Commander's Log - 03:15 UTC - Phoenix Base, Meene System
Ram Tah; accomplished explorer, archaeologist, brilliant engineer, leading authority of the long extinct Guardians...and yet he took some time for me. I'm nothing special, but I'd done some work for him before, tracking down Guardian data logs out on the fringes of the Inner Orion Spur. Tedious work that, but he rewarded me generously, and I like to think that the discoveries he made off of the information I gathered benefited the cause against the Thargoids.
Now he has a new task for me which again will benefit both of us. He'll get some much needed Guardian tech in the form of ancient artifacts and maybe data logs, and I hope to get some unique upgrades using Guardian tech infused into existing technology. There appears to be a little more of a learning curve on this expedition though, and as more pressing matters interrupted our brief meeting, Ram Tah asked a doe-eyed research assistant to brief me on the particulars of the mission.
The petite brunette, motioned me over to a multi-display terminal where she sat perched on a stool in her white lab coat. Tucking a stylus behind her ear, she adjusted her glasses over her big brown eyes and offered me her hand.
She introduced herself as Callie Duval, in a mousy little voice, a slight accent betraying her Imperial heritage. She got right down to business, pulling up a galaxy map, system map, and what appeared to be schematics of the targeted tech on the displays. I had to lean closer to hear what she was saying as she began to fly through the mission objectives and target location. I'm not quite sure where I lost track, but it was a multitude of information and the slim assistant was quite distracting.
She must have detected my attention waning, as she paused and ventured a nervous glance up at me.
"This is a bit more complex than the previous missions I've run for Ram Tah," I admitted.
"Yes, quite," she said, screwing up her mouth as if chewing on the inside of her cheek.
"Any possibility I might have all this down in a file I can pull up on sight?"
"Certainly, but..." she trailed off, turning to look at the displays.
"But what?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.
"We're not really sure what exactly you are going to run into, and how exactly you will access the needed information. It's...well, it's all speculation at this point," she admitted sheepishly, turning her stool and leaning one elbow on the desk.
""Hmm, makes me a little nervous," I said turning around and leaning on the edge of the desk.
"I had an idea, but...well, Ram Tah wasn't so sure about it," she said, almost looking as if she was second guessing it herself.
"I'm all ears."
"Well, I was lead researcher on this; I have studied all of the glyphs, all of the known structures and layouts of ruins that we could get our hands on and…well, if I was on site, perhaps I could troubleshoot any problems and maybe I could increase the chances of success.”
"On site, like-come with me?" I asked, pretty sure that's not what she meant.
"Well," she paused, venturing a glance up at me, "yes. I mean, you know I either know or have access to pretty much any information you would need, and, and I've been through flight school and had quite a few hours cockpit time."
I furrowed my brow, cocking my head as I realised she was being serious.
"I kind of work alone," I was saying.
"By choice?" she interdicted.
"Uh, well, it's just the way..."
Four hours later and the "Spectre", my Krait Mk II, is all packed up, fueled up, and ready to lift off. As I heard Ms. Duval settle into the seat behind me, I asked myself what in the world I was doing. This was a first, that's for sure. Lifting off from Phoenix Base, we plotted a course for HD 63154 and settled in for the series of jumps taking us outside the Bubble to an obscure little planet which held Guardian ruins.
It was silent for a while as I settled into the all too familiar pattern of jumping, scooping and scanning. I heard a few oohs and ahhs from Ms. Duval as we jumped into huge blue giants or binary systems. I still recognize the beauty and awe of space, but sometimes you get to thinking or always reaching for the end goal. It was nice to glance back and see the sense of awe and wonder on her face and remember what that was like the first times I got out into the black.
After a while, she asked if we could go over some of the information, so she brought up some data on my info panel and went through what she thought might be the best approach. If we could acquire the correct blueprint scan, then we'd have to collect some materials on site. Hopefully everything we'd need would be right there, but that would be too easy wouldn't it?
As she talked over my headset, I couldn't help but wonder what her slight Imperial accent might suggest. In a lull as she flipped through some data trying to find a visual of the Guardian Power Cell, I asked her where she hailed from.
"My accent causing you some pause?" she asked.
"No, just curious."
"Well, no, clearly I'm not one of those Duvals," she said. "I am from Achenar though."
"Oh, I see."
"No, I doubt you do," was all she replied.
