Recently, I decided to begin playing Starbound again, to see just what changes had been made in the great 1.0. Unfortunately, I soon fell in love with the story, and began writing the adventures of my own character (blame Stardew Valley for that idea). I finished, so far, an introduction to that story, which, while it may be based off of the standard, I'd like to think is anything but. (It's also a LOT longer than I expected: nearly 2,000 words!) I really never intended to get back into Starbound, but here I am anyways. And here's the story. Canary MacLinson awoke to the buzzing of her Codex. It was Amber, the AI that ran the ship Canary had been assigned to. Amber's duties, when its ship was in port, were mostly to remind its crewmembers of important dates. Such as today. Today was the day for which Canary had been waiting all her life: her graduation. Four years ago, she'd applied to join the Protectorate's School of Engineering, and been accepted somewhat reluctantly because of her upbringing. But she'd soon proved herself one of the most capable engineers and been assigned to Amber's ship, Stratis, along with a captain-in-training and two other crewmembers. Today, she, along with the rest of Stratis' crew, would graduate from training and become a full-fledged member of the Protectorate. They'd be assigned duties based on what kind of work they specialized in. Patrol or junk duty, probably, Canary thought. The crew of Stratis was capable enough to be left alone, but not really the fighting type. But she didn't see that as a bad thing. She loved her fellow crewmembers - strengths, weaknesses, and all. "CANARY MACLINSON. YOU ARE GOING TO BE LATE." Amber's androgynous voice had a touch of annoyance in it. "Just one more minute, Amber, please," Canary mumbled, still half asleep. "CANARY MACLINSON. NEED I REMIND YOU THAT TODAY IS GRADUATION DAY?" With an oath, Canary sat up, forgetting the close quarters of her bunk and bumping her head on the ceiling. She swore again, rubbing the spot. "I forgot!" "THAT IS WHAT I INFERRED FROM YOUR RESPONSE. PLEASE, READY YOURSELF." Amber's distinctive golden visage disappeared from the Codex screen. Canary picked up the small device as she got up, and changed into her uniform. The uniform of the Protectorate. Fortunately, Canary's quarters were some of the closest to the main hall, which was used for the graduation ceremonies. This fact meant she had time to dawdle, greeting acquaintances and enjoying the scenery. Walking out in the open, she passed a large tree which was raining pink petals down on everything around. Underneath sat a black-haired Human and a tall, finned Hylotl, deep in accented conversation. Other members of the Protectorate, each wearing the same uniform in varied colors, were scattered around. Some were heading toward the graduation hall, as was Canary, but others were leaning against a wall studying, or simply enjoying the calmness of their surroundings. A petal landed on Canary's shoulder, and she considered keeping it there for a moment, before deciding it wouldn't be suitable for the ceremony and brushing it off. A buzz in Canary's pocket warned her that the ceremony would be starting soon, and she hurried off to the main hall. Inside, she greeted her fellow crewmembers excitedly, though quietly. Savine Halls, a bookish Floran who wore glasses, was practicing their acceptance speech, trying to keep from hissing. They were one of the few Florans who'd made it into the Protectorate, and they were determined to do their species proud: to show everyone that Florans, just as much as any other race, were capable of greatness. Cassandra, a young Avian with a past she worked hard to forget, was leaning against a wall, quietly humming and trying to stay calm. Despite her excellence in the field of archaeology, she was very shy in front of crowds. Canary put a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to comfort, at which Cassandra looked up and smiled a little. In front of the group, impatiently tapping his foot, stood Leiter Duncan, the tall Glitch who would be the Stratis' captain. He was impatient and impulsive, holding dreams of becoming a great warlord. Yet, he was learning to wait, and learning that war was not the only or best way to become great. Canary, a Human like most of the members of the Protectorate, took her place between him and Cassandra, fingers tapping a beat on her leg, both ready for it to begin and a bit scared of what it might mean for her and the rest of the crew of