The Mariri floated, shimmering, encased, still in stasis, nearly eye level to Quasit. Two cherubic bodies, attached with obstetrical tail, linked in consanguineous symbiosis. Delicate, membranous wings upon each back afforded locomotion. Chubby arms and legs extended from sexless torsos, ending in long, utilitarian fingers and toes. Beautiful angelic faces, yet sombre with grace, care, and duty.
Pearl took a step forward, cocking her head as she examined the Mariri. The mechanisms weren't finished revealing the cargo however. It had one more sentient being to reveal.
Quasit spoke, almost reverentially. "The Mariri don't exist. They're legend. They're Yu Qi legend."
Nearly subliminally quiet, servos hissed open, revealing fine coating of tangent chemicals behind opaque PAH paracrystalline titanius haze. Pearl ran the CC, opening the cargo hold stringently; Quasit stood restively at her side, diamond eyes asparkle, thin lips curved upwards in a smile, always awaiting curiously.
Only at this point did the CC reveal contents as sentient, apperceptive, though still in stasis and behind security.
As the PAH haze cleared Quasit squinted, his mouth hung agape despite himself, as the floating bronze creatures uncovered.
"What?" Pearl asked Quasit. "What is is?" Amended. "What are they?"
Quasit sibilated, "Mariri. Beautiful Mariri."
Decked and plated, the cargo hold of the Phengodidae sealed hermetically, designed to withstand utter destruction of ship and crew. Codified, wrought to deliver automatically, relayed in more laconic redundancies than the CC itself. Stasis of .0001% degradation, life transportation or inanimate inconsequential. BQSBots responsible for contents, but remained elusive, blind sentinels.
Opening cargo demanded simultaneous retinal and DNA strand verification of both Quasit and Pearl. A multilayered delivery system meant delayed aperture openings. Rarely, but they'd had to do it on few occasions, and every time it reminded Quasit of penal colony security systems; memories he'd rather not dredge.
Pearl drummed her fingers along the baseline of the Com immersion system, only half engaged, when Quasit entered the bridge.
"We have almost less to go on now with the destruction of the Warship and the Mantidae. You've scrutinized the reports as well as me between drinking your whiskey and playing house with your monkey." Frustration caused her words to come out a little harsher than intended.
Quasit winced. Pearl's feelings for Chattsworth would never change, nor her disdain for spirit. "We can incinerate the cargo and jettison the ash." He wryly called her bluff.
Pearl scowled. Not an option.
Quasit didn't only treasure Zhendorian Whiskey for the exquisite sapid piquancy, but for it's tragic history.
When Zhendor Prime deigned itself an agrarian theocracy, those who produced, distilled from simple grain warred with government militants.
Although accounts differ, seemed herds of huge ghus, hexapedal omnivores were displaced due to grain reap. Unbeknownst to peasants, regime sanctioned hunters decimated, extracting the tusks of the ghus, which were then produced into powder, manufactured coveted aphrodisiac.
The resultant bloodshed never failed to amuse Quasit.
When Pearl signalled for him to meet her on the bridge, he handed his whiskey to Chattsworth to finish.
As time passed, repairs progressed, precious little revealed during info crunched of the Mantidae class ship. Pearl sat at her command station after the BQSBots announced dump complete. More like incomplete. Pearl could count the items on one hand. They'd gone to extensive measures to encrypt their data, and even with Quasit's programmed BQSBots, efforts were nearly in vain.
The Mantidae travelled the same route as they had, pre cargo and post cargo. Which meant they'd tailed us the whole time. Watching.
Built on Olis V. Which can mean something, or nothing.
They were the ones to rendezvous the Phengodidae.
The most annoying aspect of dock at Thenorion was all the advertisements delivered to the Phengodidae class ship. By custom, they couldn't be filtered out, so sprawling shipwide announcements from everything to handspun Yaelo Cottoncandy to Torbine E1Qe.4 Jade Cannons boomed over the com system, intrusive grams popped in all over the ship, nestled in designer façades and personalities, gaunt personae ranging from typical salespeople to scantily dressed tawdry nymphs touting extensive sex trade on Incaeria IV.
