The Dawn Voyager sat in a spaceport on Bliss, waiting while its crew enjoyed drinks in a cantina across town. Jack Yorke sipped his whiskey at a table with Oeh-Wje, watching his crewmates relax, unwind and try to forget what they were told only weeks before. Basta was swapping stories with the bartender, talking about past customers and drinks they’d made. The chatter of automatic rifle fire from the adjoining gun range was Har-Bak training Roar-Ree on how to use his new rifle. BOB-5 sat in a corner playing cards; miraculously enough, he hadn’t shot anyone for accusing him of cheating yet. Stefan was sitting and chatting with Cassi, who had just been hired on as a waitress.

Yorke smiled. He was proud of his crew; they’d come through the past few months together, performing quite nicely despite the rocky beginning. His peaceful reminiscence was cut off by the muffled beeping of the tablet in his coat. He looked at it, and then caught BOB-5’s eye. Their employer was calling.

It was time for the Dawn Voyager to once again sail the endless skies.

Yorke put a few Aught down for his drink and got up, walking out to the curious stare of his drinking buddy. He walks through the streets, navigating his way back to the spaceport with one hand on his pistol. This wasn’t exactly the safest area on Bliss. His path took him past the still-ruined mansion of Syra Iben, driving the point home once again.

Yorke walks into the Dawn Voyager and turns on the communicator. The image resolves to his employer, the enigmatic being known as Lloyd.

"We've found a couple leads on more Keys," he says, "But we need to investigate some more. I really shouldn't have made the location algorithm so complicated. In the meantime, we need to throw Risir off the scent. For that, you're going to be having some unrelated jobs between finding the remaining Keys. This one is a simple smuggling run from Toka to Bliss. You'll be met on-planet by a Drothian who I think you're familiar with. Your crew can sober up on the way."

"Won't take too long to get everyone on-board. Anything else that I should know before taking off?" Yorke asked, waiting for any additional information to be given.

"No. That will be all for now, Yorke. Contact me when you're done with the job and ensure that you don't come back with two near-death members." Lloyd said before the transmission ended. Leaving Yorke to making a call to the rest of the crew.

"Har-Bak. I need you to get the rest of the crew back on the Voyager." The sound of firearms going off was heard in the background along with a shout.

"Now, that's what I'm talking about Roar! Keep that up and you'll be taking down the fools that mess with us in no time." Har-Bak sounded ecstatic as he cheered the Lupiness on through with training.

"Seems like you're having fun there, but you're going to need return the ship."

"Yeah, we'll be there in a minute. I'll tell everyone to pack up and get ready to take-off. Where we headin' to? Need to tear Bob away from his drink somehow."

"Smuggling operation, Toka to Bliss. And apparently it'll be with old company, but I'm not very familiar with Drothians. Got any ideas?"

"Nada. See ya soon."

As Yorke cut off his transmission, something just hit him. It left an unpleasant thought in his mind and freaked him out. "How the hell did Lloyd know that we were..." Speaking his mind out loud and trying to think of a reason, but none being reasonable enough to make sense. The idea stuck with him, but he shook it off as just a lucky guess, but couldn't shake the feeling that Lloyd was still watching him.

As the rest of the Dawn Voyager crew returned to the ship, they saw their captain awaiting them. "Been a nice little R&R, boys, but it's time to get going!"

"The mission is simple; we'll be smuggling something. From Toka to Bliss, and we'll be meeting up with a Drothian there."

At this, Har-Bak raised his hand. "We got any idea what it is we're smugglin?"

Yorke shook his head. "Afraid not, Har-Bak. Lloyd didn't tell us, and I don't think he will if I asked. Any other questions?"

Nobody else stepped forward, so Yorke continued. "Alright then; Basta, chart a course for Toka. Let's move!"

Everyone went their stations as he Dawn Voyager prepped to jump for Toka. Basta inputs in the coordinates, and the Voyager was on its way.

Stefan went back to the medical bay and got some of his gear ready.

"Glad to see you're doing well Cassi," thought Stefan. "Maybe one of these days I'll ask you." He puts a small box near a shelf, and leaves the room.

Roar-Ree and Har-Bak were in the armory prepping their weapons for the next mission. Stefan enters the room and sits down on a chair.

"Hey Stefan," greeted Har-Bak as he puts a couple of mags in a pouch.

"Hey Har-Bak, Roar-Ree." replied Stefan.

"Stefan," Roar-Ree gives a nod.

"You still have my MK Har-Bak?" asked Stefan while looking at the two.

"Yup, got it right here." He picks up the rifle from an open locker and hands it to Stefan.

"I'm surprised you didn't want to get a new weapon Stefan," said Roar-Ree. "Who knows what we may be up against this coming mission?"

"Alright crew, 'fore we head off to Toka, here's a few friendly reminders 'bout the place if you don't know much about it. The air is unbreathable for you fleshies, so bring your rebreathers, oxygen masks, whatever, just prepare for it. Secondly, even if you see the hottest lookin' fish babe you ever saw, don't go near her or inside any brothels, pimps on this planet ain't to kind and from what I hear, tapping that slimy pussy will make you never wanna leave. Finally, be careful of what ya fuckin' eat, drink, touch, and smell, you'll either die or get really, really high. That's not to say there ain't any damn good liquor or sea food, from what I hear. Now, with that out of the way, let's get to teaching bitches how to swim." The Dawn Voyager's pilot wasted no time activating the PA system after sitting down, spouting what was either non-sense or valuable advice in his somewhat crude monologue that both amused and frightened some fellow crew mates.

