The Dragon Queens

Chapter 17

Soven Vahlok- Medical bay 67

Cortana sat in the medical bay aboard the Soven Vahlok waiting for her turn for the operation. It was a procedure was being applied in an entirely new way. The idea of implants was not a new one, medical implants that powered themselves off of the hosts ambient magica were often used to mesh with prosthetic limbs and would allow the limb to function like the original, connecting it to the brain like their citadel analogues. The new part came by using these implants to house Machine spirits. Machine Spirits were very similar to AI save for one crucial difference, they were tied to their platform.

The Geth could float through lines of code that made up the Citadel Extranet and through the Vusnet (Nirn Internet) with the magica upgrade they had gone through upon joining, but a Machine spirit was tied to the machine, ship or armour they lived in. The difficulty was that Machine Spirits were autonomous unlike the Geth and could therefore be more portable and tended to have a faster computing power, they could be moved with hard lines so that was the plan. The implant was to house a greater Machine Spirit who would work in tandem with their biological partner and manage their suit functions and be able to be uploaded into larger systems and hopefully be upgraded to hack wirelessly like the Geth.

It had worked well with the lesser spirits and now it was time to test the Greater Spirits. It was a volunteer only operation for both the Spirit and the warrior, the spirit was undergoing an experimental upgrade to allow for wireless interactions using the suit and implant to project themselves into other systems and Cortana was waiting to be fitted with the large implant that would be the home of her new friend and several others to allow an easier integration.

“Are you nervous?” asked her neighbour, a brown scaled Argonian with yellow eyes and a head full of horns.
Cortana turned to look at him “I think we all are” she answered, looking around the room at the other volunteers. There was a Golden furred male Khajiit with one ear full of rings who fiddled with the hem of his off duty black shirt, a Nord woman who was flicking nervously through the hearthfire edition of Arms and Armours not really reading the articles. A Dunmer male had a copy of Mobius Dick that he seemed to be engrossed in, an Altmer female was reading the Second seed edition of Spells and Incantations (for those with the talent to cast them) with a relaxed air whilst an imperial male debated something with a Bosmer female, a snow elf male sat meditating and a Maomer was reading something on his palm comp.

A healer scholar came into the room wearing the pale green robes of a nurse or attendant “Lieutenant Commander Shepard Cortana, Lieutenant Wulf Lu’Cian, Commander Rendon-Gar, Captain Ice-veins Hestila please follow me.” She read out and the named volunteers stood, filing through the door into the medical bay.
“You have all read and signed the consent forms and sat through the orientation, this will be your final attempt to back out.” She looked over them and nodded as no one left “in the event that one or more of you should die during or immediately following this operation I shall perform your last rites, I pray they will not be necessary.”

She told them and Cortana nodded, it was standard procedure before operations and battle, the four of them knelt and the healer who also held the position of priestess of Kynareth held her arms over them in blessing “I commend your souls to Aetherius should you fall during this endeavour. May the blessings of all divines and benevolent Daedra be upon you. Let your journey to the realms beyond be peaceful and swift. So mote it be” she intoned and they bowed their heads murmuring the benediction before standing and following the healer to the four operating rooms.

As Cortana walked in she bowed to the team that awaited her dressed in white one piece jumpsuits with their rank on their right bicep. “Lieutenant Commander Cortana Shepard?” asked a motherly looking Nord woman with her face mask down.

Cortana nodded “yes, healer I am Cortana Shepard. I am ready to begin.” She said and the Healer nodded
“I am Chief Healer Karin Chakwas, this is my team and we will be performing the surgery on you today. I ask you to disrobe please and place your uniform in the drawer there” she instructed, indicating the drawer.

Cortana stripped without hesitation and placed her clothes in the afore mentioned drawer “This is the other member of the partnership you have volunteered for” Chakwas said indicating the small crystal viewer “you two were matched according to your psych profiles. Cortana Shepard be known to Ava. Ava be known to Commander Shepard” she introduced and the crystal pulsed allowing a small magelight avatar of a barefooted Breton woman with long curling purple hair in a sleeveless gown and with wings for arms appeared. Her feathers were a myriad of blues and purples whilst her gown was white and her human parts were flesh coloured.

