Black Shuttle of Chaos

At this point, a redhead who is not Fiona appears from rainbow light beside the broken and damaged black shuttle in the quarantine area. She wears a crystal containment suit and a silvery globe hovers above her shoulder.

Fiona or not— red-head or not— the sudden appearance of another person in the room causes Aunna to twitch visibly: Her once relaxed posture tenses as she turns in her seat, one hand closing around her sword hilt reflexively.

The redhead eyes the ancient shuttle warily, as if afraid it is going to collapse any minute. After a moment she turns, looking around the area until her eyes fall on the stranger. "Excuse me — I need to speak with your AI. Tis — one of our AIs — believe it is in need of repairs, and —Tis, get me out of this blasted suit while I'm in containment, would you?" She gives the brunette a crocked smile. "Anyway, it's rather urgent. I'm Aurora, by the way."

She uncoils slowly and resumes her casual slouch, once again a picture of careless ease. "Ariaunna," she says. Then with a small nod toward her companion, adds, "Khoralysse. Both on the verge of being bored senseless."

"Yeah, I imagine so," Aurora muses. "You could ask Tis for something to do," she offers, then gives Ariaunna an assessing look. "Or I can let you help. Here's the deal; Way back when that shuttle was new, someone built a Dyson Net around the Logrus to contain it. It's massive. So much so that it has an event horizon it's pulling us into. We have less then nine hours to figure out the best way to deal with this. Fiona was working on a Trump engine to get us away, but she's in the infirmary now and isn't going to be getting up anytime soon. The best scenario we have for an escape is to jump to light speed which will in all likelihood destroy the Net and free the Logrus. Computer simulations make that actually a better idea then I first thought."

Aunna looks at the woman next to her. "Seems a more interesting gamble than seven card stud," she says, standing. "You keen?" Without waiting for a response, she starts toward the shuttle, tying her hair back in a knot as she goes.

The woman seated next to her nods, also rises to her feet, and follows. Khoralysse has long black hair and eyes of a dark midnight blue. She looks fragile, and all she has is a robe.

The redhead gave the back of Ariaunna's head a baffled look as she falls into step, not sure what the other woman meant by 'keen'.

"It's called Windseeker," she tells Aurora. "And weren't you just over there?" Now that she's moved closer, the redhead looks more familiar.

"Yeah," Aurora nods as she follows along. "Julian and I, and Avarya." She eyes the shuttle as they near it and there's a hint of amusement as she continues. "Windseeker? I was sure it was Enterprise. There was mention of cocoons on your shuttle. Do you know who they are?"

The brunette's step hitches slightly mid-stride, then resumes its cadence. If the redhead notices, she doesn't say anything.

"Khoralysse was in one," she replies with a hooked thumb back over her shoulder. "I'm thinking she's one of Faiella's line; possibly Deirdre's based on her talk of hunting Weir. The other," she juts her chin toward the cocoon next to the shuttle door as they approach, "male caucasian, lineage unclear since Kieran said he was unfit to be released."

"Really?" Aurora frowns. "I thought the cocoons healed all ills. Even my brand and tattoo were gone. I mean, we were freakin' dead. How's someone not fit to be released?" She wanders off track to the shuttle entrance and goes to look at the unfortunate person in the cocoon for herself.

"He wasn't inside the shuttle when it was recovered," Aunna offers. "He was floating outside, on a tether."

The petite redhead frowns again. "Bizarre. I can understand why some of the ones we found were buried under yards of sand after 5000 years, but this is the first one we've come across that was bobbing in space. I'll have to remember to add that to my list of questions for Windseeker."

The young boy in the cocoon cannot be more than 8 years of age. Though his expression is peaceful in sleep, there are sores there that indicate plague.

"Oh, poor baby," Aurora murmurs sadly as she leans down for a closer look, searching his features for a hint of who he might belong to. "Ghostwheel told me of this plague. It was horrible enough to image an infected adult. That children suffered so…" her voice trails away, her mind on the plague so long ago that took so many so young, including her own.