"...Was that at all necessary, Bob?" A disturbed Basta remarked as she finished plotting the course for the water planet. BOB turned around to look and chuckled.

"Prolly not, but it couldn't have hurt, could it?" The synth chuckled again and with a few bells and whistles, the Dawn Voyager sped off to Toka.

The whole crew, led by Yorke, exited all at once after equipping masks from the ship's HAZENV suits. There were few problems exiting the spaceport, aside from the mass amount of weaponry carried by the group, but it was nothing a BCA permit couldn't solve.

Once the group exited the port, they were quickly greeted by the lush skyline and bright sun of Toka. Scantly-dressed female Niso greeted unfamiliar tourists.

"Seems like a nice place for a vacation." Stefan remarked as he looked around the area.

"Think about where you and your girl want to fuck later, Doc, we gotta look for our Drothian contact." BOB replied.

"You seem to have a smart-alack remark for everything, BOB." Yorke added on.

"Sorry, boss, it's just in me nature."

"It always was, BOB, no doubt about it." A somewhat familiar voice alerted the group as they turned around to view a Drothian smirking through his mask in the shadows.

"Bloody hell, cockroaches never seem to die. What are you doing here, Riker?" BOB replied.

"Just looking for a little ship called the Dawn Voyager, is all. C'mon BOB, you're not that dense." Staskav Riker replied as he came forward to greet the group.

"I was hoping for another Droth."

"Yorke, we're already acquainted, though not in the best way." Riker moved his attention away from BOB and to the ship's captain.

"We can forget about that, Riker. We're on different terms now."

"Glad to hear. I'm sure Lloyd already gave you all the run down on what we'll be doing, so, let's take a little tour, shall we?" The Drothian turns and leads them to one of the exits of the dome, leading to a small warehouse nestled within the poisonous atmosphere.

Basta made sure to keep pace with the others as she fingered her new pistol. Risir's Ira had nearly burnt her to a crisp. Sure, she was back in a state where she could navigate for the ship, but she'd rather be practicing with her Shespet on the ship. Bad enough she was a sub-par sniper, but now she had a second gun to master.

As she followed the Drothian, she felt the anti-anxiety pills kicking in, causing her to calm down a notch. This should be a simple mission, most of it would on-board Dawn Voyager.

Catching up to BOB, she asked him, "I already get it that you're not a huge fan of Toka, but what do you have against him?" She nodded in the direction of the Drothian who was leading them.

The synth grunted, "None of your damn business Cat. All ya need to know is that we don't like each other."

Deciding not to press her luck, she backed off. Clearly if she were to know about this, she would've already have known. If BOB wasn't on good terms with the Drothian, then maybe it was a good idea for her to not entirely trust him either.

Riker lead them into the small warehouse. Clearly, Riker was familiar with the place as he let them all in and took them through the aisles before eventually stopping at what she assumed was the cargo they were smuggling.

As the crew followed Riker, Roar-Ree approached Yorke and whispered, "You know this guy, Yorke?" Yorke nodded and replied," We've got something of a history with him. Let's just leave it at that." Roar-Ree nodded and stepped back as Riker came to a stop. He gestured to the cargo and said,

"This is what you'll be smuggling. Someone help me open the crate so you can see it."

Roar-Ree nervously adjusted his new assault rifle as he stepped forward. "I'll do it." Riker nodded and gestured for Roar-Ree to help him.

The two opened the crate, displaying a small metal box cushioned with what appeared to be several dried plants. "That box is your cover," Riker says, "full of medical supplies for some hospital or another. The plants are your real cargo."

"What are they?" Stefan asks.

"Those are Iasros fronds," BOB-5 says, "I've smuggled 'em during... previous jobs. When burned, they release a relaxant in the smoke. Most brothels will burn a leaf or two and pump the smoke through the vents, and a small bundle is excellent for taking down a target without killing them."

"The tin cyclops has it mostly right," Riker says, "These ones are genetically engineered to be addictive, which is why it's in such high demand."

"They... what?" Basta asks, shocked.

"You heard me, kitty," the Drothian says, "And in a government lab, too. The Merchant Party has enough wealth to buy off the large districts to vote for their policies, so this shit is legal. But enough with the exposition, this shit is on GalNet. Let's get these loaded and you out of my damn sight."

Riker and Roar-Ree slam the crate closed, and Har-Bak lifts it. Stefan and BOB-5 grab the second crate, and the group makes its way back to the Dawn Voyager. The crates are then stored and the Dawn Voyager is prepped for takeoff.

Riker walks out of the hanger. As soon as he's out of earshot, he picks up his communicator.

"It's on board with the tracker, Boss," he says, "Though the crew might be a little tough."

"You know this how?"

"Crew of the Dawn Voyager, boss. They're the ones who threw a wrench in your plans for the Flame of Ares."

