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With Brooding Wings Pt. 1

Posted on Tue Oct 12th, 2021 @ 5:30pm by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Ensign Khaiel D'hikatsi & Gunnery Sergeant Roderik Kos & Ferrofax & Lieutenant Teejay

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: Corvus Prime
Timeline: MD 2

The shuttle that Blackwood had promised was a heavily modified old-generation jet that managed a vertical takeoff well enough, but still rattled far more than a runabout would have. Despite the innovations of Ingram Nanoscale through the Pathos BioMed, it seemed the municipal resources were lagging behind the times. Even so, the Corvan jet that looked like an advanced version of the old B-2 Spirit from 20th Century, only sleeked with moderate innovation and expanded size for personnel transport, was fast enough to escape the mushroom cloud that sprouted in their wake. The squad of four men from the Conclave Constabulary looked after it with forlorn expressions.

"Targovista, or what's left of it, is now under quarantine," Blackwood informed everyone from the cockpit. Despite the Corvan Conclave emblems decked out all over the aircraft, the pilot was a standard human wearing INS flight gear. "As is pretty much every population center from Muntenia to the Havasfold. Our destination is a remote island in the Awalak archipelago on the far side of the planet. It's a long flight, so tuck in."

Khaiel sat back in his seat, trying to stay as close as possible to Commander Qiao and Gunnery Sergeant Kos who sat on either side of him. When anyone walked past them, he did his best to sink back into the seat and try his hardest to remain undetected. His fingers pressed against the hard form of the remote terminal that he had slipped into his uniform jacket before they left. He was lucky enough to get a full download of the database onto the terminal before they were rushed onto the aircraft, though he wasn't going to risk accessing it, or even revealing it to the others, until they were back on board the Phantom. Or at least in a safe place.

He so desperately wanted to ask questions. His curiosity was overwhelming as to where they were going or what they were going to do next. But he resisted the urge to ask and just waited.

"Sir, if I may make a suggestion?" Rodi said in a near whisper as he leant closer to Khaiel. Then he continued without waiting for permission. "As a Starfleet officer it might be better for you to sit straight and present a more confident attitude. It makes you look less like you're hiding something."

The young man's cheeks tinged green, again, with embarrassment as he sat up straighter. He leaned over slightly, "Thank you," he said in a whisper and a slight smile.

Rodi gave the ensign a nod of approval before returning his eyes forward. He felt profoundly uncomfortable riding in someone else's ship. Too many strangers, too many guns, not enough of his marines.

With a lazy confidence that needed no showcasing, Teejay sat the little lockbox he'd recovered on his lap and regarded it as if it were an old friend or well-respected foe. Challenges and mysteries were his vocation, his joy and his favourite form of entertainment, but this was far beyond funny, had been for a while. "So, what exactly do you Secret Squirrels do when we find a private company creating an unsanctioned bio-weapon?" He asked those around him, outright, unashamed and feeling a need to be inclusive. "'Cause a lot of people just died and a lot more are gonna follow them if we don't figure something out here. There has to be a way to help."

At the mention of "bioweapon," Blackwood turned back from the cockpit and shot a wary eye at Teejay. His ebony eyes fell to the lockbox in his lap, but he turned back to the instrument panel without a word.

The half-Vulcan returned an unabashed, but amicable stare. Whether Blackwood believed it or not, Teejay's goal was ensuring Corvan survival. There had been more than enough death in his past.

Noticing Blackwood's reaction, Rodi's hand quietly slipped from the hand rest, sliding to the phaser holstered on his hip. 'Next time I'm bringing my fireteam' Rodi thought to himself as he was reminded just how many people around him weren't his.

"Hopefully the quarantine that your commanding officer has imposed will allow exceptions for relief supplies and personnel," Blackwood mused aloud. "The controlled demolition of the Ingram Building was rather well-contained so far as such things go, but Corvus Prime presents unique environmental hazards which should not be underestimated." Sparing a glance for Winton, the special quaestor added, "And, of course, the Corvan Conclave will provide reparations to the best of its ability."

Giving Rodi a split-second steely frown as he noted the motion-towards-phaser, Teejay didn't chastise the unknown Marine, but addressed Blackwood with a confidence born from surviving past trauma intact. He did not yet see himself as firmly attached to this complex team he'd been unwillingly drafted into. "Thank you for the impromptu rescue," he told the Corvan. "Believe it or not, we came here to help. So yes, we'll work to assist with supplies and aid, right Commander?" Teejay looked to Blackwood, but addressed Qiao directly, before switching questions back to the Corvan. "What's in the Awalak archipelago exactly? Will you be safe there?"

