoke it turned out to be Lirak "Military installations of that security level are not on regular astronavigation maps. But the Sub-Commander, myself, and Rulok know where it should be – and since one of the tasks you gave us on arrival was to detail where as many of the more... as you humans would say... 'interesting'... places are, then its location should now be in the Cry Havoc's own computer archives if it wasn't there before".
"What we don't know..." Harrigan added "...is if any lab present is part of the main base or stuffed outta the way someplace".
"We can scan for lifesigns with the Switchblade's sensors when we get close" Rulok explained "...though how effective that will be is questionable. We would have a higher chance of finding the lab complex by either accessing the Hierarchy computer systems there – or simply looking for things like concealed hangar doors away from the main spaceport or other areas of the base accessible to the general base population".
"How often would clearance codes and idents be changed?" Talannah asked, and Lirak again spoke up and said "If they follow procedure, anywhere from two to three monen. If they're being lax, we may be able to get in more easily – especially if we make them believe we have something they need or have been waiting for".
"If the program is on an accelerated schedule..." Nrakal suggested "then they will likely be short of potential testing subjects. Make it appear as if you have one or more and whoever is on watch may be more likely to let you in without checking your ident too closely – the lab complex itself will be under the jurisdiction of science command, not a military officer".
"...whose biggest concern is gettin' his project up an' runnin' " Harrigan finished, nodding "OK, then... looks like we got enough of a plan to get the ball rollin'" before he paused for thought, whispered to Talannah briefly, then told Captain Lazarus "Sorry, Cap... but with either Tal or myself likely to have stuff to do organising this place or talkin' to the governor down below I'm gonna have to keep you an' Koronna here – until Karroch's got more command experience under his belt you're the only other experienced officer we have apart from those going on this mission".
Lazarus grumbled a bit about that, but nodded anyway before adding "Someone's got to watch how Karroch's coming along, that's true ... and since if someone on that base sees a human it'll blow the mission then I'm going to have to stay whether I like it or not".
"There's lots for you to do, mister..." Harrigan grinned "You can even do some of it with Koronna there to help out if you like!" before turning back to Rulok and telling him "Get the Switchblade stocked up with food, water, an' anything else you're likely to need. Cap'n T here's going along with you, Caseya an' Keyah as well, an' Hellbolt – but they're just gonna be there to back your lot up an' Hellbolt ain't even gonna get off-ship the whole time".
Captain Lazarus and Koronna walked off to the transit platform first, talking quietly among themselves – Rulok watched with curiosity while Harrigan just grinned and said "Those two are good for each other even if neither of 'em see it just yet – but for now we got work to do. Get ready an' good huntin' "