“Greetings Ava” Cortana said, bowing to the small hologram who spread her wings and bowed back.
“She cannot speak as she is still in stasis for the operation, now are you both ready to begin?” Asked Healer Chakwas.

Both participants looked at each other before nodding and Cortana followed her instructions to stand in the middle of the rune circle on the floor. The healers activated the cleansing ritual and then guided her to the operating table. Cortana stepped into the currently vertical table and felt them strap her body down tightly, fixing various tubes to keep her breathing to her and rotating the table horizontal.
She felt the needle slide into the veins on her wrist and a tingling feeling swept through her veins and she felt her muscles relaxing as the cocktail moved through her system. The tubes took over her breathing as she lost consciousness and a rune placed over her heart continued to stimulate it and beat. Her last though as she slid away was that if this is what death felt like then maybe it was not so bad.

Chakwas looked over at Ava and nodded. The hologram faded and the crystal shed layers allowing it to fit into the chip that would be placed into the implant. Chakwas looked at her team who all nodded taking their places before she picked up her obsidian scalpel and began the surgery.


Cortana woke up slowly, drifting in and out of the waking world like a leaf on the tide. With each surge forward she became more awake. She became aware of the fact that she was in a soft hospital robe again and for a moment she wondered if she was back in the House of Rest, but her memories slid back into place and she remembered the procedure. She opened her eyes and looked around the room carefully and was immediately assaulted by the information from her ocular HUD implants, she felt her body begin to panic, noticed her heart rate, blood pressure and adrenalin levels increase drastically as her body fought against the sensations.

Sounds bombarded her from every angle and smells fought for dominances. She began to gasp and shake as the doors opened and Healer Chakwas entered and immediately dimmed the lights “calm down Shepard” she commanded gently “focus on my voice and breathe in… out…in….out” she instructed leading the exercise.
Cortana latched onto the healer, focusing with everything she had. It took ten minutes for her to adjust enough to the sensations enough for her heart rate to lower and her body to calm down. “Ok Shepard listen to me very carefully” Chakwas said quietly though to Shepard she sound like she was yelling.

“Ava is going to try and initiate contact with you know. She has fared well through her augmentation and yours were a success so far. Are you ready? Nod if you are, remember remain calm and breathe.” Cortana nodded, breathing deeply and evenly as she waited.

Slowly the feeling receded though the world still felt too full. There was a gentle clicking feeling before a gentle contralto voice spoke in her ear’‘Hello? Testing one, two, one, two. Trolls cause terrible trouble in a tantrum.’

Cortana choked a little at this before she giggled, still a little loopy from her drugs and the panic “Trolls?” she asked turning her head in an automatic movement as her body looked for the source of the voice.

‘Well I had to say something.” The voice said with the hint of a smile in it “I’m Ava, pleased to meet you Cortana Shepard.'<.i>

Shepard nodded “that makes sense, Pleased to meet you Ava” she replied before looking at the Healer “I’m hearing a voice who introduces herself as Ava so I assume that it is working” she whispered, trying to make her voice fit in her ears.

Chakwas nodded making a note on her slate. “Excellent.” She held out her stylus “Please grab this” she instructed and Cortana slowly reached out and after two miss fire finally grabbed the pen. Chakwas made a note the brought out a pen light “this may sting, but I want you to remain still” she told Cortana.

The light was almost excruciating but she held through as she followed the Healers commands through various motor control test from where she lay. “How are you feeling Ava?” Chakwas asked and the Machine Spirit answered with Cortana acting as an intermediary.

“Currently I feel a little overwhelmed Healer Chakwas. Whenever Shepard makes a move I feel the impulses going past my housing. I am seeing through her eyes, it’s very odd, I am essentially experiencing what Cortana is. Though I have no control. I feel a little helpless” the Spirit responded and Cortana felt concerned.