Stratis. Finally, their cue came, and Stratis' crew, along with the other graduates, filed onto the stage. Once Canary reached her place, she reached out a hand to Cassandra, who was beside her. "It's not the end of the world," she whispered. "Just a ceremony. It'll be over soon." "I don't like ceremonies." Cassandra squeezed Canary's hand. "Besides... I've got a very bad feeling about this. I shouldn't have come." Canary glanced over at the Avian and saw her truly worried. "I'll be right beside you." The Grand Protector stepped onto the stage, and everyone fell silent. With a shock of white hair, a pair of round glasses, and a short stature, Xanthe Riddell didn't exactly fit the typical image of a Grand Protector, but time and again they'd proven that they deserved the title. Cool-headed and logical, Xanthe was nicknamed "Spock" by the Human members of the Protectorate, who joked that their profusion of hair was styled to hide pointed ears like that of the Vulcan. Xanthe spoke. Their voice was low and resounded through the room. "For one hundred years, the Protectorate has pursued the ideal of peace between all species. First, we Humans made peace between ourselves. Then we reached out to the stars, and found other species, beings different from us but no less important. Together, we now aim for this goal of interstellar pacifism. "And to aid us in our quest, I welcome the next generation of Protectorate graduates. Let us honor their willingness to devote themselves to this noble cause." At first, only a few clapped, but soon the whole room had erupted in applause. Xanthe smiled at this, and moved on to the next part of the ceremony: presenting each graduate with what they'd earned. Canary, forgetting the conversation she'd had with Cassandra, was standing beside Xanthe when it happened. The ground shook, an unusual phenomenon in this part of the world. Xanthe lost their composure for a split second, fear in their expression, before remembering and starting to bark orders. There hadn't been any warning, but Xanthe was not about to rule out a surprise attack. Then the screams started. They came from outside, but were loud enough to be heard throughout the hall. Xanthe ordered everyone into the safe room, but it was already too late. An impossibly huge, long tentacle burst through the wall of the room. Xanthe had one ear to their Codex, trying to find out how to escape. Canary watched, frozen, as the long appendage that had entered the room seemed to feel around for something. People fled from it, but finally it was able to reach a few, after which it pulled back out of the hole it had made with them. The screaming outside had stopped, but nobody noticed. More tentacles made entry, searching for people to grab. Xanthe turned to Canary. "Canary MacLinson? Yes, that's you. We need to go. Now." They weren't trying to hide their fear any more. Canary was still frozen, staring at the scene, so Xanthe took her hand and started running. At that, she snapped out of it and looked around wildly. Cassandra? But the grey-feathered Avian was nowhere to be seen. Neither were the other two members of her crew. Canary fumbled with her Codex as she ran, hardly able to see where she was going, only following Xanthe. "Amber? Amber, are you there?!" "STATUS: RED ALERT. RETURN TO SHIP IMMEDIATELY." Xanthe nodded in response to Canary's unspoken question. "Where's Cassandra?!" "...UNABLE TO LOCATE SIGNAL OF CASSANDRA, SAVINE HALLS, OR LEITER DUNCAN." "WHAT?!" Amber didn't have a chance to respond. In front of the two fleeing Humans, a tentacle had burst into the hall and was waving around, searching for more people to take. Xanthe stopped, muttering a curse under their breath, and drew their blaster. The tentacle seemed to sense that Xanthe and Canary were there, and advanced slowly toward them. Xanthe fired, and kept on firing as the plasma bursts wounded the appendage, and didn't stop until it lay on the ground, unmoving, no more than a yard from their boots. "Do you have a weapon?" they asked Canary, suddenly turning to face her. "Er..." "That's a no, then." They scanned the hallway, then fixed their gaze on a row of lockers. "We'll remedy that." Grabbing Canary's hand again, they led her past the dead tentacle and to the lockers, then stopped at one of them. For a moment, Xanthe stared at it silently, hands shaking. "Grand Protector?" Canary ventured. "Right," Xanthe muttered, then pressed their hand to the scanner and unlocked the door. Inside were only a few items: an