"Profit from the theft as well as embarrassing Lloyd with the crushing of one of his crews... If this is pulled off, Riker, you can consider all your debts paid."

"Looking forward to it, Boss."

"Wait, what do you mean it’s going to be smooth sailing from here on out?" Yorke asked his robotic companion as BOB-5 finished flicking a few switches.

"You heard me, Yorke. Smooth sailing from here on out." BOB-5 proceeded to lift himself from the pilot's seat and made his way to the door. As we walked, BOB-5 caught his captain's confused glance. "Auto-pilot is going to take things from here. That route of yours provided a clear way to deliver these supplies and other ships are within the nearby vicinity."

"So we aren't going to be blindsided by a planet-busting ship or run into a moon-shaped space station?" Yorke continued to question, still confused about the idea of safety and relief the crew had gained.

"Moon-shaped what? Where the hell would you get a stupid idea like that?" BOB-5 asked as both men left the control room and continued down the hallway. Yorke shrugged as his response to the question. "You know I think these past few missions have left you a bit on the edge their boyo. The way I see is that you can; A: Take the time off to relax or B: Stare off into blank space waiting for god himself to appear."

The captain chuckled lightly, "Perhaps I have gotten a bit too focused on the idea of everything going wrong. And considering the past few missions, I wouldn't exactly call that an understatement."

"Maybe spending some time with Ol' Bobbie will get your mind off of shit hitting the fan."

"I think I'm going to take you up on that offer, BOB."

"Let's get situated first, shall we?" BOB asked. "My room?"

"I don't see why not." Yorke replied, the two walking down the hall and into the ship's elevator, heading to the lowest level of the ship, the cargo hold. As the elevator doors opened, the duo quickly got situated, BOB hopping up on a high desk in his room and Yorke taking a seat in the synth's chair.

"Anything to drink? I got Gae Bolg, didn't throw all of Basta's drinks out." BOB asked as he opened up and reached into his storage compartment for a cylinder shaped bottle of liquor.

"I'll have a bit, sure." Yorke answered, the synthetic handing the bottle off to his captain who quickly took a swig.

"So, what's on yer mind, cap?"

"You know the usual. Trying to avoid hostiles that want to kill us just for so much as breathing the same air and how to keep this little group of ours together." Yorke said as he placed his drink down. A smirk crossing his lips as he finished. "This isn't as bad it could've been at least."

"Working for Lloyd will do that to ya. You'll get used to it eventually."

"That reminds me though and correct me if I'm wrong, but you have never told me as to how you know Lloyd or if you've worked for him before." Yorke's eyes locked onto BOB-5 with a sort of curiosity hoping he could finally here the true story.

"Well, I have done my fair bit of work before and I might've done something for the man before, but nothin' you need to be concerned with. After all, I'm working for you now and you work for Lloyd; so I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same."

"You don't say. Good to know that I got something out of you. You've tended to be the whole 'I got a mysterious-past' aura radiating off of you. Guess I'm finally getting through that hard shell of yours."

The machine emitted what appeared to be chuckle before he began talking again, "I guess you might've started that process, but I might as well get to know something about you while we’re at it. How exactly did you know about this trading route? Haven't seen much law enforcement and based on information I gathered this place has little-to-no raider activity."

"Believe or not, I used to be a merchant."

"Merchant, huh? Don't care for them myself, I prefer getting my stuff from either Lloyd or dead bodies." BOB replied and chuckled. "So, why a merchant turned military man?"

"It's all in the family. Born into it." Yorke replied.

"Born on Earth right? What was it like back then?" BOB asks, curiosity evident in his voice.

"You have heard the stories before, right?" Yorke asked his brow raising and his voice with hints of confusion in it.

"Just the ones that parents tell to their kids at night. Haven't been much for cautionary tales, you know? And I much prefer to hear the stories from the source, they tend have much more flair to them."

"Well, most of them are true. Most of Earth has been ruined by wars, natural disasters, destruction of environments, acts of god, etc." Yorke his tone shifting to seriousness as the memories returned to him, "There are only so many areas on that planet that haven't been ravaged."

"The Habitation Zones?"

"Bingo. The Habitation Zones were designed with the sole intent of keeping the unhealthy shit out. Still they are limited in quantity and spread thin. Terraforming has been looked as a possible method to reform the planet, but nothing is concrete by this point."

"So then, how was your life on Earth then? You must have some family back there."

"Of course, I do. My family wasn't big, but only due to laws to control population. I had a mother, father and a brother. Father was the one who got me into becoming a merchant. Former member of the Terran navy tends to give you bits of preparation for those types of jobs. It’s also probably the best way to get off the planet. My mom was the typical housewife; strong, caring, supportive." Yorke smiled as memories returned to him about his days as a child.

"And your brother?"

Yorke went tense as the words left BOB's 'mouth', taking a few moments before responding, "Robert was the first to leave home between the two of us. He joined the Terran military and was deployed to Centur. When he delivered the news it didn't go well with my family and he never had much contact with us after that. He died a while back during the Centurion Civil war."

Har-Bak chewed thoughtfully on a cigar as he browsed a collection of books he'd picked up on Bliss.

Talk about a warrior poet...