“Sorry” she admitted feeling guilty at having essentially trapped the Spirit in its own body.

“Don’t worry, maybe we can work something out” Ava told her and Chakwas smiled at the two of them, Cortana couldn’t help but feel that there were two of them now, since Ava could see through her own eyes.

“I want you two to get to know each other over the next day before we get you two into testing. Try to find a balance” She instructed before leaving the room.

Cortana fell back onto the pillows closing her eyes, “So how are we going to make this work?” she muttered to her new roommate.

“I don’t know, I’m at a bit of a loss right now as to how to process what I’m feeling. Is it like this all the time?” Ava admitted, sounding a bit vulnerable “I can hear what you are saying by the vibrations in your throat, they put a sensor down there for me to monitor you speech” she reported and Cortana frowned.

“Where else did they put sensors?” she asked curious.

“Pretty much all over your entire body, My job is to ensure that if your get hurt that I can know and can divert power to the appropriate runes in your under amour.” Ava said, still sounding unsure.

Cortana sank even deeper into her pillows “Fuck that’s a lot” she commented in a bit of a dazed voice.
“Are you still ok with this?” Ava asked in uncertainty “I Know, it’s one thing to read about it and another entirely to realise what is now under your skin.”

Cortana opened her eyes and stared at the HUD superimposed over her vision and she took a deep breath “No I’m good. And Ava?” she said “yes?” Ava asked sounding more confident, Cortana steeled herself and made an offer that she hadn’t extended to any but her Prolus nine years ago “Call me Tana.”


Training facilit

“Duck..DUCK….DUCK!” Ava screamed.

“I AM!” Cortana roared hitting the floor to avoid the swiping axe that would have bisected. “Calm the Fuck down Ava, I know what I’m doing” she told her partner.

“Yeah, but I have no control! You should try it and tell me how you feel then!” the hysterical machine spirit shrieked.

Cortana rolled to the side as the Centurion brought its heavy foot down where she had been laying. “You have got to be fucking me!” Ava screamed

“Just shut up and hack this bastard already!” Cortana yelled back blasting a lightning bolt at the centurion and jumping away.

“Trying…fuck, how do the Geth do this?” Ava muttered “aaaaaand Got it!” she cried triumphantly and centurion fell to its knees.

“Thank you, bout time” Cortana muttered charging an ice spike and blasting it through the automaton’s head. It fell with a clang and Cortana shrugged in her shoulders, checking for any strains or pulled muscles.

“Holy Meridia how do you handle that? I can feel the levels of Adrenaline in you right now, is that normal?” Ava asked in concern and Cortana shook her head, knowing Ava could feel the motion.

“No, I think because I could see everything faster I was more agitated, because the Centurion is much faster that a normal one too. Plus no armour or weapons.” She replied and Ava hummed.

“I wonder what it will be like with armour? This transmitter feels weird” Ava mused and Cortana agreed, rolling her neck around the silver an crystal choker that sat around her neck and walking over to the tester.

“Cortana, Ava how did that feel?” the Argonian asked and Cortana shrugged.

“A little awkward without my armour and weapons seeing as the object was to distract not destroy, I can adjust” she replied. Her choker glowed and the small magelight emitters projected the form of Ava standing on her shoulder.

“I agree that I can adjust, but mostly it was a problem of me to have no control, I think I’ll get used to it.” She reported and the tester made a note on his slate.

“Good, you two are our top pair so far in this program. But the techs at Blackreach have cooked up some new toys for the pair of you. Your orders are to go there and participate in the testing for equipment for the two of you.” He told them and the pair nodded.

“I hope we can get some other kind of transmitter, I feel uncomfortable having a collar” Cortana muttered to Ava who sent the impression of a nod. Cortana left the room and packed her bags and a mere three hours later was on a ship to Blackreach.


