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PART I

1.1

Elsewhere.

Ida North was halfway down the 72nd shipping lane and halfway through a bottle of questionable wine when the call came in.  Usually, she preferred to quality-check her maps in a quiet haze, watching the ship's location marker slowly make its way across the paths of mathematics that she had coursed over the last month.  It was a slow process, and the best company was a box of meri'saat sweets and a bottle of booze.  Communications were off, the lights were down and Pilvi, the ship's assistant, was in stand-by.  All she wanted was to wrap up the logistics before she visited the cartographers' guild.

Ida cursed.  She sat on a small bunk, propped up on a smattering of pillows.  It was a utilitarian but fun habit to buy a pillow when she finished a map.  It made a comfortable nest amidst the gray hull of her ship.  On the wall opposite the bunk was the map.  She liked classical colors.  Yellows, reds.  No fancy holo-maps with drawings all over them.  If the math worked, the map worked.  Flair wasn't her business.

The communications console buzzed angrily down the hall and Ida huffed.

It had been a long month, so what if she'd forgotten to turn off the comms?  She would just let it ring out, because frankly she could not be bothered to rise.  Her limbs felt like lead.  Part of her blamed the questionable wine's questionable nature.  Someone could have slipped something in there, after all the wine had been a gift.

The clan leader who ran the joint at the end of Lane 72 had tossed her way in thanks for map exclusivity.  It wouldn't remain exclusive forever, of course, but long enough for the clansmen to make bank.  Ida would make bank too, of course.  Shipping would fully resume for the first time in two centuries, completing Delta Loop.  In the end, everyone benefited, but especially her.  Cartography was good business.

Still, the comms buzzed.

So close!  All Ida had to do was check the map, then veer back into known territory to hit up the nearest guild stronghold for payment.

But the comms rang, and rang, and rang some more, and with Pilvi in stand-by, the message system wouldn't kick in.  Finally it stopped.  Ida picked up her glass again and took another swig.  Finally, quiet.

Mid-sip, another call came in.

She stood in a flurry, setting the glass down with deliberate care and walked to the console.  She ducked into its recesses.  The navigation and computer area was largely unused, by her at least.  Switches, buttons and displays covered the walls and low ceiling.  Outside the ship, blackness.  Lanes were always black until you made a stop in real space, only then could you see the stars again.

Deep breaths.  Just tell them to bugger off and be done with it.  She pressed the key for voice only.

"Yes?"  She shot the word with little effort to hide her displeasure.

"Captain North?"  A man's voice cut through the static.  The feedback meant the call was being routed through an unmapped lane.  There was no shortage of work for one such as her.

"She's not here."

"North, don't be cheeky."

"She went out for a piss, didn't come back, can I take a message?"

"Turn your video on, North."

"North, even if she were here, is not in suitable attire for video and you're really going to have to leave a message if you want any hope at acquiring her resplendent services, okay?"

"Last warning,"

"You took the words right out of my mouth.  See you..."  Ida cut off the call.  But the static persisted.  She hit the button again and again.  It wasn't sticky, something else was going on.  

"I didn't want to do this," the voice said.

Reaching over the dash of the comms console, Ida flicked open a cover and snapped a switch.  Pilvi's wake up call.  He wouldn't be happy, but she didn't want him to miss the fun.

"Do what?"

Without warning, the lights popped out.  Ida yelped, the inborn fear of the void twisting her stomach into a knot.  An instant later they came back.  And so did the screen.  Ida frantically pulled her shirt and jacket over chest as much as she could.  She hadn't been lying when she said she wasn't ready for a video call.  A dark face, obscured by static feedback from uncharted lanes, stared.  The obfuscated outline of a hat.  The broad-rimmed kind, not the little caps of a Commonwealth uniform.  Small favors, she told herself, that it wasn't the Commonwealth.  Thanks, anonymous higher cause.

"That," said the voice.

"Get out of my machine," Ida spat, her voice still startled sounding.

"Tell your ship's AI to drive me out."

