Chapter Two: "The Cold and Silence"
A warm spring day that dawned on Terra Casus. A convoy of motor vehicles carried the survivors of the incident aboard the SFCV Heart of Winter  towards the Plaza de Fondateurs. The plaza, in the intervening weeks since then, had been restored to it's peaceful calm after the period it had spent during, and after the disaster, as a first aid station and emergency landing pad. Today, it was a busy, thriving urban spot, people crossing it on their way through the city.

For those within the vehicles, life was pleasant, although not luxurious. The seats were padded, though deep-set to accommodate figures in armor, while displays showed a slightly too-crisp view of the city outside as they rolled through. Repurposed armored transports, that rumbled through traffic. Kota looked across at Shino, Cassius, and Darcey, wincing as the ride caused him to bounce and he clutched a hand to his injured ribs. "So glad they sprung for a nice ride," He said, with a pained smile. "Heard you guys got some time to recover, just like me," He added.

The vehicles began to slow, coming to a halt in front of the steps of a large building, ornately built with columns and planters on the richly decorated dark stone stairs around it. A carved banner, high above the columns, proclaimed this as the House of Planets, where the senate gathered when it was in session. Lined up in two opposing rows, as if as an honor guard, stood a couple dozen troopers in the typical black and silver of military dress uniforms, though the appearance was slightly marred by the presence of their body armor and submachine guns.

A sharp-faced woman stepped from between the rows of the security force, watching as the ramps for the vehicles opened. "Good afternoon," She called to them, her voice sounding louder than was needed as the engines suddenly turned off, clearing the air of their normally loud noise. "I am  Colonel Miyori Dominguez, head of the Senate Security Force," She glanced at them as if expecting any of the passengers to suddenly turn violent. Her dark piercing eyes glanced at Shino, a former member of the SSF. "As some of you may know. When you've all had a moment to stretch your legs and clear your head, we'll move to your appointment. Are there any questions?" She asked, folding her hands together behind herself.

Kota shook his head, "Not from me," He said, getting out of his seat and looking at the others.

Info on the SSF:
Info on the House of Planets:
Cassius cracked his neck as the vehicle pulled into the plaza.
"Yeah, recover, something like that."

His body ached from the last few weeks of intense training. He had always considered himself to be in reasonable shape, working with heavy machinery all day did tend to build muscle tone and physical stamina. That self image changed when he met the charming Sargent Devin.

The morning after the meeting with the Protector of the Initiative, Cassius woke in the quarters where he had been temporarily billeted to a message requesting his presence at the base commander's office. After an introduction to the surprisingly cheerful looking woman running the place and signing a contract making him a civilian contractor on indefinite rendition to Central Command, he was offered a series of training courses. Knowing that back on the Heart he felt like a weight hanging uselessly around the necks of the soldiers charged with protecting him, he decided to take all of them. Two days later, lying broken on his bunk Cass wondered if he hadn't made a terrible mistake. Sargent Devin was in charge of his training. He was not a large man, perhaps 5cm shorter than Cassius, but he was thick, solid muscle from head to toe. Devin projected such a sense of solidity that his military issue prosthetic leg and ocular implant seemed flimsy by comparison. The man didn't smile, always spoke in a shout and never let Cass stop until the end of the task. He was a very easy man to hate yet Cassius never, despite the near constant stream of insults, felt that anything was personal. The Sargent was simply a man doing his job, and he intended to do it well.

Somehow Cass had made it through the weeks without dying. And despite the time demands of fitness training, range firing, CA/S practice and his self set task of studying any military tech he may need to patch or fix, he had found some energy to get to know his fellows over drinks and the occasional glozzum pipe, off base of course. They had even been tortured with his signing voice thanks to Shino dragging them all to a karaoke bar the night before last. Cass had been able to sneak a bottle into Lieutenant Jacob's room at one point after Kota was out of the woods. He was, all things considered, feeling pretty good. It might be a suicide mission but he would be going on it with good people and far more prepared than last time.

The message arriving about a formal meeting at Plaza de Fondateurs did raise an issue in his mind. He'd been given military fatigues for training and a compression suit that aided integration into his armour, but being a civilian he didn't get dress uniform. So he decided to get one made for himself. Now he was strolling down the exit ramp in a freshly pressed, high collared, black coat and trousers that roughly matched military dress. To mimic the gaudy shirt he was wearing last time he was here the lines of both the coat and trousers were trimmed with a bright neon blue, and a silver lily flower shined on the epilets of each shoulder.

