Walking through the corridors of Strength of Resolve was a very different experience than a similar trip through Clarity of Purpose. Subdued cyan lighting and pristine, seamless white walls were replaced with warmer hues and obvious functionality—terminals, access hatches, machinery tracks, etc… Normally those corridors were also home to a lot of foot traffic, but not today. Due to the secretive nature of what was occurring the metro-carrier has diverted most personnel along other routes. That meant that the three women and two men walking together were an island in a sea of calm.
“You’re a walking cliché, you know that, don’t you?” one of the women, the only one not dressed in a uniform, said to another. The recipient of the comment was a young woman with long, pale blonde hair and bright green eyes. She was also constantly rolling her shoulders and picking at her uniform.
“I can’t help it. I am an anarchist at heart and you made me the commander of the thrice-damned fleet.” For a moment Shi Tsu stopped fussing with her clothing; her attention focused on the other woman. “And what about you? Why don’t you have to wear a soul-sucking badge of conformity?”
The first woman, also blonde and with a third eye on her forehead, was wearing a blue bodysuit with subtle armor plating embedded within the weave. “Because it wouldn’t fit me.” she said with a slight smile.
Shi Tsu rolled her eyed. “There you go again, pleading practicality when it suits your purposes.”
“Lieutenant Commander Ash.” the low baritone of Strength of Resolve rolled through the corridor. “Fighter wings Alpha, Gamma and Xi are currently in rotation. They have been notified that they are to come under your command when you launch.”
“Thank you Sor.” the first woman replied. “Bastian, make sure to ping the wing commanders once we launch. I’ll leave the coordination of the support units to you.”
“Yes, sir.” Bastian Nael was a physically imposing figure, even for an earth-aspected dragonblooded.
“Oh, no. You’re not going to let official business get you off the hook this time.” Shi Tsu pressed. “Why do you get to go gallivanting off, discovering Jade-born caches and hollow worlds from a time before time and I’m stuck here being the responsible one?”
Ash was still smiling, but said nothing in response. Which only encouraged Shi Tsu to push harder. “You know, I outrank you now. I could just order you to take me with you.”
“Rank or not, I get to decide who is inside of me.” the mechanical woman stated.
“Oh?” Shi Tsu replied, her own grin rapidly growing. “Would it help if I made myself look like Leaunic? You let him inside of you on a regular basis if I remember right.”
Laughter filled the hallway, followed a moment later by one of the men adding, “I didn’t think robots could blush.”
“That’s enough out of you Anders.” Ash warned the man. “Keep it up and I will give her your spot.”
“As for you Shi Tsu,” the armored form began as a door in front of them opened up, revealing a spacious hangar bay, and a 10 meter alchemical that was turning to face the gathering. "don’t make me embarrass Sor by accidentally stepping on his bridge commander and turning her into charcoal paste.
The laughing continued for another moment before Shi Tsu spoke again. “Bring her back in one piece. Life would be far duller without an insecure giant robot to taunt when I get bored.”
“Will do, sir.” the third woman replied.
“Let’s get this started.” Ash added, desperately trying to regain control of the conversation.
After coming to a stop, the third eye on the automaton rose off of the artificial woman, spinning in the air a moment before flying towards the alchemical. Reaching it’s destination, the eye merged back into star-metal caste. Free of the alchemical’s control, the arete-series artificial infiltrator moved towards the rear of the hangar to wait for further instructions.
No longer splitting her attention, Ash turned back towards the large doors sealing the hangar bay and began to alter her form. Not a true transformation, it was more of a replacement, with each individual piece of herself slipping into elsewhere while a corresponding alternative component was drawn into reality and attached to her structural foundation. When the process was complete the humanoid form had been replaced with a space faring vessel just a little larger than the standard fleet fighter or interceptor. A moment later the cockpit hatch popped open and Argent Singularity Horizon’s crew began boarding.
First in was Bastian Nael. Integrating with Ash’s senses, he would serve as a second set of eyes, a communications officer of sorts and voice of the ship if Ash was indisposed. Second was Anders Jehiel. A water-aspected dragonblood, his focus would be on Ash’s weapon systems. The final piece of the team was Aleksandra Cait, a recently exalted eclipse caste solar. While they would certainly take any celestial exalted that could get, Alek’s exaltation was a direct result of casualties on the Gunstar, meaning her presence was a constant reminder of the loses already sustained.
Once aboard, Ash closed the canopy and began the flight start up sequence. As her plasma thruster assembly roared to life a rotating light seemed to spin in the depths of the two disk engines set on either side of the cockpit. Faster and faster the illumination spun until it became a solid cyan glow. A moment later, dozens of hexes popped into existence around the vessel, only to fade away just as quickly as the light-etched interceptor barrier came online. Finally, four separate essence pulse cannons unfolded from the fuselage, two on either side of the cockpit, while a massive concussive essence cannon dropped from the belly of the ship.
With a flare of light from within the depths of the disk engines, Ash shot out of Strength of Resolve to await the response of their prey once the infernal bitch knew she was cornered.