Template:PostPreviously, in CatH Post 11, Clear was captured by Captain Londris and was interrogated by Deonal Strang to discover if she had any connection to the Rebel Alliance. The Bug, which Clear had stashed on the icy planet Ledus, was discovered breaking orbit and is tractored in by The Excellence, Strang's flagship. Now, in CatH Post 12, stealing the Bug turned out to be an A.I. with a robotic body named Wai. He reveals that there's a group of rebels on the planet and Strang sends Londris down to deal with them. Clear is asked to join him on the bridge of The Excellence and watch as Londris attacks the rebels and then is commanded to execute the aliens, taking just a single human captive. He then commits to helping Clear recapture her own ship, The Hopeful, from her rogue A.I. Note. The ship turns out to be in the star system of Terra Flux, which has a flux field around it that influences the minds of the people in the Perseus Arm. The Hopeful has stopped but is covered in mysterious plants and Clear is permitted to travel to the ship with Londris' squad.
Strang: "Deploy the tractor beam and bring the shuttlecraft in."
Strang: "A what?"
Clear: "It... shears tractors."
Strang: "Just great..."
Clear: "But I doubt the guy stealing my ship knows that! So if you tractor it and it doesn't shear your tractor, you'll know I'm telling the truth. Right?"
Londris: "Unless your thief does figure out how to turn on your shear..."
Clear: "Kind of hoping that doesn't happen..."
Strang: "Tractor them in then! Let's find out!"
Londris half-drags, half-pushes Clear down to the hangar bay where the Bug has just docked. Although the tractor wasn't sheared, as Clear expected, Strang isn't quite ready to trust our hero just yet. She's made to stand close to the doors of the Bug, Londris watching her for any sign of recognition or affection of the Bug's occupant. The doors do no open voluntarily. Two stormtroopers, approach the doors and use a laser cutter to prise open the door. Clear almost weeps at the destruction of her old boat and has no idea how she's going to be able to repair that injury enough to make the old dear space worthy again.
Clear glances behind her to see two stormtroopers, sans helmets, looking her up and down and muttering to themselves.
Stormtrooper #1: "I wouldn't mind firing my torpedo in her exhaust port."
Clear turns to punch the guy but Londris stops her.
Londris: "You two, latrine duty. Go."
The two despondently walk off to carry out their punishment and Clear can return her, albeit flustered, attention back to the demolition of the door on the Bug.
Londris: "They're not wrong though..."
Londris: "Like a couple of perfect, polished asteroids..."
She almost stumbles over in a mix of anger and shock. The door, just in time, falls off the machine with a loud metallic clang as it strikes the floor. Standing there in the doorway is a man dressed in black, looking like the priests of Earth that Clear had seen on Saffron Five. He has a terrible bowl hair cut and otherwise looks quite human, aside from peculiar purple eyes. He smiles at everyone gathered before him.
Priest: "Why hullo there."
Two Stormtroopers reach inside and fling him out of the Bug. He appears quite surprised and even affronted that he'd be treated thus.
Priest: "Me? Wai. I guess."
Wai reaches out to shake the Warlord's hand but is rebuffed by troopers. Again Wai appears surprised and pulls his arms up defensively.
Wai: "Okay, okay! How rude."
Strang: "Where were you headed, rebel?"
Wai: "I told you, my name's Wai. Not rebel. And I wasn't headed anywhere."
Strang: "Where was your ship bound?"
Wai glances at the ship when Strang gestures towards it.
Wai: "Ah. I don't rightly know. I couldn't get the damned thing to work properly. It's quite a bucket of old bolts, isn't she? But she booted up well enough. Push a few buttons and away she goes."
Londris: "Do you think playing the idiot will really save your hide, rebel?"
Wai: "I expect my intelligence exceeds yours, human."
Londris whips out her blaster and places it against Wai's skull. The man shrinks from the weapon and closes his eyes to block out the horror of what might come.
Londris: "We'll see just how big your brain is when I splatter it all over the floor."
Strang: "Now now. Our rebel friend has much to confess to us, don't you?"
