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[iC] Space Pirates

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  • Saturn Proxima

It was not just the debris of countless of rocks decorating the rings of Saturn. This time, it was also the debris of Grineer fighters and gunboats but also that of civilian ships that got caught by the many hidden missile platforms of the orbit. Not long ago, the Tenno arrived here with their new old Railjacks and swept the area, taking out the missile base and marking it for their allies to either capture the position, scrap or destroy it before the Grineer would return to take what they built.

However, since the Lotus was gone, the Tenno, even with the assistance of their powerful cephalons, were not able to always be to the right time at the right place. And whenever a former battlefield was left alone, it attracted those that saw free stuff for the taking. Not the missile base, of course, but countless wrecks with still working components, cargo crates stuffed with at least somewhat valuable goods and here and there even abandoned snubcrafts in the most rare cases. This was exactly what Ez was after. 

"Alright, looks like we can go in now. Deploy the Scavengers and keep the ship close to the bigger rocks. Keep the cloak ready,Ez sounded as he gazed out of the bridge's canopy. The lean man with the long black hair turned around and smirked at his bridge officers as he moved back to his command seat. At the same time, the remotely controlled Scavenger left the drone launcher of the black painted Corpus frigate, if one wanted to still call it a Corpus ship despite all the makeshift alterations to it. Boosting through the rock belt, the busy little machines picked up what the Tenno left behind here. One of them even stumbled over an only slightly damaged Itzal Archwing, probably discarded when the formerly attached Warframe was under fire. Always a bad idea to approach a Grineer gunboat with an Itzal.

"Setta, anything on the long range sensors?the Captain asked while looking over at the many screens showing various camera feeds from the drones. In response, Cephalon Setta appeared on the right side of the main screen, a pyramid-shaped digital entity with dark grey faces and blue edges.

"Negative, Captain. I am overly pleased to announce the complete absence of any potential hostile contacts on the sensors.With that, the Cephalon disappeared again from the main screen. Sighing, Ez continued to watch the drones doing the hard work as they marked the valuable goods for the transfer beams. This was usually a rather tense time, as Cephalon Setta was not always reliable when it came to the Grineer weather forecast. Fighting off some scouts and gunboats was not an issue. A fleet of Galleons was, though. However, after having done this job quite a bunch of times, Ez and his crew knew the drill. Watching the Tenno do their jobs, wait for them to leave, uncloak and take what they didn't collect. And the moment the Grineer would show up again, the ship would recall all drones via transport beams, cloak and disappear.

It wouldn't be much different this time, Ez thought. Pretty much everyone thought so, until the girl at one of the drone operation consoles noticed something uncommon. "Erh, Ez, my drone just found something. Could you take a look at it?The Captain hesitated for a moment, wondering why he had to get up and move over to her instead of her putting her feed on the main screen. Stopping right behind her seat, he leaned over her backrest and placed his chin ontop of her head, his hands on her shoulders.

He exhaled as he realized what they were looking at. A cryopod. Almost undamaged. A very young man was inside, visible through the glass, frozen in cryostasis. "Oh,the Captain exclaimed in a spontaneous display of his vocabulary. "Looks like the Tenno forgot to pick that one up. Life signs?" he asked.

"Weak, apparently. I mean, he looks like he didn't eat in a while. The pod is slightly damaged, life support ceasing in approximately less than two hours. Want me to reel him in?"

There was a noticable hesitation. The Captain did not respond. The girl stared at the feed, then turned around to look up at her Captain. She gave him a questioning glance. "We're in big trouble if that is one of Lotus' children, you know that. I can't risk it. The Tenno will pick this one up." he explained.

"The boy will be dead before they can react, Ez.Waiting for his order, she sighed inwardly. He didn't say it. The girl then turned around again, looking at the monitor. "No implants. He also doesn't seem to be in their age." Again, silence. "Ez, please. I'll take the full responsibility for him. We could use some additional crew members.She smirked at the screen, at the sight of the young man. Brown hair almost reaching to his shoulders, slim body, about 5'6". His overall was slightly dirty, with some blood stains on them. The girl blissfully ignored those, however, being more focused on the pretty face of the young man.

Ez sighed in resignation. "Alright, Sombs, you'll take care of him. Get him onboard, then bring him to the medical bay. Tell Setta to scan him thoroughly. The last thing I want on my ship is an infestee." he said and stroked the girl's arms before returning to the commanding chair.

Smiling widely, Sombs tasked her drone to bring the cryopod back to the ship. It was not the first time they found survivors in space, but they never were this pretty.

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  • Saturn Proxima

The Scavengers were still doing their job as Sombs hat moved down to the cargo bay, looking with big eyes at the cryopod. Her hand stroked over the glass, wiping the thin layer of semi-frozen air off the surface to look at the young man inside of the pod. "You heard the Captain, little prince. You better do me the favor and not be a troublemaker, alright?Her hand moved down to the pod's control interface. After a few moments of taking in the view of the craft infront of her, she took the first best guess and pushed what looked like a button. And just like that, the pod became active, glowing for a moment before it opened up, allowing gases to quickly escape the formerly sealed container.

Her eyes widened even further as she almost impatiently glanced at the young man. Was he waking up? Yes, something was happening. His eyes were moving, still covered by the lids. His fingers shook slightly, each little move rather uncontrolled and weak. Very slowly he opened his eyes, his vision blurry. Sombs leaned a bit more over the open pod, wanting to welcome him with a smirk. "Easy now. Are you feeling okay?" Her voice was warm. Her gloved hand at his forehead, too. 

"Where... am I..." His voice was strained, barely audible. Sombs leaned in closer, her head causing a dark spot to dominate his vision. Her long jet-black hair was slightly brushing over his neck. "Food... I'm starving..." 

"Yeah, those are my first words in the morning, too," she joked and grabbed him to pull him out of the pod. It was a bit rough at first but she proved to be more careful when she dropped him next to the pod, making him sit and lean against it. Then she turned away from him for a moment, fetching something from a small Corpus-ish suitcase she had placed behind her before opening the pod. A moment later she unwrapped a food bar, until she took a second look at him, realizing he probably wasn't strong enough to chew it right now. Turning around a second time, she fetched a bottle of cooled Maprico juice and opened it for him. "Here, drink that first." 

Without giving him time to react, she carefully stuffed the suction opening into his mouth. "Suck. It's just juice, you'll like it." Hopefully. Not everyone liked Maprico juice. Shortly afterwards she heard him suckling on the bottle, which made her smile. "Good boy. My name is Sombra, by the way. You can call me Sombs, tho. What is your name?" 

Of course he couldn't respond while drinking, but he took his sweet time. When he grunted slightly, she pulled the bottle away and placed it next to him. His vision was slowly improving yet still blurry. "Noel," he replied. "Where... am I?" 

"Nice to meet you, Noel. We found your life pod in space, here at Saturn. You're on the Apahanta now." 

Noel exhaled audibly, closing his eyes before shaking his head slightly. To Sombra, it seemed like he was frustrated. "Did you... did you pick up more life pods?" 

Sombra's smile vanished for a moment and she inhaled sharply. There were dried blood stains on his overall. Not his own. It just hit her that he must have gotten through something horrible, and given they hadn't found any other cryopods in space, chances were Noel was the only survivor of whatever happened here. Either that or the Tenno took the other survivors with them. Hesitating, she smirked again, just slightly, and took one of his hands. There was no resistance coming from him, his arms were practically limp. "So far you are the only one we found here. Your cryopod was about to die, and we just happened to be here, right on time. We saved you, and you're in safety now. Our drones are still searching the area, though, so maybe we find something." 

He nodded slightly. "You're Tenno?" 

"We're... uh... well, we trade with them, sometimes." Explaining this to him, right now, was probably not the best idea. "I'm sorry for asking, but do you remember anything? How did you end up here?" 

He chortled, blinking multiple times. "Grineer ambushed us, we got boarded." Noel frowned, shaking his head again. "The security didn't stand a chance... so I took... the cryopod... that's all I know..." 

"You were probably on the way to Kronia. If the Tenno picked up other survivors, we might find them there. Did you travel on your own or with your family?" Sombra asked, offering him the food bar.

He took it, only to stare at it. "We fled from Strata because of the Fomorian. My parents and I, that is..."

She smiled at him, brushing a strand of his hair out of his vision. "Then I'll ask the Captain to set course for Kronia. Maybe your parents are waiting there!"

Noel shook his head, tears ran down his cheeks. "They won't be there..."

His shaky voice made her frown, realizing what he tried to say that way. "O-oh...He dropped the food bar, closed his eyes and took a sharp breath. Sombra scooted a bit closer and embraced him, stroking him, feeling a surprising amount of pity for the boy. On the other hand she was glad about what he just said. It meant he was not a Tenno, or at least not a child of the Lotus.