Following his companions out of the transport, Cassius looked around in astonishment. The area showed very little signs of the damage it sustained just weeks before. So engrossed was he in trying to identify the locations he remembered debris crashing down on, or where pavement had been buckled and cracked, he missed most of the colonel's introduction. The amount of resources that must have gone in to repairing this place was so immense that it was in half seriousness when he replied to her call for questions.
"Err, yeah, I've got one. I must be turned around or something. Is this the Plaza de Fondateurs? It can't have been repaired THAT quickly?"
Shino had, much like Cassius'  musings, steeled herself and trained 'till she dropped. Sergeant Devin was... a rough instructor, one of the hardest to be under as far as she knew. But none of that mattered since she had passed her military drills with flying colours at the time. Still, she felt bad for Cassius and had taken the opportunity of a day off to sneak them all to one of the best karaoke bars in the city. Cassius' voice was only just slightly worse than some of her old comrades' and so, she was happily able to sing along to most of the -no doubt older songs- the engineer was singing.

Now, however, she was dressed crisp in her dress uniform -this one carried the SSF's, as it was her most recent posting. sigil. The dark glare didn't pass over, and Shino rose an eyebrow. Now what the hell was that all about? She served as she thought best, and considering Kota had been the one to assume temporary command, she just followed him as being a senior officer.

''I know I was good on paper and that I didn't seem -or was, for that matter- lax in any of my duties, but glaring like that makes me feel guilty'' she mumbled under her breath, but cheered up at Cassius' quip; ''Well my dear rockstar, you'd be amazed that when the Senate wants anything done, you'll see no effort -or resources- are left unspent. You got yourself into tip-shop shape in just a few weeks, and the hard-working people did the same with our precious Plaza.'' she said happily.

Cracking her neck and shoulders, shed rew a sharp breath, and saluted the Colonel. In her eagerness to see what the fuss was all about -well, as she could've assumed from the way things had been going the past weeks- things were going to be going... bad? A suicide mission wasn't out of the question with the whole issue of the Heart of Winter

''I wonder if I'll be seeing my family in the next fifteen years.'' she said coyly.

The Colonel gives Cassius a cold smile, "Yes, this is Plaza de Fondateurs. Concrete is quick to pour. The buildings may take longer to repair, but the plaza itself," She gestures around, broadly, to indicate the large square. "Isn't terribly complicated." She gives an almost pleasant smile, glancing over Kota and then to Sergeant Devin and squad behind them, also disembarking from the squad. Her eyes paused in their rapid movements, to flick back to Cassius' garb, and her head tilts almost imperceptibly.

Kota's lip curls, and he glances over at Cassius, as if to say 'I think you caught her attention', before his attention turns to Shino, and he lightly elbows her. Not enough to hurt, "Hey," He murmured, "You did good on the ship, so don'tcha worry," he winked at her, wincing slightly at the movement of his ribs from turning in place. "You're alright by me."

Colonel Dominguez returned Shino's crisp salute, her head nodding approvingly, and a faint hint of a smile touched her lips, though it could also have just been a trick of the light. "Come along," She turned, sharply, and began to walk towards the stairs towards the main entrance of the sprawling House of Planets. On either side, the two rows of security forces brought their weapons up in presentation, as the group (I presume) followed after the Colonel. They stepped in, moving through a myriad of corridors, most familiar to Shino, though a few even she had never seen before.
The corridors here are made of stone carved, and molded stone, with high vaulted ceilings with carved, decorative pillars here and there, and a seeming dimness cast by the indirect light from the high windows that added an almost sleepy, abandoned feeling to the building, the sounds of their footsteps lost in the cavernous spaces. They were guided down a darker, and, after the wide and tall corridors of the rest of the building, almost claustrophobically normal proportioned corridor. It dead-ended at a pair of double doors that were, for the moment, sealed, the barest whisper of noise on the other side suggesting a gathering of people. A small light blinked beside it, a light green. A camera was positioned above the door, it's unblinking lens fixed on the hallway. It was the only obvious camera the group had seen, though from experience Shino knew there would be more, and it would not take an engineer of Cassius' expertise to pick out others.

"They're ready for you, when you're ready," The Colonel said. "I suggest you take a few moments. The first time inside the Senate chamber can be... disorienting." She gave a tight smile, and stepped back.

Kota looked to the others, and took a deep breath. "Ya'll ready?" He asked, seeming nervous. He wiped his palms on his pants legs, looking to Cassius, Devin, and Shino. Devin shrugged, "They're civvies, we've faced worse."

Shino smiled right back at the Colonel, albeit a little less faint. As she followed the (mostly) familiar halls, she took the time to leisurely wander without a clear goal in mind. Of course, she could assume where they would be going, but it wasn't like Shino was exactly... enthused to go. But all her personal feelings aside, she was very much a soldier, and as such, would obey.