Khoralysse speaks for the first time, her voice quiet and soft. "Ariaunna says there is a cure."

Aurora straightens and faces the other woman. "Yes," she responds. "But as far as I know, only one person has been successful with it. We will have to take him to her." She cocks her head to one side and offers a faint smile. "I didn't mean to be rude earlier. I'm just a bit preoccupied at the moment with the station. I am pleased to have more sleepers awakened."

"I am pleased to be awake." Khoralysse says. "Though it is all quite strange."

"I know," the redhead smiles. She runs a hand through her hair now that the suit has melted back into the crystal floor. "We'll try to answer your questions as soon as this crisis has passed. My husband also has many questions still. But first, we have to get ourselves free of our current predicament."

With that she continues on her way into the damaged shuttle, the silvery sphere bobbing along with her. She pauses and looks back at the boy in the cocoon. "Tis, can you set a subroutine working to search the database of sleepers and see if you can find an Alexander of Huntington? Son of Julian and Aurora. Date of death fall of 1104. Huntingdon, England, Shadow Earth. In the Universe of Julian's birth. I found Julian here in Chaos. If our son is also here, I need to find him before we are forced to flee or destroy it."

Aunna follows Aurora into the Windseeker, hands sliding into her back pockets as she goes. She's markedly quiet for a few strides, then gestures with a head nod toward the cockpit.

"The mainframe is in there."

"Thanks," Aurora says. Focused on her task, and not knowing the other woman, she doesn't realize there might be anything noteworthy about Ariaunna's silence. She strides forward, twisting her mass of red-gold curls back with one hand. From the air she pulls a gold crescent shaped clip with the other. With the smooth ease of long practice she secures it in her hair as she steps onto the bridge. The brunette leans a shoulder against the wall and waits instruction. Aurora pauses a moment to compare it to the bridges of the white shuttles she's been on. Aurora looks up at the silvery sphere that has accompanied her. "Ghostwheel, are you familiar with this design?"

"Affirmative." The silvery sphere that hovers at her shoulder replies in the voice of Merlin, though the bridge appears different to the shuttles Aurora has seen before. Khoralysse eyes this with obvious misgivings. What follows is an hour of cleaning and replacing the components that can be replaced and running powered-down system tests of each memory module under the guidance of the Ghostwheel. At last, Aurora rolls out from beneath the main console, and it is time to reactivate the AI of the shuttle. The replaced speakers crackle momentarily.

"Windseeker recognises passengers ident Ariaunna and ident Khoralysse." The AI speaks clearly for the first time, even as the words also appear in Thari writing on the small display between the two pilot seats, and the voice is an unknown one, though male. "Alert: unauthorised biological and AI detected on deck. Query: status?"

"I am Aurora," the redhead replies. "Chaos born Daughter of Eve and Kadman, and Recognized as Empresses by the Omega Protocols. The AI is the one known as Ghostwheel. You are currently in the hanger of the battlestation Fury which is caught by the gravitational pull of the Logrus. I have some questions that you may be able to answer about the current condition of the Logrus."

There is silence for several moments, which must be an eternity for the AI. "Response: Omega Protocol activation requires total destruction of central command and all recognised biological authority. Query: this is the case?"

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel replies.

"Activating Omega Protocols." The Windseeker says. "Sequencing available. Command authority over this Chaosian shuttle granted to passenger ident Ariaunna. Query: unauthorised biological ident Aurora recognised as Empress of Omber by Kolvirri Battlestation ident Fury?"

"Affirmative." Ghostwheel replies again.

"Administrator Ariaunna: please confirm?" The Windseeker says.

The brunette: who's remained leaned against the wall with arms folded for the exchange: looks up at her name. "Confirmed," she replies. "Answer her questions, please."

"Thank you," Aurora says with a nod to Ariaunna. She turns her attention back to the AI.

