The nycombs were hesitant to accept Krestean’s invitation, but a group of five was sent to investigate nonetheless. Each of them moved around on four hoofed limbs, their gray skin barely noticeable behind the metallic plating they wore. From the front of their bodies their torsos emerged, where their skin was accompanied by a multitude of mostly short, similarly gray, feathers. The plating they wore extended up to their chests, but lacked any sort of sleeve, making space for the long feathers that decorated females’ arms, colored with a striking array of bright and dark grays. Their heads were on top of short necks, with feathers blocking the view of the skin below, which only emerged back with the elongated, beak-like mouth, and the large, glaucous eyes.
As the delegation left their ship, the empty hangar filled with the sound of hooves clunking against the metallic floor. Two of the visitors wore gloves that stretched all the way up to their shoulders, and were made out of a mixture of black fabric and gray plating; while the other three had their arms free of clothing, leaving space for their impressive, wing-like array of feathers.
“Welcome, welcome!” Krestean greeted them as she came closer, sporting her favourite green robe, which had been adjusted for the tail; whilst making sure to leave enough space between them so that the newcomers wouldn’t feel threatened, but also so it would not look as if she was afraid of them. “Glad you could make it. My name’s Krestean, who do I have the pleasure of meeting with?”
“My name is Cierla,” the nycomb in the middle spoke with an apparent roughness in her voice. Trying her best to keep it formal, Cierla came a step closer as she introduced the others. “On my right there is Cercatul and Tristul, and on my left Fercila and Monsele.” She gestured towards each nycomb as she introduced them. “I believe we have much to discuss in regards to this… place you got here.”
“Yes, yes,” Krestean said dismissively, double-checking the five cards in her hands, making sure she got all the names right. “I know all of this is sudden for you, and I know how your race stands with galactic laws, but I ask you to trust me, and in exchange I offer you full openness.” She handed each of the cards to their appropriate owner, explaining as she did so; “These cards allow you access to any room on the entire station. Be it storage, living quarters or mechanical sections – I encourage you to go and look for yourself that there is no trickery going on.” After giving the fifth card to Tristul, she moved back to where she was standing earlier. “You’re free to sleep on your own ship but, if you want, each of you can claim one of the rooms for yourself, so that nobody but you can enter the room. This is limited to the living quarters of course, which you can find right-” Krestean paused, realisation creeping up to her face. “Oh shucks, I knew I was missing something! I’m terribly sorry, allow me to go grab my map and we can continue. Please wait right here!” With that, she trotted away from the group, disappearing behind a doorway.
“She’s right, I aint trustin’ her,” Tristul said as soon as she was gone, taking a good look at the card he was given. On one side, the white card featured a black outline of the entire station on the left, and a small rectangular display that seemed to be off, despite a tiny green light in the top right that would suggest otherwise. On the reverse was his name, surrounded by decorative patterns made of various simple shapes and lines, the sole purpose of which was to avoid the card looking too plain.
“Why won’t you give her a chance?” Fercila frowned as she attached her card to a bracelet on her hand. “She’s obviously trying her best!”
“For once, I’m with Trist on this one,” Cierla said as she played around with her card. “No sane being would give full access of their ship to complete strangers. This ‘Krestean’ is either insane, or lying; and I don’t like either of the options.”
“Don’t bother, Cier, not like you’ll convince miss gullible of anything,” Monsele puffed, sliding the card into a pocket on her side.
“Hey, what’s that supposed to-” Fercila started, but paused as Krestean entered the hangar.
“Alright, sorry about that,” she said loudly as she approached the group. “Sadly I only have one made so far, so you’ll have to share,” she outstretched her arm, letting Cierla take the black, metallic disk from her. “On the bottom there is a power switch, flip it.” The nycomb hesitated for a short moment, but then followed the instructions, causing the edges of the disk to light up as a hologram of the entire station appeared above it. “We’re right here, and the living area is here,” Krestean explained as she swiped the map with her talons, zooming in, out and back in to show the areas as she mentioned them. “Of course you can go anywhere in the ship, but I suggest we go there first, just so you can choose if you’d like to stay in them or not. Does that sound fine?”