Ida couldn't tell if the comment was facetious.  She had no ship AI.  Pilvi's duties usually included business that the ship AI would take care of, so she hadn't ever needed one.  But ship AI did not sleep and recharge.  Pilvi would have been useful right about now, but the machine was still waking up.

Ida hoped the surge hadn't fried his little brain.  Until he arrived though, she kept her frown firmly fixed on the screen.

"Don't piss me off," Ida bluffed.

"Don't piss us off," the man said.  "You can see the power we have, even from this distance."

Ida pressed the disconnect button again.  It wasn't working.  She tried a couple more switches, and nothing.  By not having a ship AI, it insured that the various vital systems in the ship were not networked.  She hoped that the mystery jerk only had reigns on her nav and comms, and not things like gravity and life support.  She flickered a switch, annoyed.  

"Yeah?  Well you have my attention, stop with the theatrics and give me my damn ship back."

"I'm glad you're ready to listen," the man said.  "You're being hired on as of this moment to complete a delivery."

"Do I look like a damned mailman?"  Ida snapped.  "This is a cartography ship, and has always been such, I'll have you kn..."

"We know about the arms trafficking."

Ida snapped her jaw shut.  He was bluffing.  He had to be.

"From the outer reaches of Sol, to what was once uncharted areas.  You helped stock a revolution, Rivaldi's, if I'm reading this correctly."

The silence hung between them.  After a moment, Ida said, "If you're not Systems, then..."

"Then I must be Rivaldi's best chum?  You know things aren't so one sided."

"Then why hold it over my head, eh?  Why not just do the usual and offer a fat chunk of change?  Most clients aren't...weren't...such insufferable showboaters."

"So you admit it," the man said quietly, as if to himself.  "Captain North, I have an axe above your neck.  Your anti-Commonwealth activities would interest them greatly, but I'm willing to keep hush if you comply.  But if you'd rather be pursued by the galaxy's largest acting military, then just let me know..."

"Why me?  Why not find another ship?"  Ida had slumped onto the stool bolted to the nav capsule's floor at this point.  She held her shirts together with clenched fists.

"You'll need to do some mapping.  As I'm sure you know, that's a fairly short list."

"But there is a list," Ida protested.  "You could have asked others."

A pause.  The static smile.  "What makes you think we already haven't?"

Ida knew better than to show any more weakness than she already had.  This wasn't the time to go all avenging-angel over what possibly could have been the deaths or oustings of her colleagues.  Resigned, she simply said: "You realize I don't have much room for cargo aboard this boat."

She swore she'd caught the obfuscated figure wink through the interference.  "No problem there, Captain.  It's small."

Shit.  The most dangerous things came in small packages.  Little boxes had never brought anything but trouble, engagement rings replaced by pacts of peril.  Shotgun elopements to a lousy days, dangerous chases, to perhaps even death itself.

The man was speaking.  "I've sent the pickup point to your computer.  Come right away, if you please, whatever it is you're doing can wait."

Ida glared.  "I've almost finished a very lucrative contract.  If you expect me to drop that job and come running just because you've asserted your apparent manly dominance, you'd better pay me in double what the guild owes me."

"We'll see."  The screen hissed, engulfed in a miasma of static.

Behind Ida, the sound of plastic fingers tapping on the wall.  "What's going on?"  Pilvi asked.  The lights flickered, and Idea jumped again.  The computers hissed and beeped as they rebooted.

Ida stood to face her robot, who'd pulled his hand away from the wall, as if the surge could somehow break through his systems' ray shielding field via touch.  Every once in a while, though she knew he was plastic and hydraulics, metal and little more, Ida caught him in a weirdly human moment.

Pilvi was a half a foot shorter than her, slim of stature, white limbed and elegant.  His face, which was capable of projecting three-dimensional images, was blank.  Many robots of his make and model projected the face of a human, a little something for the animal brains of their masters to latch on to.  But Pilvi had always preferred blankness, or a basic line face.  He'd never elucidated why, but Ida respected the need for all beings, even metal machines, to have their secrets.