"Are there adjustment mechanisms built into the Dyson Net surrounding the Logrus that would prevent its collapse if the Fury jumped to light speed from our current position within its gravitational pull?"

"Affirmative." The Windseeker replies after what seems to be about 1 second of silence.

Aurora purses her lips thoughtfully. "Ghostwheel, please go out on deck and inform Tis that we can get out of this without Fiona. Ask her to let them know in Medbay so the poor woman can have time to actually heal."

The silver sphere that is Ghostwheel promptly soars forth from the flight deck.

The redhead tapped her finger against the console absently. "Windseeker, do you by any chance know which one of those spheres is Kadman Ways? Although now that I consider, it might be Bariman Ways."

"Notification: Sensor array repairs required before Waymap assessment." The Windseeker replies.

"That doesn't surprise me," Aunna notes with a wry smirk as she shrugs off the wall. "The system was in poor shape when I patched together the distress beacon. The sensor array is likely on the same board."

Aurora blows her bangs up. "Let's get to that then," she says and starts to work removing the panel.

Just as she begins to work, the voices of Kieran and Julian come from the air. Aurora stops and gives them her attention.

"We have found a way to escape the event horizon without messing with Trump," she says. "How is

Aunna glances at her hostess, then with an inclination of her head indicates she's willing to work on the wiring while Aurora talks to Keiran. The redhead steps out of the way and moves to where she can converse with the two men.

The other man speaks: "She is dying, Aurora. Kieran suggested to me that she might be under a Blood Curse, and I took a closer look. I agree with him, though what form or manner of Curse, I cannot say. Her Pattern Imprint is damaged as a result. I believe it can be repaired, but it entails a certain level of risk." He pauses, "She will die if we continue as we are with her treatment, stasis may not help in this. There is no — technological way to repair her Imprint, but if she is allowed to walk upon one, or is carried, it should make her whole again."

Aurora becomes unnaturally still and silent for a space of heartbeats. "I know you, Julian," she says tightly. "I am not going to be in the least bit pleased with the answer to my next question. Which one of you is carrying her?"

"Julian insists that he should be the one." Kieran says mildly. "I disagree, but have not yet identified an error in his logic."

A tired and stressed out Aurora explodes. "How about the fact that we just found each other again! Dammit, Julian! Not that I would be any happier to have Persephone's father doing it instead of my husband, mind you! Agh!" Then she falls quiet again and it is a moment before she speaks. "Actually, if anyone should be doing it, it should be me; I think I'm the only one here actually related to her."

Finally Julian speaks in his slow and careful fashion. "Do you not think I have considered that, Aurora? That I did not consider your life, Persephone's and Kieran's? That I did not weigh the variables and choose whose life was best spent on the effort and whose was not? Not wasted. Spent. I love you dearly, Aurora, but would I be the same man you knew if I let someone's Father take a risk that was greater than my own." Julian shakes his head, "It is not a matter of blood. How often have you walked the Pattern? How skilled are you in its use? I can do this, but I would by lying if I said stepping onto the Design was not a risk."

"You're someone's father too," she reminds him. "I believe in my heart that Alex is out there; cocooned like the rest of us were. The got me in a different Universe then the one I was born too, and brought me to an Amber I only knew as a word on a page. If they picked up me, then they surely picked up the son of Prince Julian. Our son." Julian had heard that tone in voice before; it was the same near strangled tone she had when they said good-bye when he left for the Crusades. There were tears just below the surface that she is fighting to not shed. "Don't you dare leave me again, Julian. Not now."

"Regardless of who accepts the risk of the Pattern, I am not persuaded that this plan is our best action." Kieran says at last. "The stasis coccoons apparently shielded Fiona from her curse for millenia. The side-effects mentioned previously may be less troublesome, and placing Julian's life at risk in the hope that it will cure Fiona.. no. I do not agree. The question I oft ask myself is, what would my father do?"