He chuckles as he fondly remembers the constant complaining he'd done as a child when his adoptive father had forced him to read.

"Trust me, Har-Bak. Words are just as powerful as any bomb or gun." He'd say.

"I'll be damned if I end up some robed scholar in a temple over the front Lines!"

His father chided him. "And what's wrong with being a scholar, eh?"

Har-Bak ended up laughing hysterically by his bedside as he remembered. But then, he also remembered what had happened since then. Since the day before his conscription.

Damn....five years. He thinks I've been dead for five years now....

The laughing quickly stopped, from a euphoric burst of guffaws to a few mournful chuckles.

They say it's an embarrassment to see a soldier cry, but that's exactly what happened as Basta walked by Har-Bak's cabin.

As the Altaic looked in, planning to inquire about possible weapon training, she saw the Eurypt laughing at a human book with a large, snarling dog on the cover.

There was something odd about this laugh, though.

"Must be a pretty damn funny read to get you to smile."

"You don't know the half of it Cat," Har-Bak said, wiping away a tear, "What do you need?"

Basta held up her new pistol, "I'm not going into another fight fumbling with a new weapon. Now seemed like a good of time as any to get some practice in." She leaned up against the doorway, "Besides, I have you to thank for showing me the basics on the rifle, so a pistol can't be too much harder." She seemed serious about this, "So, can I get some help, or should I leave you to your apparently humorous readin?"

Stefan went back into the med bay and sat down on the bed. "Glad to see that you're doing well now Cassi," he thought to himself. "Maybe once I'm not needed here anymore, just maybe..."

He turns to look at the small box he put on the shelf. "I'll give it to her next time when we get a break again," he said. Stefan turned to his MK rifle. "Looks like I'll be using you again for the next couple of missions." He gently picked it up and started to do some maintenance on it. "How long has it been since I got you?" He pondered for a bit. "Hmm..."

Stefan got up and left the med bay. "I wonder what everyone else is up to."

He walked down the hall and spotted Roar-Ree casually sitting down in the mess area reading a book.

Roar-Ree noticed Stefan enter the mess area. "Ah Stefan, what can I do you for?"

Stefan pulled up a chair and sat across from Roar-Ree. "Just taking a stroll around the ship, see what everybody is doing."

Roar-Ree chuckled nervously as he set the book down. "Well, have a seat doc. I've actually got a question." "Go for it." Roar-Ree cleared his throat. "Well, um, I was wondering, um, would you say intelligence is a genetic trait?" Stefan tilted his quizzically, “I’m not entirely sure, Roar-Ree." Roar-Ree scratched the back of his head. "Oh. Well, I met this really sweet Niso girl on Bliss and-" "You didn't-" "No, we haven't, quite, um, "connected" yet. I heard that Niso can change the DNA of fetuses, and if we do "connect", I'd like to know if the kid will be like me, or like my family."

Stefan replied, "Couldn't you just have a Niso child?" Roar-Ree paused to think. "Huh. I hadn't really-Huh. Well, thanks doc." He chuckled. "Well, uh, enough about my girl troubles. How about you? That girl of yours doing OK? Casey, right?"

Har-Bak stood, stretching his back. "Cat, I'd love to help you. Thing is, I'm not entirely sure it'd be safe because, y'know, we're in space and I don't trust you enough to not shoot a hole in the walls."

Basta laughed, holstering the pistol. "Alright, I guess so. But as soon as we land, I want lessons."

"Fine. I'm going to get something to eat. Wanna tag along?"

The Altaic nodded, and the two left for the ship's eating cabin

"Tell me, Cat."

Har-Bak stopped leaning in the doorway as Basta grabbed herself a sandwich. "What exactly made you wanna leave?"

"Leave where?"

"Your home planet."

The navigator bobbled uncomfortably for a moment. "Depends; how about a story for a story?"

"Sounds like a deal, Cat. You go first."

Basta took a deep breath, she didn't really enjoy sharing the story about why she left her home planet. She had shared bits and bobs of it with those few who asked why an Altaic was tending bar on Ord Melul, but most of it she kept to herself.

"The reason I'm so good with navigation is because my mom is a highly skilled cartographer. She worked for several map companies, so we were a bit more money than the average household on Altiacia." She unwrapped her sandwich, "It was nice. I had good schooling, if I needed something, we could afford it."

Har-Bak crossed his lower arms, "Still not seeing why you'd want to leave. Sounds like you were in the lap of luxury."

Basta huffed, "Tradition made me leave, my dad was real stickler for it. My brothers got to pick whoever they wanted to marry, but when it came my turn my father had other plans."

The Eurypt chuckled, "There we go, now we're getting to the good stuff."

She rolled her eyes, "I was seventeen, I had come home from classes to find a family sitting in our entertainment room, chatting with my parents. They invite me in and explain that they were essentially arranging my marriage with their son." Basta's ears flattened against her hair in anger, "Then their son- I mean, 'my betrothed' walks in and introduces himself. His family was wealthy and were also traditionalist, so I was suddenly on the market." Basta took a vicious bite into her sandwich and began to eat.

Har-Bak's other hands now went behind his head as he watched, "The guy couldn't have been that bad."