"I don't mean to pry," I said after a pause I thought she'd break.
"It's okay. I'm used to those questions in this part of the Bubble. The Empire is almost as hated outside its borders as it is by some of those living inside them."
"Would you be one of those?" I asked.
"Would you be? An Imperial hater I mean," she clarified.
"Not a hater of Imperials as much as a hater of the Empire...for what it stands for," I said, wishing I hadn't begun this line of conversation.
"Existentially or more personally?" she asked offhandedly.
"Well, more personally..." I said, scrabbling for a way to derail her line of questioning.
"I hear that more than you might think," Callie said with a low mirthless laugh.
"And where might you fall on that spectrum?" I ask, redirecting her attention.
"I think that's a conversation for another time..." she trailed off.
Well, that's that I guess. I'll have to remember that one next time the conversation turns toward my past. It's got me wondering though. Have I made a big mistake taking her on for this mission without really knowing who she is? I'm smarter than this, I told myself. How did I allow this to happen? Was it a total rookie mistake, drooling after the tech I might score from the mission, or was it an even more boneheaded mistake getting ensnared by the striking silhouette she cut in her form fitting Remlok? Oh brother, next thing you know I'll be doing the loop of shame around HD 63154 B 3 A.
We passed the rest of the trip in silence, me feeling a mixture of guilt for prying and annoyance at starting the whole stupid conversation. Ms. Duval seemed to keep herself busy pouring through the data she'd amassed in her research. She's tenacious, I'll give her that. We finally dropped out of witchspace at HD 63154, a rather unremarkable A class star. Callie sent me the coordinates for B 3 A and we settled in for what I guessed would be another silent flight out to the small rocky body over 143,000 Ls away.
I heard Callie unfasten her restraints and make her way back to the head. I was almost glad to have the cockpit to myself. Why was I letting myself get so annoyed with her? Was it her slight Imperial accent? Was it her guarded demeanor? Wasn't I worse at that? Hadn't Taylor told me it was easier to get a Beluga out of the mail slot than it was to get any information out of me? Or, is it more likely that I'm not annoyed with her as much as I'm annoyed at myself for bringing up her defenses? Or, am I feeling guilty at betraying what Taylor and I had with thoughts of this pretty, young brunette? Aw heck with it all, I've spent too much time examining my feelings. Next thing you know I'll be counselling Corvette pilots with inferiority complexes.
After what seemed like an eternal stretch of silence broken only by Ms. Duval situating in her seat, we approached HD 63154 B 3 A and I slowed to an approach speed. Callie scanned the surface map and pinpointed what she believed to be the reported Guardian ruins. Once I locked onto the coordinates, we orbited to the dark side of the planet and I rolled for the descent. Dropping from supercruise, I noticed Ms. Duval gripping the sides of her seat, a look of strain across her face as she shook in her seat. Then it quieted, all but the groan of the ship entering gravitational flight.
As we dropped out of glide I heard a sigh of relief from Ms. Duval, and then heard her restraints release as she approached the back of my seat, resting a hand on the headrest as she leaned against the side for balance. I ventured a glance at her, the displays reflecting in her glasses.
"Too bad we weren't able to land during the day," she offered, breaking the hours of silence.
"Yeah, I hate dropping in to an unfamiliar planet on the night side. If your coordinates are right, we should be okay. Once we're close enough I'll bring up the night vision."
As we grew closer I toggled the night vision and the surface came into view in its characteristic green dotted rendering.
"Wow, it's really quite rough," Callie said, leaning in beside me to see better.
"I hope the ruins have a decent place to set down. I'd hate to cross much of a distance over that even in the SRV."
It turns out there wasn't much to set down on at all. We spied a possible spot, but we'd been at it for quite a while and decided to grab some shut eye before venturing into the ruins. We had to venture down into a low area, away from the craggy plateau the ruins sat on. Finally finding a reasonably level area to set down, we powered her down and grabbed a quick meal. Callie poured over her notes again, and made a pitch to be the SRV pilot in the morning. I wasn't crazy about the idea, but she clearly had a better idea of what she'd be looking for so I agreed to let her run a quick recon. Once that was decided, she seemed a little more relaxed and she ran through the game plan of what it was that she thought might be the correct approach. We finally hit the sack, me taking the fold down and letting her have my bunk. I might be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure I saw her slip a small stunner under her pillow before she shut out the lights.