"She did not have potential brain damage when she went into stasis." Julian responds. "Benedict was a pragmatist. On the field of battle none of his decisions were motivated by sentiment, and his temper was very difficult to rouse. Corwin inadvertently drew down his wrath when Benedict found his retainers murdered, but that was a very personal matter. There are more than just a handful of lives on this vessel, all of them potentially reliant on Fiona's recovery now, not later."

"Aurora? How viable is your solution? Can we afford to trust Fiona to stasis?"

Aurora slowly and silently lets out the breath she has been holding. "Endangering the one who apparently has the best command of of the oldest Pattern on this ship strikes me as poor strategy," Aurora says after a moment in her matter-of-fact lecture tone. "And if something happens to you during this — scheme, Julian, we are down by two. Put Grandmere back in stasis; as Kieran pointed out, the cocoon apparently shielded her from the effects of her curse before, and the cocoons can heal her physical damage. I remind you that we were dead or just seconds from its icy grasp when we were all cocooned. No, they aren't meant for short term healings, or every little thing. But she needs to be in for weeks to recover from all the damage she's suffered since she woke up. We can research how to help her in the meantime."

"I considered the stop gap my Pattern might represent," says Julian. "There is a Pattern in this vessel as well. I am confident it can be done, but again, the Pattern is always a risk. She cannot remain in stasis for long I fear, at the very least, one of the brains — the AIs — should monitor her very closely. We were dead, but none of us were cursed. She is your Grandmother, Aurora."

She pauses a briefly before continuing. "My solution is very viable. It is the same principle as escaping a Black Hole's gravitational pull. Once all the repairs are done that the AIs are conducting now - in perhaps an hour, we will be able to jump to light speed and escape. Assuming that the adjustment mechanisms within the Dyson Net are still functional, the Net and Logrus will be unaffected by our jump. Even if they aren't, Tis ran a simulation of what the effects would be on the rest of this Universe. While it would destroy Chaos, the rest of this Creation would actually thrive. Ask her to show it to you down there. After you put Fiona back into stasis."

"Then, with our solution, there is no reason for the risk. I did not know you had one when I arrived at my plan." Julian sighs softly, "As long as you trust it to work, Aurora. My usefulness ended when Fiona was, at least, stabilized. Maegara, belay the harness. Make ready to put Fiona in stasis, and have her closely monitored."

Aurora's scowl is reflected in her voice. "If I ever hear you say you are not useful again, my Lord Huntingdon, my displeasure will be swift and loud."

"I have missed swift and loud displeasure for — Lo, these many years." Julian replies in his even way. "You know what I meant. My grasp of science does not extend to — science fiction."

Kieran listens gravely. "I hate to say it: if this light-speed solution was possible, why did Fiona fail to consider or mention it?" He asks, apparently playing the devils advocate.

"It is entirely possible that she didn't know to ask," Aurora opines. "Fiona is not an astrophysicist or an astro-engineer. Not that I am either, but while her interests have seemed to be more in the realm of, shall we say, ground based sciences and mental disciplines, I have had a love of astronomy and the space sciences for centuries. Grandmere is a Pattern based Trump Artist. I am a Dreamer.

"Have faith, Kieran." Julian pauses, "If for some reason there is need, I will hold things off with the Pattern, and Kieran will have to follow through with my plan, or you will. Though I would prefer that it be someone that knows the Pattern can be traversed, that has at least one success at it behind them."

"I have been assured by the AIs that we can jump to Light Speed from a standing start in two seconds," Aurora informs them. "As long as it is done before we enter the Schwarzschild Radius of the Logrus and the intertial dampers are functioning. We have hours, and Tis informed me that the dampers will be repaired in…" there is a pause as she consults her inner clock. "Perhaps another hour. They have been performing staggered repairs since we got caught in this."