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  • Saturn Proxima

One of the Scavengers was disabling an automated mining laser turret. The Grineer had countless of those deployed all over the system, yet they were still something of value. If not for the traders, then for the Captain. Said Captain stood next to Sombra in this very moment, in the medical bay, watching Dr. Carr, a woman in her early fifties, examining Noel. The boy sat on a medi-bed, his slender upper body uncovered, showing clear signs of undernourishment. The Captain knead his lower lip slightly with his teeth at the sight. He and Sombra were a few meters away from them, so neither Dr. Carr nor Noel would hear them talking in lowered voice.

"So you're saying he has nowhere to go now. Parents dead, no other relatives, no home,Ez asked quietly, watching as Dr. Carr seemed to consult Cephalon Setta on a monitor during the scanning. "Did he say anything about where we should drop him off?

"No, nothing. He said they were on Strata before, but apparently they were living on their ship, not on the relay. He is on his own, now. Entirely.Exhaling audibly, she turned towards Ez and glanced at him with wide open eyes. "Do we keep him?"

"He's a boy, not a kavat.Seeing as Dr. Carr had asked the boy to remove his remaining clothes entirely, he grabbed Sombra and made her turn away from them for the moment. Sombra seemed quite curious before that intervention. "Setta, take his body measures and craft an Apahanta suit for him. Can't have him run around in bloodstained stuff anyway."

"With the greatest pleasure, dear Captain!the omnipresent Cephalon returned.

"I'll interview him once they are done with the medical check. You're quite adamant about him, you know that? Do I need to be worried?" he asked the girl, which in return smirked, blushing.

"We need more crew, as you said, love," she replied in a cheeky manner. "As I said, he lived most of his life on a ship, so he'll surely have some traits to make himself useful here. If you get unhappy with him, you can still throw him out of the airlocks or sell him to the Corpus.Without much thought, she was about to turn around to look at Noel yet the Captain stopped her right on time, his hand keeping her head in place.

"Did you explain to him what we are?" Sombra shook her head.

"I am happy to announce the successful completion of your request, dear Captain!Somewhere else on the ship, at the foundry, a MOA panicked suddenly, fetched the folded piece of leathery cloth with its head (for the lack of better suited limbs) and hurried, as if its existence was depening on it, as fast as possible to the medical bay. It was possibly related to the constant horrible threats the poor MOA received from the bipolar Cephalon.

At this point the crew of the Apahanta was unaware of the Grineer Galleon that was about to enter the area. After all, there was a missile base to reclaim...

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  • Saturn Proxima

The door slid open and the Captain entered his personal quarters, followed by Noel, now wearing a jumpsuit in black and blue, just like everyone else on the ship did. The room was rather normal-ish, Noel thought as he looked around. One quarter was filled by a giant corner bed. Someone had taken the time to fold the blankets and on one side were a bunch of floofs, a Thumper floof guarding the very corner. There were no windows here, but a bunch of holo screens decorated the walls. It was a weird mix of generic decor and someone having sneezed sprinkles of charme around. An inactive cleaner bot was on the floor next to the bed. There was also a rather small round table with two chairs in the other corner next to a bunch of crates. Food stuff, Noel thought.

Ez moved to one of the chairs and pointed at the other. "I'm sorry for your losses. I can relate, though. Many here onboard can,the handsome man sounded as he sat down, while Noel took the invitation and moved closer. He clearly felt less weak now, but the new jumpsuit couldn't hide his weak physical stature.

"What is going to happen now?" the boy asked, not really brave enough to look into the Captain's eyes. This man was captaining the ship, he was surely a person commanding respect. Instead he glanced over to the Thumper floof. That was less intimidating than the lean man with the long black hair.

"That depends on you," the man responded. "We can drop you off at the closest relay. Maybe the Tenno will take better care of you. Possibly sending you to Cetus or some other settlement or colony ship. We're sort of puzzled on what to do with you ourselves, to be honest. I usually don't... do things like that, if you catch my drift."

For a moment, Noel squinted at the Captain. "I... don't think I do. Maybe you could, uh, tell me who you are."

That hit Ez by surprise. Sombra probably didn't tell him anything at all. Literally nothing. He shook his head slightly and smirked. "Pardon me, I forgot to introduce myself. I am Captain Ezrael Vertiga. Ezrael, with a-e. For some reason people get my name wrong quite often.The man frowned for a moment, clearly thinking about something. "You're on the Apahanta, a... freelancing... Corpus frigate. We're freelancers, unaffiliated, trying to stay out of the war out there. We found you when we launched our Scavengers here, trying to loot anything we can to ensure we can stay independent.

Noel squinted at him again. "Uh, okay. For a few minutes I thought you guys are pirates,the young man said in a rather blunt way.

Ezrael chuckled nervously at that remark. "Well, to some people, we probably are pirates. Mostly to the Grineer. And here and there a few other people. Not entirely fitting, and also rather reputation-damaging, if you ask me. We're freelancers." 

"I see. Freelancers...There was a certain bit of scepsis in Noel's voice.

"It's a bit more complicated than that, but it's fitting the most. Anyway, Sombra told me you don't really know where to go now, so the alternative to handing you over to the Tenno or Ostrons would be that you stay and try to make yourself useful on my ship. Do you have any interesting skills? Can you balance a ball on your nose while rhythmically clapping to an octavian song?"

Noel thought about the latter question for a moment, imagining it, then wondering whether that was a joke. It certainly seemed like a joke. But then again, what if it was not? The Origin System was full of weird people. "I can't balance balls on my nose, but I can learn that, if you want. I'm more of a tinkerer, though. But then again, you already have a Cephalon for that. Maybe I could pilot a drone or something? Wait, how is living here, anyway? Aren't you getting into trouble out here?"

"As often as you'd get in any other place,"
 Ezrael replied and smiled at the boy. "We're using a powerful void cloak to hide the Apahanta most of the time, usually only when it is needed, though. The ship is small enough to hide behind bigger rocks, so we can remain unseen for weeks. We're also dampening our signature output, so our enemies should only see us on their sensors if they really know what to look for." 

"So, you're basically swooping in when the situation is convenient and take what you can and then hide again. Sounds rather safe."

Just in that moment the alerts went on. The lights all over the ship turned red. Reacting quickly, Ezrael stood up. "Setta, report!"

"Grineer Galleon has entered the area.
Cephalon Setta said that in an awkwardly happy voice. "How intriguing! I was not able to see them coming!"

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  • Saturn Proxima

The huge Grineer warship was slowly moving towards the missile base, escorts left and right swarming out to patrol the area. It didn't take much time for them to spot the scavenging drones out there. Time was passing in seconds now, and Ezrael had returned to the bridge, followed by Noel. The Captain moved over to the monitors, while one of his bridge officers approached him. An athletic woman with long, slightly wavy chestnut hair, her facial expression rather cold. "Void Cloak is charging up already. They didn't notice us so far, only our drones. Recall order was given, they just need more time. Bad news are they will likely lead the Grineer right to us."

"Losing them will be a bigger setback,"
Ezrael sounded quietly, pondering on how to deal with this situation. "We can't synthesize all of their components. I also wouldn't want this trip here to be a failure. Are you up for some action, Sherry?" He smirked at the woman next to him.

"What's the plan?" she asked in a rather quick manner.

"That Galleon has a lot of wings at its disposal. If we let them roam around without resistance, they'll spread out and eventually get all of our drones. We also can't allow them to follow the drones over here, I don't want to get the Apahanta into a battle in her current shape. Take the Gox and a swarm of our Ospreys, approach the Galleon and give it a few Hit&Run strikes from the distance. It's a big target, you'll be able to hit it from far away. They won't be able to hit you with their heavy guns, so they'll most likely send their already dispatched ships out there to get you. Once you got their attention, lure them into one of those dense rock formations," the Captain explained, only to receive a nod from Sherry before she stepped away. Ezrael then realized Noel had followed him to the bridge and was snooping around at the many consoles and screens. "Setta, lead the boy to the protected area!"

"It would be my absolute pleasure to serve you by carrying out your order, my dear Captain! Crewman Noel, follow the light markings, if you would.The boy first hesitated, looking up to Ezrael in an almost begging way, but did as he was asked to in a deflated manner.