The looked up at him as she swallowed, "That's the thing, he wasn't. In addition to money, they guy had good looks too, ripped as well. My mom even called him 'a prime example of the Altaic race'."

"Again we're back to 'why leave?'." Har-Bak pointed out, "It sounds like you hit the jackpot in the husband department."

"Sure, any bimbo would've gone through Skeaver space for him," Basta explained, "But I wasn't about to settle down with a guy I didn't love. Sure, if I was in heat, I'd pounce him in a heartbeat, but I didn't even know the guy!"

Within the Dawn Voyager's cargo hold, three small black boxes in the center of three crates filled with leaves measure the ship's velocity and position and feed it through a small Slip-Space tunnel to another ship. This one is spherical, with a diameter about three-quarters that of the Dawn Voyager's length. Its surface was coated in Vantablack, making it seem like a floating void in space. This ship, the flagship and namesake of the Black Eclipse mercenaries, pursues the Dawn Voyager, moving at about double its speed.

The Dawn Voyager's autopilot takes it on a detour, having received a signal from the Black Eclipse that a large-scale battle was going on ahead. The Black Eclipse then slides underneath the Dawn Voyager, away from prying eyes. Quickly determining that the optimal breach point is the shuttle bay, one level above the cargo bay where the target goods were stored.

"Okay boys," one of the mercenaries says, wearing armor coated with the same Vantablack as the ship, "There's a small freight elevator next to the elevator to the rest of the ship. We want to take that down to the cargo hold, grab the boxes, and get out. If the crew hasn't responded by then, we'll plant a few plasma mines and blow it to hell." The rest of the crew, wearing armor colored black and dark grey, signals their affirmation.

The crew of the Dawn Voyager, however, was not sitting idle. As soon as the Black Eclipse docked with the shuttle bay, the crew sprinted to their weapons lockers and grabbed their equipment. They stormed down, Basta taking a position on the catwalks to snipe while the other five set up and got behind cover on the ground floor. The shuttle bay door blows in, and the first wave of Black Eclipse mercenaries files out.

Yorke had become tense as the first wave of enemies had flung themselves through the doors, Shit. How the hell did they know?! He answered the sudden intrusion with a burst of rifle fire as they tried advancing upon the position downing two foes.

We managed to get into position at least. Looking forward he noted that BOB-5 and Har-Bak had taken the positions as ordered nearest the elevator with reasonable cover. Their job was to simply attack the first to burst through the doors and their heavy armor also would provide a fine distraction for the enemies. Still they maintained some distance from each other as not to be trapped in case of an emergency.

The center position was to be covered by Yorke, Stefan and Roar-Ree. They all had seen combat before and could provide perfect support fire for the occasion. If any got too close to Har-Bak and BOB-5, they'd take them out before they managed to inflict wounds. All maintained a bit of distance between each other for the same reasons with Har-Bak and BOB-5. Yorke has in center of these three men and he would occasionally shout out an order to Basta.

As expected Basta being the least experienced was kept the farthest away from action. This was also due to her role as sniper, she'd fire upon the enemies from a distance and would gain designated targets by either Yorke or one of the two in front.

Another round went off as Yorke continued to think about the formation and hoped it would withstand the assault. BOB-5 had unleashed a torrent of rounds which found a home in the nearest invader, killing him in an instant. His partner, meanwhile had taken the opportunity to fire several rounds into the next merc.

Har-Bak and BOB precisely created a choke point against the approaching mercenaries. As Har-Bak ripped through the crowd with the Trident Repeaters, BOB kept eliminating anybody that looked important.

"Hurry up, get that thing over here!"

Har-Bak briefly glanced up as several mercs with shields started to enter. He fired the Repeaters, but the ballistic shield held tight. The new enemies formed into a tight formation, covering all sides.

"Goddammit!" BOB prepared to equip his grenade launcher, but the Eurypt stopped him.

"Don't, I don't trust the explosion to not destroy the inside of the Voyager."

"Lloyd built this ship, laddie. It's not going to fall apart that easily."

Yorke, Stefan, and Roar-Ree fired upon and stragglers caught within the first wave. Some shots came across their position, but the three took cover. First waves tend to be the easiest. They're just trying to measure our strength here. Stefan quickly reloaded and glanced over the crates.

"Those shield mercs are going to be a problem!" yelled Stefan.

As if on cue, BOB launched a grenade towards the shielded enemies, creating a small gap within the tight formation.

"Hurry before they regroup!" yelled Roar-Ree.

"Ya don' have to tell me twice!" replied BOB as he reloaded his launcher.

"Basta, cover where needed and tell us if more enemies enter the area," said Yorke. "Stefan, Roar-Ree keep giving BOB and Har-Bak covering fire. Keep up the pressure on those shielded mercs!"

Basta fired twice at one of the Black Eclipse mercenaries in the phalanx, hitting her shield the first time and hitting her in the left eye the second. The training she'd done after her recovery had paid off.

She gasped in victory, and then gasped in pain. She shivered, trying to control her breathing. Her injuries left her in unbearable pain if she tried to breathe too deeply or too quickly.