Quasit only extended minimal reach from the dock, saving time, otherwise allowed the BQSBots to do all the work, though repairs were extensive.
Pearl finally disengaged from her console, stood, breathed deeply, closing her eyes momentarily. When she opened them, she retreated to her private chambers. Austere and sparse, containing only a sleeping facility, regen chamber, except for a small hollow circular depression.
A little r & r. Removing her clothing, stepping briefly inside the regen chamber, her lithe, muscular body rippled, her reverent anatomy an agent of perfection.
Still nude, she stepped into the the incurvation, spoke to the CC. In moments, the BQSBots fashioned a simulacrum: a hulking Juadzai wielding a hematic fire axe. Pearl dropped down into a fighting stance.
Pearl watched patiently as the BQSBots chewed slowly on the data from the Mantidae, compiling encrypted information, linking to the communique they'd already received as their service contract, such as it was.
Pointedly, she wondered just what was contained in their cargo hold that was worth dying over, worth destruction of the Yu Qi Warship. Ultimately, she knew they'd probably have to uncover that particular anathema if they couldn't discover just who to deliver to. Discretion and confidential, rarely did they even want to know what they were transporting. Quasit's always more curious than I am. But a contract breach.
Finally satisfied with repairs, relative safety and a clandestine harbour in and amongst trading barges and merchant galleons, Quasit finally retired to his quarters.
The rectangular room was anything but sparse. Housing his collection of complicated interspecies flora and fauna, wrapping themselves around nooks and crannies, covered the shelf containing his antique technical manuals, dipping themselves in several cooling vents.
Chattsworth, pausing in his trimmings of said flora and fauna, warmly greeted Quasit has he entered, albeit nonverbally. Quasit in turn lovingly ruffled the Aelgoria Simian's rough crown of hair, and ordered a shot of Zhendorian Whiskey from the BQSBots.
Descending to a grimly pale moon, the Phengodidae class ship inputted correct clearance codes when asked by authority servers, flying low and slow under the surveillance net into an arbitrary orbit, vaguely aligning with the patchwork of civilization contained thereupon.
The moon, known as Thenorion, orbited Incaeria IV, a large trading colony most chaotic in nature, an urban centre renown for indiscriminate tastes, peopled with a grande dispersion of vendor and customer alike, while maintaining burgeoning and safe tourism quota. Thenorion and analogous satellites hubbed main service detailing and repair for anyone travelling to or from, extremely busy, easily forgotten.
For precious moments, the vessel hung in space. Quasit nervously monitored all sensors for any inbound ship, simultaneously running as much interference and cloaking agents on the ship's systems. He didn't think for an instant his tactics would fool another Warship, but on the off chance, it couldn't hurt.
Pearl drummed her fingers on the command console, intensively scouring the dispersed debris field with the BQSBots and the CC, garnering from the ruined Mantidae all extant intelligence without deciphering it yet. We'll have plenty of time to analyse later.
Quasit motioned to Pearl. So impatient! "Time to leave," he declared.
"The Warship's obliteration will send signals to the Yu Qi in no time," Quasit judged heatedly. "The place will be swarming with starships. We need to find a port quickly to lay low."
Pearl stood on wobbly legs, but her face was full of fury. "That ship could be our only link to the cargo. All we have is coordinates, our employers just committed suicide, remember? I am not going to let payment go down in flames with their ship."
Quasit infelicitously yielded. "I'll give 2 utes. That's it," he asserted haughtily, "then we leave."
Pearl nodded grudgingly in abeyance.
Drowsily, consciousness returned to Pearl. Burgundy hued emergency lighting washed the ship's Bridge in vaguely sanguine ambience. She rubbed her face dazedly, trying to make the dull roar in her head subside.
Slowly, the scene returned as Quasit groaned in front of her, the safety webbing a fading memory. She growled a groggy command, and the CC responded with a monotone and depressing ship's status report.
