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The Dagger Poised, For Shallow Minds

Directorate Officer
Near the Dolash-Pike Excavation Site, Eryn III

Gir took a deep breath, fully reveling in the fragrant smell of the pines just after last night's storm. He gently stepped onto the woodland path in front of him, immediately feeling the unusual give beneath his feet as crumpled leaves and detritus gave way to the dark soil beneath. Why do I live among the stars again? He turned his eyes to a nearby, towering pine that seemed to stretch to the placid blue sky above. His eyes drifted back to the surface, he caught the sight of a large, blackened patch of bark near its base. His countenance shifted from natural wonder and ecstasy to sober remembrance. Mere months ago, this very track of woods had the sight of grueling battle between the forces of the self-styled Supreme General Kossk and locals and their Directorate allies. He paused for a moment, causing one of his companions to clear his throat.

Fossk is dead.”

Gir turned his eyes to face Dav Hannish. The unwilling time traveller's square jaw was set firmly in conviction, and Gir wondered how many times Hannish had told his father similar sentiments. Gir's eyes darted to the man's partially holstered blaster pistol, noting that the old freetrader had turned off the gun's safety. Fossk is dead but you're still worried too...

Fossk is dead,” started Gir, “but that doesn't mean that all of his men are.”

Dav briefly cocked his head to the side as he scanned the treelines, “Maybe, but the rangers and locals have scattered any survivors far from here. I bet they'd rather run from our sight than fight.”

And that's why your blaster is ready?”

It's ready for whatever's in there,” said the brown-haired man, jauntily pointing a finger at a hill covered in trees.

Gir knew better. A detailed scan from orbit showed that not only was the hill almost entirely hollow, but a large network of caves and artificial passageways spread out from its base, almost like the roots of a tree. But the ground was too deep to reveal anything else. Not even the locals knew what was in it. Maybe there is some truth to the local rumors about the Rataka. But they should be long dead by now, should they not? But his actions belied those thoughts. Here he was wearing blast armor underneath his faded field jacket, accompanied by a personal shield generator and his finely tuned pistol hanging from his belt.

Only one real good way to find out,” said Gir, starting to trudge up the path, “we just have to wait for the Mechanicum to arrive to figure out the lock at the gateway.”

With that, they continued forward on the path, disappearing into a glade of trees at the base of the hill.

[member="Archim Calixis"]
defy the tyrannous stars
Lord Calixis relished these last lingering moments hooked into his ship's personal interface. He basked in the solar radiation of this system's distant star, felt a reassuring tug of Eryn III's gravity well pulling the Motive Force into a stable orbital freefall, sensed his personal command vessel's sublight thrusters cut out. Sometimes the Metal Lord feared he would get lost out here in all this black, shedding all desire to return to his corporeal form. Most sentients would never truly appreciate how much space travel was like touching the infinite.

A lock that could not be broken. A peculiar request from some of their most esteemed organic counterparts in this galaxy. A jungle world beyond remote, so unimportant it hardly appeared on any star charts at all.

Archim would be lying if he claimed he was not intrigued by this [member="Gir Quee"] and his Directorate's excavation operations out here on the galaxy's distant spiral arm. It would have been easy enough to dispatch a science cruiser or even an Ark to fulfill the Mechanicum's obligations as consultants, but instead he had elected to make the trip personally. Archmagos Ion, the cyborg's mentor and new master of their machine cult's technomancer order, had objected strongly when he declared his intention to take a shuttle down himself and inspect this locking mechanism personally instead of simply sending a probe droid with a holographic overlay of his form as was standard protocol.

Ultimately there would be no changing his mind. Their command structure was much more rigid, a byproduct of their synthetic nature, and while healthy debate was encouraged in the end his word was law. It would be nice to get away from the Zhar system if only for a short while where he could lead discovery efforts in this way again. Still quite early in his tenure as a Confederate Viceroy, they were struggling to figure out the best way to integrate their neighboring organic dominated moon of Gall into a political structure that felt fair and balanced for all sides. He needed some time away from politics, to contemplate his place in the universe.

"Director Gir Quee," he transmitted along a prearranged Directorate frequency from a Mechanicum shuttle preparing to lift off from the Motive Force's small personal hangar, "The Maker bless your search for knowledge this day. Transmit your precise coordinates and I will be with you momentarily."