Minutes were passing and a black painted Corpus Gox dropped out of the hangar of the Apahanta, followed by multiple Ospreys of the same coloring. Cloaking away, they left the rock formation the Apahanta was hiding in and made a wide bow before approaching the Grineer Galleon. Many kilometers away, the first Scavenger was shot down by a Gyra Cutter. There was laughter on the intercepted radio chatter. The Galleon itself was close to the missile base. A few more minutes passed and the Gox dropped out of cloak. The two arms of the vessel opened up, reveiling two alterations to the typical model, two Dumbfire Missile Launchers where the mining lasers used to be. From far away the explosives were launched in the general direction of the Galleon before the Gox made a turn to gain distance again while the payloads were propelling towards their target.

The size of these puny warheads didn't impress anyone on the Galleon. They simply ignored it, not even bothering to have the defensive turrets target them. Much to their surprise, the explosions caused by the two puny warheads was far more devastating than it was assumed to be, actually causing cracks in the mighty armor plating of the battleship. After a few seconds of confusion onboard, the plan seemed to bear fruits as a few smaller vessels made sharp turns and headed for the Gox at max speed.

On the Apahanta, the crew was either manning the battlestations or hidden in the structurally best protected room of the ship. It was only now that Noel got an idea of how many people were on this ship, and it surprised him. Not that many. The room was well lit and many screens were showing what was going on outside. When the boy had arrived, he simply moved over to the one face he actually knew already, which was Sombra. She sat on the floor next to a rather large black Smeeta Kavat with orange paws, which seemed to sleep. She waved him over, and with a certain respect for the actual predator sitting right next to the girl, he carefully moved closer and sat down as well, mostly eyeing the animal.

"Glad you found your way here," Sombra said and gifted him with a smirk, which caused him to smile back at her for a moment. The kavat was smirking as well, but that was more related to the shape of its face. In fact, it was sleeping.

"Do you think this will end well?" Noel asked her, looking up at one of the screens, showing a magnified feed of the Gox throwing another round of heavy warheads at the Grineer Galleon, just to do another turn. This time the turrets were trying to intercept the warheads. They managed to shoot one down, the other hit again. Despite the immense power of the explosions, the damage done was only able to cause cracks in the hulls.

"So far it always did, Noel," she told him, seemingly convinced that everything, indeed, will end well. "We're well equipped and were in worse situations already. We're doing this for three years already, you know." It was a bit more than two years, technically, but Noel didn't need to know the exact facts. "We're not in danger. Right now, this is more about protecting our assets before running."

"Everyone seemed surprised about this ship suddenly appearing here. Maybe we shouldn't push our luck."

She patted his knee and kept her hand on it for the moment. "We just found you here, Noel, few moments before your cryopod would have ceased to function. I doubt fate wants you to die today."

"Fate can be a cruel mistress."

"I can be, too,
Sombra replied and gave him an awkward smirk, causing him to blush and look away for a moment. "Things will go well. Mittens and I are lucky charms, you know?" She pointed at the kavat, stroking gently through its head fluff.

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  • Saturn Proxima

The Grineer snubs had made their way over to the Gox, trying to getting into firing range while it hurried away from them. More and more of them seemed to plot intercept course and the Cutters were catching up slowly but steadily. That was until the Gox cloaked away, in trade for multiple Ospreys decloaking, flanking the Cutters. The Grineer were forced to react, allowing the stealthy Gox to get away.

However, not everything went according to the plan. One of the deployed Gokstak Crewships was still following one of the drones. It was already in firing range but instead of shooting the Scavenger out of space, it simply followed. Then, at some point, it set a new course. The other Grineer snubs broke off as well, moving towards the same location. The Galleon, too. Ezrael sat in the command chair as he realized what happened. They must have found them. He stood up, chewing on his lower lip as he watched the Galleon slowly turning towards the Apahanta. "Sherry, come back at once! Setta, they know we are here, no need to hide here any longer. Set waypoints to collect the remaining Scavengers and the Gox, then get us out of here before the Galleon can open fire on us!

"Calculations done as we speak, beloved Captain! Please allow me to remind you that we will get dangerously close to the artillery range of the Galleon if we proceed," the Cephalon sounded in its happy voice while floating around on screen.

"Thank you for the reminder," Ezrael mumbled, his tone hinting that he was fully aware of it. "We'll probably get in range of the gunships, though. Setta, prepare defensive perimeters, alert all proxy units and ready the combat suits."

Now that the Apahanta was moving out of the cluster of asteroids, the civilians in the protected area held their breath as they watched the camera feeds. The ship was actually moving towards the enemy! Would they dare to enter an open battle right here and right now? Noel swallowed. He didn't really like the idea of losing his life so shortly after getting rescued. Sombra however placed her hand on his shoulder, smiling at him.

The Gox uncloaked again, now being out of flux energy to keep the cloak maintained. It headed straight for the black Corpus frigate, sort-of-chased by Cutters on the way to the same target. Not allowing that, the Gox boosted closer towards them. Its two defensive turrets opened fire on the first Cutter, not really posing a threat to it but at least causing it make a turn and focus on the Gox again. This was the beginning of a dogfight, which was first in favor of the Corpus vessel before other Cutters and Flaks jumped into the battle and tailed the Gox. The little bulky vessel however tried its best to outmanouver the Grineer snubs. Slowly but steadily, however, it got overwhelmed by the numbers. The shields were about to fail. Just in that moment the Apahanta closed in, its powerful turrets shredding the tiny Grineer vessels.

"Yissss," Noel sounded, clenching his fist as the Gox was saved and approached the hangar bay. Just to make sure he was not the only one celebrating the manouver, he looked over to Sombra, who was just standing up and made a few steps away, heading for the door. Mittens was following her. "Hey, wait, where are you going?" he asked her, standing up as well, intending to follow her.

"Pretty sure the Grineer will send boarding parties," she replied as she moved. The door opened and she left for the corridor. He followed, not sure whether that was a good idea at all.

"So you're going to do what? Fight them?" he asked, keeping a certain distance because of the tall Smeeta Kavat. That animal was quite intimidating despite acting rather domesticated. It was walking right beside her.

"Well, yes, of course. I'd rather fight then let them slaughter me once they manage to enter the secured area.She had a point there, the boy thought. "We have the equipment to defend ourselves, you know. Ez probably doesn't want me to show you already, but..."

 He gave her a questioning look as they entered a lift.

She smirked at him, pushing the button for the armory on the panel. With that, the elevator started moving. Mittens walked over to Noel and leaned in to sniffle at him, which caused him to paralyze. The Kavat was just as tall as he was. "I have a good feeling about you. Mittens would react differently if you were a bad boi. Pretty sure you'll stay with us."

Noel blushed slightly when the Kavat purred. The lift stopped and the door opened, revealing another wide corridor, typical for Corpus ships. Sombra whistled quickly and Mittens followed her out of the lift. Noel gulped, deciding it was better to just tag along anyway. Things were getting tense as he could hear and feel the impacts of Grineer weaponry hitting the shields of the Apahanta. The turrets were busy fending off the enemy.

Reaching the armory, Noel was met with the sight of multiple warframes standing at the walls. But how? He didn't understand. These people weren't Tenno. They weren't children of the Lotus. They couldn't use them, right? That wouldn't make sense, not at all. Sombra walked over to a Khora warframe, stopping infront of it. "That one is mine, tailored to my measures. We don't have one for you, but the Nezha one should be the closest to your size."

"I... don't think that is how it works. Are you joking?"
 Noel asked, frowning at her. It was followed by a heavy shake-up. Something big had hit the Apahanta. Sirens went on again. 

"Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert! Hullbreach close to the cloaking device!" Cephalon Setta warned, broadcasting it throughout the entire ship. Sombra exhaled, rushing over to Noel, grabbing him at the first-best arm she could grab and pulled him over to the Nezha warframe.

"We're working with tricks, Noel. Of course those aren't Warframes, they are just combat suits that look like warframes. We call them Frame Suits. Essentially, they are just combat armors, but our enemies don't know that, so we can use that to our advantage. Put that one on, I know it's not perfectly fitting for your size but it will protect you. I'll get my Frame Suit as well." Not giving him the chance to react, she slapped his bum quickly and then jogged over to the Khora Frame Suit. There was no time to waste. The Grineer were invading!

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  • Saturn Proxima

The quick exchange of weapon fire with the Grineer snubs didn't last long. The Galleon was closing in with maximum speed. The black Corpus frigate made a final turn away from the Galleon and accelerated, moving ahead just fast enough to gain distance. The proximity to asteroids and the Gyre Flaks launching their disruptive cold waves at the Apahanta's engines slowed the capital ship down. If it was going on like this, the Galleon would get into firing range rather soon.

In the meantime, a Khora Frame Suit and her trusty companion Mittens, now wearing a protective armor in shiny metallic black, rushed through the hallways of the Corpus frigate. Time was running short and the stakes couldn't be higher. They were followed by a slightly clumsy moving Nezha, armed with Silva and Aegis. It often seemed like the fake Warframe was about to stumble over its own feet, but just managed not to. "What do you think they are trying to do?" Noel asked, his voice slightly muffled as he was talking through the tin suit.