She addressed Quasit with as much urgency as her foggy state would allow, "We need to scan the debris field for anything we can glean from that Mantidae."
Quasit rebutted angrily. "Are you kidding?!"
Chaos ensued. The Phengodidae, even though she tried to manoeuvre clear, shuttered in the wake of destruction. The Mantidae cut a sheer swathe through the Ecitoninae Warship of the Yu Qi, splitting her in half. The resultant explosions rippled through space, throwing debris and detritus in horrific spirals.
The Ragusea, caught in the tempest, flailed. The BQSBots flurried, initiating emergency protocol, IE1A2 safety webbing catching, harnessing and anaesthetising the only two sentient crew members securely.
Utter annihilation encompassed the two fulminating ships, a maelstrom of death, plasma fires, antimatter breaches tunnelling like a tidal bore through the fabric of space.
Uncharacteristically, Pearl wavered. Her heart told her to cut and run, but her head told her if they did, the Warship's attentions would divert to the inferior Phengodidae.
Quasit watched as the Mantidae shuddered, orange, red, purple fires exploded, spreading across her inky blackness like fists of an angry god, lightning arcing. The Ecitoninae, vengeful and wrathful, decimated the other ship. But the Mantidae somehow managed to recommence firing her IKE cannons, and sped towards the larger Warship, intent on collision.
The Warship manoeuvred, but her cumbersome stature prevented deft movement. The Mantidae caught her, detonating like a genocidal warhead.
The Ecitoninae erupted, but compensated the massive breach by aligning her cavriant paratrinic quantum grid. Only then did she stop her hails and unleashed her full armament.
The Ecitoninae laser cannons fired with ferocious violence, proprietorial fusion photons blazed, azurecobalt antimatter depressor torpedoes dispersed, raining tumultuously down upon the Mantidae.
Pearl navigated the Phengodidae, torn between staying and fleeing as fast as their minimally restored ND could take them. The Ragusea rode shockwaves of disruption as a ship buffeted against a storm.
The Mantidae reeled, her IKE cannons finally ceasing momentarily. "Her shield array cut us loose," Quasit snarled contumaciously.
The relentless IKE cannons of the Mantidae pummelled the Warship before the Yu Qi realized what kind of fight they were in. The Ecitoninae reinforced their shields, firing laser cannons at full force, proprietorial fusion photons from dorsal positions.
Quasit watched on the external viewscreen, manually manoeuvring the Ragusea to Pearl's commands, aglow with the brute strength of the Mantidae, the brutality with which she fought.
The knot in Pearl's throat tightened as she watched the gunfight, how the Mantidae refused all communications, simply content with bloodshed. With grim satisfaction, she saw IKE rip a hole through the Ecitoninae's shields.
The Mantidae class ship unremittingly and mercilessly fired, rate of charge unparalleled. Her IKE Cannons much more efficient and proficient than the Ecitoninae Warship's laser cannons. The laser cannons' thoron recharge systems took too much time, and the Warship was unaccustomed to this level of ferocity. The Yu Qi kept fruitlessly hailing the other ship even under heavy barrages of IKE fire, but the ship's shields held. While the laser cannons recharged, she fired her photon rail torpedoes.
Pearl moved the ship 0.3 parsecs away from the fighting, in hopes of both maintaining a safe distance and the Mantidae's shields.
The Ecitoninae class Warship of the Yu Qi fired first. Her laser cannons emitting short, precise bursts at the cabalistic Mantidae. The energy wave struck the Phengodidae, and Pearl used the impetus to move into a more defensive position.
The battering had little effect on the Mantidae, visually unaffected "Our shields are up to 14% and ND is almost within minimal operational parameters," Quasit reported, "Our blanket defence remains unchanged."
When the Mantidae fired her guns, the Warship appeared unperturbed. But she didn't stop. Quasit, envious, stated, "She's firing Inverse Ke El Cannons."
The Ecitoninae vindictively fired back, cannons blazing.