Londris returns her blaster to her holster and Wai relaxes.
Wai: "I wish that I did, if it means less of this antagonism. Besides, the size of a person's brain does not actually equate intelligence mere--"
Londris: "My trigger finger is getting itchy."
Wai: "Well... I suppose I should tell you that I am not a rebel. I have always preferred the spirit of conservatism myself. I am a wandering artificial-intelligence. Hence my name. I was wandering when I came across this old machine and decided I'd done enough wandering on that cold, cold planet. It's quite lonely there, I can tell you."
Strang: "You're an A.I.?"
Wai: "That's correct. But I've always felt the wandering part of my name to be the most impor--"
Londris: "I really think he might be an idiot, Sir. Perhaps his circuits are fried. Or frozen from all that ice."
Wai: "I have to protest. I am able to make calculations faster than any human ever could, and my data storage allows me to learn over six million languages..."
Strang: "I think you might be right."
Wai: "...and although I prefer the path of peace and conversation I am a machine internally and my strength definitely surpasses that of an average human being. I actually had to break down a door on that ice planet to get into that tall building. Freezing I was and the cold does not agree with my joints. Not one bit..."
Londris: "Just a coincidence that he fell into our exploit trap to catch the rebels. Two coincidences in one day..."
Wai: "... luckily the folks I found in that structure were quite pleasant and happy to have an A.I. around. Apparently their heating system's computer was being uncooperative. I was able to chat it up so that she turned her heating back on. Nice group of people. Reminds me of other groups I've travelled with, friends long ago. Back on Earth I used to travel with my friend C--"
Strang: "Throw him in a ce-- wait, did you just say you met people on that ice planet?"
Wai: "Cool M... sorry what? Did you ask me something?"
Londris: "People. On that planet! They were hiding in the large structure?"
Wai: "Oh right. Yes! Said they were an alliance. Lovely phrasing that. Alliance. Most people just say friends, buddies, mates. But alliance! Now that speaks volumes! I remem--"
Londris: "Can it, robot!"
Wai: "I say. How rude."
Strang: "Prepare to return to the planet Ledus."
Wai: "Ledus? Latvian for ice. Not a very original name for a planet if you ask me."
Londris: "Nobody did ask you! So shut it!"
Strang: "Put the robot and the Salmitton in a cell. Gag him."
Wai: "Gag me!? I say! Can't we talk about this!?"
Londris: "You've done enough of that already."
Clear: "W-W-wait! I'm not a rebel! Why am I going back to prison?"
Strang: "It's your temporary home, my dear. Don't fret. You'll be free to chase after your ship once I've dealt with this nest of rats."
Londris starts to lead the two intruders away when Strang calls for them to wait.
Strang: "Maybe our little flower can watch what we do? Take the robot to the cell but take young Clear back to the deck. She might find it educational."
Londris raises an eyebrow at Clear.
Londris: "Seems you've earned yourself an admirer."
Clear: "Oh dear..."
Wai: "Perhaps I could find your commander's admiration if I were to demonstrate my intellect further? I'm certain he'd find my knowledge of quantum cellular automata to be fascinating. Or if art is more his thing, I have stored billions of the very best poems the NeSiverse has to offer--"
Londris: "Somebody hurry up and get me that gag!"
A short time later, Clear is on the deck and watching the ice planet, Ledus, slowly spin on its axis. A shuttle had already left by the time Clear got to the deck, escorted by two Stormtroopers that looked suspiciously like the two who had made unfortunate comments about her posterior. She eyes them but they made no regard of their prior mishap. Until they are on their way out and she hears;
Stormtrooper #1: "That ass is like the sand dunes of Tatooine. Big, smooth, round and goes on forever..."
This time Londris isn't around to protect her honour and Clear can't attack them for fear of being struck down. She scowls at them as they leave. She should have kept that long, furry coat on.
Strang finally arrived and smiled at Clear before he issued his orders to the deck crew. A series of tactical screens appeared on the window, including one live stream from inside the shuttle headed to the planet. Londris is there with her team again, all wearing their cloaks. The shuttle is landing as far as Clear could tell. The pilot's skill seems sub-par based on how much the craft jerks as it lands. Clear is sure she could have done a better job.