"A secure facility," Blackwood answered with his melodic lilt and a knowing smirk. "Many honored members of the Conclave have been moved there as well. You will remain esteemed guests of my government until your ship can come collect you."

"Excellent," said Teejay, brightly and with genuine enthusiasm in the face of the Corvan's obvious sarcasm. "We've got a great deal of figuring out to do, and I could use some influential ears to talk to." He raised an eyebrow. "I assume we're free try to assist in working this problem?" He asked, pushing confidence into his tone with a consummate ease born from prior trials and tribulations.

"Really can't say," Blackwood replied with a shrug. "I answer to the Conclave, and it seems my world is closed for business by Starfleet. I'm afraid I can't predict what comes next." Pausing for a moment, he said, "You would be better able to do that. What's your captain like? Is he a hasty fellow or he is one to throw his weight around and leave it there?"

Teejay shrugged demonstratively. "Couldn't say either," he said, with a brutal honesty. "He's only been 'my Captain' for five breaths." His guess was on the 'throw his weight around' option, but that was something the Marines could confirm in their own time. "I came here to work in the best interest of the average Corvan," the half-Vulcan added.

Qiao watched the byplay curiously but remained silent as the others spoke, while he processed. He subtly placed a hand on Rodi's knee to get his attention and gave him a barely perceptible shake of his head. Better to let things play for the moment. He processed for a moment before speaking. "For relief, we will do what we can, but it is not our job. We are here to investigate the use of prohibited weaponry, and, now, it seems likely, the progressive failure of treatment to mitigate the negative effects the Corvan biosphere has upon humans, and getting to the bottom of both is our main goal. I suspect resolving the latter will resolve the former, and will likely be of a net benefit to Corvus. As for Captain Mrazak, he is not unintelligent or intentionally malicious, but further obstruction as was offered by Mr. Winton, here present, will likely precipitate some brash, impatient, and likely reckless response," he said, knowing he was throwing Mrazak under the bus, but having been nearly killed by the same attitude a few too many times.

"Duly noted." The sing-song Corvan brogue was amplified in Blackwood more than the others. It lent an air of near mockery to his words that may not have been intended. The black within black pits of his eyes were no help. "Let us hope cooler heads prevail."

The transport hurtled through the air at supersonic speeds which the hull failed to completely compensate for. Swirling gusts of wind gave voice to the occasional turbulence that bounced everyone every so often. League after league of curdled green oceans passed below until specks of coral land began to appear which turned the waters around them an iridescent aquamarine not unlike the refraction from a shallow oil spill. Among the dotted islands stood a snow-capped summit from a lonely mountain that was no doubt a volcanic participant in the planet's geological past.

"Preparing for descent," Blackwood called back on behalf of the pilot. "I recommend tightening your harnesses and keeping your head upright." The obsidian fingernail on his milk-white finger tapped the prominently displayed placard which read: WARNING: WHIPLASH HAZARD ON DESCENT.

Vestibular disorientation overtook everyone as the aircraft suddenly dropped into a controlled freefall. The howling wind outside shot up in pitch as the air whistled its protest against the rapid descent. A yawning chasm deep within the volcanic crater rushed up from below to meet them like an earthbound monstrosity. After a moment of darkness, the aircraft was bathed in the harsh artificial light of a subterranean flight hangar.

"Welcome to the Pinnacle," said Blackwood as the aircraft came to rest. "If you all will kindly wait for me to provide my clearance, then we can be on our way."

Blackwood exited from the pilot's hatch in the cockpit rather than the main troop door in the passenger compartment. Looking through the viewports, he was visibly seen walking away toward a group of guards who stood by idly with weapons holstered. Blackwood addressed the only one not wearing a fancy cap on his head, presumably an officer of some kind. After a terse exchange of words that were muted by the hull, Blackwood's hand flashed through the air and seemed to barely touch the other man. A dark amber stain began to form over the officer's chest. After a moment of confusion, the man toppled sideways to the ground.

All the other guards immediately gave Blackwood space. The quaestor put his wrist to his mouth and began speaking.

"The leftenant needed to be relieved of duty," Blackwood's voice said over the transport's intercom. "You are quite safe to debark now."

Rodi rose first, but only after the other Corvans but for the pilot left the vehicle. It was both proper decorum for the NCO to exit before the officers, but it also conveniently put the marine bodyguard in front of all these potential hostiles and his charges. "And what was the reason you stabbed the lieutenant?" the Irishman asked, eyeing their would-be saviour.

"It was an internal matter of Conclave business," Blackwood replied without missing a beat. He pointed down the nearest corridor out of the hangar. "I believe there is a guest area right this way."

