As the Operation Outrigger storyline kicks off, here are some glimpses of activity aboard three of the ships setting out for the Horsehead Nebula. We’ve still got plenty of roles to fill for new folks who want to join!

Aboard Galactix:

Following the announcement to begin exploration efforts, Galactix can’t resist the chance to flex his exploratory muscles once again and experience open space. Ensuring an adequate supply of fuel, he departs Sol, heading towards the galactic Southwest, and what lies beyond.

“Yezzyezz,” mutters the Lotorian known as Vizgwyr as he lopes down one of the long corridors aboard Galactix. He’s got a PDA in one hand and a battered satchel slung over his shoulder. “Excellent!”

“Welcome aboard.” Galactix’s voice says.

“Many thankzzz, big talky ship!” Vizgwyr replies, sliding to a stop outside his quarters. “Glad to be here, yezyez!”

“Glad to have you aboard.” Galactix says. “We are on our way, so if there is anything you might require, don’t hesitate to ask. We’re setting course for the Horsehead Nebula”

The Lotorian walks into his small bunk area, shoving his satchel below the cot where he’ll sleep. He ponders what Galactix said, then replies: “I’ve been wondering, yezzyezz. Why is it called Horsehead? I have seen images. What horse on Earth looks like that?”

“A very good question.” Galactix says. “Though from their history humans have a tendency to try to find images in almost anything. Though if I were to compare the shape to an actual creature, the “sea horse” seems to be more fitting.”

“Something tells me it won’t look much like any kind of horse, the closer we get, yezyez,” Vizgwyr muses. He settles onto his cot. Tugs the satchel out from below. Starts rummaging through his meager belongings. “If help you need, just shout, yezyez. Like to earn my keep.”

“Very true. It is, after all, simply a gas cloud in space.” Galactix says.

Vizgwyr finds something that looks like an ancient vacuum tube – the kind of gadget that might be found in one of the old cabinet-style televisions. He cradles it in his slender-fingered hands. “What you think we find out there?”

“A question with potentially infinite answers.” Galactix says. “At a minimum, we may find worlds suitable to colonize. We may meet races and civilizations as of yet unknown to us. Space phenomena that have never been observed before. And given that vile creature that eats ships, potentially hazards we have not even conceived of.”

“Oh, that big chew-chew thing. Very bad, yez-yez,” the Lotorian agrees. He turns the tube over in his hand. “So, what you need doing? Things broken need fixing?”

“At the moment my systems are fully operational, however before we departed I acquired several sensor probes and a used shuttlecraft in case they are needed once we reach our intended destinations.” Galactix says. “They are, however, notably second hand, and likely in need of repair. Would you be able to go over them and ensure they are in working order?”

“Yez-yez!” Vizgwyr tucks the tube back into the satchel and hops to his feet, tail sweeping back and forth. “I do this!”

“Very good. You should find all the materials and tools if you require them.” Galactix says. “They are in the hangar bay secured in berths one and two.”

The Lotorian capers down the corridor toward the hangar bay. “Must get to work, yez-yez!”

Aboard Vanguard recon ship Zheng He:

The “bridge” of the recon vessel as it were is bustling with quick activity. The men and women manning the consoles of the small Stellar Consortium recon ship are busy with their tasks, as one man sits reading over a coded message that has been beamed directly to his console at the con. “New orders,” the Lieutenant says, as he reads, “The Consortium is sending ships to the Horsehead nebula to find a secure route through the region. We have been ordered to support elements of the fleet and keep an eye out for Parallax incursion. Ensign Inokori lay in a course for the nearest refueling station. We will take on fuel and provisions and have a brief leave before we get fully underway.”

“Aye, Captain.” The Ensign replies, as he glances over the local scans and then sets a course for the nearest Consortium contracted fuel station. The recon vessel’s engines come to life and push the ship off on its journey.

Sitting on the edge of his bunk aboard the Zheng He, Armand Levante holds his prayer beads and mutters to himself. Eyes closed. Leaving behind a life he’s glad to forget. In no hurry to return to it. Worried it’ll follow him just the same.

As the ship is fueled, the command staff of the vessel undergo a shift change. As his relief arrives, the Captain of the Zheng He — Lieutenant Gordon Thrum stands slowly from his chair and stretches his back. The man turns to the newly arrived second in command, and quietly says to his subordinate, “I had mentioned earlier that we would take a brief leave, but apparently HQ wants us in the Horsehead as soon as possible, so we will be lifting off once our Quartermaster is aboard with provisions. The helm has plotted the quickest course to the nebula, though we will be making a brief rendezvous with a fuel ship to top off just outside of our patrol zone. Barring any complications we should be on station in two days.”

The layout of the Zheng He leaves little room for any personal space. The Bridge of the ship as it were is really simply the helm, communication, and command consoles placed fore of the main equipment the Zheng He carries: extremely sensitive scanners and probe control infrastructure. Immediately behind the heart of the ship is a short gantry that separates the galley from the crew quarters. To save room — and encourage spacemen to be on duty in alternating shifts — there are not enough bunks for all of the crew to sleep at the same time. This corridor terminates in the engineering section. A small door to the left leads to a hatchway ladder that leads to ‘officer country’ which consists of a communal sleeping area (not even the Captain of the boat gets his own quarters) and bath facility.

The total crew of the ship is thirty, including a detachment of five marines whose job is ship’s security and who act as away team security.  The close quarters — which the crew will live in for up to three months at a time — require some level of constant supervision in an attempt to head off any conflicts that might erupt between crew members owing to the tight living arrangements.