As she gets herself back under control, BOB-5 and Har-Bak continue stalling the shielded mercs, Har-Bak putting pressure with his repeaters while BOB-5 used his new Annihilator Carbine to blast away their shielding in a torrent of antimatter canisters. Yorke's rail rifle spat bursts of bullets, which reacted with the air to create incandescent plasma slugs that ripped through any unshielded foes. Stefan and Roar-Ree took out any who got past them, letting them hold the hangar on even ground.

"Can we spare more Phalanx troops, Arndh?" the Black Eclipse field commander radios to his leader, "They seem to be more effective than our grunts."

"Sure," the Revnorian replies, observing the battle on the monitor, "It seems Lloyd hasn't lost his eye for talent. Sent in another couple squads."

"God damn cunts!" BOB yelled as he rapidly fired at the remaining merc grunts in the shuttle bay. "Reload while you can, everyone! If Black Eclipse has anything to spare, it's men. They'll take a goddamn junkie off the street and give him a gun if he's willin' to fight."

As the crew finished reloading their weapons, sweat ran down their faces as they all aimed their guns at the bay door, waiting for the next wave of troops to storm in. Silence broke as the march of men poured into their ears, and a plethora of Phalanx troops came in, guns blazing.

"Har-Bak, keep pressure on 'em with those repeaters, I'll finish 'em off with this bad boy. Basta, be sure to take out any sneaky ones too, I only got one good eye! 'Ey Scorp, don't you got quite a few?" BOB chatted as he relentlessly fired at the enemy mercs.

"Now ain't the time for talking, Bob." Yorke yelled over the gunfire and laid down shots with his rail rifle.

"At least they stick out like sore thumbs." Keeping her breath in check. Their outfits caused to them to stand out when they were in the lit areas, but through her scope, they looked like silhouettes. I'm shooting fucking shadows!

Firing a round, she aimed for the head-shape of a Black Eclipse member trying to flank her team. While it ended up a bit low, the bullet found a new home in the merc's collarbone, more than likely shattering it. Reloading, aimed and fired again, nailing him in his upper chest and taking him down.

Shifting her aim again, she lined up the head of another merc in her sights as he ducked back down into cover. Come one...let the sniper play 'Whack-A-Skeaver'. As she expected, the merc brought his head back up to return fire. As he fired off a few rounds, a bullet carved its way through his face, sending him to the ground.

"Keep calling out targets that need some pain," the Altaic said she started to move to a new position, "I'm going to get a better angle."

Roar-Ree smiled as he fired a burst into the chest of a merc, who immediately collapsed. "BOB wasn't kidding about all these damn men!" One of the approaching targets moved into cover, narrowly dodging bursts of fire. "Basta, I got a target." "Yeah, I see him!" A round slammed into the man's head, and he slumped to the ground, dead. "Good shot." Roar-Ree paused briefly to look at the merc's armor. Why would you wear dark black armor in a firefight? Wouldn't that make you stand out? He turned, quickly returning to the firefight as more of the enemy poured in. "Seriously, how many of these guys are there?"

"They're getting slaughtered, boss," the field commander says.

"Well then," Arndh Becal, the leader of the Black Eclipse mercenaries replies, "Have them fall back. I'll take care of this myself."

Out in the hangar, Roar-Ree and Basta take several potshots at the retreating Black Eclipse.

"Should I send a 'nade after 'em?" BOB-5 asks. He starts loading one and then stops when a massive Revnorian walks out. Where the previous foe's armor was designed to draw the eye and intimidate, his was designed to push it away. The metamaterials coating the surface caught and twisted the light such that there appeared to be a warp in space-time around the being. Few could look at it for long without wanting to find a more eye-catching target. He stood with a staff, one end pointing at the Dawn Voyager crew, with a small dome on his left arm.

"We'll cut him down now," Har-Bak says. "Everyone fire now."

"Wait, that's..."

"Wait, he has a..."

But Yorke and BOB-5's warnings came too late. Stefan, Har-Bak, and Roar-Ree popped out of cover and started firing en-masse, while Basta tried to find a weak spot in the armor. Arndh Becal twists the end of his staff, and a web of monomollecular filaments shoots out. A marvel of Revnorian military engineering, the filaments are nearly perfect energy conductors. Within milliseconds, the area within the web - including the hail of bullets - is reduced to absolute zero, sucking all the energy out of the system.

The four look on in shock as the bullets clatter to the floor. Another turn of the staff brings the filaments back in, and Arndh flips it around to the other end. He presses a button, and a high-intensity infrared laser channels all that heat into a beam weapon capable of melting steel. It cuts the beams supporting Basta's sniping perch and she falls, hitting the ground hard.

The impact causes her to gasp in pain, which brings more pain with it. She starts breathing quickly, which only makes it worse. Eventually, she passes out. Arndh takes a leap, folding out the wings characteristic of the "hopper" sub-species of the Revnorians and charging at his foes. A quick twirl of the staff knocks both Stefan and Roar-Ree unconscious, and a swift kick followed by another staff strike does the same to Har-Bak.

Yorke fires a short burst at what should be the being's blind side, but he lifts up his left hand. The rounds all deflect or are stopped cold on the quantum shield, patterned after the ship-mounted model the crew had escorted to sell the previous month.

