Ancient Gardens

Time passes, and the Dyson Net continues the ancient dance of gravity outside, rainbow light contrasting with the pitch black of the writhing Sign of Chaos. The contents of the passenger-shuttle prove to be exactly as Ghostwheel advised, and Aurora may take what she desires. Three hours after her arrival in the docks of this strange black sphere, Fiona initiates another communication. "Grand-daughter." She says, in her customary terse fashion. "Kieran has solved the locking mechanism of the double doors. It is an airlock, but the inward doors will not open unless there are living beings in the airlock itself. Your air supplies are low. I suggest returning to the battlestation first."

Aurora stood from sorting through the last of the things in the cargo hold and dropped them into the case she had commandeered for just such a purpose after labeling the sample bags with a name if she had been able to find one. In the chill airlessness of hold, things had survived remarkably well considering how long they had been there. Clothes were pretty much a write off, as was the food. But she wasn't sure about the medical supplies, so she would take them to the med lab on the station to run through the analyzers. The other personal effects and diplomatic pouches would be interesting though. Handing the box up to Avayra, she considered Grandmere's words. "There is no way to replenish oxygen supplies on our shuttle?" she asks curiously. "That seems a bit short sighted of them."

There is the slightest of pauses on the other side of the communications linkage. "Yes, oxygen can be replenished in the shuttle. Ghostwheel can show you how. I… forget." Fiona replies tersely.

"It has been a long time since anyone was here to remember," Aurora says agreeably as she climbs out of the hold and makes her way back out to the hanger deck. "Avarya, meet me at the airlock doors," she says over the comm. "Ghostwheel? Did you manage to figure out if this was Mandor Ways or Suhuy Ways? Or am I way off and this is neither?"

"I hear and obey, Mistress." Is the answer Aurora receives from Avarya. The silver sphere that is the Ghostwheel meets Aurora as she climbs upward from the cargo hold and into the main passenger-deck of the liner. ~According to the steady-state records, this is.. or was MandorWays.~ Is the response she receives to her three questions.

Aurora takes a step towards the airlock, then stops. Reluctantly-but as quickly as she can-she returns to the shuttle where Avarya is securing things. Shutting the door, she activates the controls for cabin pressure and oxygenation. Having never spent this long in an encounter suit, she goes looking for the manual to figure out how to recharge the airscrubbers and oxygen canisters in her suit.

The manual, written in ancient Thari, proves difficult but perseverance brings reward: it proves a simple matter of replacement, and placing the old canisters/scrubbers into a small capsule that will recharge them. The shuttle carries 12 canisters and 12 scrubber units, which is more than enough for 2 people.

"Ghostwheel? Take a look around the rest of the hanger while we recharge. See if there is anything interesting anywhere else-and make sure that spider thing is still asleep, please."


Sitting back in the cockpit, she stares out at the dark hanger beyond. Her Grandmother lived. Was it possible that her Grandfather was also somewhere in a cocoon? She frowns at nothing. "Grandmere? I have never thought to ask; my family's Ways… were they within Mandorways?" she asks over the link while looking pensively towards the airlock.

The darkness is lit with glinting flecks of rainbow. "Yes, but it was an offshoot Ways." Fiona says after one or two moments. "Mandor and I budded it as a wedding gift."

"Then I should be able to access them from here," Aurora replies thoughtfully. She moves to assist Avarya in replacing her suit's components. Snapping a new canister into place, she pauses suddenly. "Where were you and Mandor when our family was attacked?"

"We had gone to Yggdrasil as I recall." Fiona says. "Why do you ask?"

"Curiosity," she replies. Aurora does another check of her and her companion's suits and moves to exit the craft, picking up charged blasters on the way out. "Ghostwheel, we are moving to the airlock," she informed their glowing companion, and then she did just that.

The hiss and humm of the new components again fills her ears as Aurora walks across the pitch-black deck of the dock, accompanied by the crystal-clothed figure of Avarya, and the shimmering silverish sphere that is the Ghostwheel. ~There is nothing of further interest in the dock, Aurora.~ Ghostwheel reports as they do so. The strange crystaline block beside the double-doors bears signs of having been scraped as though with tools. The double-doors open soundlessly as Aurora approaches.