Cierla looked around at her companions, and as none of them showed any opposition she nodded, pressing the rectangle on the surface of the contraption, with ‘Guide to’ written within. The map zoomed out to show the path through the entire ship, before zooming back in on their location – this time with a green arrow pointing where they should go.
“Amazing…” Cercatul spoke up for the first time, taking the map to analyse it as they moved towards their goal. “No wonder you only have one – these must cost a fortune!”
“It’s self-made so I wouldn’t know its worth, but I’ll take that as a compliment,” Krestean said, oblivious to his wide-eyed stare at her.
“So tell us, Krestean, why did you call for us? And why are you here in the first place?” Cier started the questioning, leaving out the question which bothered her the most: how a ship as big as this had come this deep into their territory without being detected.
“Well, I’m here because I want to help you. You’ve suffered a great lot, and it’s borderline disgusting how your race was just swept under the rug, only to be painted as criminals later on. I believe that you’re not evil, and since you still haven’t shot me, that only proves it more,” she turned her head to give the group a soft smile. “But for you to even accept my help in the first place, you have to trust me, which is why we’re here now.”
The nycombs went silent, only giving short glances at each other as they collected their thoughts, with Tristul being the one to break the silence as they entered a large elevator. “This ship’s a biggin’, where’s everyone?”
“There is no ‘everyone’ I’m afraid. Only other being to be in this ship had to suddenly go and take care of something urgent.”
“So you expectin’ me to believe, that this whole hunk of metal has nothin’ but us in it?” Tristul’s voice started turning hostile as he gesticulated wildly “That’s some solid crap, if I ever seen any. If you, missy, want us to trust you, put all your cards in the open and don’t try to feed us these stories.”
“You didn’t see any other ships in the hangar though, did you?” Krestean spoke calmly with an impassive expression. The nycomb opened his mouth to counter, but paused after a moment of realization. “I swear to whatever deities you believe in, that the six of us are the only beings on the ship, unless you brought someone else with you.”
“And how am I supposed t’know this aint some sort of a trick, ah?”
“You have access to the entire ship, don’t you?” A small grin crept onto Krestean’s face “You can go to the security office and check the surveillance of the corridors yourself – no trickery going on here. But before you do that-” Krestean paused as the elevator announced their destination and opened its doors, “-the living quarters. I understand if you won’t want to stay in here, but if you trust me in the slightest, then I swear to you there is nothing to be concerned about.”
They exited the elevator, moving just slightly deeper into the corridor so that everyone could fit in. The hallway was lined with doors on both sides, each of which had a number on it – even ones on the right, odd ones on the left. “Behind each door is exactly same room layout, so just pick whatever number you like the most,” Krestean explained as she swiped her own access card by two doors on both of her sides, allowing the nycombs to look inside. The rooms were based off of the one she lived in on Acro, as copying a room designed to be universal was the easiest solution.
As the others were looking at the rooms, Fercila came up to Krestean with a question: “Excuse me, are there any rooms for two?”
“Yeah, of course: two, three, or even five; I just thought that the singular ones would be better in case you didn’t know each other.” Before she could say more, the nycomb raised her hand to show the bracelet on her wrist, motioning with her head towards the rest of her group.
Despite not understanding, Krestean decided it was best to simply do as asked and show the other rooms. “It’s just one floor up, come with me,” she said as she lead Fercila back towards the elevator.
“Hey Cerc, the furscale’s stealin’ your girl,” Tristul spoke up, and as soon as the elevator door closed behind the two girls he entered the room which the other nycombs were looking around in.
“She has a name, Tristul, and if Ferci trusts her then so do I. I mean, just look at this place!” Cercatul took out the map they were given and made it show the entire station. ”She’s obviously some sort of a genius, we should be thankful that she wants to help us!”
“Have you considered that ‘mad genius’ falls under the insane category?” Cierla chimed in as she left a bathroom. “We still don’t know why she trusts strangers with full ship access, if that’s truly what these are capable of,” she waved her card before putting it back in her pocket. “Nonetheless, I want to give her a chance, and for that I’ll have to sleep in one of these. However I need one of you to stay on our ship, just in case.”