Bao considered for a minute as he exited the shuttle. "An internal matter," he mused. "Tell me, Inquisitor, is the attention being drawn to Corvus a primary goal, a welcome side-effect, or an unavoidable consequence due to drastic nature of the circumstances that are being taken?" he questioned, piecing ideas together in his mind. He would bet a good deal the inquisitor could tell them precisely what happened on the moon. "This is supposition on my part, but something similar to what happened at the Pathos BioMed Campus occurred elsewhere. Or are you going to claim that is also a matter of internal business?"

"I am certain the skyscraper in Targovista was not the first controlled demolition in history," Blackwood said with a smirk. "Now I recommend coming with me so I can vouch for you with the guards of this very secure facility."

The quaestor walked down the corridor into an intersecting one, and through another junction in a honeycomb of passageways lit by the harsh, sterile fluorescent illumination that washed out the color of everything in touched. Deeper and deeper into the Pinnacle they went, with more and more frequent guards. Each checkpoint stood down with Blackwood's credentials, though the Corvan guards reserved harsh stares for the colored foreigners. In time, they reached large double doors that were plated in duranium--a modern alloy that was not featured in most Corvan architecture. Beyond it was yet more guards who physically obstructed entrance into an eerily dim amphitheater.

"State your business," said the security chief.

"Quaestor business," Blackwood said.

Looking him up and down, the security chief nodded. "Fine. But the foreigners stay here."

Blackwood shook his head. "They're with me. Conclave's orders."

"This is a closed session," the security chief said. Between the peculiar symbol on his collar that the other guards did not share and the stonewalled expression on his face, it was clear he was unused to argument. "No unauthorized individuals."

"Then the first thing I'll do is explain to the Eldest Marchion why you obstructed his personal instructions," Blackwood said, "while you receive your last rites."

A tense look exchanged between them, but the chief finally relented. "Go."

Continuing onward, Blackwood led them to the center of the amphitheater. Rows of seats rose up into the light fixtures which did little more than cast silhouettes of those in attendance. Most seats were empty. Only a middle-aged Corvan man whose jet black hair was spotted with pocks of gray was fully visible.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked, clearly interrupting himself.

"Honored Lector, I am Quaestor Percival Blackwood, and I have returned from Targovista with the survivors of the Pathos BioMed building." Blackwood ushered the team forward under the central spotlights. "Go on. Recite for the Lector what happened."

Bao paused and considered a moment. Lector, Quaestor. These were obviously titles, originating in, he believed the tongue was called Latin, on ancient Earth. However, even realizing that did little to clarify the actual hierarchy of who, or what they were dealing with. He grimaced internally. "I am unsure, Lector, what precisely Quaestor Blackwood wishes to be recited since I suspect he knows far more of what actually happened than we," he said carefully, quietly thanking the TianDi that Mrazak was not around to step all over tact. "I am Lieutenant Commander Zhangsan Lisi of the WangMaZi." It was the rough equivalent of saying, 'I am John Doe of the USS Tom Dick and Harry'.

"We are responding to the recent event on Alucard, and most especially the detection of Thalaron radiation after the original detonation, whatever its source," he spared a sharp glance at Blackwood. "Given the socio-political situation, it was logical to begin our inquiries at Pathos Bio-Med. Mr. Ingram was less than cooperative. We were just beginning our search of his office and the Pathos systems when we were assaulted by what I must assume were natives exhibiting the untreated form of Corvan Vampirism, who were, unknown to us, and unrevealed by the aforementioned Mr. Ingram presumably being held in the building. Quaestor Blackwood extracted us from the building before demolishing it with, correct me if I am wrong, a matter-antimatter explosive device and bringing us here, where he proceeded to execute or murder someone upon landing and led us to this chamber, threatening the guard outside with the wrath of the 'Eldest Marchion' whomsoever that may be. Anything else I might say is entirely supposition, though I suspect my suppositions to be at least somewhat accurate, and strongly suspect that where they are not, those here present could make them so."

Standing behind Bao, Rodi's hands rested comfortably on his belt. Coincidentally that placed his right hand right next to his phaser holster and his left hand near a concealed molecular edged knife hidden in his belt. Neither weapon would be very useful to Rodi, having counted 46 guards between this chamber and the exit, but he would try his best to get his charges out if push came to shove.

Shadows shifted in the uppermost tiers of seating, but no immediate reply was forthcoming. The Lector seemed to ignore Bao entirely. His attention was fixated upon his lectern. Faint flashes of light suggested he was engrossed in a digital readout, suggesting the old, rugged mountain lair had modern technological updates embedded all throughout the complex.

"Do you confirm the Starfleet report?" the Lector asked Blackwood at length.