"What is this, I wonder?" Aurora asks curiously as she pauses before the block. If nothing significant stands out about it, she continues on into the airlock, blaster drawn-just in case.

Avarya and Ghostwheel do not appear to know, either. They both follow into the airlock. The external double doors hiss shut after about 1 minutes, and there is for the first time an external sound: a hissing, as of air rushing into vaccum. Then the internal doors begin to open. The first thing that appears is an explosion of light: yellow and gold, it rushes inwards like the dawn, temporaily blinding Aurora. Other sounds become audible: the chirp of birds, the rustle of wind in leaves. As her sight returns, Aurora finds that through the open doors is an overgrown landscape of tropical greenery, solid, without noticeable path. Yellow light is pouring through the leaves of the vines and plants that block the internal airlock doors. It is also noticeably hotter now. Sweat instantly starts to moisten her skin, for the crystal suits only compensate for the cold of space.

It takes her a moment to move, so surprised is she by what has been revealed. "Grandmere… it's a garden…" she breathes, then shakes herself. "Ghostwheel, can we get an air quality analysis? I'd be nice to get out of these suits, and while Avarya can breath anything, I'm not sure I can"

Avarya eyes the vegetation with a slight frown on her face. Only a slight hiss answers from the communications link to Fiona. ~Analysing now.~ Ghostwheel says. ~Interesting. All atmospherics are in normal human ranges.~

Aurora opens her hood and removes her helmet. "This is amazing," she observes. "After all this time…" She looks at the frown on Avarya's face and then back at the vegetation. "Scan for other life forms," says as she removes gloves and starts to remove the encounter suit.

The small chamber feels like a furnace as Aurora removes the crystaline suit: it is also moist, moist with humidity. Avarya removes her own suit too. Ghostwheel is silent for several moments. "Multiple lifeforms detected." He reports. "Carnivores and herbivores. No lifeforms larger than 20kg detected within range. Alert: communications linkage to battlestation has been lost."

"I noticed that," Aurora says agreeably. She carefully folds her suit so she can carry it in her helmet. A moment's concentration and she conjures a harness to carry the thing on their backs, as well a holsters for the blasters. She wasn't risking leaving the suits for some critter to tear up. "Let's try this." Then she pulls her small collection of Trumps and focuses on Kieran's.

The suit folds easily enough, though it remains bulky, and Aurora finds that her small act of enchantment has abundant energy available to it. It does not have the same feel to it as she has become accustomed to in the environs of Amber, but it feels better than the energies outside the Dyson bubble. The card does not cool as normally occurs.

"Damn," she mutters. Aurora puts the card away and regards Ghostwheel. "What do you think it blocking communications by radio or Trump?"

Avarya is not quite looking human anymore: her features are slowly sliding toward a leopard-like shape. The sound of wind in leaves, birds, and the pouring of sunlight all continue.

~The material of the Sphere we have entered appears to block such things.~ Ghostwheel replies. ~I have no data, but extrapolation indicates it could be a defence against the harsh environment that exists outside the Sphere.~

Aurora doesn't respond for a moment, as she is entranced by Avarya's shifting. "Um.. that makes sense I suppose," she replies finally. "Avarya? Just remember not to eat me."

The catlike face of her companion appears horrified at the suggestion. "Oh no, mistress." She says, her voice slightly different than previously. "I would never!"

"I was teasing," Aurora smiles. "Let me try one more thing, then we will explore." She closes her eyes and attempts to establish a mental link with Kieran across the vacuum of space. She doesn't expect it to work, she is merely being thorough.

Ghostwheel waits with AI patience. Avarya scents the air with her newly-feline nose.

The attempted linkage strikes the black crystal of the sphere and stops there. Despite her best efforts, Aurora cannot penetrate the material with her thoughts.

Aurora sighs and hefts her pack onto her shoulder. "No good. May as well explore." She ponders the foliage and shrugs. "Forward." Aurora takes a moment to break up some foliage by hand. They need knives and transfiguration was always easier then conjuring. She takes the lead, cutting through the plant life. "Ghostwheel, it has been many lifetimes since I was in my family's Ways, and I was too young to remember if I was ever in Mandorways. But Fiona told me my family Ways was an offshoot of Mandorways. Would putting everything in this sphere have changed things too much? I remember a house of many doors all leading to someplace new."

