It began, as these things always do, in a bar.
Rembrandt Kase was by no means a drifter – even if he looked the part, worn spacer’s badge looped through his belt with pride. He was an older man of four centuries, silver hair and scruffy beard clinging to his olive chin like snow on a mountainside. Sharp blue eyes took in the half-glass of Sygian scotch currently warming on the bar counter, reflecting the slowly spinning fan overhead.
He’d been a pilot for hire once, out on the frontiers of the Spur – fighting pirates and worse for those who couldn’t do so themselves, cash and booze flowing like rivers. These days he was more likely to pull a muscle than a trigger.
Still, odd jobs kept the liquor pouring and the lights on, and at the end of the day that’s all that mattered.
The door to the bar slid open, and… something walked in.
Curiously, the man half-turned, realizing the newcomer was a bit shorter than his gaze had expected. Furred and robed, the creature resembled… well. A rabbit.
Savhara weren’t particularly common across the Spur, but he’d encountered a few in his travels – this one looked to be on a mission, if the curious look they gave him meant anything.
Turning back to his drink and the news, he was surprised to hear the stool to his right slide out, little paws landing on the bartop with the sound of shifting cloth.
“No pets allowed,” The bartender offered, giving the Savhara a look.
“It is no longer funny,” They replied, frowning.
The bartender shrugged, and went back to cleaning glasses.
“Your name is known to me,” The Savhara said after a long moment, drawing Rembrandt’s attention mid-gulp of scotch. “A mister Kase? Former starfighter pilot?”
“Yeah, that’d be me. Not quite sure who you are.”
The rabbit seemed pensive. “My name is not relevant to the situation at hand. You may simply refer to me as Kye.”
“Well, Kye, what brings you to a starport dive? We don’t tend to get rabbits here.” Rembrandt sniffed, figuring this rabbit was full to the eartips of shit.
“A desire to find a pilot.” Kye stated irritably, reaching into their robes for something. “Though I seem to have found a drunk, instead.”
Rembrandt scowled. “A pilot for what? Can’t pay skipper fare?”
His smugness faded as he saw what the Savhara had removed from their robes. A small, reddish-brown intricate cuboid device made of smaller cubes. Interesting.
“I see from your gaze you recognize it.”
“Damn right I do. That’s a Cavican tyras. Where the hell did you get it, and why?”
“That’s a rather long story for someone clearly wanting to be rid of me,” Kye snipped, frowning.
“Piqued my interest, kid. Those might be more rare than you are.”
Kye turned, watching the bartender for a moment, before deciding it wasn’t worth the risk. “Dock 6E. Red lights. Can’t miss it.”
With that, they were gone.
“Ugh,” Rembrandt groaned, turning back to his drink. Either a trap or a job, and… well, he didn’t wear a holster for nothing. He drained the glass, and brought it back down on the bar with a pointed clink.
“Give me something stronger, man. Get the feeling I’m going to need it.”
Two drinks later, and a few dozen ked lighter, he was on his way.
Dock 6E was one of the smaller docks surrounding the roughly star-shaped Port Chapel, largely servicing vessels of corvette tonnage and lighter. Seeing as this was most of the system’s traffic, that made it the busiest dock by far – dozens of vessels and hundreds of dock workers and crews milling about, discussing trophies and local bars and the dusty, tired urbworld beyond the starport and the city that surrounded it.
Still, as Rembrandt began to wonder if he’d been led on a wild goose chase, red lights caught his eye.
More specifically, a red light – and a tall figure beneath it, staring at him through the crowd.
Drawing closer, the figure was synthetic – a tall, myomer-wrapped tungsten frame with an in-set vertical white holite bar for a faceplate, garbed in neutral greens and a brown cloak.
“You’re Kase?” The synth stated bluntly, voice rough.
“What’s it to you?”
“I was told you were coming. Didn’t expect you to show.”
“Full of surprises. Where’s the little guy, anyway? Expected to see him here.”