"If I was them, I'd either try to blow up everything or damage critical components, like an energy reactor, the engines or targeting systems," Sombra replied through her Khora suit, watching a squad of MOAs and Shield Ospreys hurrying through another hallway. She ran over to Nezha and grabbed his wrist, pulling him into the same direction. The security robots surely would lead them to the enemy, and it was good to not be on their own when facing the Grineer. "Their ramsled lead them to the cloaking device, which is the most crucial subsystem we have. Without the cloak, we can't escape or use the Solar Rail Network without the Tenno noticing us. Luckily the cloaking device is well defended, so we might arrive just in time to keep them off it." 

"What do you mean, without the Tenno noticing us? What kind of relationship do we have with them?" Noel wondered, but Sombra didn't answer. Instead she pulled him along further, as that proved to be faster. Her other hand had a firm grip on her Destreza. She felt a weird tension. Her heart was beating wildly, adrenaline rushing through her empowered body. They were moving fast, and only now Noel wondered how this was possible without being a Tenno. These Frame Suits were no Warframes, but he felt stronger than ever. Faster than his weak body could have allowed him to run. "How do these things work, by the way? How do I activate my Warframe powers?"

"You don't,
" she replied swiftly. In the distance, they were already hearing the battle. MOAs getting slaughtered, Grineer screaming in their language. Explosions and gunfire. "They are Frame Suits, not Warframes. We can't do the things the Tenno do with their Void powers." 

"I feel strong, though, how does that come?" Noel said just before they had reached the battlefield. Sombra dropped him behind a corner. The Grineer were busy fighting the proxies. She peeked around the corner and quickly pulled back, sighing inwardly.

"The suits are shielded and boost your physical condition. I can't explain you the exact mechanics behind it, but you'll feel very sleepy and hungry when you take the suit off, and you can only keep the suit on for a while before it will affect your health.She gulped, a MOA exploding not too far away from her. Her shields held off a part of a MOA leg. "Noel, do me a favor and stay here, you're not used to the suit yet. I'll take care of the Grineer. If they reach the cloaking device, we're pretty much fu-"

A Grineer Raider jumped out of the corner, just to find the two Fake Frames crouching a few inches away from him. Instinctively, Khora rammed her Destreza into the Grineer's arm, piercing it and pushing it into the air, preventing it from firing at them that way. Mittens then jumped at the Raider, and the only thing left on the Destreza was the arm holding the Tonkor. The gun dropped out of the hand, landing right next to Khora. Shortly after that, Mittens hushed back around the corner to hide himself. "Good Kavat!" 

Khora stood up, running around the corner. Mittens followed. Nezha remained where he was, staring at the Tonkor next to him. Those were the guns the Grineer had used not too long ago to kill his parents when they defended the ship. Now Sombra was out there, taking on the Grineer on her own. Most of the MOAs and Ospreys were destroyed already. Swallowing, he didn't want to think about the possibility of her failing. She seemed pretty confident in her skills. And Mittens was there, too.

His thoughts were interrupted when something exploded and Mittens was propelled against the wall infront of him, the shield bubble protecting him was visibly fading. The Kavat remained motionless where it was, just laying on the floor amidst dead Grineer and broken proxies. Without much thinking Nezha slid over to Mittens and pulled him around the corner, just to prevent him from getting shot by stray fire. Or aimed fire. More Grineer yelling, some in agony, quickly followed by abrupt silence. Once more Nezha gazed down upon Mittens, who seemed to move slightly. That was good, the kavat was still alive.

Around the corner, Khora had managed to take care of most Grineer, now dueling the raid leader in a fight Destreza versus Twin Krohkur. The Grineer moved closer, with each step causing Khora to take a step back. He was bigger and better armored than the other Grineer and seemed to be rather well trained in the use of his two blades. And then there was Khora, panting slightly, her shields depleted and not regenerating. The blood of many Grineer was decorating her black metallic armor.

The Raid Leader made a hasty move, only hitting the tip of her Destreza, causing sparks to light up the area for a second. Khora flinched away slightly, realizing too late there was a Grineer corpse right behind her, causing her to stumble backwards over it, dropping to the ground. The Grineer laughed out loud and went in for another strike. The power behind it was strong enough to disarm Khora in her attempt to defend herself with her rapier, the weapon propelling away. This was it, Sombra thought. Her opponent was too powerful. In the end, it was bold to assume these fake warframes were a match for the Grineer, cloned entities born to fight and trained to get on-par with the actual Warframes. She closed her eyes, not wanting to think about her death. It was probably very ugly, gory, and even if her friends managed to beat the Grineer, Ezrael and Noel would see her body like this. Nothing she could do about it, it was simply over.

But nothing happened, apart from two Krohkurs dropping to the floor left and right from her. Sombra opened her eyes again, looking up through her khoran helmet. The Raider was still there, but there was the blade of a Silva bursting through his mask. Nezha was behind him, peeking over his shoulder, then moving over to Khora as the Grineer body dropped to the ground, dead. Nezha offered her a hand. Khora took it. "Are you alright?" 

Khora moved up and instead of answering verbally, she hugged Nezha.

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  • Saturn Proxima

Khora kneeled infront of Mittens, who still lay on the floor, his black fluffy chest slightly moving as the Kavat was breathing. Nezha sat next to the end, stroking the animal gently. It had proven to be brave and strong. Both the Kavat and Sombra had managed to inspire him to kill someone, saving them by doing that. The adrenaline rush was weakening, and Noel felt the first signs of exhaustion and hunger. "What are we going to do now?"

"We're waiting for the medical team to arrive. You just need to hold out a little longer, both of you,"
 Sombra responded through her Khora Frame Suit, holding one of Mitten's paws while massaging his toe beans by pushing them slightly between her fingers. "I don't hear any impact sounds, so I guess we got rid of their interceptors, or they broke off. Good in any case, as that means we're about to cloak and move out."

"You seem pretty experienced in combat.
Nezha lay down on the floor, facing the ceiling. There were a few blood splatters even up there. For some reason it didn't bother him. After all, it was just Grineer blood. "How long are you doing this already?"

"Uh, probably more than three years already. I once learned the basics of fencing, but really only the basics. I'm not a good fighter at all, but with the right motivation, you learn to do anything necessary to survive." She smirked at him, which was however not visible because of the Frame Suit. "We're doing combat exercises every week to stay in shape."

Sighing quietly, she decided to scoot closer to Mittens and gave the lying Kavat a careful hug without picking it up. Then she looked over to Nezha. The lights of his suit were turning off. Sombra knew what that meant. Noel was out of energy. He just passed out.

The eyes opened up again. The vision was blurry, the environment not too well illuminated. Noel felt awkward, dizzy. Things were different, and he had no idea what was going on. The attempt of sitting up failed. The second attempt, too. The third attempt not so much, but the blurry vision was annoying. This seemed to be the medical bay, he was here not too many hours ago already.

Medical bay? How did they get here? A few blinks ago they were with Mittens somewhere at the top section of the ship. Did he really pass out that quickly? Just like that? And then he remembered Mittens and Sombra, or Khora. Noel looked down at himself, realizing he not only didn't wear the Nezha Frame Suit anymore, but no clothing at all. His body was covered by a  clinically white blanket. He had managed to sit up on the medi-bed and the blanket had dropped just far enough to not reveal the naughty bits. Looking around, he spotted another person on the medi-bed next to him, to the left. Through the blurry vision he needed a few seconds of staring at the body to realize it was Sombra, covered in a white blanket, too. 

"She's fine," a male voice sounded from the other side. Surprised, Noel turned around and realized Captain Vertiga was literally next to him, sitting in a chair close to the wall. Instinctively, Noel pulled the blanket higher up again, hiding his bare body that way. Ezrael however chuckled. "Nothing I haven't seen already. I've cleaned you, you know."

Blushing, Noel lay down again, keeping the blanket close to his body with a surprisingly strong grip for his weak condition. The Captain cleaned him? Why? Didn't they have robots or that old woman of a Doctor to do that? "What happened?the boy asked, his voice coarse.

"We escaped successfully, thanks to you two. Three, with Mittens," Ezrael clarified, smiling. "While you were busy killing the invaders, we took care of the Grineer snubcraft and then cloaked away. They first tried to chase us but later realized we wouldn't uncloak again. Then they moved back to the missile base. We're on the dark side of Saturn now, doing a wide turn before approaching the junction to Jupiter."

"Is that... good?Noel asked, turning his head to face the Captain.