Well, not like she could actually decline, right? And hell, maybe as a reward, she could spend at least a few months with her family before she was going to be shipped off again. But all that musing aside, Shino almost bumped into the other soldiers present when she halted in front of the doors.

''After witnessing the Heart of Winter's interior... I don't think nervous begins to cut it. If even a sliver of my mind is right of what we're embarking on, I guess the Senate is a kennel full of eager-to-be-adopted puppies.'' she spoke with a slight giggle, but nonetheless, braced herself with a a deep breath to calm herself. She was a soldier, and had to act as such. ''I'm ready. You, Cass? Ready to get the show on? At least this can't be worse than the karaoke bar, right?''
Walking through the corridors of power, Cassius felt surprisingly calm. Maybe it was the visit to those much less ornate, but far more powerful corridors a few weeks before, or perhaps it was the sense of purpose in the path he had set himself on.
"Or maybe I'm just so exhausted from all the training I just don't care." He finished the thought out loud.

"Hey, Sarge." Cass dropped back to walk alongside his tormentor "What are you doing here anyway? Don't tell me they ropped you into this mess as well?"

Reaching the doors to the senate chamber Cassius once again realised that his expectations were wrong. Why on earth-that-was were they meeting the entire assembly like this. Surely they don't ALL want to question them on things they know nothing about?
"They'll get something alright. Serves them right for putting us on the spot" he mumbled.

Hearing Shino's joke about karaoke burst the tension he hadn't realised was building inside him with a laugh.
"I dunno, it might be worse for them. Ha! Let's get this over with then."
And with that he went to stride through the doors.

Kota laughed, looking at Shino. "Somehow I have a hard time imagining the Senate as puppies. Let's see if I can keep that mental image while we talk to them," He said, trying to hold back another burst of laughter. Colonel Miyori frowns at the two of them, subtly shaking her head with unspoken disapproval.

Sergeant Devin looked at Cassius, nodding, "Yeah, well, they wanted everyone who saw what was up there along. I was along for the ride, so I got roped into this goat-fuck, whether or not I want any part of it." He gave a small shrug, his cybernetic whining as he moved. "Beats staying home and training recruits all year, especially when they don't even know which end goes 'bang'."

Kota shrugged, "Guess we'll find out what the Senate wants. And what the Senate wants, the senate usually gets," He grumbled to Cassius.

As the party strode through the double doors, they found themselves in the center of a large domed chamber. Around them rose rows and rows of desks, each one marked with a planet's name and coordinates, behind each sat a man or a woman, almost all gazing in at the party in the pit in the center of the room. In sharp contrast to the lights of the pit was the domed ceiling, high overhead, with dark, small points of light marking out constellations and stars, some highlighted as belonging to the planets represented by the Senate.

Directly ahead of the party was a pair of desks, one occupied, one not. The occupied one was marked with the coordinates and name for Sanctuary, the other lacked coordinates, but was marked simply 'Earth'. A sharp-faced younger man sat behind the one marked for Sanctuary. He cleared his throat, looking at Cassius as the first to emerge, and then to the others. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," He said, eyeing them over with the same look one might give something caught in their shoe. "We've asked you here today for a particular reason. While some-" He glances around the Senate with a baleful expression, "Might wish to ask you more about what occurred in orbit, the majority of us feel that your testimony on camera afterwards was sufficient. However, as the closest we have to 'experts' in this... unusual situation, the Senate finds itself in the position of desiring to..." He makes a vague motion with his hand. "Request-" He spits the word out as if it was somehow distasteful. "Your cooperation and assistance in investigating deeper into this situation."

If anything, Shino's facial expression was clear as day. Request? No. This was an order. One she couldn't really refuse or lose all she worked so hard for to achieve so far.
Shino's usual kind (and slightly mischievous) expression turned steely, resolved and hardened. Kota's words echoed in her mind.  Guess we'll find out what the Senate wants. And what the Senate wants, the senate usually gets,

Fat chance of that being good for any of us. Hell, if any of us survive this I'll be damned if I don't get leave to see my family, and a hefty fuckin'  progression towards a new, better posting. she thought rather sourly. Not that she didn't want to serve -on the contrary. But this might just be one of those cases where it was more likely that all of them ended up in a body bag, or at the mercy of some space cowboys, rather than ceremoniously awarded with a medal for valiant and frankly ludicrous efforts.

Well, Shino guessed, there were always the boons, as well. Can't really sancation (unofficially) an operation like this without severe benefits to the job itself. Some of it she could already see happen and had already happened. Other things... not so much, but a girl can dream, right?

However, as a little snarky tip of the iceberg, Shino did speak up. ''And this request wouldn't come with truffles included in our every meal now would it? Long as we get better-tasting rations, I stand ready.'' she said, and managed a little smile, full well knowing that this would earn the ire of some. Well, let them.