As he turns to face Yorke, BOB-5 fires at him from another blind spot, forcing him to react. "Don't take Arndh lightly, Yorke," BOB-5 mutters into his communicator as Yorke squeezes out another distracting burst, "He's one of the best combatants I've ever seen, and I've been around a while."

"The two of us working together are better, right?"

BOB-5 pauses as he grabs Arndh's attention long enough for Yorke to relocate. "Maybe."

"Well, guess we're going to have to try and find out then." Yorke nervously chuckled as he reached his new position of cover. He fired another burst round which Arndh quickly dodged the attack and turned his attention once more to the human. He prepared to aim his weapon once more at the target before BOB-5 fired a new burst and switched his attention before firing the weapon.

BOB-5 rolled out of the direction of the attack and fired. Causing Arndh's attention to slip from attacking and using his left hand to block off the rounds once more. Upon seeing this once again, an idea had occurred to Yorke as he reached for his communicator.

"BOB," He whispered into his communicator.

"Kind of in the middle of something, Yorke. Fighting the same insect that you be fighting too."

"It kind of pertains to the insect in this case. And it might help us beat him or at least fire him out enough."

A new series of rounds were heard as Yorke went over his plan in a quick fashion. "All we need to do is keep his busy. And when he raises him arm to keep the energy shield up the other one of us goes round back and fires off some shots."

"Seems simple enough and now that you're done talking you might want to help out a bit here, boyo."

Yorke burst from his cover and fired off a new series of rounds at the Revnorian which snapped its head back and launched itself at Yorke attempting to impale the human, but missing as Yorke rolled out of the way and ran to new cover as BOB-5 fired and distracted the creature long enough for his captain to reach a safe distance. This allowed for Yorke to also return his own fire.

Arndh Becal raised his shield again, blocking a burst of fire from the human. He feels another burst get absorbed by his body armor while he does so, and presses a second button on his staff, which is pointing behind him. A three-round burst of 1.95 cal bullets shreds through BOB-5 cover, narrowly missing the synth.

BOB-5 changes cover and fires, forcing Arndh to block. He sees the lighting of the room change from the plasma rounds Yorke fires behind him, and he flips his staff around and braces it against his exoskeleton, twisting it. The heat-conducting filaments spread out, catching the burst in its web. The bullets fall to the ground as it retracts, and Arndh presses the first button again. He swings the laser in a wide circle around him, forcing BOB-5 and Yorke to retreat farther back.

"I'm switching to my revolvers, Bob," Yorke says.

"What? Why?"

"I've shipped one of those things before. It's a Revnorian Kinetic Staff. One end of the staff absorbs all the energy from within a small web, which gets transferred to that laser. We fire with weaker weapons, he won't be able to fire the laser."

"And those bullets?" BOB-5 says, grabbing Har-Bak's ORG Lancer and firing a short burst.

"Those are new," Yorke says, firing at Arndh, "But the laser is the bigger problem."

"Gotcha, boss. Stay safe." BOB replied as the two began to fire at the Revnorian again with their newly equipped weaponry, moving around the room and shooting in different directions to distract the Black Eclipse commander.

"This guy's armor is tough as shit. We ain't gonna be able to kill him, captain." BOB remarked as he fired a short burst of plasma rounds at the insect's back.

"But we can wear him out, exhaust him. He can't fight forever, you can, and I...will just need a lot of water and a long nap after this is all over." Yorke replied to his cohort through his communicator, gunshots ringing as he blasted the Revnorian with his revolvers.

Smart, Arndh Becal thinks, Quick thinking, enough combat ability to hold me off... these guys are good.

He presses the second button on his staff, twirling it over his head at an angle. The massive bullets fly out in a cone, forcing BOB-5 and Yorke to keep in cover. He jumps, using his wings to gain altitude until he reaches the catwalks.

"I commend you," he says, "for figuring out how the Kinetic Staff works. But you made one mistake."

He fires the staff's projectiles, and then quickly flips it around and gives it a twist. The web of filaments ensnares his own bullets, transferring the energy back to the staff as heat. Another flip of the staff points the laser back at his enemies.

"I modified this for a reason," he says, and presses the button to fire the laser.

Are you kidding me... Yorke thought as the familiar sound of rounds being converted entered his mind & laser fired towards his position. He slammed himself against his cover, hoping that it would hold against the laser which found itself unable to cut through. Preparing his Peacekeeper once more to fire again at the Revnorian.

The Revnorian turned to face the robot the aimed and prepared to fire as Yorke's two rounds connected providing a momentary distraction needed for BOB to his own quick dash.

"Any ideas here, York?" BOB-5 spoke into his radio as he looked and then found a new bit of cover to hide behind.

"Wish I could say I did." His reply came through as the sound of several more rounds firing went off. "Guess we could always try aiming for that staff of his, right?"

"Well then, I hope you got some good aim because me working as a distraction better not cause me to go down."

Yorke rushed towards a piece of fallen catwalk as he heard BOB-5 dashing between cover and trying his best to distract the insect. Upon reaching, he looked around before he spotted what he was looking for. Moving piece of the fallen debris he took out Basta out from under before going in for the rifle which lay next to her.