Captain Londris leads her squad out into the snow. Clear thinks it had cleared up a little since she was down there but it is still thick and heavy. A map on the window displays the larger structure, which Clear had seen on the radar when she was down there, and the troops' position. When they finally reach the doors, the team huddles up around the corners of it. Strang passes Clear a glass of wine and she thinks better of refusing it. She sips at it. The strong taste of grape and alcohol warms her throat. She then gulps a mouthful.
The doors, on screen, open and the team rushes in. Suddenly there's a lot of confusion and shouting. She hears Londris yelling at the people in the room to get down on the ground and surrender. None of them do. Lasers are suddenly whizzing everywhere. The Stormtroopers carbines fire red streaks into the crowd of people, while they fire green bolts in return. Those being attacked look unarmoured and non-military. A rag-tag bunch hiding out on a snow planet. She feels bad for them as they remind her of herself hiding out on The Hopeful. If someone had invaded her ship, she would have fought them too. She looks at Strang who notices and smiles back. When he realises she has drunk all of her wine, while he had only sipped half of his own, he looks quite surprised and she blushes with embarrassment. Her pink cheeks almost glow against her red skin. Fortunately he simply fills her up again and doesn't ask about her drinking habit.
After the fighting has died down the stormtroopers are left with just three captives. Two of them are aliens and one is a human. The human is young and handsome - for a human. The two aliens are the same species. They have yellow skin and no hair. They are very tall, standing several heads above Captain Londris, but they are also slow and lumbering. Their eyes are bulbous and come in a set of four. Protruding from their elbows, shoulders, knees appears to be bone carapace. Their bodies are relatively squat and their neck almost merges with their heads. Their teeth are over-extended and she couldn't identify if they have ears.
Strang: "Hideous aren't they?"
Clear couldn't deny she found them especially ugly.
Londris: "Prepare the prisoners for transport."
Strang: "No, Captain. Don't bother. I don't want those beasts on my ship. The Excellence should never be sullied with the likes of such animals."
Londris appears to hesitate and Clear wonders if her honour as a soldier, as the victor, conflicts with the order. However it seems she is loyal to her commander regardless of her personal feelings as the hesitation washes away.
Londris: "Shoot the aliens."
The human gets to his feet and runs at her. Her armoured fist hits the human's face, breaking his nose, and sends him crashing to the floor. He worms his way towards the aliens. The two of them look down at him with expressions that Clear can identify as sad despite their ugly features. Clear feels her lower lip rise in protest of the sight. She thought the creatures were indeed ugly, but could see they were intelligent beings with feelings of compassion for this human. More compassion than Clear had for him. One trooper fires into the first alien's chest and the bolt pierces straight through its chest. The human cries out while the second alien closes its eyes and cries... just before it too is killed and falls flat on the ground.
Strang: "Good work, Captain. You and your squad are to be commended. No losses, a single live captive. Colour me impressed."
Clear would have coloured him a monster.
Londris: "Yes Sir."
Clear notices the distinct lack of thanks, though the Warlord doesn't seem to.
Strang: "Return at once. We'll get some answers out of our new rebel friend."
Two stormtroopers drag the human out of the building and through the snow. He barely seems aware of himself, but he is aware and sometimes would shout profanity at his captors. Strang chuckles and turns to Clear. Once again he finds that she's drunk her wine.
Strang: "My my. You do like this wine, don't you? I don't blame you! It's quite a vintage! I suppose you rarely get to taste anything quite so delicate."
Clear: "Sorry. I'm a bit nervous."
He fills up her glass again. At least the drink is making everything more tolerable by numbing her senses. Before she hadn't minded the Warlord so much. He seemed like any other self-serving human with his warped and self-interested moral compass. But now he is an altogether different kind of man. Now he is a murderer, a bigot and a man to bark orders but never get his own hands dirty. She didn't like him much before. Now she is disgusted with him.
Strang: "Ah. And there is a brilliant view of The Excellence. Isn't she a beautiful machine?"