Parnack

Saren watched as the Yahg below him toiled. It had been nine years since he had arrived here to build his army. He had left several spheres in the hands of the pack leaders and now they were converted, He had found Sovereign by following the Spirit’s whispers and now the great ship sat on the surface, many of the Yahg had been taken and improved, just as Saren had been improved.

Something had begun to degrade his feeble organic body so Sovereign had replaced his flesh with metal, now he was stronger, his eyes could see farther and they didn’t hurt when the Voice spoke.

“You have done well Saren. Soon you shall lead your army as a tide for change and destruction. A new Dawn will appear, one Mythic in its proportions. Train your soldiers well for the bitches will not make it easy. Be ruthless my Servant”

Saren bowed his head “I will not fail my lord. The Queens and the Council will fall and the cycle shall continue.”


Citadel

Garrus walked through the hallways after his partner. It was his first day on the job and he was paired with a Turian name Jorus “Our job is to patrol Zakira ward, according to our jurisdiction that would include the bronze quarter but we leave that alone. The imperials can handle that themselves.” Jorus told him, striding forward confidently and Garrus followed.

“So what do we do if there is a criminal in the bronze quarter? Why is it called that anyway?” he asked and Jorus snorted “We never see any criminals in there because like I said, the Nirnians take care of it. But if you see a man with only one hand and a black x tattooed on his forehead then you know he has been caught stealing seven times. They’re big on leaving a message. As for why it’s called that, well Dwemer metal quarter was too much of a mouthful and the metal they like to uses is a little darker than gold, so bronze it is.” he replied.

“Why seven?” Garrus asked and Jorus shrugged.

“dunno something about it being luck I guess, so Irony?” he said unconcerned “they love irony” he added.
They turned a corner and Garrus felt his mandibles drop open in shock. The silver and blue of the corridor stopped abruptly at what looked like a pair of gold coloured metal doors carved with the Imperial sigil, they stood open and two guards in gold armour complete with helmets and a blue surcoat emblazoned with a stylized depiction of the citadel overtop stood on either side. Shields hung from their let arm and swords say on their hips.

“That’s the bronze quarter, I’m taking you in there so you can meet the Watch and know who you’ll be working with.” Jorus told him and walked towards the doors.

“Hail Jorus” called the one on the left and Jorus lifted an arm in greeting.

“Hail James” he replied and the guard nodded.

“Who’s the whelp?” the one on the right asked and Garrus realized it was a woman.

“Brelyna be known to Garrus Vakarian. Garrus Vakarian be known to Brelyna Corsus” Jorus introduced before adding “I’m bringing him to meet captain Coppercroft” the two guards nodded.

“Go on in, you know the rules, good luck new blood” Brelyna told the pair gesturing them in.
As they passed Garrus got his first glance of the Bronze quarter. It had once been a hanger or a warehouse, and a big one at that. But now it had been transformed. Stone flags covered the floor and the walls were dressed in a gold/bronze metal decorated with motifs and designs. Down the center ran a road lined with large stone flower boxes filled with flowers of various colours and shapes.

Small globes of light hovered over the boxes and benches sat near them lamp posts hung over the street with beautiful lanterns hanging from their graceful arches and high above banners and pennants hung. People walked through the streets, all dressed in typical Nirnian clothes, long dresses and tunic, robes and armour.

More guards similarly armoured as their fellows outside patrolled the streets and small golden arachnid automata scurried around underfoot, cleaning and repairing. In one corner he saw one drive off a keeper as it tried to dismantle a portion of the cobblestones. It reared up on its hind legs and hissed, sparks arcing between its front legs. The keeper scurried away and the spider began to replace the stones the keeper had tried to remove.

The road was lined with tall apartment like structures that reached the ceiling made from stone and metal. Many appeared to be housing and the further they went the more people they saw. After a few minutes they entered a circular space which appeared to be their version of a market. Stalls sat around the space and shops and café’s lined it. A large and official looking building sat to the left of the square and a fountain in the center with a statue depicting all the races including the Quarians, Krogan and Geth, dominated the pool. The air was filled with the sound of voices haggling, laughing, arguing and even music from a street musician.