"Move aside," Pilvi gestured with one hand.  "Let me make sure he's out."  As usual, the machine had caught up to the situation fast.  He sat on the stool, posture perfect, and typed away on the computer.  "You know, this would be faster if you'd let me integrate into the ship."

"Nah," Ida said.  This discussion was not a new occurrence.  "I like you just the way you are."

Pilvi made a sighing sound that Ida could never quite interpret.  "Well, he's gone, and we're no worse for wear.  So, what's your twisted arm gotten us into this time?"

"A delivery,"

"I see the coordinates.  That makes sense.  So much for getting out of the business."

Ida ducked out of the command capsule.  "This is why I should always turn my damn phone off.  Even a hundred thousand miles away from the nearest person someone always wants to bother me."

"So, should I set a course to..."  Pilvi turned from the console and looked around.  The communications capsule was deserted.  The sound of a hatch closing; Ida had already locked herself in her bunk.

- - -
Ward's Ferry, 1.1
...in which principle players are met!  And a mysterious call comes in!

Next time: Ida goes shopping!  Discussions of kittens!  Things look grim! 
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WARD'S FERRY EXPRESS
another space opera






PROLOGUE

"Hello, Erin.  How are you doing today?"

"Doing all right, Snackbot.  You?"

In a British university, an experiment was taking place in the robotics department.  They were testing the impact of robotics on human psychology.  Snackbot was about three feet tall, white plastic chassis and big, unmoving eyes.  A permanent smile was painted on his face.  The snack tray was bolted to his chest.  Erin knew this without looking up.  Her nose was pointed at her laptop, and she didn't need to look away.  This was a firmly rehearsed occurrence.

Snackbot answered.  His words were generated by his programming, so they had an uncanny inhumanness to them, despite the sentiment.  "I'm doing better now that I'm here.  I brought your favorite snacks, Erin.  Would you like apples and peanut butter, or a muffin?"

"A muffin, please."  A whirr of hydraulics as Snackbot's grabber picked up the muffin.  The wrapper crinkled as it hit her desk, rolling on its side.

"Here you go.  I'll see you in a few hours.  Don't overwork yourself."

"Bye, Snackbot."

"Goodbye, Erin."

Every time the robot left, wheels softly whirring on the carpeted hallway, Erin felt good.  It had been a year since the experiment started, and she'd become attuned to the warm feeling in her chest when the robot was kind.  She knew it was her animal brain responding to positive social interaction.  But the robot was just wires and hydraulics, metal and programming.  Hell, she'd programmed a good chunk of it herself.

But she still called it a him, and still thanked him, and still felt good.  It had been over a year and she still couldn't reconcile that dichotomy.

Snackbot is a real robot.  We live in the dawn of the age of human-robot interactions. snackbot.org/about-public.html

- - -


Many years later... No, generations later... Ah, that sounds too ordinary.  Call it an age: a rotation of human history.  Society and technology have turned new leaf, it's an entirely new world from the one you know.  That's when my story takes place.  There's no point in getting bogged down with years, numerical data like that only takes up space I don't have.  If I stray too far off the subject, I might not be able to come back.

I need to get this off my proverbial chest before my memories fade.  Time is robbing me of my life faster than I'd like it, and I've noticed it's the small details that go first.  I know all of this is important, and I hate to admit it, but I don't know why.

I'm hoping to figure it out as we go.

So please, just lend me your ear for a short time.  Record it, if you have the capabilities.

Amila worked at her desk.  The asteroid station was small, smaller than what she was used to, but she didn't need much space to do her work.  Just a comfortable chair and data hubs to link her cranial implant to the cloud, and she was good.  Or at least, that's what she told herself.  Despite everything, being space-born, being a somewhat of a loner, it frankly stank to be trapped alone in a thousand square foot wart strapped to the husk of a lesser astral body.  And for an entire month, too.  

'If you need to stretch your legs', they told her, 'you can spacewalk the asteroid.'  Amila wasn't sure what was worse, having her arm twisted into doing an assignment she didn't want, or being told to expose herself to the lurking doom of the void.  No bite of wanderlust was going to get her out there, no way.