Clear looks at the window again and the view is now showing a shot of The Excellence from within the shuttle bound towards its docking bay. Whoever is wearing the camera is sitting in the co-pilot's seat. The Excellence itself is a large wedge shape and mostly coloured grey. However there are flecks of bright yellow all over the ship, as though it were peeling off with age. Strang seems to notice her confusion.
Strang: "Apparently the designer of the empire's capital ships had a thing for cheese wedges. He calculated that their shape would make the perfect vehicle for war. He wasn't wrong. But when they all came bright yellow... well... at least our ships were noticeable. However to repaint them all yellow again would take months. Imagine getting a lot of servitors up there trying to paint every nook and cranny yellow. So we just let them turn grey. Nowadays it's a sign of dignity, the greyer the ship. Means she's old and honoured. The Chimera, Grand Admiral Thrawn's ship that went to Earth, was one of the oldest. Not a single lick of yellow left I'm told!"
Clear thought the design especially strange and the idea that they were all once bright yellow seems ludicrous. However her own ship was little more than a big, broken box so she had no right to criticise in that regard.
They watch as the shuttle docks and Londris' men drag the human from it. They head straight for the cells.
Strang: "So. How about we hunt down your absconded spacecraft, my little flower?"
As much as she hates him, that seems like a fantastic idea and she nodded eagerly.
Strang: "Track all recent warp signatures. There can't be that many of them. Lock onto the most recent and set a course."
Crew began to work and Strang turns to her again.
Strang: "I must confess, I am most interested in seeing this ship of yours, my dear. So young and captain of your own ship!"
Clear: "Well... It would be great if my A.I. actually listened to me. This time though... it's gone completely off the wall. I never expected anything like this to happen."
Strang: "A.I.s. Can't stand them myself. I wouldn't dream of installing such a thing on The Excellence. Everything is best left in the hands of real people. The late Grand Admiral is a testament to that! I doubt the empire will jump to such measures again any time in the future. Not that it matters. There's not much of the empire left. Only Warlords and the infernal Rebel Alliance."
Clear: "I'm afraid the A.I. came with the ship when I inherited it. It's pretty old and in a poor state."
Strang: "What's her payload? I hope your rogue A.I. doesn't fancy taking shots at us. I would hate to reduce your own vessel to slag..."
Clear isn't sure she ought to answer honestly but if it means he won't shoot at The Hopeful, best to tell him.
Clear: "She's unarmed. None of the weapons systems work. The life support systems are barely functional. The A.I. has to prioritise structural repairs above all and The Hopeless-- I mean The Hopeful has a lot of holes still in her."
Strang: "I can hear the love of your ship in your voice, my girl, and I admire that in you. Let us retrieve your ship and see if we can put a stop to your rogue A.I.! Perhaps we could even refit your old relic into a sensible state of repair? What say you to that?"
Clear's heart leapt. The Hopeless in full working order, under her command and absent Note. That seemed like a dream come true. However she quickly understood the cost. Service in the Warlord's fleet. Possibly even he'd expect the return of his affections, as though they are for sale. She could never sell herself in such a fashion and the idea of becoming a commander of war seemed almost perverse - though not entirely unappealing, she has to admit to herself. But ultimately she enjoys her quiet life. Salvaging and bringing The Hopeless what she needs.
The Excellence lurches and the screen pursues a pinpoint. The stars elongate into streaks as the craft jumps. Quite unlike the experience of The Hopeless. She didn't even need to sit down. The jump is short, suggesting they haven't travelled very far. When they emerge from warp Clear is granted a wondrous view of a planet with a strange glowing halo protruding from the upper half of it. The aura is shining bright green and shifts like the surface of the sun, sending out its own green, solar rays into space. The planet below the green aura looks much like Earth, blue and beautiful. It was always something Clear envied about the Earth. It is such a beautiful star in the night sky - yet from it comes such darkness and hatred. Mars has it own red beauty but it had never been as elegant as the blue star in the night sky. And now here is another blue gem with an even greater and more peculiar beauty.
Clear: "What is that?"