Blackwood grinned like a wolf. "I do, m'lord."

Looking downward again, the Lector's black eyes rove back and forth as he seemed to be reading something. He nodded. "The Conclave has reached a supermajority consensus that your account shall be accepted as true and entered into record. At this time, the noble and esteemed Dodona wishes to address the Starfleet interlocuters in the presence of the Conclave."

"The 'special' part of being a Special Quaestor is the special dispensation endowed to my investigations," Blackwood whispered to the field team. "You're safe, so long as you're with me." The honeyed tone in which he spoke his promise did not hide the innuendo that his sword could swing both ways.

Less than reassuring, Bao commented internally, leaving his focus on the politicians.

At once, the Lector backed up several paces and bowed his head with hand outstretched as if he were a valet. The shuffling of feet could be heard before a wizened form slowly emerged from the darkness behind the lectern. "I greet you, foreigners, with the blessings of the Moon and its tidal fury and grace. On behalf of the people of Corvus Prime, I remain their Dodona, oracle of eternity and time immemorial, keeper of the flame of forgotten knowledge, guardian of the everlasting path, seer of what is to come." The litany nearly took the breath from the old woman's breast. After pausing to recover it, she said, "I implore you most humbly to lift the sanction you have placed upon our world. Potential devastation already looms overhead with our destabilized moon, but now drastic measures are being taken within our cities. Please, I beg of you, allow the ships in this system who are under your sanction to provide aid to our burgeoning humanitarian crisis!"

Curious, thought the Lagashi, as he listened to the crone. Some seer of what is to come, the internally snarked. Not that he would be saying that bit out loud. He pondered for a moment. "You have my attention, Madam," he said carefully. Technically he didn't have the authority to lift the sanction, but the crone, one didn't need to know that, and two, he might actually be able to get Mrazak to follow through on lifting it if he got useful information out of the process. "I must confess myself to be confused over burgeoning humanitarian crisis you speak of though. You speak of drastic measures within your cities, but how is the sanction, as you put it leading to drastic measures in your city. Without the cause of the correlation, and an explanation of what is so vital about those ships there is little I can do to help you," he laid out. Truthfully, he was playing a little dumb, since he was relatively certain he knew exactly what the woman meant by drastic measures, and would hazard that feral reversion would make a pretty good case for a burgeoning crisis. Still, better to try to get the woman to speak.

"I have spoken," the Dodona said before shuffling back into the darkness.

The Lector resumed his position behind the lectern and glowered at Bao for his insolence. "The Conclave official record requires an answer to the Dodona's request."

Standing boldly and up until now, silently, in the beam of the spotlights beside Blackwood and Commander Qiao, Teejay smiled in the wake of the former's whispered promise of safe-passage and then mirrored the Corvan Lector's scowl as Qiao responded to the elderly woman.

"I greet you, honoured Oracle, Keeper and Guardian," Teejay said, taking one step closer to the lecturn as he spoke with a calm and respectful confidence. "Blessings of the moon be returned to you and yours with equal tidal fury and grace." He truly wished to speak more about those things the Dodona knew beyond this place - the forgotten knowledge and everlasting path - but those were secrets their current standing was unlikely to uncover. First, they needed to schmooze a little, curry some favour and earn some brownie points. "I was sent here to help and to understand the very real challenges that Corvus Prime faces," Teejay explained, saying nothing of his own position in ranking authority. "If I am to change the minds of those enforcing the sanctions, I need information. But please, tell me what is happening in your cities? Surely we can work together, surely we can help you to help yourselves without pushing Corvan problems further and further from your home?"

The Lector briefly referred to his lectern before speaking. "The Dodona has taken her leave. However, if you commit to brokering a resolution to the current blockade, then the Eldest Marchion has elected to entertain you within his private chambers. This way, if you please." Off and to the right of the Lector, a dark hallway illuminated to reveal dark oaken doors at the end of a short corridor of polished marble.

The look on Blackwood's face was pure elation. "This is a great honor," he said to the team, the usual lilt in his voice dropping somewhat in his excitement. "Eldest Marchion Polidori is a figurehead of sorts, a first among equals if you will. His influence is plenipotentiary like most Marchions, but there are none who would stand against him alone. You should not not keep him waiting."

With his usual assumption that forgiveness was easier to gain than permission, Teejay moved with brisk confidence straight towards this recently revealed new direction. "No intention of making anyone impatient, Quaestor Blackwood," he stated with a merry inflection to his tone as he picked up the pace.

Bao spared another look at the lector before following. "By all means, lead on," he said. "Rodi, do make sure Mr. Ingram stays with us like a good boy. No doubt Captain Mrazak will want to formally question him later."

To Be Continued...


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