“Can take care of that, I aint trustin’ her ‘nough to spend a night here.” Tristul instantly volunteered.
“Good, I assume Cercatul will be wherever Fercila goes, so that leaves you, Monsele. Got a preference?”
“Well, I’ve had enough of him on the way here,” she pointed at Tristul, turning around and out of the room. “So that leaves me with staying here. You think room 15 is a thing?”
“A little down the hall, on the left,” Krestean said as she approached the open doorway. “I’ll show you how to set up the key in a moment, but first, Fercila wanted me to get her partner to join her.”
“Hey Cerc! Your birdie is waiting for you!” the nycomb shouted back into the room she just left, before going down the hallway to look for her own. Cercatul hastily came out and, after Krestean explained where his mate was, went into the elevator.
“Alright, so you want to claim room 15 for yourself?” Krestean asked as she walked up to the nycomb, standing idly in front of the door.
“Huh? Oh yeah, sure,” Monsele responded in a distracted manner.
“Take out your card and I’ll show you how to do it.” Monsele obliged, taking out her access card and putting it against the doorway to open it. “Now keep it there. See the green light? Press it.” Again, Monsele obliged and pushed on the green spot. It went slightly deeper into the card, turning white and lighting up the rectangle underneath it. After a few seconds of wavy patterns, the display settled on showing the room number, indicating it was done with a quiet beep. “And that’s it! Now you’re the only one that can open this door.” To prove it, Krestean closed the door and put her own card against the scanner, showing that nothing would happen, aside from the door light turning red for a second.
“What if I’d just up and leave right now?” Monsele asked as she looked at her card, putting it against the scanner to see that it indeed does open the door. “Would you just have a closed room?”
“Technically I could do some work to break and re-build the circuit, but it’s my welcome gift to you, so you can keep it.”
“Oh…” Monsele looked up at Krestean, and then down at her card. “Uhm… thanks?” She mumbled in an uncertain tone, not sure what to think of it.
“You’re welcome,” Krestean replied with a smile, hiding her own card into a pocket of her robe as the two of them went back towards the elevator. “So, made up your mind with the room?” she asked as she joined Tristul and Cierla.
“Yes,” said the latter, “Tristul will keep an eye on our ship from the inside, but I will give a chance to this room you have here.”
Krestean nodded in response, guiding Cierla through the process just as she did with Monsele moments before. “Alright, you’re all set. Now, I believe you wanted to check out the security office?” Tristul nodded, to which Krestean called the elevator.
“You guys go ahead, I think I’ll pass,” Monsele said as the elevator door revealed Fercila and Cercatul behind it.
“That’s fine, go and rest. I want us all to meet up tomorrow at noon to discuss why I brought you here in the first place, but for now do whatever you’d like.” With that, she followed the other nycombs into the elevator, and clicked on the panel to go to the second floor. It asked for a card swipe as an access check, and Krestean barely stopped herself from swiping instantly like she would usually do. “One of you do it, so you can see that it’s all open to you.”
Being the closest one, Tristul swiped his card against the scanner. The light lit green, and the elevator started moving down. The floor they stopped at had a more cramped feel to it, despite being of similar size. There were exposed pipes running along the ceiling, some going into the rooms on the sides, others turning down and disappearing into the floor. The doors were no longer evenly spaced out, but rather put wherever they were needed, some lacking any description as to what was behind them.
Krestean lead the group past multiple doors before stopping in front of one that looked in no way different to the others they passed. “It’s here. I know this doesn’t look as great as floors above, but I hope you will understand why tomorrow,” she said as she allowed Tristul to swipe his card again, after which the four nycombs entered the room.
The inside of the security office was much more spacious than the expectations from the corridor. The walls were lined with a multitude of screens, under which panels with hundreds of buttons and switches waited patiently to be used. In the center there was a large round table with a holographic display of the entire station. On it, each of the hallways that went all the way around the seven levels of the station had hundreds of small dots lit up on it. All of them were either green or yellow, with the former ones having an additional tiny number lit up above them.