"I guess? We're alive, that's all that matters. Bonus points for the ship not having taken too much damage. Another bunch of bonus points for most of our Scavengers still working." Ezrael took the chair he sat on and scooted closer to Noel, turning it to face him directly. "You've saved Sombs and Mittens. I'm not really happy about her simply showing you our little secret here, and I'm also not happy about her engaging the invaders on her own, but that doesn't matter right now. I'm pretty happy you made sure they didn't die, Noel. I'm thankful for that."

That was weird, Noel thought. He couldn't help but blush about this. The Captain was thanking him. "Could you... explain something to me, Captain?the boy almost whispered. Since his voice was clearly indicating a dry throat, Ezrael took the metallic cup from the little table close to the wall and offered it to him. Nodding, Noel tried to reach out for the cup but he quickly noticed how limp he felt. Slightly gruntling, the boy shook his head. Ezrael however stood up from his chair, placed the cup on the chair, leaned over Noel and helped him sitting up again, holding him with one arm wrapped around the boy's back. After getting the cup with the other hand again, he lead it to Noel's lips and carefully let him take a few sips. It was some kind of tea, Noel thought. Very fruity. Something exotic. Unique in flavor. Warm liquid. He couldn't drink too much in just a few seconds, so Ezrael kept him like that and gave him more and more sips until the cup was empty. After that, the Captain placed him down again and sat himself down back into the chair.

"Your body is a giant industrial zone, you know. The cells convert everything you eat and drink into fuel for your body's own engines to run. The Frame Suits work like an extension of your body, for a short time merging with your vital functions, sharing the energy produced by your body. If your body runs out of fuel to burn and energize yourself and the suit, the suit ceases to work. Just like your body." For a moment, Ezrael looked over to Sombra, who had moved a bit. The blanket revealed a bit of her upper body, which made him smirk. "Since we've found you only a few hours ago in a very bad shape, your body didn't really have a chance to gain energy back. The suit drained it quickly again, which was risky, but given the Grineer were boarding us, a risk worth taking. Right now, we're safe again, though. So you should take your time, sleep, drink, eat and rejuvenate."

While that was interesting, that was not what Noel wanted to know about. "Why are you scared... of the Tenno?the boy asked, first idly looking in Ezrael's direction, then into his green eyes. The Captain frowned for a moment, then took a deep breath through his nose. His mouth opened, indicating he was about to say something, but instead he closed his lips again. Then he opened them again.

"I will tell you when you are on your feet again. Until then, try not to think too much about it. Dr. Carr will be up in a few hours again and look after you and Sombs. If you need anything, tell Setta, that's the Apahanta's Cephalon." With that, Ezrael stood up and booped Noel's nose with his index finger, which caused just enough confusion to Noel to forget about the question he had just asked. The boy watched Ezrael move over to Sombra's medi-bed, where he made sure the blanket was covering her chest fully again. Then he leaned in and pecked her on her lips.

When Ezrael left, Noel tried to close his eyes again. There were so many questions. And despite feeling horrible in terms of physical condition, he didn't feel unwelcome here. For some reason, it gave him a cozy feeling. It made falling asleep a lot easier, the more he thought about it.

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  • Jupiter Proxima

Once more Noel opened his eyes. This time it was because of something weird close to his face. It didn't take long for him to acknowledge there was a giant Kavat next to his medi-bed and it was currently sniffing at his face. It was Mittens, and instead of panicking, Noel smiled and extended a hand to brush through Mittens' cheek fluff. "Glad you're alright,the boy sounded quietly, his voice still coarse. Mittens was purring, allowing Noel to stroke him.

"About time you wake up, sleepy head!" Surprised, Noel looked over to where the voice came from. It was the other bed, where Sombra was the last time he was awake. Right now, she was wearing her Apahanta suit again, laying on her side on the bed, facing him and Mittens. She supported her head with an arm. "Get up, my boi, we're going to fetch some food."

Despite feeling rather sleepy and still a little dizzy, he also felt better now again. But she was right, he was pretty hungry. Mittens moved over to Sombra, who watched closely as Noel sat up on the bed. The blanket fell, but Noel managed to catch it just in time before she would have gotten to see something she was not supposed to. It made her sigh. Looking around, the boy spotted his folded Apahanta suit on the little nightstand next to him as well as a cup with liquid. Maybe more of that tasty tea? He grabbed it and took a sip. Sadly, it was just water. Nevertheless, he emptied it. Realizing Sombra was still watching, with a smirk on her face, he turned away from her and put the suit on. Why was she staring at him like that? The Captain had pecked her on her mouth earlier, so she probably was in a relationship with him.

When he was ready, Sombra was already next to him and offered him a hand. He glanced at it, then up at her. After some hesitation, he took it. Like that she lead him out of the medical bay, followed by Mittens. On their way to wherever she was leading him, Noel noticed that they weren't at Saturn anymore. This was Jupiter. There was a Corpus capital ship visible through the windows. The sun was a bit closer. Jupiter was probably behind them, but he certainly recognized Europa. There were even more Corpus capital ships out there. "What are the Corpus doing at Europa?"

"Probably raiding or invading, no idea. We're just passing by on the way to Mars.She still held his hand. Was she treating him like a child now? He didn't complain. It was merely awkward. "I guess there'll be a big space battle any time soon. Let's hope Ez doesn't want us to stay to watch it and pilfer from the wrecks. I had enough action for a few days."

"What are we going to do at Mars?" Noel asked as they walked through the hallway. A smaller section was ahead of them.

"Selling our loot at the Bazaar," Sombra replied. "You can join me when I go there, if you want. I can ask Ez whether he grants you the permission."

"Permission to leave the ship? I thought I was allowed to leave at any time." He looked up at her with big eyes.

"Well, you know about our Frame Suits now, so things are a bit different. But then again, you wanted to stay here anyway, right?"

They continued to walk through the hallway until Sombra realized he was not responding. Stopping, he tightened her grip on his hand and turned towards him, giving him a firm look. Slightly intimidated, he made a step back, which made her get a step closer to him. The wall was right behind him. "You're not staying with us?"

"I'm not sure?" the boy sounded, more asking than anything. "I, I mean, I didn't have much time to process any of this, you know? A few hours ago I was still with my family, now they are all dead and I was close to death two times myself, and I don't get the feeling living here is much safer than under the protection of the Tenno on one of their Dojos or with the Ostron or some other station."

"It is, though. This is the safest place in the entire system. Well, except for Cetus, maybe, because of the Unum.
She grabbed his arms left and right and got even closer. Noel didn't know how to deal with that. Was she crazy? In a weird way he liked it. "Noel, we usually don't get involved in any battles. I don't know how the Grineer found us, maybe it was just a mere coincidence. We're really trying to avoid such situations. They happen maybe once or twice every six months, alright? It's safe here and you should stay. Just give it some time, meet the other crew members, they are lovely. I, uh, you could live in my room, if you want. Or you get your own room. I don't want to force myself onto you, of course."

For a few blinks, he just stared into her eyes. Her face was directly infront of his. Her grip on his arms was strong and there were just a very few inches between him and her. He gifted her with an awkward smile. "You're sort of forcing yourself onto me right now." She had a fruity scent, he just realized.

Looking down for a moment, Sombra sighed and made a step back, letting go of Noel. "We're running this ship with a skelettal crew of less than thirty people, a Cephalon and the rest is done by robotic personnel. I'd really appreciate if you at least think about staying with us, Noel. It's getting boring and lonely here, sometimes."

"What about the Captain?" Noel asked her, in this moment looking at Mittens, not really wanting to look into her eyes when asking that.

"What about him?" she asked, not understanding what what the idea behind the question was.

Noel swallowed, staring at the Kavat while Sombra expected him to answer. His mouth opened for a few seconds, then closed again. Maybe he had just misinterpreted something. This was all weird, after all. "Nevermind." The boy looked up at her and smirked slightly. "I'm really hungry."

"Good. I'll give you food if you promise me to think about staying, okay?"
 she proposed, taking his hand again. He nodded. This girl was funny, he thought. He would need more time to understand everything on this ship. And he really needed to eat something.

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  • Jupiter Proxima

The canteen was clearly supposed to serve about a hundred people, but with the tiny crew of the Apahanta, only two of the tables were used. Of course not everyone was here right now as it was a random time. Still, since there was only so much to do and the canteen was usually used as a meeting location, Noel was surprised to see a bunch of people here, sitting at the two tables, playing cards and other games, talking, some had a snack. Sombra lead Noel over to the buffet, gave him a tray and a plate, then herself, and they started to pick a bunch of things from the buffet. Mittens was tall enough to simply sniff and steal some things right from the counter, but nobody really payed attention to it. Noel assumed this was normal.

