Operation: Warden Not a single soul aboard the CSS Void Warden was disturbed, as it pulled itself from Relay. With lesser vessels, the people aboard might lose their footing and stumble forward, drop papers and try to catch themselves on their hands before falling to the deck, but the Stealth Class Void's Warden was engineered for Relay Jumping and it was smooth as silk. Sitting in their chairs on the Combat Information Center, navigators, weapons experts and scan techs swiped at the displays in front of them. They narrated every move they made into the helmets that concealed their faces. Planetary Scans shot from the array stuck to the Void Warden's hull and instantly began canvasing the world below them, the Scan Techs began pooling the data collected from their individual probes, creating an accurate picture of the world below the ship. As a precaution when jumping into a potentially dangerous orbit, the Void Warden's forward batteries came online and on the gunnery deck, the great propulsion coils that would accelerate a projectile forward at five kilometers every .001 of a second glowed red with pent-up energy. The Gunnery Chief, who had a hilarious speech about Sir Isaac Newton being the deadliest man in the history of humankind, smiled up at his babies and warmed his uncovered hands in the heat radiating from them. It was the Navigator's jobs to tell the helmsman - Lieutenant Dan to his friends, which was just about everybody - of the planet below, or in the case of engagement, what evasive actions were necessary to keep the Void's Warden from damage. A Navigator showed up at the helmsman's side and handed him a tablet. Lieutenant Dan looked at his orders before handing the small computation device back to the Navigator and nodding acknowledgement. Reaching out, Dan took the ship's controls into his hands and announced into the intercom system that ran throughout the ship "Good morning ladies and gentlemen, we at Collective Space Travel surely hoped you enjoyed your ride. It has just been told to me that we will be assuming an orbit over the world you will see out of your starboard windows. Please remember to check your frequent flyer miles aboard the on-ship Virtual Intelligence, 500,000 and you get a model of this very ship and a free month's subscription to Kingdom of Fantasy, yes, I know how much you people enjoy it." As soon as Lieutenant Dan had gotten off the intercom, a synthesized voice with fake emotional inflection came on and spoke to the crew "Attention all hands, please disregard previous message. There is no such organization as Collective Space Travel and anyone checking with me about frequent flyer miles will be ignored." At the helm, Lieutenant Dan sighed, as the exaggeratedly female face of the on-board Virtual Intelligence appeared next to him on a free standing display "Spoil sport." Striding onto the Combat Information deck with all the dignity of a conquering warlord, Commander of the CSS Void's Warden - Commander Wentworth - assumed his position at a mass of free standing displays. Free standing displays really were amazing pieces of technology. They were like an old computer monitor, but without any parts, just a display floating wherever the user commanded it to. Commander Wentworth looked over the displays, gauging Scan Time, Weapons Systems and Planetary data, while simultaneously taking reports from underlings in the form of tablets like the one Lieutenant Dan had received. Commander Wentworth talked under his breath to himself, as he contemplated his next course of action. "Scans have found life signs." he chewed the inside of his cheek as he thought. "The world is technically habitable, and the scans have shown modern structures erected underneath the heavy canopy." The Commander knew the kind of anger he would provoke from his superiors if he ordered the combat crew to drop, the cost of putting a couple landing shuttles on the ground would be astronomical, if the landing bore no fruit. Finally, the Commander decided. He summoned a nearby Scan Tech from his seat and designated the area he wished to have deep scanned. Modern structures and life signs exceeding that of the lower creatures that lived on this planet had been detected on first scan, this may be what the Void's Warden was looking for. "Three passenger vessels go missing in as many months and we find a habitable planet in-system. Can't be a coincidence." The Commander said to himself, as he sat down in the seat next to the jumbled bunch of free standing displays. He would wait the necessary half hour for the deep scans to come back and confirm his suspicions, if he was right then he could continue his work with Operation Saving Grace. Half an hour later, Commander Wentworth had called all the Planetary Combat Crew to general quarters and, even as the deep scans came back and told him his hunch was correct, the PCC had already strapped on their battle armor and were loading into the drop ships. The display in front of Commander Wentworth's eyes showed the structures in real time. A couple aliens and a few humans dressed in full battle armor with a deep blue coat of paint patrolled around the tops and perimeter of a collection of cement and titanium structures that shown in the harsh downpour. The view was not as good as the Commander would have liked, this world was mostly thick rainforest and the heavy overhead canopy obstructed all but the best scans The Collective could offer -- all the more proof that these men did not wish to be found, whatever they were doing. "Let's see if those damn aliens and sympathizers The Collective stuck me with are worth their chow." The Commander muttered to himself, as he tapped one of the free standing monitors and gave the order to launch the drop shuttles. Commander Wentworth, and most of the crew of the Void's Warden were humans, and it had been that way since the ship was first commissioned. An order for the Void's Warden to allow foreign crew onto their ship to assist with Operation Saving Grace had been less-than-popular with the very human-centric crew and there had been a lot of tension among the old crew and new. The new crew did not consist solely of aliens, there