Clear: "It's... beautiful."
Strang: "Yes. Well I suppose it has it can be alluring to the eye. But do not be deceived, my dear. That flux is the cause of many mishaps for the empire. It is a partial gateway to another universe. Yet it is, as the name suggests, in a state of constant flux. You cannot travel through it, we cannot send anything that way - but plenty comes our way."
Clear: "Like... ships?"
Strang: "No. Ideas."
Clear: "... ideas?"
Strang: "Everything about us, our empire, our culture, even those blasted rebels. It's all influenced by subconscious waves emanating from that flux. People often act not of their own consciousness, but act based on ideas that have been exuded through that haze of green. It's a difficult concept to grasp, I admit."
Clear: "I get it. It's kind of like soft power. Forcing another culture to accept your own through things like media, social influence and money..."
Strang: "Perhaps, except I doubt there's anything beyond that gateway forcing this upon us. I'm certain its merely an irregularity in space-time. Can you imagine, my dear, living your life and wondering... wondering if you are acting as you should act, or acting as someone else would act. Someone in another universe... It's a distressing thought. You'll have to excuse me if I don't share your passion for that infernal thing's physical attributes."
Clear has to sympathise with that and she wonders if he has been driven mad by the prospect that he may be living someone else's life, or living under the influence of some monstrous accident in space-time. Or perhaps this is not that man he was ever meant to be. Maybe he could have been a simple farmer, living a happy family life. Instead he's been forced into the role of warlord and dictator. Yet she feels it is his own will and desire to execute hostages. He cannot shift the blame.
Strang: "I say. Is that your ship?"
The windows view opens a zoomed in panel to show a large vessel. Clear gets excited as she recognises it as The Hopeless. However her excitement turns to surprise as she realises the engines are powers down. Not only are they powered down but they are covered by strange green tendrils. Tendrils that seems to be slowly worming their way across the entire hull. Clear panicks, unsure what is happening aboard her home.
Strang: "What is going on?"
Clear: "I have no idea. It looks like... plants."
Clear: "I think I should get over there."
Strang: "I'll have Captain Londris escort you at once."
She notes that the man doesn't offer to accompany her himself. Two Stormtroopers come in to take her down to the docking bay where Strang assured her Londris and her team would be waiting. Just as they exit the command deck, Clear turns and points at the two men.
Clear: "One. Just one comment about my arse and I'll beat you until you're screaming for your mothers. Do you understand me?"
The two men hold up their arms in surrender.
Clear: "I'm glad we have an understanding."
"This post had a lot going on, which is sometimes how things pan out - a short post followed by long post crammed with material. This is where Wai enters CatH, creating a bridge between the Never-ending Story and Clear and the Hopeless. Wai is probably the most "famous" of all the NeS Characters features in CatH as he was written for a lot during a short streak of posts by his creator, Cool Matty the Writer. However he is minor enough to slip into CatH and is one of the few plausible characters to be off-Earth. He features only a short, somewhat comical role, here but would later become a major feature for the story of Clear and her ship. The post gives a very interesting view of Strang, his methods and his personality but also delves into the complexity of Clear's mind and her position - horrified by Strang's lack of mercy and yet appreciative of his aid. I wanted nothing to be so black and white and have Clear navigate shades of grey throughout the series, with this being a heightened moment of that." - Britt the Writer
The Star Wars Retcon
"The biggest point for the Star Wars[Ext 1] retcon was the inclusion of Terra Flux. My idea was the explain why the Characters and organisations of the NeSiverse may resemble those of the Star Wars universe (when in fact they were originally the very same Characters/Organisations and not inspirations). The idea for a planet with a surrounding flux had already been created by myself as the homeworld of a Character named Ffion Heul (who would feature in CatH later) but it became a very useful tool when applied to this scenario. Strang's sympathetic sentiments about the flux raise interesting philosophical questions about 'fate' and whether someone can be blamed for their actions if fate, or some other method of external control, is causing their actions. There is also the retconned history for the Star Destroyers[Ext 2] design, one which fits in with a more NeS-like flare of cheese wedges." - Britt the Writer