Sombra filled her plate with hilarious amounts of cheese, meat and other things she found, while Noel, despite feeling extremely hungry, didn't want to look greedy and took a little bit of everything. A few sandwiches would be a good start, he thought. Two mapricos, a glass of water, a glass of what looked and smelled like some kind of sweet juice. "Where does all this come from? Do we always get that much variety to choose from?"

"Loot, purchases from the Ostrons, synthesized stuff, lab-grown meat and some things you really don't want to know," Sombra explained, piling more and more food on her tray before lifting it up, heading for the table where Ezrael was seated. Noel followed her, yet he couldn't help but feel intimidated by seeing so many of those foreign people at the same time. The pretty girl with the long black hair glanced over to Noel and patted the spot next to her. With a smile on his lips, he moved to her and sat down. And then the slaughter began.

"Good to see you two are on your feet again." Ezrael smirked at Noel before both of them couldn't help but notice how Sombra began to devour her food. It was an incredible sight, althought it put nobody off. Noel first had wondered how that much food could vanish in that slender woman body, but if anything, he was able to understand perfectly well how hungry both of them were in that moment. It was about time to eat.

In the meantime, people continued to play their card game. Noel didn't recognize neither the cards nor the rules of the game, so he focused more on the tasty meal. It was actually better than anything he had eaten in the past few years. Whoever prepared the food was pretty good at it. It had a certain spice to it. The meat was supposed to be lab-grown? Maybe that was it. Sombra burped, then downed the glass of juice, causing her to burp again afterwards. Meanwhile Noel had spotted Mittens in another corner of the canteen. He was nagging on an arm? Slightly confused, Noel's lips formed a perfectly shaped O. Ezrael saw it, followed his eyes over to Mittens and chuckled. "Mittens needs a lot of food for a Kavat of his size, and we happen to stumble over dead Grineer quite frequently. Don't worry, we only feed them to him," Ezrael explained. For a moment, Noel was not too sure on whether that was the truth. But then again, he would prefer if what he just ate was not Grineer meat. So he tried not to imagine it.

Another burp from the otherwise beautiful woman next to Noel, then she leaned back in her chair and patted her belly. It was very slightly bulged now. "Now I feel a lot better. So, love, how are things now? Any debriefing on the thing at Saturn?"

"Well... for now, we're assuming the Grineer didn't know we were there and only found us because of the Scavengers. There is no indicator for believing they can trace us. We've made a little break here between Jupiter and Europa, just to check whether the Galleon would follow us or not. So far, nothing. The damage to the hull is repaired, the Grineer bodies processed, their equipment added to the armory. Not sure whether you'll find someone to buy the stuff off, though."

"Let that be my concern, love." She smirked up at him, then leaned slightly against him which made him put an arm around her back. So they actually were a couple, Noel concluded. Not that it mattered.

"And you?" Ezrael asked, once more following Noel's eyes as he stared at Sombra and him. Slightly feeling caught redhanded for scanning Sombra with his eyes in that moment, Noel quickly turned his head to face the remaining food on his platter.

"And me?" the boy asked

"Are you alright?"

"Erh, yes, of course!" He blushed slightly, not knowing what to say. Ezrael was a bit intimidating for some reason.

"He needs a bit of time to adjust to all of this. I didn't get to explain him anything yet, nor did I introduce anyone to him." She was still leaning against the Captain, her eyes closed. She seemed to enjoy it.

"Well, then we better start now. This pretty girl here, Noel, is Sombra Hookier. She's, uh, 27?" Ezrael gave her a questioning look, but then proceeded as she didn't object. "She doesn't really have a job on this ship but is our contact person to traders and other people all over Origin. Before she joined us, she was a freighter pilot. She's also the owner of Mittens and three other smaller Kavats onboard."

"Freighter pilot." For some reason, that was something he had not expected from her. But then again, she didn't behave like any girl he had met so far. In fact, there were quite a plenty of things he saw for the first time here, like a Kavat bigger than himself.

"I once got pirated by Grineer Raiders. I thought I'd die to them, but the Apahanta showed up right in time to save me. Coincidentally, Ezrael and I knew each other from the past already since we are from the same colony, so I decided to stay. That was pretty much in the first year after Ezrael stole this ship," Sombra explained, idly grabbing Ezrael's hand to hold it.

"You stole it?" Noel asked with surprise in his voice. He had assumed it was a purchase. These ships were not meant to be stolen just like that. There were security systems in place to prevent hostile take-overs.

"Yes, together with Cephalon Setta. All in all, it was just a bunch of really big coincidences chained to each other, but I was in the right place to the right time a few times and stole this entire ship with everything that was on it. Setta prevented it from self-destruction and made sure every Corpus onboard would get spaced, or smashed by doors, and then we brought this ship to the Arawn pirate base. Sold a bunch of things, got myself a trusty crew and we somehow managed to survive since then, mostly thanks to our permanent cloak."

"You stole an entire capital ship? Doesn't that make us enemies of the Corpus?" Noel asked.

Ezrael smirked about that. "That's why we're considered Space Pirates by some people. That being said, the guy who contracted the construction of this ship is a tiny man in comparison to the big names like Nef Anyo or Alad V. In fact, we did them a favor by taking out a potential competitor that way. If someone higher up in the hirarchy would have managed the entire thing, they probably would have made sure there would have been more security measures in place."

"Is that the reason you're afraid of the Tenno? Because they might get hired to hunt us down?" the boy asked, giving the Captain a lopsided glance.

"No, not really. I mean, sort of, yes, but that is not the reason. I doubt the Corpus in question would contact the Tenno about it, since the ship was supposed to be hidden from them. Hence the permanent cloak. And the secrecy about the ship's existence." Ezrael shook his head. "No, the reason why we're hiding from the Tenno at all cost is the fact that they are absolutely untamed."

"But if you are enemy of the Corpus and the Grineer, wouldn't they be a good ally? They are the good ones.

"What makes you say that?" the Captain asked, his voice more firm than before. "Do you know what the Tenno are, Noel?"

"Warframe users who hunt evil-doers and help the Ostrons and Solaris and other peaceful factions and people in need. They fight the Grineer and the exploitation through evil Corpus. They bring balance to the system."

"That's only half of the truth, boy." Ezrael nudges Sombra slightly, signaling her to stop leaning against him for now. She didn't comply, so instead, he grabbed her to move her towards him, making her sit on his lap. Then he wrapped his arms around her to hold her. She seemed to like that. Ezrael had now a better sight to Noel, which was the idea behind it. "Yes, some of them try to do their best to make the system a lot more peaceful. They helped the Myconians, the Ostron and the Solaris, I know these stories. I know one Tenno killed the Elder Queen, I know other Tenno are fighting Nef Anyo and Alad V. But you need to understand the full picture, Noel. All in all, the Tenno are mostly children. That is no secret anymore. Children with powers they are not supposed to have. Some of these children try to be just, others do whatever they think is just. And then there are Tenno that are doing horrible, horrible things in the prosecution of their goals. Means to the end. They speak highly about fighting with honor but leave trails of blood left and right. Things were a bit more controlled when they were lead by the Lotus, some mysterious woman-ish entity that surely didn't appreciate my compliments on her appearance..."

"He complimented the size of her huge-"

"...but somewhen, rumors spread throughout the system that Lotus is gone, and the Tenno began acting even more irregular. With their Hive Queen gone, the children do not know what to do, what is right and what is wrong. Some became frequent visitors of the Index on Neptune, some became frequent champions of Rathuum. Some are said to support the Grineer, some are said to support the Corpus, some are said to have helped Alad V for some reason. Yes, they provide shelter on their relays and some of their Dojos, and it does seem like they are trying to ensure a balance between the major factions in this system, but the means they make use of are not always the best. They take what they need. If you need a good example, you can ask the owner of the Bazaar station near Mars, a pretty woman called Maroo."

Sombra rolled her eyes. "He has a crush on her."

"The Lotus once sent her Tenno to capture Maroo, forcing her to comply with them. That was shortly before Lua reappeared. Imagine that, Noel, a bunch of remotely-controlled tinsuits rampaging their way towards you, just to beat you down and disintegrate your body to assemble it somewhere else, all against your will. There are more stories like that. So, whenever someone has something the Lotus or the Tenno are interested in, they simply come and take it. Information, weapons... a permanently cloaked warship. That's why we are hiding from them. They can't be trusted. We only deal with them via Sombra's contacts." He gave her a squeeze, which made her hum in a girly way.

"You're afraid they take this ship away from you?" Noel asked, just for confirmation.