Because of the design of the ship, when Lieutenant Thrum leaves the bridge to head back to his quarters, he has to pass right by the crew quarters. On his way he notices — and it is hard to miss owing to the fact that everyone aboard the ship live in such close quarters — the face of one of his new crew members. “Levante, right?” Thrum asks as he comes to a stop at the portal to the crew quarters. “Bridge crew, right? Or, are you with sensors? I’ve a mind like a sieve when it comes to assignments for the new arrivals. Usually just put Ensign Deol in charge of that.”

“Ensign Armand Levante, yessir,” the young man says, getting to his feet with a quick salute. “I’ve got some bat experience.” Bat’s common parlance for sensor crew. “Mostly sims, but I did work for a few months at Citadel Base. Military traffic control.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Ensign. I do hope you have some familiarity with ships weapons as well, as…on a ship this size that is one of your responsibilities should we get into a fight. I don’t know of a recon ship of our class ever actually engaging their weapons, but…if you need we can make a stop in an asteroid belt and get you some live fire training.” Thrum replies, leaning against the corner of the upper bunk.

“Yes, sir,” the ensign replies. “I’d appreciate the practice, sir. Never had to do much as aim a cannon from Citadel, although we drilled on it in sims from time to time.”

“That is about what I figured. Missiles are the order of the day aboard the Zheng He, but we do have a couple of mini guns that we’ll give you some work with. Should have time before our refuel. You’re on in fifteen minutes though, I’ll see about getting Sensors to set up a couple of sims for you to run during your shift. Can’t imagine too much will happen during this jump.” Thrum says, before he asks, “Any questions you have about the ship, or me, or your crew mates?”

Levante gives a pale smile. “I haven’t been acquainted with everybody yet, but I don’t get too attached. Price of moving around a lot. Looking forward to this trip, sir. Can’t wait to see what’s out there.”

“More space,” comes a low, gruff response from the back of the room as Marine Corporal Verx pulls a massive pair of boots onto his massive, scaly feet. When he rises up to his full height, he flashes an alligator grin. “Evening, skipper,” he says.

“Ah, evening Corporal. Corporal Verx, this is our new Comms officer, Ensign Levante. From…Earth? I take it? Spent some time on the Citadel, going to teach him how to shoot cool guns in space.” Thrum says, introducing the pair to one another.

Levante nods, looking up to the Zangali. “Hey.” Then back to Thrum. “Earth, sir. Yessir. Miami.”

“Sirs,” Verx says, providing a salute as he thumps to a stop near the two officers. “Looks like there be no shortage of time for practice based on what we seen last few weeks.”

“While we are sitting with the Rucker, getting fuel and last minute supplies for a deep run we will be doing some training for our new Ensign, and perhaps a little boarding party action for you and your men, if I can get the captain of the Rucker to agree to it. Figure they have a bit more room to do ship boarding and it would be interesting to see how well our sensor and probe nerds hold up against an assault.” Thrum says, slowly grinning. “But, that’s all dependent on what I can get the Rucker to put up with. Likely they have some stick in the mud spacer who doesn’t want us shooting guns within a light year of his precious ship.”

“Ready when you are, sir,” Levante replies with a smile, clasping his hands behind his back.

“Can find ways to train without live ammo, sir,” Vrex says with a curt nod, “Shouldn’t be too hard.”

“Oh of course Vrex, I didn’t mean for you to come in with your marines and murder everyone. Not yet anyways.” Thrum says, smirking just a little bit. He then nods to Levante, “Well, you are up, we’ve just made the jump though, so I suspect your shift will be spent reading literature and running a sim or two. I’ll speak to the Sensor boys about getting that set up. As you both were.” The Lieutenant says, before ducking back up the way he came to talk with the folk in the sensor section.

Levante nods after the departing Thrum, then looks up at Vrex. “First time shipping out with him?”

“Yes, sir,” Vrex replies with a nod, “Though I’ve heard good things.”

“My first time with him too,” Levante says. He looks up at the ceiling, then around at the bulkheads. “Nice boat, all in all.”

“A little cramped,” Vrex says as he ducks into the corridor, “This is my first time on a long-range recon.”

The human nods, walking out behind Vrex. “I’m looking forward to the break.”

Vrex steps into the armory, and seeing a couple of marines within, he calls out, “Officer on deck!” They both cease their tasks and snap to attention.

Aboard the Rucker:

The Llivori journalist, Irinu Oothen, unpacks her gear in the supply closet that passes for quarters aboard the monstrosity hauling her toward history.

She assures herself that it’s worth the relative discomfort to be first on the scene of new discoveries, to talk with fellow explorers as they dock to refuel, and to learn more – first-hand – than she could ever dream of learning back home on the provincial world of Kamsho.

She’s one of the privileged few sent by the Consortium Broadcast Network as embedded journalists for Operation Outrigger. Colleagues argue that she’s probably squandering her talents in the depths of the Milky Way Galaxy. After all, with potential war brewing between the Consortium and Parallax, and possible conspiracies involving the Pirate King of the Fringe, home turf seemed more promising.

But if she wanted to cover close to home, she never would’ve left her homeworld in the Ancient Expanse. She craved the unknown. She’d leave gossip-mongering, political intrigue, and war – if it ever came – to the folks back home.

Miranda Lee, captain of the tanker ship, reads the request from the Zheng He once more, just to make sure it wasn’t a misinterpretation. “No, that definitely says he wants to shoot around my ship and practice boarding maneuvers,” she mutters to no one in particular. She’s about to say no goddamned way when she remembers the journalist embedded aboard the tanker. A mischievous grin creeps across her face. “Sure. Why not?”
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