“On the ship.”
The synth turned, striding away into the dark.
Hand drifting to his holster, Rembrandt followed.
It wasn’t particularly far – an old alleyway, running perpendicular to the starport’s many thoroughfares. Clearly used for more clandestine access to one of the old docking areas, it opened up soon after to reveal a modest hangar – and a ship, angled away towards the vast hangar doors.
From what Rembrandt could tell, the vessel was around seventy feet in length, standing off the floor on six recessed landing gear. Arrays and comms equipment jutted here and there, along with the gossamer solar collectors required for a functioning tideshift device – but that was where the things he recognized ended. Odd markings dotted the hull here and there, itself made of a composite he didn’t recall. The hull was a soft, almost pearlescent white – and, combined with the gentle sloping angles to the “wings” of the vessel, it seemed more like a sea creature than a starship.
Still, he couldn’t help but whistle.
“I take it you’re fascinated?” The synth offered, glancing back slightly as the two crossed the hangar. “It was… difficult to acquire. But I have connections.”
“It’s yours?” Rembrandt queried, raising an eyebrow.
“It is the property of the Lord Celan,” The synth replied dismissively. “For now.”
Rembrandt frowned. Lord Celan?
With a hiss, a section of the hull along the underside separated – and, slowly, a gangway descended to the hangar floor. Atop it, the rabbit from earlier glanced downward – no longer garbed in their robes, but a simple grey tunic, brown trousers, and a tool belt. Holite stars drifted around their palms.
“I see you’ve come to parlay, mister Kase! Do come aboard, it’s rather drafty in the hangar.”
Beckoned forth by the synth, he walked aboard. The vessel had clearly once been a luxury liner – seats for many, with ostentatious golden carpets and wall art scattered about. Holite ceilings showed alien skies and starry nights, though the small study he was guided to held none of these luxuries – merely synthwood shelves, a desk, and few chairs, one of which the rabbit occupied.
“You may leave us, Ulyn. I have business to discuss.”
The synth nodded, and shut the door behind themself. Turning back to Rembrandt, the rabbit sighed. “I hope you’ll excuse how formal they can be. As a former member of my House Guard, the weight of my house name carries more formality to them than most – I certainly do appreciate your brusqueness, as an aside.”
Again, they produced the small cube – but this time, sat it upon the desk. Ominous soft vibrations shook through the wood.
“To answer your question, first and foremost, I was given this tyras by the tide-wytch Kephylas on the world of Tannen. Within it was a vision of my future – and the future of my home, if I was to not act.”
The rabbit lifted their gaze, an intensity there that burned like the stars themselves. “My previous introduction bore no weight. I am Kye Celan, known across the Shoals as the Lost Prince of Carrigan. A name I do not share lightly. I understand if you would rather not get involved.”
Rembrandt frowned. That explained… some things, but left others. Nobility? Well. Exiled nobility. “What brings an exile to the Shallows?”
The question was simple, but the prince’s face was conflicted – dark and restless, like a stormy sea.
“I have my reasons, mister Kase. It is best that you know little of my goals, apart from the destinations.”
“Vengeance, huh?” Rembrandt offered, a corner of his mouth tugging upwards. “The Lost Prince and their stolen throne.”
Kye shifted, uncertain of what to share.
“That is… partially, why I need a pilot. The other component is much less mundane.”
Rembrandt raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. The Shoals were the frontier of the Spur – ancient worlds and older stars. Strange tidings indeed.
“I’m not agreeing to a damn thing without the whole picture. You knew this when you met me, I’m sure – my reputation hinges upon it.”
Kye, with the slightest of nods, sat up straighter.
“Rembrandt Kase, what you are about to be entrusted with cannot be shared beyond the confines of this room. Do you agree to this?”
Slowly, he nodded.