Rushing towards a piece of cover, Yorke began to set up the rifle and looked through the scope. Scanning through the area till it landed upon Arndh who was still busy with BOB-5. The Revnorian getting closer to swing the staff at the cyborg.

"Bob, dodge!" Yorke yelled into his communicator as the cyborg bent down and the staff while Yorke's finger slammed onto the trigger letting a round eject from the muzzle.

The bullet hits the staff, flattening and falling to the ground. The impact does nothing to the weapon itself, but it takes enough momentum out of its swing to simply knock BOB-5 over rather than sending him flying. Arndh twirls his staff and goes in for the kill, only to freeze for a millisecond when he sees exactly who he's fighting.

Yorke tales that opportunity to fire again. The light-bending properties of Arndh Becal's armor throws off his aim, and he misses. He growls, and then punts BOB-5, who was bringing his gun to bear, and fires his cannon towards Yorke's position.

Yorke ducked and rolled away from the incoming blast, leaving him out in the open for a follow-up from Arndh, who smiled and began charging his staff for another laser as he hopped halfway to the captain's position.

BOB stumbled as he got up from the knockdown and readied Har-Bak's ORG Lancer before taking aim at the Revnorian.

"I'm gon' shove that fancy staff up your fuckin' ass when I'm done with you, Arndh!" The synthetic yelled over his wild gunfire, hitting various parts of the attacker's armor and staff.

"I'd like to kill you after your captain, BOB. Don't make this hard on me." Arndh replied, looking behind him at BOB and smirking, opening up a shot from Yorke.

Arndh jumped back and twisted his staff, catching all the bullets in the filament web. Yorke and BOB-5 duck under cover as he brings the laser to bear. A quick sweep would kill them.

"Duster, toss out your communicator," Lloyd says, speaking through the private channel installed within the synth. BOB-5 does as requested, and the communicator lands a few feet away from the Revnorian. "Have you forgotten about the non-interference clause in the Handler's Contract, Arndh?"

"Lloyd. I didn't realize these were your employees." Arndh says, powering down his staff.

"You should have at least recognized Duster."

"And he should have at least recognized Ard-Pol on the Flame of Ares."

"Article 8, section H in the BCA charter: A consensus of the founding members may overrule any other clause in this charter or in the Handler's Contract on a case-by-case basis. A consensus was reached amongst the living founding members to pardon BOB-5 in that case."

"Lloyd's the only living founding member," BOB-5 whispers to Yorke, "So he can effectively do whatever the hell he wants."

Arndh growls and glares at the communicator.

"Very well, then. We'll slap a couple repairs on the doors and withdraw for now. But expect to hear more of this in the Handler's Conference, Lloyd."

As promised, the Black Eclipse mercenaries drag their dead out of the hanger and hastily patch the bay door. Their flagship detaches and goes elsewhere, as BOB-5 and Yorke drag their companions to the med bay.

The rest of the journey continues uneventfully, with the group landing on Bliss. They were met in the hangar by Oeh-Wje, who directed the unloading.

"Some creepy guy with a hat told me to let you know that he'll be here in a moment," she says. "You going to be at the Booze Bullet later?"

"Aye," Yorke says, noticing Lloyd enter. "And it seems my employer is here. Talk to you later, Oeh-Wje."

"Nice you see you again, Lloyd." Yorke said waving at his employer as he made his way towards the human.

"Welcome back, Yorke." Lloyd took notice of the rest of the crew members either not present or leaving the ship. "Your troubles with the Black Eclipse appear to have taken a toll on your crew. At least this time it didn't require a visit to the local hospital."

"Any idea how they even managed to find us? That route was supposed to be clear and they didn't seem like the kind of heavily armed forces that need to pick at trade routes."

"Arndh informed me that the shipment contained tracking devices. He's apparently been hired for a long con involving these shipments."

"That makes sense," Yorke says, "There anything else you want to know?"

"No. Just letting you know you've been paid."

"In person, just for that?"

"No. I was here on other business. As soon as I finish that, however, we'll get on tackling the Risir issue. Go get drunk. Again."

The Dawn Voyager crew leaves, heading to the bar that was rapidly becoming their base on Bliss.

A woman walks through the streets of Bliss at night. Normally, this wouldn't be safe in the slightest; she'd be inviting robbery, murder, or worse just by stepping out the door. The woman, however, is wearing a jacket with a small insignia on the shoulder. The Vitruvian Man superimposed on an image of Earth. The symbol of the Terra Prima group. Thugs and other undesirables shied away from her when they saw it, if not through the fear of reprisals than through a simple sense of solidarity.

It was not unheard of for human women to join the Terra Prima party just for protection; most of the ones who could defend themselves had been swept into the Bliss Militia after the Insurrection. This particular woman was unique, in that she had an ex-militia boyfriend. Normally, this would let her get by without needing to join for protection. He was, however, off-planet for his work quite a bit.

The woman entered the bar she worked at through the employee's entrance in the back, turning her jacket inside-out to hide the Terra Prima patches. This establishment wasn't friendly towards them.

She changes into her uniform and clocks in to start her shift. She spots a small group entering, and her mood brightens. She waves over one of them with a genuine smile.

"Hi, Stefan. How was the job?"