Sending us on what might just be a suicide mission. This much they should put up with or are they all just playing in their ivory towers?

Shino was upbeat and cheery, but that didn't mean she was going to let a rose-coloured, rainbow-infused mirror paint the image as romantically as possible in her mind. This was going to be dangerous. More so than anything she'd ever done, and that included getting pelted by orbital defences and dodging shipwrecks while under fire from a derelict vessel. Like hell she was going to have any illusions.

She stood straight-backed, and returned the glares and stares with a passive, yet steadfast look of her own, showing, if anything, her resolve and loyalty to the Initiative.
Cassius looked around the room, he spotted the representative from Predas. Giving the stout little man a quick wink he then locked eyes with the speaker ahead. The senator from sanctuary obviously felt uncomfortable having to ask anything, and Cass wasn't prepared to let him sit comfortably.
'Good on you lass' he thought to himself as Shino asked about rations. Waiting a breath so he was sure she had finished Cass cleared his throat, ensuring that he had eye contact again before he spoke up.

"A request is it? That's not the impression your boss gave. It's why we're here after all" Cass smiled, and gestured around the room.
"Even so, what noble citizen could sit behind a desk when a request for aid is made? Of course I'll be more than happy to provide any assistance I can. As for requests of my own, I'll hold off until I know more myself."

House of Planets, Sanctuary (Cassius, Shino)
A dry chuckle ran through the room at Shino's remark, a few smiles showing on the faces of senators, as if they knew the relative quality of military rations. The representative from Sanctuary gave a curt nod. "I think we can do something about that for while you're traveling. When you're off the ship in the field, however, you'll have to make do with the rations we have." He looked around at the other senators, and then back to Cassisus, raising an eyebrow, before giving a curt nod.

The senator cleared his throat, glancing at Kota and Devin, standing at ease, and then at the others. "Our plan is to authorize the release of materials to aid you in tracing back the path of the Heart of Winter. As the closest things we have to experts in the matter," The senator made a face, as if that somehow was their fault. "Included in this will be the destroyer, the Dinavar, as well as other materials you would need, including additional support, and whatever might be needed as the time comes. You would, additionally, potentially be given additional matters to look into that are deemed matters of interest." He looked them over. "The first place, you would be dispatched, would be to the Aditi system, which has gone silent." The senator folded his arms across his chest as he stood behind his desk.

Kota shivered, slightly, not happy about the number of eyes on him, but he pursed his lips, nodding. "I'll do it," He said, not quite under his breath, but there was a look of grim determination on his face, before he glanced at the others. Devin nodded, his jaw clenched slightly.

SFCV Dinavar - Sanctuary Orbit (Matteus Rice)
The SFCV Dinavar (D13) was old, and worn, and built long ago for a war far, far away. While the key components had been updated and modernized, and given loving attention by a veritable army of technicians, the less essential parts had been left as they were when the ship had been sent to be mothballed. The airlock was in clearly good working order, but it had the inevitable patches of wear from countless times cycling open and closed. At the moment, the airlock hung open, revealing worn corridors beyond, the deck plating visible through it worn down to the bare metal.

One of the sailors in the group glanced at Matthew Rice, as they walked along the corridors of Soldat-Tor, an orbital support platform in orbit over Sanctuary, where the ship was currently docked. "Hey, think the ship they're giving us is some sort of museum piece?" She asked with a laugh. "Seems like it's one of oldest, too," She folded his arms across her chest, smacking her gum as she walks. "At least we've got marines with us to keep us company, eh?" She glances at Matt, playfully elbowing him in the side. "Where you from, jarhead?"

Taelbern, Aditi System (Cassidy)
The expedition sent through to the Aditi System by the Ranger Exploration Corps had run into trouble, there was no way around it. The system was in pure chaos. The Expedition Leader, a Captain, looked around at the assembled team, as they stood in the shuttle bay of the small prowler. "We don't know what we're going to find when we hit the surface," He said, looking around at them, and then to Cassidy. "You're going to be on scouting, Cassidy," He said, before turning to give the others their assignments.

That had been three days ago, and everything, everything had gone to hell since then. The expedition had been nearly massacred, their shuttle shot down when it had attempted to take off after dropping them off. The expedition had gotten split up, and in some cases, brutally massacred. It had taken one encounter with... those things before they learned to avoid the populace here. Dawn breaks today, with some of the survivors of the expedition huddling in a shelter near what had been the Colonial Authority building, located near the center of town. "Hey, Cassidy," Another survivor, a sharp-faced man. "Thinking about a run to the CA building. You got any thoughts on it?"


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