“Every single dot you see is one of the cameras connected to the system,” Krestean explained as she did a wide motion with her arm to encompass the screens around her. “The yellow ones are working, while the green ones are displayed on the screen with their number,” with that, Krestean stretched her hand and ‘picked up’ one of the numbers, causing a screen behind her to turn off. She moved her hand above one of the yellow dots and let go of the number, causing the screen behind her to light back up with a different view. “If you ever see a red one, that means that something broke the camera and it’s not returning a signal.” Having explained the most important part, Krestean sat down on a stool in the corner and watched the nycombs move about.
Fercila seemed fascinated with the holographic display as she took a number and kept moving it between cameras, checking out different views on a nearby screen. Beside her Cercatul was testing various buttons, checking what each of them did to the screens above. While the two of them were enjoying their time, the other pair carefully scanned through the screens, moving the views and rotating cameras to check out specific areas of the station, such as the hangars and the center floor.
After a while the nycombs seemed to be satisfied with what they were seeing, and one by one started to
leave the room. Fercila first, shortly followed by Cercatul, after which both Cierla and Tristul started to head off. As they reached the door, Tristul said “You and the pair go, I wanna ask the furscale about somethin’.” Cierla nodded, leaving the room and closing the door behind her.
“You have a question for me?” Krestean asked, standing up and coming closer to the nycomb as she figured that ‘furscale’ was a term for her – a term she found quite likeable.
“Yes,” Tristul turned around, his voice suddenly turning hostile “What’re you hidin’?”
Thrown off by the question, all Krestean could get out of her was “Pardon?”
“You heard me,” Tristul said with a mix of anger and annoyance. “What. Are. You. Hidin’? Honest answer to a simple question.” His voice was more firm and demanding rather than pleading for the answer.
“I already said, I’m not hiding anyone or anything.”
“And I aint believin’ you.” With that, the nycomb put a hand into the side of his vest, taking out a small handgun and pointing it at Krestean. “None of these look into this room,” he pointed with his free hand at the hologram in the middle. “Or any of the rooms on the way here. Why? Why hide ‘em all, ah?”
“To protect the privacy of beings,” Krestean said, not really knowing how she can explain anything without making the situation worse than it was. “You can go into every room you want to, you have full access.”
“And how could I call your bluff? There’s thousands of these rooms, and you’ve got a perfect view of the halls ‘round this place, so you’d know if I’m near your secret.”
“There is five of you and seven floors. you can quickly look through most of the station in a matter of hours, and you can always check where I am because you have a perfect view of the halls. That’s my intention here, to be aware where anyone is, but not what anyone is doing.”
Tristul lowered the gun for a moment, but not wanting to admit he liked the reasoning he pulled it back up. “Then why do they all go back only a few hours, ah? Doesn’t seem that helpful if you’d ask me.”
“That’s because the whole system was turned online only hours before your arrival.”
“Oh, how convenient for you!” The hostile tone returned to Tristul’s voice. He took a step closer, flipping a switch on the side of the gun, causing it to light up red. “Look, missy, I don’t know what you’re playing at ‘ere, but I aint gonna take part in none of it. I’ve been in this for over forty years now, and I can feel when somethin’s not right. And this?” He pointed at the hologram again. “This is as off as it can be.”
Krestean wanted to intuitively put her hands up in the air, but she knew she couldn’t show weakness, so instead she held them in front of her, moving them back and forth in an attempt to calm the nycomb down. “Please, calm down. I understand I’ve appeared out of nowhere, but my only intent – and the only purpose of this station; is to aid you and your race. Just trust me, please.”
“Nobody cared for centuries, and you expectin’ me to believe someone’s suddenly so nice after we start raidin’ the ships that come into our land?” Tristul spit at the ground to the side. “These planets may be broken, but they’re still full of resources. Our resources. You aint takin’ none of them.”
“I’m not here for the resources! I want to help you in establishing a New Neastia, I can’t stand to see how you’re being treated!” Krestean laid out her intentions, hoping it would at least cause enough questions for him to lower the gun again.
Instead, Tristul said “Well we don’t want your help,” and pulled the trigger.