~I lack the data required to provide an estimation.~ The AI replies across the connection between them. The plant life is easily dealt with, but instead of sap, what oozes out is a strange reddish-purple. The air fills with an unfamiliar scent as Aurora hacks enough away to reveal the ruins of an ancient building: there are stones and shattered parts of crystal scattered beneath the foliage. It appears the 'airlock' was once inside a building of some sort. As the sky is revealed, it becomes clear that the sunlight is coming from a massive structure in the sky, which looks like a tower of pale crystal, on top of which is a fiery globe of light. Avarya pads beside her feet as Aurora slices and dices

"Wow," Aurora says again with a shake of her head. This was so unlike what she had been expecting. "This is amazing. Can you get me some readings on that thing, Ghostwheel?"

~What do you wish to know, Aurora?~ Asks the sentient AI as Aurora eyes the massive crystal structure that rises from the 'ground' toward the middle of the sphere. It appears that the crystal spire is accessible from the 'ground' inner surface of the sphere, and there is gravity sufficient to hold Aurora in place, without her 'magnetic' boots.

"If it's safe to enter," she replies, eyeing the red purple slicked surface of her machete with curiosity and not a little 'ewww'. "If there's anything in there worth entering for."

Ghostwheel abandons the pull of earth and soars skywards, the silvery metal that forms his shape unfurling, to form structures like sails. The birds have fallen silent, and there is the sudden sound of a hunting horn, far in the distance. Avarya sneezes abruptly and her fur stands on end as she coughs, her features totally leopard-like now.

"The hell?" Aurora turns in the direction the horn sounded and frowns. It has been far longer then she likes to recall since she heard a hunting horn. "Didn't Ghost say there were only smaller life forms in here?" After a moment's hesitation, she changes her direction to that of the horn. She isn't afraid, they could protect themselves. But people meant answers.

Slashing more of the strange greenery, and collecting more of the purplish-red liquid upon herself, Aurora finds that the greenery gives way into a spacious area: in the middle of this space, a vast pool of blue water exists, which both bubbles and steams. It is a spring of some sort. The banks of it are surrounded with the decayed remnants of dead trees, but here and there, the dull matt-black of crystal shows through. Three streams lead away from the five-hundred-meter pool, and there is the sound of falling water. The sound of the hunting horn does not repeat. Ghostwheel lofts higher into the 'sky' as Avarya pads along beside her mistress.

Aurora looks at the landscape and decides the best path to intercept. She really doesn't want to walk through the pool. Though now that she considers, a hot spring is sulfuric, and that would have killed any greenery around it. She'll do what she has to. She arms a spell in one hand and hefts her blaster in the other. "Right. Let's go. Any poor bastard here is likely trapped. I can't imagine why else they would be here with no one else around." And off she goes.

This takes time, and another note from a hunting horn resounds through this strange alien environment as Aurora wades about the fringes of the pool, toward the waterfall that the Ghostwheel indicated.. The water ripples in the middle of the lake as she does so, as though something is moving there. At last she reaches the waterfall, and finds that the rocks there will make descent to the stream below difficult and slippery.

Aurora curses in several languages during the crossing. She warily eyes the rippling center until she steps onto the opposite shore and back on dry land. She continues watching as she walks slowly backwards from the pond to keep an eye out and make sure nothing comes out after her. She'd read Lord of the Rings, thankyouverymuch. Her clothing dries itself as she moves. When she's sure it's all clear, she turns back to deal with the falls. Again she curses. Avarya's ability to shift would allow this to be easy for her. Aurora makes a note to learn that ability. Chaos born she should be able to. Pondering the situation, she huffs suddenly. "Am I a witch or what?" Scouting the area of her destination, she spots a clear area and starts to teleport to it.

Avarya has begun to sprout wings, apparently not willing to enter the water. Aurora turns her back to the pond and begins to cast her spell of teleportation, from her stored spells. ~ALERT: water contains crystal mineral which interferes with scans. Undetected predatory lifeform detected in water!~ The Ghostwheel says with swift telepathic speed: the sound of a splash occurs behind her, even as the silvery sphere of the Ghostwheel darts down toward her from on high. The sound of strike meeting metal occurs behind her before Aurora can turn, and then the Ghostwheel spins into a rock, emitting sparks as he does so!

TOCConfrontation and Surprises

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