"Ariaunna is repairing the sensor array on the Windseeker as we speak. We will be able to get a Waymap assessment. Perhaps there will be time to make a quick jaunt to my Family's Ways before we go."

Julian says, "Of course. Light speed away from the Schwarzschild Radius. Naturally."

"Certes, it is obvious, the Schwarzschild Radius. Remiss of me not to see it." Kieran says, a smile in his voice.

Julian speaks to Aurora, "What do you hope to find in your family's Ways?"

"I don't know," she answers slowly. "I suppose some sign that they were there. That we were there. Something I can take up and hold in my hand and say 'I remember this.'" She sighs and there is millennia sadness and centuries of loneliness in that one small sound. "That was before I discovered how much time had passed since my father hid us away. You saw what was left of Mandorways, Julian."

The sound that follows is suspiciously like a sniffle. "Put Grandmere in stasis and come back down here so you and Kieran can get out of those suits. He can monitor things from the bridge. I can have Tis create monitors in the quarantine area and we can speak through the ship if we need to. Unless Kieran just wants to join the party down here."

"Stasis it is, then, to buy Fiona further time." Kieran says, and relaxes slightly. "I will monitor things from the bridge, as you request, fair one."

"Thanks, Kieran," Aurora says warmly. "Just put us all on system wide comm when you get up there. Tis should still have that simulation running on the bridge so you can see what I was talking about. If there is nothing else, you boys have things to do and I should go see if Ariaunna needs any help."

"No need," Aunna says, sliding out from under the console. "Windseeker, initiate Waymap Array." She does not get up right away; fingers laced across her abdomen, she watches Aurora with a calculating expression.

Aurora turns in surprise when Ariaunna speaks. "Oh. Well. Alright." An eyebrow quirks up at the other woman's expression. "What?"

She shruggs, not bothering to change her position on the floor. "Didn't say anything," she says. "Although if this event horizon is as unstable as was expressed earlier, do we honestly have time to go relic hunting?"

Aurora shrugs. "I don't know yet. I'm not doing anything until I know the intertial dampers are all repaired. There may not be time." The redhead blows out a breath. "This whole plan is a long-shot; but it's the only shot we've got," she confesses. "Julian's harebrained plan didn't account for Fiona's recovery time, or the fact that she's so physically damaged right now, even if it did remove the curse on her, it isn't going to heal her and might have killed her. So unless one of you are some sort of exalted Trump artist, that plan is out. Unless Windseeker has a way to escape the pull of the event horizon, this plan is all we've got. Ghostwheel suggested we evacuate to the Ways, but the Fury would still be pulled in, and there's a Pattern on this station. I could be wrong, but that strikes me as the same as mixing matter and anti-matter. Boom. We'd just be exchanging one fiery cataclysm for another."

Khoralysse speaks diffidently. "I am an Artist." She says. "But what does exalted mean?"

"Better then your average Artist," Aurora replies. "If Fiona was having trouble…" she gestures vaguely. "She was trying to build a Trump drive, but according to Ghostwheel, the problems lay in the fact the Logrus is warping the local time flows. With the size of this station, each —side —is operating in a different flow. I suppose the problem isn't finding one with an exalted knowledge of Trump so much as one that can think of something Fiona, I , the AIs and Ghoswheel couldn't."

Aurora's gaze falls on the control panels of the Windseeker. "Windseeker; how many AIs are on this ship?"

"One." The AI replies. Ghostwheel speaks then, sounding far more human than the other AI. "Aurora, if I may suggest: I can build another copy of my own architecture and copy the Windseeker's AI across before his current infrastructure fails."

Aurora turns a look of annoyance at the construct. "Why didn't you mention this before? When you were telling me why the Trump idea was not going to work?"

"I had not solved the technical issues at that point." Ghostwheel replies.

Khoralysse eyes them all as though they are speaking ancient Greek.

The Windseeker also speaks. "Sensors online. Scanning… scanning…" Says the AI.

TOCSearching and Preparations

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