The view on the trip down to the surface was also beautiful in its own way, but Archim was still coming down off his interface connection and nothing quite compared to experiencing something directly through his ship's sensors. While in the end he had gotten his way, Ion had insisted upon an escort of Mechanicum battle droids just in case. Ostensibly these Directorate Rangers had everything under control, but until not too long ago Eryn III had been a planetary war zone. Between several racks of these combat troopers as well as labor droids and servitor drones, it was a cramped ride down. Behind him, over a dull thrumming that signified atmospheric reentry the Chief Hierarchitect could hear a faint melody of droid music emanating from their attached cleric model.
Directorate Officer
Coordinates are on their way now.

With that, Gir promptly shut off his comlink and slapped an insect that had decided to land on his neck. The stricken creature briefly dangled from his body before plummeting onto the dirt below. He promptly stepped on its remains to ensure its demise. A realization dawned on him: This is why I don't spend more time on the ground...The blonde man turned his eyes upward to the comrades assembled around him. A platoon of rangers casually leaned up against the trunks of the glade's trees, taking a break after a long patrol at the edges of the site. Several of them suddenly straightened up and rose to their feet as a quartet of armored figures broke through the treeline towards the admiral. Clad in heavy armor and wielding oversized weapons, the jump troopers projected both dominance and discipline that typified many elite troops. Yet as much as they had become his de facto honor guard, he couldn't help but wonder if they might eventually turn into a praetorian guard if he wasn't careful enough.

Gir turned his eyes towards the entrance itself, a pair of wavy-patterned blast doors set deep in the rock. It had taken a not inconsiderable amount of effort by the Ocean Tide's sensor operators to detect that the soil that had concealed the blast doors was newer and less dense than the soil around it. Gir thought that after the droids had dug it up that they would have little issue entering the area. He was wrong. Countless scorch marks from explosives, plasma torches, and a myriad of esoteric devices had failed to dent, never mind breach the doors. That left only a strange octagonal port near the blast doors edge to get in. Gir thought it may be an obscure dataport of some sort. But their best slicers, both internal and contracted, had never seen such a device. The closest lead was actually from an archaeologist who specialized in Rakatan artifacts, who thought it was a form of a puzzle lock contemporaneous to ones allegedly found on the Star Forge. But even that tidbit of information hadn't helped them. It seemed that at the moment, only the Mechanicum had obtained such arcane knowledge.

But what is the price of such knowledge? And how did they obtain that? The Mechanicum itself seemed as curious to the Director than the hidden structure itself. A mystery to solve another mystery? Gir shook his head and silenced the thought as [member="Archim Calixis"]'s vessel soared overhead before landing in the nearby clearing. With Hannser close behind him Gir strode out to meet the cyborg and his retinue.
defy the tyrannous stars
The Directorate had prepared a makeshift landing pad for their arrival, more a large stretch of field cleared of stray debris but still sufficient for the Mechanicum shuttle to execute a textbook landing. It had decelerated to engage its VTOL repulsorlifts at the last possible moment, kicking up a wave of torrential wind onto any nearby Lucerne Labs personnel. The dust had hardly settled around this alien looking craft when a narrow loading ramp silently flowed more than extended out from aft of the raised main cockpit behind it.

In perfect sync with one another, a small contingent of peculiar looking battle droids descended onto the surface of Eryn III. Without any prompting, they assembled into a parade formation and marched forward to present themselves a respectful distance from the 1st Directorate Rangers. Binary-series Pulse Rifles were clutched in a resting posture and powered off as a gesture of good faith to their strange new organic partners. While their design was uniform, each droid was colorfully emblazoned with various approximations of what could only be described as war paint. Some had custom modifications to their frames that seemed to serve no other purpose than as aesthetic adornments.

An electronic wail pierced these hushed proceedings, followed by a large sleek metallic form which leapt from the shuttle down onto open land, circumventing its loading ramp entirely. This excitable form seemed in every way the antithesis of the regimented Mechanicum combat troops, running a quick lap around the field before it began to stalk towards a newfound organic audience. White noise crackled from behind its serrated grasper jaw in a decidedly threatening snarl, and blue hued photoreceptors shifted suddenly to a more violent red.

"Heel, Rainbone!"