"But you got yourself here, lady," she said.  More and more often, she spoke aloud to herself.  "You could have said no.  You should have said no."

But it was the Commonwealth, and with them, no wasn't a viable option.

"Hello, Amila,"

She looked up, mentally commanding her holographic display to fade to ten percent opacity.  "Oh.  That time already."

"How are you doing today?"  A humanoid body in front of her, smaller than her, though not by much.  The face was a holo display capable of startling reality, but as usual, it wore a simple, painted-on smile.  Big, dark eyes, unmoving.

"I was thinking about taking a walk today," Amila put down her stylus.

"Shall I prepare the EVALS suit?"

"I'd rather feel the rocks between my toes, I think."

A pause.  "Ah.  In that case, I'll seal the airlocks."

Sometimes, it seemed like the robot had a sense of humor.  The comment was a jab meant to cheer her up.  She knew the plastic and metal thing wasn't real, but the social interaction worked its magic anyways.  She almost smiled.

The robot broke the silence.  "Would you care for snack right now?  I have your favorites.  Protein bar: square, and protein bar: triangle."

Amila didn't answer.  He was trying to be funny again.  But the snack.. her every meal for the last week... had lost its humor after day two.  It was as if the Commonwealth intentionally under-stocked the station with proper meals.  It was as if they were watching not her research, which of course was very important, but her.  There was something about her.  There had to be.

Narcissistic thoughts brought on by isolation.  Yes, she had learned about that in the pre-mission briefing.  Space madness, she'd laughed back then.  Not so funny now.  She couldn't wait till the month was over.  A dark thought crept in: she felt watched now, intensely watched, and it was more than just the station's butler.  Would the feeling ever go away?

"Square it is," she resigned.

"Here you go," the robot presented the foil wrapped bar with a flourish of his hand.  "I'll be back later.  Don't overwork yourself."

Amila huffed.  "What else is there to do?"

  The robot took a moment too long to turn its back and walk down the hall.  Probably to do more maintenance.  Or cycle samples.  Was it a sample cycling day?  Amila couldn't remember, but didn't bother checking her calendar.  Every look at that damn thing was a tease that the month wasn't over yet.  Every day until the end took longer and longer to get through.  She sighed and ate her protein square.  It tasted like shoe.

Amila didn't realize she'd fallen asleep until a sound woke her.  The dream was of a house, about the same size as the research station, but on a planet.  A porch, grass, flowers.  Glasses on a table, half empty, Amila playing holo marbles on the wood floor.  The knocking sound was quiet at first, and little girl Amila looked up.  Again, it rapped, but she didn't rise.  The foreknowledge gifted by the realm of dreams warned the little girl that nothing good ever came out of answering the door.  In reality, of course, it had been a Systems Commonwealth officer explaining away the death of her mother.  He said he was sorry but he didn't act like it at all.  How would it have been his fault, anyways?  Why did he say he was sorry?

Nothing good ever came out of answering a knock on the door.

A knock on the door?

"Amila," the robot said.  "Wake up."

"What..." God, her eyes were sticky.  "What is that sound?  Meteor storm?"

"No, I..."

A terrifying rumble shook the station.  There was a bright flash before darkness, and Amila screamed and covered her face.  A terrifying second of pitch blackness before the emergency lights came on.  Illuminated in red was the limp frame of the robot.  She touched his shoulder, lightly at first, then shook it.  She called his designation like a child calling for its mother.  But the robot just clattered to the floor, limbs sprawling cartoonishly, the facade of life gone.

The knock at the door grew louder, and Amila shook her head, rattling her frantic thoughts into some kind of order.  The EVALS suit.  Extra-vehicular activity and life support.  If that was a knock and that door opened, she'd need it.  The locker for the suit was close, as was everything in the tiny station.  She waved her hand in front of the lock, to no avail.  Pulling at the emergency release, Amila groaned.  But it wouldn't budge.  The surge, or whatever it was, must have locked the magnetic triggering mechanisms.  She'd have to trigger another surge to reset them.