Children laughed and ran underfoot while guards watched over everything with careful eyes. In the shadow of one building Garrus saw a figure in brown stealth armour sitting in the shadows, watching and he curiously stared at them. The figure looked up and noticed him, in a blink they vanished and he stared puzzled.

“Don’t bother, he’s Thieves’ guild.” Jorus told him and he looked at his superior.

“Thieves guild? They have a guild? Why didn’t anyone arrest him?” he demanded and Jorus held up his hand.

“I don’t know or understand it myself. But there is a whole code of conduct here, they see theft as a form of employ as long as you follow the laws of the guild. They teach how to pickpocket in their schooling, they see sneaking as an art form and skill just as much as sword fighting and magic. A well rounded education is focused around the three pillars of their society: The Warrior, Mage and Thief. These in turn each possess a collection of skills that are honed to a certain point and then a person specializes. A follower of the Clever craft is an intellectual or mage, a follower of the Stealthy craft is someone who prefers subtlety like thief or even a merchant as the art of selling counts as a stealthy craft and a follower of the Bold craft is that warrior, police or someone involved with the more martial professions. But these crafts cross over, like battlemages and so on. Do you see?” Jorus explained and Garrus frowned and shook his head.

“yeah, I don’t either. I just let them handle their own affairs, I really don’t want to get pulled into an argument about it with them, and besides the guards have an almost sixth sense about criminals, it’s downright scary sometimes. I once watched the guards hack a murderer apart. He was a Salarian named Saleon who liked to sell the organs of his victims on the black market. They tore him to shreds then burned what was left when he attempted to set up shop in here.” Jorus shook his head “anyway, let’s get you to Coppercroft, then we can continue on our patrol.”

Garrus nodded numbly and followed Jorus into the official looking building. The entrance had a set of steps that they walked up and found themselves in a long hall. A pale red haired man in fine clothes and a silver circlet sat on a small throne and listened to a Khajiit who seemed to be petitioning for something.

“That’s Governor Udina, decent man but a short temper. He runs the bronze quarter and answers to Voice Alkinus.” Jorus explained leading Garrus to the left of the hall and through a door into an office where a man with short cropped dark hair and fair skin in guard armour but minus the helmet sat at a desk, flicking through several sheets of what looked like paper.

“Captain Coppercroft?” Jorus asked, knocking on the door. The man looked up and narrowed his eyes for a moment.

“Jorus Barrcus right?” he asked and Jorus nodded.

“This is my new partner, Garrus Vakarian I’m showing him the ropes.” Garrus stepped forward and saluted.
“Don’t salute boy, I’m not your superior.” The Captain commanded then looked at Garrus carefully “Vakarian hey? No relation to Icarus by any chance?” he asked and Garrus nodded.

“He’s my father” he explained and Coppercroft grinned

“Ahh that explains it, you have his eyes. Well good to see you lad. Your father was well liked here, your name carries a good flavour to it. Hope to see good things from you lad.” Garrus nodded feeling a little overwhelmed “right, off you go lad, comeback after your shift and stop by the Spoon, they have the best mead on the citadel, Quarian and Nirnian, so you can try it.” The Captain smiled and Jorus led the stunned Garrus out.

“What?” he asked his superior, confusion in his pale blue eyes.

“They do that. The Spoon is Ysgamore’s Spoon, the oldest tavern on the Citadel, they set up as soon as Imperials were allowed on the Citadel. It’s a favourite among off duty legionnaires and guards. It’s also the source of the Wabajack incident. The first one, not the last three.” Jorus told him, striding back through the quarter, waving to the denizens who greeted him.

Garrus nodded dumbly and followed Jorus out of the vibrant Quarter and out into Zakira ward. The halls felt rather dark and cold after the Quarter and Garrus found himself wondering what their homeworld was like.


