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Stardust to Stardust

Chapter Text

Natali Kuroshenko, for the first time in her life, was about to step out of her comfort zone.

She had spent her previous years inside it- studying what she found easy, doing whatever felt alright in her free time, even building an emergency escape shuttle on a time limit to save her life wasn't out of the box.

Still, there she was now. Standing in a line of people, facing towards another line of people several feet away. Every once in a while, a short and aged man would walk along between the lines, observing the people in both of the rows. Nat looked to the people on her left and right- all of them had gone through training and was about to become an apprentice Artificial Intelligence Liberator for the Tangier Station ALF.

It never occurred to her that she should include herself in this group of people- that was her way with most things. Even on the Tacoma, it wasn't a group of six people, it was a group of five and her. She never really saw the others as enemies, just... different.

She would have to get over this soon. Somebody- one of the many people in the line parallel to the one she was in- was about to become her mentor in just a few moments. All of them have had at least five years of experience in the field, all of them issued a special two-person Minny powered transport vessel.

She quickly scanned the line of possible mentors. She knew she shouldn't do this, that picking one to hope for would just lead to dissapountment, but she couldn't help herself. She found her eyes stop when they locked with another set- one of the mentors was looking right towards her.

The woman she saw was taller than her- this, of course wasn't a surprise, she was only one-and-a-half meters tall. Her black hair was parted about two thirds to the left of her face, and reached her ear at the end if the slight curve. Brown eyes accented her skin, a beautiful caramel tan. Before she could connect her thoughts on the mentor who was looking her over, the instructor began to speak.

"I know you guys are probably anxious to meet whoever you're going to be spending the next half year with, so I'll try to keep this short. Cadets, it's been a wonderful few years. Well, not really, but whatever. Some of you were only in training for a month or two- those of you with previous education. I honestly trust you more than I trust those who learned for all four years in this ship." The aged man was looking over the apprentices, a tired look on his face.

"Well, I don't know where I'm going with this, so that'll be all for you folks." When he turned to face the mentors, Nat felt her face tug into a slight grin- she loved how informal this station was. The man spoke to the mentors quickly. "You guys know the drill, go ahead. Pick your apprentice- and no backing out, now or later."

With that, the mentors stepped forward and wove between each other, all of them headed over to one of the many cadets in front of them. Nat looked around to see if anyone was headed her way, and once again, her eyes stopped on the same woman. Something about her felt familiar, in the same way you would find a folk hero recognizable.

With a few strides, Amy Ferrier was standing just a few feet from Nat. Nat reached out her hand, trying to at least get off a good introduction before learning why she was being watched. Amy saw this and smirked.

"154 centimeters... runners build, caucasian female with short brown hair and brown eyes..." Nat was a bit shocked at the odd list of features Amy was listing off about her. She was a even more so when Amy grabbed her still extended hand and placed her ear agaisnt it, listening to her pulse. "Ah, and you have a heart murmur. That settles it then."

Nat tugged her arm hesitantly from the woman, still trying to process what was going on. "Um... what do you mean, 'that settles it?' What are you talking about?"

Amy smiled as she spoke, still staring into Nat's eyes with a look of entanglement- no, passion. "Natali Kuroshenko. Former network specialist of the Venturis Corporation Tacoma Station crew 88, worked directly with the ODIN AI."

Nat was even more shocked. Did she know this much information about all the cadets? Or was it apprentices... ah, whatever they were called, how much did she know?

Amy spoke, her voice still in its rich and almost warm tone. "Amy Ferrier." Well, fuck. Nat recognized that name. She knew what Amy was about to say before it was said. "I was ODIN's Liberator." At this point, Nat's new mentor extended her hand in the same way Nat did. The attempt was unreciprocated, just as before.

Natali gulped silently. Her mentor- Amy goddamn Ferrier- was the one person who had open access to full 3d ARdware files of the entirety of Nat's time on the Tacoma.

That's a lot of things to explain.

Chapter Text

Before Nat could begin to comprehend exactly how much stuff she would have to explain, Amy already had her by the hand and was leading her off to a side room, the door labeled in poorly scrawled permanent marker as "mission briefing" in handwriting almost as bad as her own.

"Hold on, hold on... I thought we weren't supposed to have a mission for at least a week... bonding time or something." Nat felt a bit rushed as the words poured from her mouth, not exactly ready to handle whatever was coming in this room.

When Amy finally let Nat free, the door was already slowed behind them, leaving them in a slightly messy room with a folding table in the middle. Classy. "That's normally the case, but... Well, I hope you know who exactly I am and how many jobs I get."

It was a good point. After the whole Tacoma endeavor, her name was splattered all over news boards. Usually with phrases like 'Anti-Business Terrorist' and 'Robot thief.' Even before that, Sareh had been going on and on about how much of a brave person she must be to rescue AI like she did. Hell, even Cluey Dog had talked about her with Nat. It wouldn't be odd for job requests to come flying her way after that.

"I'll take your blank-staring silence as a 'yes, I completely know how swamped you must be' and get to briefing." Nat and hardly noticed that in her thoughts, time had still passed and Amy went to talking. "Simple job, as it is day zero for you- it's on an orbital ship, abandoned for two days already. No detected hazards, low risk of being caught, minimal security countermeasures... etcetera."

Nat could have asked many things. She could have asked to at least get a better understanding of Amy first. She could have asked what company the AI belonged to. She could have asked about the ship where the job would take place. She could have asked anything she wanted to. What came out of her mouth was "What's it's name?"

Amy smiled. "Good question. The AI we're after is named SNOW- slightly more recent core than ODIN, but only by a few months."

Nat finally came to at least some of her senses and spoke again. "What do we have to do? For the job, I mean."

Amy grabbed a tablet from her bag and swiped a few times before a map came projected from a small machine on the ceiling to the table in the room. Three areas were circled, one was starred. "This is the Polaris Station. Used to be a radio management station for Obsidian Star- you know, the multi media thing that nobody uses but somehow still earns money. We'll have to gather data from the barracks, the mechanical repair section, the rec room, and finally the core itself."

Nat was baffled by how simple it all sounded. In the classes she had been taking, they always made everything seem difficult. How meticulous everything had to be, the hand signals for AT control and sign language... why couldn't they just use keyboards? "Amy... why was it abandoned?"

Amy was still looking down at the map as she spoke. "We recieved a transmission from SNOW not too long ago. She asked for our help, so one of Hassan's friends managed to crack the cyber security and simulate a coolant leak. The company freaked, and immediately brought the crew back to Earth. Nothing actually happened in the station... it's still in complete working order."

Nat let out a small sigh of relief. At least she wouldn't be very likely to die on her first mission. Still possible, but... not probable. "So, when do we leave?"

"Ten minutes from now."

"What?!"