were humans in there too, but to Commander Wentworth and many of the crew - Lieutenant Dan excluded - the few humans who brought variety to the PCC were just as bad as the aliens themselves. Sympathizers mostly, but some of the sneakier members of the original crew had went through the belongings of most of the humans in the PCC and found disturbing evidence for even more. Maybe if we're lucky they'll all die and we can brand mixed crews a failure. The Commander thought to himself, smiling behind a hand he put to his mouth to scratch at the stubble he hadn't shaved off that morning. There were three Orbital Drop Ships aboard the CSS Void's Warden. Void's Warden was not a huge war frigate with thousands aboard and a budget to match, this ship was a stealth vessel meant to jump in-system and then out again before any potentially hostile foes were the wiser. ODS 1, 2 and 3 were short squat looking vehicles with hover technology that allowed them to drop from orbit at extreme speeds, before pulling up as they entered the atmosphere and taking flight. The crews of ODS 1 and 2 boarded their vehicles with all the precision of long practice. The assembled group of aliens and humans held weapons at their waists, as they finished the lengthy process of synching the high tech battle armor they wore to their EC's -- Evolutionary Chips. ODS 3 was the last drop ship to be ready. As the final shuttle finished boarding, the airlocks opened and the vehicle hold was spaced. The pilots of the Orbital Drop Ships pointed their ships towards planet and let a short propulsion go from their ships. The law of motion, as Gunnery Chief called it, was that an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside object. Space is empty, and as such, all it takes for an ODS vehicle to begin moving is a short burst of speed, then the vehicle will maintain that velocity until entering the atmosphere of the target planet, where the pilots would activate the hover technology and bring the ships level to the ground. As ODS 3 leveled out over the dense jungle canopy and shot through the air just above the tree line, in formation with the other three drop ships, the sergeant stood in front of the assembled drop team. He was an alien, vaguely humanoid but for the scaled skin, huge humped back and the four deep black eyes that shown from four sockets, placed like the four dots of a dice, in his head. He had a deep voice that inspired loyalty, and sometimes fear and a friendly smile, if you could get past the rows of serrated teeth that shown white in his mouth. Most new recruits were scared to death of the Vortag's - that's what he was, a Vortag - huge jaws and sharp teeth, they were especially intimidating if he was screaming into your face with them. "Alright, people, listen up." the sergeant said, raising his hands to quiet the inside of the shuttle, the crew had taken to speaking in hushed tones to each other, about the coming battle, about home, about their own planets, a few of the veterans scared a new recruit with war stories about the time when their people and the Vortag were at war, thousands of years ago. "QUIET!" the Vortag screamed with enough force to ruffle the hair of a man sitting a few seats from the front of the craft. The Planetary Combat Crew fell silent amid the roar, and the sergeant shook his shovel-shaped head in approval. Then he brought his right arm up and clenched his fist, summoning his EC, a free standing display appeared and rotated to face the people watching their sergeant. An outline of the collection of structures they were about to investigate appeared, shown to scale and distance, the three drop ships were shown as floating grey dots slowly approaching the structures. "Operation Saving Grace is a Collective attempt to stem the tide of slaves leaving Collective Space. We've been given the honor of being the first mixed crew to ever work together formally." The few humans there were cheered, except for one, who had accessed his own EC and was staring at it intensely -- there was a far off look in his eyes and Sergeant Vortag, everyone called him by race because his people's names were nearly impossible to pronounce by any but other Vortag, knew what the man was going through. Other aliens did their own form of cheering, some gnashed teeth together, others thumped their chests audibly and Vortag stomped his right foot in agreement. Vortag held his free hand up again for silence, keeping the arm displaying the structures held out for everyone to see. "Now we are not completely sure the occupants are hostile, but we have reason to believe these are slavers, working from this planet to funnel Collective citizens out of our space and into the Uncharted Expanse. ODS 1 will touch down outside the perimeter and invoke our right to search, if this is refused we will have no choice but to use force. Let me make it clear to you; deadly force is only authorized when fired upon. We're here to save people, not fill body bags. We have reason to suspect that this will turn into a battle, so be ready people, let your ECs find targets for you, keep your chips scanning, and for the love of my hump, spread out, I don't want to lose any of you squishies." The crew laughed at the Vortag's use of the slang term the Vortag used for any other race that didn't have scales. That was when ODS 3 was rocked by a violent deceleration followed by a dive. Vortag was almost thrown to the ground, but his knees hit the floor of the shuttle and he managed to stay upright, if barely. As the crew scrambled to free themselves from the panic bars - named for the way new recruits held them with soul numbing panic the first time they really dropped - Vortag got to his feet and pulled open the hatch that separated the crew from the pilots "What's going on here?!" he yelled into the cockpit. "Oh," he mumbled a few seconds later, as the pilot pulled up on the controls to escape a beam that would have sheered the lightly armored Drop Ship in half, Vortag turned back to the crew and commanded "LOAD UP. CONFIRMED HOSTILE." then he screamed something at them in his own language, some kind of prayer, or mantra for good luck, maybe. You are on ODS 3.