Shor’s Fields

Tali’Zorah nar Rannoch stood at attention with the rest of her fellow graduates. All of them deck out in their full dress uniforms, black fitted jacket over black trousers and tall black boots gleaming with polish green edging and piping with the purple strip representing Rannoch. Her sword and dagger sat at the precise angles and her hair was held back by two perfect braids that ran the length of her head. It was graduation for the Navy cadets and she stood in the place of honour as the top of her year in engineering.

A Dunmer in a uniform that dripped with medals and awards strode up the lines, his eyes roving over them, looking for even one hair out of place. Tali knew he would not find one on her and met his stern red gaze unflinchingly. The man nodded and performed an abrupt about face.

“OKAALAH OFAN FIR!” he bellowed and the entire assemblage stamped their right foot and clapped their left fist to their chest bellowing “FIR” and Tali felt a surge of pride and exhilaration at the feeling of being a part of such a maneuver.

A Tall Nord Woman in a black uniform with no piping but a single dark blue sash of the Praetor strode onto the podium and the nodded “AHST FORVEYK!”[At ease] she ordered and they all obeyed, in one perfect motion “Well done Cadets. You are here to graduate and become Mariners of the Aetherius Fleet. You have been a credit to your race in training and I know you will all be a credit to your Empire in the future. I am not one for speeches, but I will say this. This is among the first class that contains our newest member the Geth, Quarians and Krogan You are the symbol of the new empire and you shall embody what has let us endure for two thousand years, may we endure another two thousand. You now join the Aetherius fleet. You agreed to be the empire’s shield against the void. You are the ones who will stare into the abyss and wander the cold winds and currents of Aetherius. I Ask You All. ARE YOU READY TO SWEAR YOUR OATH?” she bellowed it and they all stamped their right foot.

“GEH” they answered and the Praetor nodded.

“OKAALAH OFAN ZIN!” She cried and joined them in their salute and replied of “ZIN!” two woman walked to the podium.

On the left stood Ayrenn in her full armour, holding the glowing bow of Auriel in her right hand her crown and armour gleamed in the sun and too her side stood Serana in her gleaming crystal armour, the arrows in her right hand sucking the light into themselves.

Tali watched them in awe, she had seen vids and pictures of the queens in full armour, but it was different to see them in person barely thirty metres from her. She could feel the power of Auriel’s bow and the charisma the two women exuded.

“Cadets, graduates, Members of the Empire. We thank you for your desire to serve the people.” Ayrenn began, her voice thrumming across the field, her Thu’um was so strong Tali felt it shake her ribs.
“We thank you for your willingness to lay down your lives in the name of safety for your people and we thank you for your commitment. We now ask you to take the oath of the Navy” Serana finished and the whole contingent of graduates knelt in one smooth practiced movement.

“My Empire is my purpose, my shipmates are my family. Never shall I be parted from them. I am their shield as they are mine, I am their armour, power and spirit as they are mine. To the death and beyond shall we serve and defend our Empire and our people. With the Gods and Ancestors as my Witness I shall not falter and I shall not break. I shall stare into the jaws of death, horror and the void to defend the innocent. With the blood on my hands I purchase their right to live freely and I purchase their right to peace and safety, I kill so they do not need to. Should death take me I will still uphold this vow. Until The Queens release me from this service, so shall I perform my duty.” Tali recited, she felt so strong and purposeful as she said these words and swore herself to service. Once they had finished they remained kneeling, heads down, waiting.

“We accept your Oath, Now rise, soldiers of the empire. Rise and join your brethren in defence of our people!” the Queens told them as one and Tali stood with her fellows “We welcome you, Mariners of Aetherius!” the Queens and their teachers cried and Tali knew this was her moment as the top of her year.

“OKAALAH OFAN ZIN!” she yelled at the top of her lungs. “ZIN!” her classmates saluted.

The queens smiled at them all and returned the salute and inclined their heads to the class, the closest the queens ever came to a bow and a gesture that conveyed their respect to these new soldiers.