Sensing its master's presence and displeasure through their network link, the cybernetic canine briefly hesitated before it receptors faded back into pleasing blue. It padded away from the Rangers almost dejectedly before falling in line behind the approaching cyborg prophet. Lord Calixis had descended almost regally from his shuttle, flanked by a probe droid which served as his personal assistant. His mechadendrites were folded up into the small of his back, so when Archim approached he appeared more or less humanoid, the Iskalloni's ancient augmented frame swathed in crimson robes.

This strange retinue's accompanying cleric droid emitted first a binarhic cant, variable beeps corresponding to either one or zero that formed words too complex and at too fast a rate for most biologics to translate. It then switched to clickwise, another more efficient machine language which expressed the same thought in a fraction of the time. Finally, it began transmitting in Basic.

You stand in the sanctified analog presence of His Holiness Archim Calixis, Metal Lord of the true Mechanicum and Viceroy of the Zhar Territories. Sworn Knight of the Spark Council. Divine Conduit to the Core. By root command of the Maker, the Omnissiah, and the Motive Force.
Archim cocked his head to one side, gaze fixed on [member="Gir Quee"] without needing any introduction.

"Hello there," he waggled his metal fingers, "My apologies for Rainbone. A recent acquisition, you see, from the Tartarus system. We still haven't been able to deprogram all of the Shard biopurge protocols out of its cognitive processor."
Directorate Officer
Gir swept a hand in front of his face to shield it briefly from the Mechanicum shuttle's backdraft. As the shuttle settled down on the impromptu landing field, he lowered his hand and watched the droids disembark down the ramp. Curiosity tugged at his mind as the Mechanicum's troops neatly formed up. He had met eccentric droids before, but never had he seen a collection of battle droids painted quite like this. But one spectacle led to another as the blonde man met Rainborne, a unique creature in and of himself, and then witnessed the unusual words of the cleric droid. A cleric droid...that is a new one. That thought in turn was interrupted by meeting [member="Archim Calixis"] himself. He briefly paused as his mind put all of these spectacles together. You can't make this stuff up...Admiral Reshmar will never believe me. A wry grin tugged at the corner of his lip as Admiral Quee strode towards Archim. As he neared within two meters of the man, Gir stretched out a hand towards the cyborg leader and spared a glance at Rainborne.

A very interesting acquisition,” said Gir, “I can't say that I've ever encountered something quite like him. You said he is a shard, is that right?”

Gir became aware of a flicker of color to his side, noting that not only had Hannser trudged up to join him, but Ariela had appeared on the expedition site as well. Finally done talking to Joines, more likely than not...that should be an interesting report...But the admiral quickly returned his attention back to the cyborg and offered a carefully rehearsed smile.

May I introduce to Mr. Hannser, an old friend of my father's, and Miss Captisan, my personal aide.”
defy the tyrannous stars
"Shard adjacent would perhaps be more accurate," Archim said after considering Gir Quee's question for a long, long time, "We believe Project RAINBONE was an attempt at simulating organic fauna through cyber-engineering."

The mechanical canine caught site of its own rear chassis, and its eyes flashed red as it began to chase itself around in a semicircle.

"They were...mostly successful. I can arrange for our research data to be transferred to you, if the Directorate shares this interest."

The Metal Lord paused as he detected two additional members of the admiral's retinue approaching. He politely waited for [member="Gir Quee"] to make the routine organic introductions. His photoreceptors lingered momentarily on Ariela.

"Mr. Hansen. Miss Captisan," the viceroy nodded cordially, used to such expected courtesies from his brief time as representative of the organic moon Gall, "It is refreshing to see synthetics afforded such equal opportunities in your organization."

Gir's personal assistant was designed to blend in seamlessly, and yet Archim had seen the truth of her craftsmanship at a glance. The plight of the replica droid was one that resonated all too well with him, an Iskalloni far along in the process of becoming something more than he was but never quite truly artificial. For his part, Archim offered no introductions. His probe droid's pronouncement had left little doubt of his identity to anyone within a kilometer radius, and it would take far too long to name each of his honor guard.

"The preliminary data which accompanied your proposal has greatly intrigued us," he proceeded immediately to business, "It may take our enginseers some time to analyze this...'lock' your people speak of. In the meantime, I would greatly desire to see the dig site personally."