The Soal: The Guts of the Matter

"Colts noticed his feet looked of rubber," the soldier replied.

"Looked of rubber?" I asked.

"Yeah... its one of the warning signs..." he continued, "according the the investigators limbs looking of rubber are a common symptom: it means that their skin is hanging off of them and being changed from the new guts inside of them."  He then looked into his mug and went quiet.

The Soal: The Conspricy

My search started with Darmon's troop.  I wanted to let Nana have a chance to recover from her loss before I started to question her.  The troop was in the city proper doing training so getting to them wouldn't be hard, though I had to get to them by train.  Still, I had to find out what some of his fellow troops knew about him, and more importantly, how his personality changed.

This was a challenge as not just anyone could walk on base, but this was remedies by knowledge that I purchased from a guardsman telling me of an afterhour hangout off base.  It was a cantina that had seen better days, though as the soldiers were their only clientèle, and its frowned upon for a soldier to drink heavily, the money wasn't flowing like milk and honey, but they were earning their keep.

The Soal: Introduction

It is believed by the people of the Phynara city-state that among us are the Soal: these monsters whom kill a person, wear their skin, and live the life of the original person.  They could go about the world without the loved ones, colleagues, and acquaintances would never know.  This is a scary idea among the people, who have laws to deal with these things, and means to find them out.

And I'm here to tell you that it's all bullshit.

I'm Redena Bakeman, and I submit to the Ordona council that not only are the Soal not real, but that the belief in them has no founding in logic or reason, and is rooted in nothing more than mass paranoia - and anyone accusing someone of being soal is to be treated with the scorn that any grudge informer deserves.

The Vessel: Chapter 6

The ship sailed through the stars in its persistent journey to get to Terran space. Through the small time Marle spent on the ship she felt that something about Travis didn't quite add up. Something about him... just his overall personality that just didn't sit right. Who would program a computer that so much as cared how she felt? Why program it with the illusion that its 'feelings' could get hurt? She couldn't be sure. She just knew that she was in space, alone with a computer to serve as a... friend I guess?

In a short moment later the ship slowed to a stop. Marle felt the momentum cease to be, and she made her way for the bridge. The viewing screen on the bridge showed the appearance of a cylindrical space station up ahead. It was a simple, cookie-cutter design that, according to instrument readings, about 170m by 85m, with a landing platform about every thirty-four meters.

"Travis, what's going on?" Marle asked outloud. After a brief moment the ship nigh made himself known on a panel nearby the front of the viewing screen.

"Its just a routine stop," Travis replied, "We are about to enter Thak space, and I need to provide clearance before I can fly in their space, else I get flagged for trespassing and they send military ships after us. There's nothing to worry about. Did this with the old crew."

"For the good that will do," Marle uttered under her breath.

"I beg your pardon," Travis asked innocently.

"Its... its nothing," Marle dodged the response.

"Its nothing invasive really," Travis reassured, "All I have to do is submit a code to them to and they place a tracking signal on me, and merely follow my ship's sensor signature to make sure that I am in fact just passing through and that jazz. Its fairly routine."

"Alright, if it makes them feel better," Marle replied.

"You don't believe its effective?" Travis asked, "I mean, the Thak are a sheltered race and that... can't say I think that's right in anyway but nothing I can do about it, though the tech itself is intended to keep unwanted ships out of there space... ships that conduct piracy or trafficking, or smuggling prisoners... and such a culture would have a high number of bullshit prisoners..."

"Yeah, the Terran Federation has something like that," Marle spoke, "Freighters, Transport ships, and military ship on authorized duty had to have tracking chips placed on their ships to curb piracy."

"Oh really?" Travis ponder in curiosity, "Been too long. So, how does that work...?" The scowl on Marle's face was all the answer he needed. "Oh... sorry Marle."

Moments later a message in some strange guttural language was being transmitted through the bridge speakers. "Its a bot asking to identity ourselves... I've sent a signal in binary..." There was a pause. More of that language, and more of Travis telegraphing what was going on: "Its asking for a code... and if this one is still valid..." another pause, and more strange-speak and more Travis, "code rejected, what? Again, must have been a binary blip."

The process repeated itself thrice before the guttural language came back in shrieks. "Dammit," uttered Travis, "the code... must be out of date... don't think it can be brute-forced."

