The Gray Lady
Location - Planet Strel - Orix System - Crods Boundary
She reclined in the cool, moist atmosphere of the arboretum and gazed out at the desert vista beyond the Coryzygen glass of the biosphere. The muted browns and oranges of the craggy landscape dotted with the brighter colours of flowing cacti and bands of mineral laden rock, were a far cry from the watery world she was born on and for which she was genetically modified. She thought that might be why it fascinated her.
She glanced lazily around at the collection of blooms, blossoms, branches, and vines that grew in the arboretum’s hydroponic perimeter. Species as varied as the worlds from which she had plucked them grew here, reminding her of her life before she retired from the Obsidian Sisterhood Scout Division.
The squawk of the intercom startled her from her reverie. She almost threw her drink at the damned thing, making a mental note for the thousandth time to change that stupid alert tone.
“Fuelling and maintenance cycles of the Gray Lady are complete. Manifest and supply order are awaiting your seal.” The vibrato tones of Scientist Kumho emerged with precision from the speaker.
“Acknowledged.” She replied curtly.
Kali unwound herself from her hammock and stretched languorously. Drink in hand, she walked to the down ladder. She stepped off into the opening still holding the glass in her right hand. Her feet spread to the sides, making contact with the smoky plexi-steel shielding. She descended in a fall controlled by the friction of her footgear, maintaining balance with body control and her free hand. She dropped through decks 3 and 2 then halted her progress by grabbing the top rung of the ladder as she reached the ground level. She stepped out of the ladder well without spilling a drop of her Lemurian brandy. The Kurian was waiting for her, documents in hand. He smelled like smoked fish. She examined the supply order closely. Opok smelled too pleased with himself to be trusted. He reached for the PADD just as she found where he had padded the order for a little personal profit. His cachet changed to a sour, salty whiff of disappointment as she deleted the unauthorised items. Kali sealed the revised order with her thumbprint and handed it back to Opok. He waddled off to his station muttering unhappily.
She walked to her quarters to change into her flight-suit. It still fit her like a glove, she wore virtually nothing else for so many years that she never felt quite right in anything else. She glanced at the transport portal as she passed, its swirling blue illumination making her skin crawl. It might be the most cost effective transport for goods to and from Tixlaqix Station, but the thought that a living creature might choose to have their atoms scrambled and shot across space-time seemed to her the height of senselessness.
Dressed in her flight suit, she entered the Armoury. Rendar was an exiled Ittoil warrior. His appearance had been made even more unusual by the prominent scarring which laced its way across his face and neck. Radioactive contamination from the volatile elements with which he worked had eaten away one hand. That had been replaced by a prosthetic she had had Kumho design.
“Gray Lady, I hope you appreciate what I have done for you!” He growled.
“May you die with Hurk in glorious battle.” Kali replied in his mother tongue flawlessy.
“ Your kind knows nothing of honor!” Rendar growled, but his discomfort seemed marginally less. He held out a massive two-fingered paw cradling an elegant spike of dull grey metal set in a matte-black polymesh wrapped grip.
Kali held the knife in her hand, feeling the heft and superb balance of the smaller version of a true Ittoil style dagger. She slid it into the integrated sheath under the left arm of her suit.
“The blade is an alloy of Titanium and Crolium" Rendar rumbled, "It has a magnetic signature that is distinctive enough to be tracked by the right equipment. If you are hiding like a coward you may need to lose it. It is strong enough to pierce armour and keen enough to cut through at a molecular level.”
“Were you able to upgrade the multi-tool”, she inquired. The Ittoil extended his other massive hand, revealing a grey-toned multitool that sported a phased photon emitter, a plasma bolt chamber and a small projectile launcher.
“A bit lighter, that’s good. What about capacity enhancements?” she said looking the gun over.
“Grah!” Rendar barked. "10 % improved on laser duration, projectile homing, and spreadshot for the Boltcaster.”
Kali was pleased. “Your family will honor you.” She told the scarred warrior.
The sky was bright and hot as she stepped out onto the Launchpad and looked up at the Gray Lady. The Lady was a Class A Explorer whose exterior told the story of many journeys through vacuum and atmosphere. The web of tiny pox and scratches from interstellar dust and micro-meteor strikes, the faded patina of the registration markings bleached by the light of a hundred suns, the scuffed and worn down surface of the landing struts. Kali had spent a good portion of her life in there, and she loved it.
Though she knew that Kumho was tediously scrupulous, she still went through a visual check of the ship’s exterior. It was a habit so ingrained that it had taken on the character of a ritual as necessary as physically climbing into the cockpit. She entered the cockpit and did a quick scan of the systems displays. She checked the coordinates for the jump to the Olian Cloud via the Urugawaraz IV spaceport. When the message reached her from Zendichez she could not believe her eyes. The mad bastard was about to sell an actual piece of the Atlas. The price to attend was steep but nothing that would deplete her reserves too much. Dreams of resurrecting the Sisterhood were never far from her mind and this could be exactly what she needed.
The Urugawaraz IV station was one of several meeting sites she used that were remote enough from this base to maintain her privacy. Before the fall of the UBC and the Bloodshed Uprising and the subsequent decade long chaos, such measures had seemed excessive to some she dealt with. No one questioned it now.
Kali keyed the launch thrusters and the Gray Lady rumbled off the launch pad and into the atmosphere. She felt the familiar pressure of acceleration as the boost engaged propelling her through the smoky clouds and into the blackness of space. She checked the coordinates again and engaged the warp drive engine. The world dissolved into streaks of luminous green, white and yellow light...