Tali smiled broadly and held in her cheer until they were dismissed we grinned broadly and laughed as she grabbed one of her friends Gabriella Daniels in a hug “We’re Mariners now!” she cheered and Gabby grinned hugging her back tightly.

“Now what?” she asked excited and Tali laughed “My mother and father are meeting me and we’re going for a meal. You?” she asked and Gabby grinned

“hiding from Ken” she replied “but going for a drink.” Tali laughed “come with me!” she invited, “my parents already love you. They won’t mind” Gabby opened her mouth to protest but Tali put her hand over Gabby’s mouth “No, you’re coming and that’s final.” She commanded and Gabby sighed in good-natured defeat.
“fine, bossy lady. I’ll come” Tali grinned and practically frogmarched her friend over to where her parents waited.

Rael stood in his enviro-suit dress uniform and looked so proud, her mother had a beautiful long green robe over her suit and both could be seen smiling proudly through their clear visors. “Oh Tali I’m so proud of you!” Lia said, hugging her daughter fiercely and Rael copied the action grinning broadly.

“Now you’re in the Navy, following Quarian traditions are you?” he joked and she smiled at him fondly.
“Just keeping with the family tradition of being admirals. She replied and he laughed.

“True, now then who is this?” he asked, looking at the rather nervous looking imperial.
“This is Gabriela Daniels, She has no one to celebrate tonight with, Can she come with us?” she asked hopefully and Lia looked between the two of them.

“Is this the Gabby you’ve been telling us about?” she asked knowingly and Tali grinned while Gabby blushed.

“Yup” she replied and Rael laughed

“Oh don’t worry, it’s all good things, of course she can come. Let’s go our reservation is in an hour, you two can go drinking after.” He told them and they nodded, following him to the nearest teleportation hub.


Traveling

Tali reported to her Barracks office the next morning clean and pressed despite her raging hangover, ready for her first assignment. “Zorah, Tali” she reported to the secretary who nodded and entered the name into the system.

“Hmm, yes, it says here one Ensign Zorah you are to report to the western port for your transfer to Blackreach, you’ve been shortlisted to serve on one of the experimental ships they will be producing in son, you’re to be on the engineering team.”

Tali’s mouth was open and she stared at the secretary in shock as she loaded a light sheet with Tali’s orders and handed them to her.

“Close your mouth, you’ll catch flies that way.” The Secretary laughed and Tali took the sheet, closing her mouth with a snap. “Blackreach, right. Yes mam” she saluted and walked out to gather her things, she didn’t have much, just her dress uniform, her palm comp, her weapons and her light slate. All of this sat in her duffle bag that she slung over her shoulder and carried to the western port. She showed one of the officers her orders and she was directed to the proper dock, three hours later she was lying in an arcane capsule that allowed her to jump without a suit.

The jump was short, as Blackreach was near to Shor’s Fields so she only had to be in the capsule for twenty minutes. As soon as she was free she went to the observation room to catch a glimpse of the fabled shipyards and the heart of the empires mechanical industry. It started as a dot orbiting a system that contained three stars and four gas giants, it grew as the ship approached. Tali gasped as it came into view clearly, she had seen it in pictures and maps, but this was something else entirely.

The station was massive and consisted of a nine concentric rings orbiting within each other like a massive three hundred kilometer diameter gyroscope with massive gaps between the rings. The got closer and the rings were shown in more detail on both sides of the rings were massive cradles designed to hold ships for repair and construction. Three smaller station of a similar make with four rings each orbited the primary station like moons, all of them made of a gleaming golden metal.

Ships swirled around the four station like snowflakes in a blizzard. Warships sat in their cradles as automata and suited workers swarmed over their surface, barques carrying materials harvested from the tree stars they orbited. Small shuttles drifted between the rings that moved in their graceful dance and at the center of the rings was an asteroid, the first asteroid station, Blackreach.