Gently, Kye lifted the tyras – and rotated the hemispheres of it in a complicated pattern of half rotations and double-backs, before with a click it began to hum, a masterwork of tidecraft forged of clay and technomancy.
The room grew noticeably colder.
Kye closed their eyes, holding the tyras aloft – and, softly, Rembrandt began to see… things.
A vista – the sky above alight with colors he’d never dreamed of, space itself a riot of orange and purple and gold. It was a forested hilltop – but something was deeply, deeply wrong here.
Ice crusted every surface, flash-frozen plants still mid-bloom. For miles around, an ice age had seemingly appeared overnight – farmsteads and homes frozen solid. High above, the world’s star hung, cold and dead.
A crystal sun.
There was something else there, too – a warning of ages past, whispered echoes of the Collaborate and the Awakening, weapons that birthed The Wound. Battles that had scarred the galaxy for many thousands of years afterwards, and the horrible remnants lurking in the dark between the stars.
With the echoing cackle of a witch’s portent, Kye stopped channeling into the device, letting it fall silent.
Rembrandt said nothing.
Kye said nothing, a pensive look seemingly etched into their face, a few stray strands of hair falling low.
“You have evidence of this?” Rembrandt said after a moment longer, softly.
“Little.” Kye admitted. “Mostly dreams. Tide-visions. Rumors of stars dimming in the depths of the Shoals.”
Rembrandt seemed thoughtful. “For a tide-witch to entrust you with a tyras… you must be held to high esteem. Its presence vouches for your merit.”
“I thank you for your confidence.”
“Don’t thank me just yet. I’m no Carriganite, you’re not getting the princely treatment from me. I want a number, Kye Celan. I’m no charity case, and I’m certainly not fighting a liberation or hunting down glass stars on promises of I-owe-yous and titles I can’t use.”
“I see your mercenary mind is still intact, at least,” Kye frowned. “Fine. A letter of credit, Rembrandt Kase. Thirty thousand ked, upon completion of duties outlined within – and with ten thousand up front, for incentive.“
Rembrandt struggled not to blink. His last piloting gig had netted barely a quarter of that. Less.
“I trust you’re also trained in combat?”
“I… well, I’m certainly not a swordsman, but I’m alright with a gun.”
The rabbit waved a hand dismissively. “Pah. The Core truly is soft. You will learn from Ulyn.”
They turned their gaze upon him, an intensity burning within. “Well? Are these terms agreeable, mister Kase?”
Rembrandt thought for a moment. Port Chapel had held little for him in prospects, otherwise – becoming a regular at a dive wasn’t exactly glamorous. All the local outfits weren’t looking for new members or were pirates in corporate guise, and joining some local navy to get stationed on a dirt-farmer’s moon claim wasn’t particularly appealing.
Sure. Why the hell not.
Kye grinned, allowing the man a look at their fangs for the first time. “Rembrandt Kase, welcome aboard the Blessed Be The Far Sighted. Ulyn simply refers to it as the Farsight. Not quite sure why.”
Kye offered a paw – which Rembrandt shook, an ancient symbolic gesture. Business had concluded.
As if on cue, the door opened once more – and Ulyn, impassive as ever, stepped in.
They regarded Kye for a moment, then Rembrandt – before, with a subtle nod, gestured outwards. “Allow me to show your quarters, and the bridge, ser Kase. I believe you will find both to your liking.”
Kye, turning away towards the odd collection of papers and minutia scattered across the study, summoned a map into existence – but Rembrandt was only able to see it for a moment before the door shut behind him.
Over the next month, new members were added to the crew. Some were sought out at the advice of Rembrandt, such as Chief Engineer Rylem Olson, a sky-rider from the aerostat colonies on Vandyre.
Others, like the starfighter pilot Syn Tamar, took more to convince – but soon enough, the crew of the Farsight hit ten permanent members, all seated around the mess tables as the ship drifted through the strange otherness of the Tide.