"This ship, our weapons, anything of value here. We have lots of things the Tenno could use. But yes, mainly the ship, Cephalon Setta and our Frame Suits, as well as some other things and artifacts of the Orokin era. This ship is home to me and my crew, we are close to self-sustainment thanks to all the stuff we found on our adventures. I won't let anyone take any of this away from us. Nobody will be allowed to harm my crew and ship. And since you are now part of us, you are under my protection as well."

Noel looked up at Sombra, who smiled back at him. Then at Ezrael's arms wrapped around her, and then up at his face. He understood him a bit better now, but wasn't sure whether his concerns were justified. In his past, he had only heard good things about the Tenno, and everyone was happy about them being around now. But he didn't believe Ezrael was just making up these things. Maybe joining Sombra when they visit the Bazaar was a good idea, to meet Maroo. But before that, he wanted to meet the other crew members. The more he saw Ezrael and Sombra being together, he wondered whether there were other couples on this ship. Friends. A new family. So far, he didn't feel unwelcome here. Maybe this was indeed a good place to stay.

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  • Jupiter Proxima

The doors opened up and reveiled the same room Noel had been in a few hours ago: Captain Vertiga's room. Sombra and Mittens stepped in, the kavat jumping onto the bed where it started to groom itself. Sombra however sat down at the edge of it and smiled at Noel, who entered the room now as well. It made more sense now, the boy thought, as Ezrael didn't seem like a man who was collecting various floofs. It was probably more of a Sombra thing to do. "We're not having that many unoccupied rooms right now. Most of our crew quarters were converted into storage rooms, hydroponics and other workspace. Ez said we'll make space for you once we sold our loot at the Bazaar. Until then, you'll sleep here."

He gave her a questioning look. Half of the room was just the giant bed. There surely was enough space on it to not make it awkward, but then again, it was still the same bed the Captain and Sombra were sleeping in. And Mittens. It certainly was awkward to a certain degree. Noel however did not want to voice his thoughts on that. "Uh, okay. So those are all your floofs?"

"No. Ez collects them," she said, smirking widely. "Mittens often abducts them, though. Anyway, if you need anything, just say it. Cephalon Setta can print new clothing for you, if you want to have more than just this suit. I'll get a toothbrush for you later. You can use the shampoo and all that jazz in the bathroom, feel free to shower and such whenever you want. As for sleeping, we're usually waking up rather early because, you know, Ez is quite busy as Captain, but you can rest as long as you want for now. Just make sure you don't miss breakfast, lunch and dinner."

"Why am I going to sleep here, though?" Noel asked her, looking over to the bathroom.

"Ouh, well, I promised him I'd be responsible for you, and since I don't have my own room on this ship, as I sleep here, usually, you're also going to stay with me. I mean, if you don't want that, I can ask literally any other crew member to share their room with you, but I thought you might appreciate a face you already know." That, and both the Captain and her were fully aware that he had lost everything, including his family. It was better to make sure they were around in case of him starting to process it.

Exhaling while nodding, he glanced over to the kavat as it was cleaning its bumhole. Mittens realized Noel was staring at him and stared back, the tongue still looking out of his mouth. Feeling like he did something wrong, Noel turned his face over to Sombra again. "Mittens is sleeping in bed, too?"

"We tried to make him sleep in his own little bowl, but he often just wants to cuddle, so we gave up on that. If he tries to lay down onto you, just push him to the side. He's also very clean, so don't be worried." Mittens continued where he had stopped.

"Okay." There was an awkward silence in the room, as he had no idea what to do now. She was merely smiling at him. "I'm sorry if I make things complicated."

"You're not making anything complicated, don't worry. You saved my life, I'm grateful for you being with us. I'd do anything to make you happy for that," she said, which made him blush slightly. "It's also always nice to have a new face around here. Tomorrow I'll set up a PDA for you so you can educate yourself about how things work here. You probably want to study the crew roster first. When I joined, I frequently forgot the names of the people around here. Which lead to a funny situation between me and the Commander."

"Commander?" he asked.

"Yeah. Commander Sherry Aguilar. She's the Executive Officer, the XO, but everyone just calls her Commander. She's, next to Setta, the brain of the ship, so to say. She knows everything that happens anywhere onboard, is the first person to be at breakfast, only drinks her coffee until breakfast is over, then she vanishes into her room, does paperwork, and so on. For some reason she always manages to be on bridge before Ezrael, quite funny. She manages everything on the Apahanta. You won't ever see her smile, or show any kind of emotion. She's like a machine, and probably the most dangerous and badass person on the ship. Everyone respects her, and her word is law unless Ezrael says the opposite."

"Uh, so Captain and Commander are like good cop and bad cop?" he asked for clarification.

Sombra gave it a thought for a moment. "Sort of. All I'm saying is that she runs the show here, and she is the last person you want to be your enemy. So, if she ever tells you to do something, do it. On the other hand, if Ezrael says anything, do that, too. If I tell you to do something, do it, obviously, as well." She smirked at him in a cheeky way, which made him look at the bathroom.

"Can I take a shower now?" Noel asked her, his cheeks still slightly red.

"You don't need to ask. This is your home now, so try and feel home here," she reminded him. While Mittens lay down and curled up, she stood up and moved towards Noel, hugging him, which overwhelmed him.  "I'm happy you're with us now."

Unsure where to place his hands, he simply let them a few inches away from her until she let go of him. It was weird with her, he thought. She treated him like a familiar person. Why? Just because he saved her earlier? He didn't understand. When she let go of him, his train of thought was stopped by her slapping his bum again, which came out of nowhere. "I'll be back later. Have fun in the shower!"

What was that supposed to mean? Without giving him a chance to react, she left the room, leaving him alone with Mittens. The kavat begane to snore.

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  • Jupiter Proxima

Mittens still lay on the bed, sleeping peacefully when Ezrael entered his room. The only thing welcoming the Captain was the sound of the shower running in the bathroom. Sighing, he made a few steps towards the bed, toying with the thought of sitting down and maybe cuddle with the kavat. Instead, he glanced over to the bathroom. The door was left wide open. Usually that was Sombra's way of inviting him to join. Smirking, he took his suit off, threw it onto the bed and moved into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.

Not a minute afterwards, Mittens woke up by the sound of two naked man having surprised each other on accident. A minute later, the door opened again and Mittens glimpsed at Ezrael carrying a towel-wrapped, passed-out Noel on his arms over to the bed, placing him carefully on it. Ezrael glanced over to the kavat, both faces expressing a certain confusion on the situation. "Don't tell Sombs about it, okay?" he quietly said, while only a second later the door opened.

"Eeee- whoa," she sounded in surprise at the sight, a wide smirk forming on her lips. "I guess I come back later.

Sighing, Ezrael turned around, facing her with an apologetic look. "I thought you were in the shower, so I joined. Turned out it was him and he passed out when we both found out." He rolled his eyes as Sombra's smirk almost managed to connect her cheeks at the back of her head. "Meh, make yourself useful and dry him off, I'll shower now."

He moved off the bed and headed for the bathroom again. The shower was still running. She eyed him the entire time, taking in the sight before approaching Noel. The young man was still unconscious, laying on his back on two large towels, one covering his midsection. "Don't feel ashamed, little boi. That happened to me as well when I first saw him that way." Scooting over to him, she took the edges of the towels and carefully dried him off.


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  • Galleon Jokrgan

Somewhere else in the system, the mighty Grineer Galleon left the void. It was damaged, scratches in the hull plating all over the giant vessel, some hull ruptures and broken windows. The corridors and different rooms were filled with busy Grineers rushing the repairs left and right while on bridge, a tall Grineer, visibly standing out from all the others in size and girth and armor design, stared at the three-dimensional projection of what the sensors had managed to capture. It was the Apahanta. The smaller screens showed pictures of it, mostly blurry or disturbed by electronic countermeasures,

There was another Grineer of excentric display, a tall female-ish one, not nearly as bulky, even more thin than the average female Grineer. A cloak was covering most of her fragile-appearing body, her face covered down to the nose by a white mask, leaving only her mouth and chin revealed. Her movements were gentle, quite unlike the mannerisms of her race. She moved slowly towards the big bulky one. "Captain?

The bulky Grineer grimaced at her, his tongue moving around in his mouth. It looked uncontrolled. The facial muscles around his nose tensed up as if he was angry at her, quickly relaxed again. Then he burped. "Explain. This. To. Me. Garva!" he sounded out loud, his way of speaking indicating he was suffering from similar issues as Sargas Ruk and many other Grineer. It sounded like talking was straining or even hurting him. 