"So, do we risk it?" Marle asked, "The Phoneix-Belle might be able to fly fast enough..."

"They got some pretty fast ships of their own," Travis replied, "and lasors... lots of lazors, and long-range particle cannons, harvast bots..."

"Ok Travis, you've made your point," Marle sighed and sat on the chair by the helm. She had no idea how to fly a ship: she was an engineer, and not a Terran-Federation trained one. Travis would have to do all the flying that was needed.

"You think if we asked them they would grant us passage?" Marle enquired, "I mean, unless we were going for a pit stop or something in the system."

"Not a bad idea," Travis replied, "Course, they have had 'experiences' with us. Its how I had that code in the first place. Oh well."

"Oh dear god," Marle rolled her eyes, "what kind of shenanigans did the last crew engage in?"

"Well, there was the time a group of Thaks wanted us to take them out of the system, while smuggling 'vapours' for poltiticalla," Travis began, "they gave us the codes, and there we were, being smugglers for them and various surrounding systems..."

"Wait... what?" Marle interrupted him.

"The Terran Federation has problems... this area of space became unreachable as many of the races and systems here formed alliances to keep the Terran quote-unquote 'plague' out. During the standoff... that I believe is still ongoing, many Terran vessels found themselves cut off. Communications don't even reach this far, so the crew gave up and well... did whatever."

"I see," Marle's face pinched into itself.

"Oh, Marle... don't be mad at me," Travis spoke, "it was mostly getting political prisoners and the occasional drug lord out of certain sectors and into others, alongside sensor scans and some fast piloting... we weren't raiding anyone: I don't think the crew would have stooped that low, dear god."

"The though that you had anything to do with piracy..." Marle snarled.

"We had been abandoned - the captain felt abandoned," Travis spoke solemnly, "it felt like we were given up on, I felt a little abandoned, though I did suggested returning to Terran space, as far as it was.

"Mind you we were this far out in space for a reason, and that was my fault, in a way. I was an experiment, and one that we didn't want to be discovered prematurely."

"So the crew abandons their loyalty to the human federation?" Marle asked snottily.

"I don't think they ever cared that deeply for the Terran-Federation in the first place," Travis replied, "They just wanted out.

"Like it matters now. Going around will take forever and going through would be suicide, so we need the updated codes."

Marle sat in silence. The gutteral gibberish came onto the intercom. "They're saying 'hurry up or get out...' I think," Travis translated, "hard to say with translation algorithms."

A tense silence filled the room. They both knew that boding too long would get them blasted out of existence, and at the same time the most direct routes where through the Thak spacial territory.

Finally, Marle spoke: "Can we ask them for the codes? Any of them?"

The Vessel: Chapter 5

Marle cocked her head up to look Travis in the eyes - his CG eyes - and responded meekly "No."

"Marle... I think we do," Travis was cautiously adamant in this need to speak to her.

Marle laid herself out on the edge of the cot and stared at the ceiling. "Travis, I'd rather not... now please go away," Marle spoke, fatigued and automatically.

"Marle please," Travis trailed off. His voice was soft and even as his avatar looked around the room. He spoke with sorrow in him when he spoke again "your scaring me."

"There is nothing to fear Travis," Marle simply said, emotion far too even, "now, please, leave me alone."

"Not until you tell me what's going on," Travis simply stated, anxiety bleeding through his expression, "please Marle, I don't want to see you like this."

"Then don't!" Marle turned to him, "Go tend to the ship or something: you're a pile of circuits, not a council..."

"God dammit Marle!" Travis grew in rage, "I'm a Nigh... I'm more than that rubbish that they weld together on Mars or Hichi*. I don't just simply read sensors and fly the fucking ship you know.

"Speaking of which, Marle..." he took a deep breath and in a calmer, more sympathetic tone continued: "I swear, something snapped in you... I mean, you flew into this... this... insane tirate, and I swore you kept going on about not letting them kill me and selling you, and that they were pirates.

"Marle... I want to help, believe me," there was a pause as Travis meekly remarked "I watched a crew go mad on me... your reminding me of that."

"I don't have space sickness Travis," Marle replied quietly.