There was Olm Sanvarre, astrocartographer and navigator from the Tide-guilds of Yhut. Short, pale and squat, he was more at home behind a desk or console than on the battlefield – which was, much to his relief, where he was expected to be.
Chief Engineer Olson was next, lanky frame and holite frame wrist-augments symbolizing their past as a sky-rider on Vandyre. Toxic atmospheres and ancient machinery meant quick repairs were paramount, resulting in some of the finest starship engineers in the Spur – and Rylem Olson was certainly among their number.
The next two were stranger – a pair of disaffected void-borne drifters known as Vynce and Kale, driven from the Shoals by the Duke Illor’s closure of relations with the Spur at large. They had a score to settle they kept to themselves, and as a pair of hardened soldiers Kye was glad to have them aboard.
Rembrandt himself was the fifth addition, serving as the pilot of the Farsight – and Syn Tamar, former ace pilot of the Tri-Sun Commonality, seated to his right.
A heavy-frame synth was next, occupying space next to the table – this was Ophiuchus, a Castegan warbody who sought out conflict across the Spur for improvement data. Luckily, his weaponry was concealed for the moment.
Finally, standing beside the Prince, was Ulyn – garbed in the off-whites and soft orange of the House Celan, rank pins affixed to his lapel.
“I thank you for meeting in such short notice,” Kye began, the lights in the room dimming as the table’s holite displays ignited. Murmured assent drifted around them.
A map ignited on the table – the local Spur, trade lands and populated systems drifting about like snow in a snow globe. Here and there, borders were drawn; demarcating the many star-nations of Cradlespace and the Near Rim.
“Each of you has been brought aboard due to prior experience and relevant skills,” Kye continued, gesturing to the map as it suddenly zoomed out, highlighting a region of space beyond even the Shoals. “But most of all, for a willingness to fight for a cause. Many of you are doubtless aware of my past, and my quest – but a higher purpose supersedes my homecoming.”
The map zoomed in, highlighting a roughly lightyear wide region of space in the depths of the Shoals.
“We are heading rimwards, to a region of space known as the Glittershoal.”
“To fight?” Ophiuchus asked plainly, shifting heavily.
“To learn.” Kye gestured, the false-color ice blue of the Glittershoal filling in. “In the past month, six systems have gone utterly dark – and, due to the nature of the nebula, none have managed to find out why. I have an unsettling hunch it may have something to do with my vision.”
“Psh. Tides.” Syn Tamar sighed, leaning back. “I signed on for combat, I’ll wait for the mystic shit to pass, thanks.”
Ignoring the pilot, the rabbit continued. “We’ll be passing through plenty of populated systems on the way, but our first major stop will be Tanis, on the coreward reaches of the Eventide League. We’ll pick up supplies for the expedition there, and… hopefully more current news about the League, if we’re lucky.”
Vynce, glancing over, elbowed Kale, gesturing to the map.
“Tanis?” Kale repeated, glancing up.
“…Yes, why?” Kye paused.
“Tanis is our birthworld,” Vynce clarified, weathered features softening slightly. “It’ll be nice to see it again.”
“For you, maybe.” Kale frowned, sliding down in his chair. “No love lost for me, there.”
“…If that’s all,” Kye clarified, closing the map with a small clap. “I suggest we all begin preparations – it’s a two week journey, but it’ll go faster than you think.”
As one, the crew of the Farsight parted – Chief Olson returned to the drive bay, Tamar wandering off to work on his personal starfighter in the ship’s small shuttle bay. Sanvarre returned to the bridge to recalibrate the astrogation sensors, and the rest…
…Kye wasn’t sure. Their paws carried them to their cabin, taking a seat near the window and staring out into the nothing beyond.
Soon, they’d be within the League again. It should feel nice, after a year and a half.
It felt like anything but. Dread hung in the recesses of their mind, fear of reprisal if the Director was to discover they’d returned prematurely.
Still, they had a plan. Somewhat.
Here goes nothing.