The power box was an arm's length away.  Amila tore off the access panel and started fumbling at wires in the dark.  She wasn't an engineer, her knowledge of station systems was rudimentary, learned in the same class where they joked about the space madness.  The knowledge was buried under panic, under the incessant knocking.

There's a particular uniqueness to the sound of oxygen being sucked out into a vacuum.  It's not as windy as you'd think, and it's not quiet.  It's loud, a scream of air and metal.

I don't blame Amila for leaving me behind.  It's a little hard to assign blame at this point, one needs details for that, but I suppose that's another story.  The point is, Amila did the right thing by jumping into the escape shuttle.  She'd toyed with the idea of using it a thousand times in the 27 days she'd been on the station, and now she finally got her wish.  The station's cameras caught the shuttle blasting off the asteroid in a puff of condensation, vanishing quickly into the endless black.

I wonder what become of her.

The station was emptied of air and men in dark suits stormed through.  Laser sights on guns pierced the dusty din.  They tore the data hubs off the desk, tossed the research specimens in black cases.  Silent as ghosts, they stepped over the discarded body of my mobile platform.  They laid charges throughout my empty station halls and detonated them as they left.

I wonder what become of her.  I wonder what became of me.

- - -
Ward's Ferry, Prologue
Hi everyone, look, I'm posting writing!

This is rough, a quick once-over after frantically spewing it out during november, so any comments and crits are vastly appreciated.  Even if you just read it, say hi!   I hope that it speaks for itself, and if it doesn't tell me why.  Much thank!! 
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Askaedin by LunaticStar
Askaedin
A commission of one very messed up Sith.  Or, dark side monstrosity in human form, I should say.  Belongs to a swtor guildy, the illustrious Mr Shareta of the jung ma server. 
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Yooo finished in the nick of time.  The characterization is rushed and i repeat a lot of words and its just rough, but it's done.  After last year's pitiful failure, it's sure neat to feel like i still got it in me, even if 'it' is self indulgent space opera.  

Anywho thus said, imma finish up the chunk im on then spruce 'er upa bit and post some.  I also wasted precious nano time by doodling ofc.... Might dump those here too

Anywho, woooo

- - -

... and hopefully even after that, haha.  We'll see! 

Anyways, first of all, I am going to use journals once again instead of da's mysterious "status" updates, because I think that they're off by default, and no one sees them.  I've NEVER seen one from another person.  They seem extraneous when we have journals!  Anywho.

That nano project, named Ward's Ferry, is going along pretty well.  I mean, I'm excited about what I'm writing for the most part, though I'm not sure if that translates into quality, haha.  That's what I'd like to test, if anyone's up for reading.  It's everything a self indulgent space opera should be, complete with epic mail delivery, sassy robots, things going horribly wrong, and more robot arms than ever before.  

And here's the question I had in the status I deleted: does anyone still read on DA?  Should I just email a pdf to interested parties?  I like DA because I like going back to comments and critiques.  I've said this before, but comments on art is one thing (I know I'm a jillion miles away from anywhere I want to be skill wise, so the comments are very encouraging and I'm grateful for them), and comments on writing is another thing.  I value that crit and all feedback so much because writing means a lot to me.  It's more of a life aspiration sorta thing than visual art, as much as I love both.  Anywho, leave a message if you're interested in reading.

Anways, about visual art!  

LOOK, my art was on the wall of keyanadrake's convention booth!
Armageddon Expo stall 2 by keyanadrake

That's pretty sweet.  Sweet as honey, aw yeah. 

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LunaticStar
create nothing out of something
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:iconweisseskaninchen:
WeissesKaninchen Featured By Owner Aug 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Omg YOU aaaaaaah I finally find you again *clings*
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:iconlunaticstar:
LunaticStar Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2014
Yayyy!  Hey there friendo! <3
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:icongastonnerie:
gastonnerie Featured By Owner May 24, 2014
Thanks
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:iconundicismaug:
UndiciSmaug Featured By Owner May 18, 2014   Artist
thanks for the watch!
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:iconlunaticstar:
LunaticStar Featured By Owner May 18, 2014
Long overdue I think, I love your cosplays! 
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