"Then tell me what's wrong... please Marle," Travis spoke in a sad desperation, "We're going to be with eachother for a while, I want to understand you."

There was a silence. It was a cold on as Marle looked back up the ceiling. "You can't help me anymore than you already have..." her voice was even and matter of factly, "Its too late."

"too late for...?" Something inside Travis made him realize something as he asked her in a sympathetic tone "How exactly did you come about being on the Phoneix-Belle?"

There was another pause. Marle stared at her shoes as she thought on what Travis asked of her.

"It was pirates," Marle softly spoke, "I... I was in the engine room... safe and sound..."

"Marle, I'm so sorry," Travis responded, "I... I see it."

"I heard everyone on the bridge... everything Travis," Marle spoke with a ring of slow panic, "I heard everything in the cargo bay..." she bent over and layed her head against her lap.

"A freighter I assume," Travis asked.

"I heard it all in the intercom," Marle went on, "There were four others. Three of them were killed."

"Oh, another one escape?" Travis seemed optimistic.

"She was captured..." Marle softly cried, "The captain spoke something about Fra'gatta..."

"Oh... on dear," Travis replied in a sinking tone, "I'm so sorry."

“I mean, I was in the engine room,” Marle softly weeped on, “I could have done something...”

“Marle, you couldn't have known,” Travis quickly replied in ernest.

“They were pirates,” Marle snapped as the tears came, “What do you think pirates do? They lie. They kill. They abuse. I should have done something. Stupid Bile, did he really think they would spare him and us?”


“I had the controls of the ship with me, I could have, and should have, macguavered something, I know I should have...”

“You were in a freighter, and they were superior in their armorment, no?” Travis asked, his desire for calm opaque in his vioce.

“Still... oh why did Bile let them board?” Marle kept on going, “He should have known they were lying... he should have known.”

“He was in a tough situation, and that pirate vessel would have fired if he told them to shove their offer up their asses,” at this point Travis was getting impatiant... not that anyone asked him to do this... other than worry of having a psychotic roommate.

There was a pause. As Marle gathered her thoughts she looked back up at Travis and his cgi image. “Travis,” she meekly spoke, “I... I don't know what to do.”

“Neither do I,” Travis replied with a vague smirk, “I'm just making it up as I go along.”

“Seriously, I... those people weren't bad people,” Marle sheepishly remarked.

“I know,” Travis replied, “I know they weren't.

“Course, now we are lost in space, trying to find our way, the past is the past... there wasn't anything you could have done: there were no repair droids to dismatle, was there? Did the freighter have a plasma array on it?” In a pause Travis got his answer. “There, Marle, my friend, you have been absolved. The past is the past, and the future is coming, and we have eachother... you and I in a dark universe.”

“Friend, Travis?” Marle asked in an curious humour.

“Why not?” Travis simply replied, “Its going to be a long trip, I hope we can at least be friendly.”

Marle nodded as she looked at her feet over the edge of the bed. “Would it make you think less of me if I told you I was scared?” she quietly asked.

“No, I wouldn't,” Travis replied, “I... I think were both scared.

“Let's be scared together.”
*Hichi is a colony in the Alpha-Centery system that is a leader in military technology, including automated kill-bots

The Vessel: Chapter 4

While Travis didn't like the idea of directly engaging the Hiopchete, he also had to agree with Marle's resolve: if this band didn't follow the rules set by the Hiopchete themselves... whatever you call the federation of them is lost to me as it is to them... there was no way to tell if this group of rogue Hiopchete weren't above murder. Course, when sensors detected the charging of weapons from the lead ship, Travis didn't have time to compute Marle's state: he was too busy piloting the ship.

Now, being a ship AI... sorry, Nigh, he was proficient at flying a ship. Having your mind directly connected to helm and navigation would do that. So, he was able to dodge the first few volleys before the port side took a hit.

The Vessel Chapter 3

It was quiet on the bridge. The only person on the ship was Marle, and she sat there watching the stars on the monitors.

Other than background engine noises that can barely be heard from the bridge, it was quiet. Just her and the computer.

Then it got too noisy.

With a start Travis appeared on a holographic panel with a panicked looked in his face. "Sensors are detecting another ship coming our way."

"Do you know what they are?" she asked him.