Tali watched as the transport grew closer and closer, the pilot following a carefully choreographed path through the weaving shoals of ships. Nearly an hour later they docked at ring six. Tali thanked the piolet and disembarked onto the station. A uniformed orc waited for her, their palm comp projecting her name as a magelight.

“I’m Ensign Zorah” she informed him, sifting her bag a little higher on her back.

The orc grunted “follow me” he said in a surly voice and Tali nodded, falling into step behind him. He led her through the gold hallways, lit by overhead strips of light. The floor was made of a grey hued metal and her boots echoed as the clicked against it.

She held in her questions that bubbled against her teeth, but she held her tongue, knowing that she would get no answers from her guide. “In here” he grumbled at her, pointing at a door and she nodded, stepping through the sliding double door into a rather Spartan office.

A black desk dominated the midsized room and a window revealed the spinning, swirling dance that was Blackreach. A Redguard woman sat at the desk, reading something on a magelight viewer and she looked up at Tali as she entered “Ensign Zorah?” she asked and Tali saluted.

“Yes Mam'” she replied.

“Sit down Ensign” the woman instructed and Tali obeyed, placing her duffle bag next to the chair and sat herself down gingerly, watching as the woman turned back to her screen. “Ensign Tali’Zorah nar Rannoch. Daughter of Rael’Zorah Vas Rannoch and Lia’Zorah Vas Rannoch. Born 3rd Midyear, 8E424 on Rannoch, graduated from the Shor’s Fields Navy academy with top honours in class 8E44. Speciality Engineering and programing. Anything you want to add?” She read off and looked at Tali with a raised eyebrow.

Tali shook her head “no mam’ that is correct.” She replied, careful to keep her emotions under wraps.
“Hmm, do you know why you’re here Ensign?” she asked and Tali shook her head again. “You’re here because you are one of the finest engineers our academy has turned out recently. The best of the best are assigned to a very specific division. Tell me, what do you know of the Skalds?”

Tali stared at the woman in disbelief but answered the question as succinctly as possible. “They’re a myth, an order of heroes who do the Empire’s bidding, they are the best warriors, mages and rogues in the empire and they were made by the queens to go where the Blades and Eyes can’t.”
The woman smiled “all true except for one thing. The Skalds are real.”

Tali’s jaw dropped “they’re real?” and the woman nodded.

“And they need ships, with people to crew them. So the best are given the option to serve aboard Skald ships. You have been given the option to serve aboard a Skald ship. Do you accept?”

Tali stared at her, her mouth working silently, gaping like a gaffed fish. Work onboard a Skald Ship? That was a dream come true, the best gear, and the best ship. “Yes!” she blurted and the woman smiled
“I thought so. Sign here and here” Tali read the confidentiality contract and nodded signing her name in triplicate, before the woman nodded.

“Good, welcome to the Skald Navy. A map has been downloaded to your palm comp. You will be serving with Skald Commander Cortana Shepard, her ship is being finished now, and you are to report to the Quartermaster for your equipment and to Enginemaster Adams for duty at 0800 tomorrow. Have a good day ensign Zorah” Tali stood and dazedly walked out of the room.

Her palm comp pinged and she brought it up. A map showed her to her new barracks and she followed it, still in a daze. Two hours later she sat down on her bunk in her new off duty uniform over her new Dwemer weave under armour. The lines pulsing comfortingly in the dim lighting of the barracks. The other residents had greeted her and she had seen two familiar faces Gabby and Kenneth were also here, which was no surprise once she thought about it, seeing as they were the top three in their year.

She shook her head and fell back onto the black blankets the day had just been too full. She sat up and went to her locker and pulled off her clothes but remained in her under armour. While on a station or ship it was mandatory for crew to wear the under armour in the event of a hull breach. She kicked off her boots and slid under her covers closing her eyes against the dim light of the room and the pulsing of her suit. Sleep reached out and pulled her into the abyss, and she finally felt relief for her pounding head.

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