She stopped, glancing at the hologram of the modified black Corpus vessel. "Not much we can explain, Captain. We only have so much data on it. Heavily altered Corpus frigate, able to cloak, advanced propulsion systems, faster than the average capital ship of that size. Faster than the Jokrgan. Two heavy turrets they did not use, multiple smaller turrets against snubcraft. A ship like this is not able to withstand combat against capital ships. According to the sensors, it is called Apahanta." A long and slender arm rose out of the cloak and pointed at the ship's name in big letters on the outer hull. "Definitely not a Tenno ship. Likely not a Corpus-controlled ship. Likely pirates, judging by hull painting and identifier. Minimal capabilities as carrier, it deployed only salvage drones, a Gox and Ospreys. Weaponry heavily altered, no open-market products. They also left before the Tenno Railjack we destroyed arrived. Deducing, they are likely pirates or salvagers, or both."

"Not. In. My. Territory! They. Will. NOT! Be. Tolerated! They. Opposed. Us." The Grineer Captain hit the console with his mighty armored Furax. The console was used to this. "I. Want. Them! What. Do. You. Propose. Garva?!"

Garva sighed inwardly, her eyes under the mask still focused on the hologram. "Analysis: They are faster than Grineer capital ships and can fend off Grineer snubcraft. We do not know where they are, who they are, where they operate or what they do. We can assume they are salvagers or pirates. Assumptions are not reliable. Recommendation: gathering more data on the target. Proposal: With your permission I would send a communiqué to the generals and request a data exchange. They likely know more about them. I assume the target has been active in the past and as such must have had contact with other Grineer. Until we know more, I advise you continue with your scheduled operations."

The Captain's grimaced again, gifting Garva with a disgusting expression, mixed with annoyance. He smacked his lips irregularly. Then he nodded heavily. "Excellent. Thinking. Garva! We. Will. Do. That. I expect. You. To. Get. Us. These. Worms!"

Garva nodded slightly and slowly left again.




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  • Jupiter Proxima

Noel opened his eyes. The first instinct made him realize he did not recall the ceiling of this room. Panicking inwardly, he turned his head and noticed Mittens next to him, curled up, sleeping. Turning to the other side, he found Sombra and Ezrael, this time clothed. That reminded him of looking down at himself. A fluffy blanket was covering his body, and after taking a quick peek, he realized he wore simply clothes, a T-shirt and shorts, both black. It made him feel relieved until he wondered when he put those clothes on. His look wandered over to Sombra and Ezrael again. She lay on her back on him, his arms loosely wrapped around her suit-covered belly. He wore only simple clothing, too, being the big spoon with Sombra laying on him. They both faced a holographic screen that showed a movie, although his eyes were closed as he was actually dozing off. She however looked over to Noel and smirked gently. "Hey, you're awake.

"How much time passed?" he asked, having no idea whether he slept for more than an hour. It felt like he was just a moment ago in the shower. His hair was still partially moist, and the towel his head lay on was moist, too.

"Two hours. Ez wanted to apologize but he fell asleep rather quickly," she explained, chuckling. "And, liked what you saw?

"Very funny," he only replied. "Who put me into these clothes?"

"Well, Ez, of course," she lied, knowing Noel was blushing. "Ez thought I was in the shower, so you get the idea. Anyway, feeling better now?

"Sort of. I feel quite tired from being tired over and over again. If that makes sense..." Noel shrugged, laying down again. His head felt heavy. At least he felt clean again, and the atmosphere was rather cozy, even after this awkward moment with the Captain.

"Just try to sleep a bit more. If you're staying awake now, you'll be awake the entire night and feel sleepy when it's daytime. I'll go sleep, too. Setta, turn the screen off, please.

Without a word, the Cephalon did as ordered and the screen disappeared. It went dark in the room, the only light coming from a few diodes of devices at the wall. Despite not really feeling like he wanted to sleep even more right now, Noel closed his eyes, still facing Sombra. He heard her moving as she scooted off from Ezrael, placing herself between Noel and Ezrael, slightly closer towards the latter. "Good night, little boi.

"Good night.

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  • Mars Proxima

Unbeknownst to the Corpus and the Grineer, the Apahanta was gently gliding towards Maroo's Bazaar. With all the background noise caused by the frequent skirmishes between the two great factions, probably nobody would pay attention to a masked and faint signature of a cloaked frigate. In a few hours, the ship would be in range to deploy a shuttle to the Bazaar Station. It was something Sombra was actually looking forward to. She had done a few deals with Maroo in the past, and she was pretty certain that it was better to leave this part to her than sending Ezrael to negotiate with Maroo. Sighing at the thought, she moved through the hallways of the ship, carrying a tray of breakfast food from the canteen up to the bridge crew quarters. After all, the young sleepy head in Ezrael's and her room hadn't managed to come to them. So the breakfast had to come to him, she thought.

The doors slid open, throwing a cone of light into the otherwise dark room, shining at the body on the bed. The blanket was gone, pulled away by Mittens, who lay ontop of it as if it was his new bowl. The sight was cute, she thought. It was generally a good sign when Mittens went along well with someone else. Clever kavat. Making her way into the room, she placed the tray on the small round table in the corner. If she remembered correctly, she told Noel not to miss breakfast, but he needed time to regain all his strength, and if she was honest, a good and deep sleep was something she wished to have more frequently, too.

Taking a few steps closer to the bed, she smiled at the sight of Noel sleeping peacefully. He lay on his side, his legs slightly angled, his hands somewhat covering his face. Sombra moved to scoot onto the bed, intending to wake the boy up in a gentle manner. A bit closer, then she lay down in a similar way, facing him. The doors closed, light disappeared. It took a minute until Sombra's eyes adapted to the weak light sources in the room, little light diodes in the electronics managed to allow a very unsharp vision, mostly silhouettes. Reaching out with one hand, she stroked over Noel's shoulder, down his arm and up to his hand, wanting to grab it, hold it. He did not resist. She was not sure whether his eyes were open or not, the way the light fell didn't allow to see it clearly. Some of his hair was covering the eyes, too. Carefully she brushed the strands aside, only to realize they were moist at the tips, sticking together. She needed a moment to think about it, until she realized that his hands were covering his face probably for a good reason. He had cried.

"Noel?" she whispered, her hand holding his hand again, her face scooting closer. The boy didn't respond. "Setta, light at five percent."

A little bit of brightness filled the room, allowing Sombra's eyes to confirm what she had expected. His facial skin was wet, trails of tears had been running down. The spot where his face met the bedsheets was proving it as well. "Noel..." One more time she scooted closer, this time to embrace him and bury his face at her neck, her arms pulling him right against her body, her hands slowly rubbing his back. "It's alright, I'm with you. You're not alone..."

It took a few minutes, but after that, she feld his arms wrapping around her as well.

There was a loud noise of metallic objects hitting the floor, a glass breaking and something moving hastily through the room. Sombra and Noel opened their eyes in hectical surprise, almost in shock. They rushed up and looked over at the tray on the ground, food and juices mixing left and right from it. The cuttlery was two feet away from it. Mittens was no longer on the bed but moved from the bathroom, where he had hidden after accidentally tossing the  tray off the table, back to the delicate mess on the floor and began licking it. They watched it, Sombra widely smirking while Noel tried to discreetly take his hands off her body, and then hers of his. Scooting away from her, he grabbed another blanket and pulled it close to him like a shield. Chuckling for a moment at that, Sombra turned her head to Mittens again, standing up with a sigh. "Mittens, look at the mess. That was Noel's breakfast, not yours!"

Moving over to Mittens, she knelt down next to him, watching the kavat scoop up the best parts with his raspy tongue and squallowing a slice of meat that was on a sandwich Sombra had prepared for the new crew member. "I'll clean up here. In the meantime, you should ready yourself in the bathroom, boi. Don't worry, Ez won't surprise you this time."

Noel still sat on the bed, feeling a weird mix of confusion, a hint of depression, a hint of joy and the urgend need to pee. Following the latter, he carefully stood up, despite being clothed still dragging with blanket with him, concealing his lower body like that. A few blinks later, the door to the bathroom closed. Stroking Mittens, Sombra remained where she was, watching the kavat eating while it purred. Of course it was not supposed to eat this. That was not what she thought about, though. It was the boy. He was crying all alone here, but at least he accepted the hug. She knew he was going through the toughest time of his life right now, having lost everything, from family to perspective. He probably had no idea what the next day would bring for him. She knew that feeling all too well. If anything, she wondered how to help him now. She was no psychologist, no mother, but a friend and lover. It was probably the best to allow him to process everything. Let him cry and grief for a while but reach him a hand to return to the life as it was. Life was tough. People die. Nothing was eternal. She had to learn that herself, just like everyone else on the Apahanta. Now it was his time.

Mittens looked up at Sombra, still purring, licking over his mouth over and over again after the little snack he just got himself. Sighing, she leaned into the kavat and hugged it. "He'll need us, Mittens. I want you to stay close to him."

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