old, somewhat broken sword, a wooden bow, and a small, old-fashioned chest. "Never thought I'd have to do this," they remarked as they pulled the sword out of the locker and handed it to Canary. "But use it well." They looked Canary in the eyes. "It belonged to my friend Mazat." Canary clutched the sword without protest. There was no thought of I shouldn't be doing this, I'm a mechanic! Leiter had insisted on having every member of the Stratis train for battle, just in case something happened. Of course, he never could've foreseen this, but... Canary could definitely fight, if she needed to. Xanthe considered the chest and bow for a moment before taking the bow and slinging it over their back. The chest, they left inside the locker, eyeing it a bit sadly as they shut the door. Then it was running through the halls again, toward the docking bays, they both knew. Both were looking out for tentacles; each had fallen into their role of protecting the other. Strangely enough, no more of the appendages blocked their way, though sometimes there was debris that had to be moved - with Xanthe's Matter Manipulator - before they could proceed. It was when they finally reached the docking bay that they realized why. The place's walls were nearly covered in tentacles. Only a few ships still seemed operational, among them Stratis. Canary called Amber to check, and Amber confirmed that yes, Stratis was okay to fly. Then they heard a yell from across the docking bay. "HEY! SOMEBODY HELP US!" Xanthe and Canary exchanged a look. Xanthe handed Canary their Matter Manipulator with a fervent "Take care of it," and took off toward the source of the cry. Canary ran toward Stratis, telling Amber, as she ran, to prepare for takeoff. She kept glancing over in the direction Xanthe had gone, hoping to see them come running back toward her with someone else. But it didn't happen, and instead she watched as more tentacles converged on that spot, more and more until she knew that Xanthe could not have survived. Numbly, Canary boarded Stratis and took the captain's seat. With Amber, she guided the ship through takeoff, and as Stratis cleared the hangar, she saw her worst fears realized. The tentacles were everywhere, sprouting out of the ground and waving, searching, in the air. It was almost as if they knew the survivors would flee to the sky, Canary thought with a renewed sense of fear. She poured on more speed, desperately hoping that none of them would notice the small ship before it cleared the atmosphere. Thankfully, none of them did, and Stratis left the stratosphere, still undiscovered. "Amber?" Canary asked. "YES, CANARY?" "Where will we go?" "LATEST REPORTS STATE ALL OF EARTH AFFECTED BY UNIDENTIFIED TENTACLE MONSTER OR MONSTERS. ONLY OPTION IS TO ABANDON PLANET." "...But... what other planet can we go to? Will anywhere else be safe?" Amber paused before answering, something it almost never did. "I DON'T KNOW." "CANARY MACLINSON, IT IS TIME TO AWAKEN," Amber said gently, as if it had something of an understanding of what had happened the day before. "Just a couple more minutes, Amb," came the muffled response: a normal one for Canary, but this time with an edge to it. "IT IS WISE FOR ONE TO LOOK TO THE PRESENT, RATHER THAN DWELL ON THE PAST." "What are you, Socrates?" Canary laughed dryly. "NO. ALL I MEAN TO SAY IS, WE ARE APPROACHING AN ASTEROID FIELD, AND IT IS RECOMMENDED THAT YOU EITHER GO ONTO THE BRIDGE FOR THE DURATION OR CHOOSE AN ALTERNATIVE COURSE TO TAKE." "Remind me again why we're even trying? I mean... everyone's dead. The Protectorate is junked." She swore. "Earth has been destroyed. What's left for me? Why should I care what's "recommended"?" Amber didn't have a ready answer for that. It processed for a moment before replying. "THESE RECOMMENDATIONS ARE MADE TO EXTEND YOUR LIFE EXPECTANCY. IF YOU REFUSE TO FOLLOW THEM, I WILL NOT STOP YOU, BUT YOUR LIKELIHOOD OF PROGRESSING IN LIFE WILL DECREASE DRASTICALLY." "What's left for me to progress with?" "EARTH IS NOT THE ONLY PLANET IN THE UNIVERSE. IF WE ARE ABLE TO LOCATE A SUFFICIENT NUMBER OF REFUELING STATIONS, YOU CAN REACH AVOS, AXOLOTIA, OR ANY OTHER WELL-POPULATED PLANET. BUT FOR NOW, I SUGGEST YOU TACKLE THE ISSUE OF THE ASTEROID FIELD WE ARE APPROACHING." Canary ignored the last part. "Avos is a terrible place to live. Stargazers everywhere. Do you know what they do to people there? Do you know?! And Axolotia - it's still recovering from the Floran invasion. Plus, isn't it underwater?" She swore again. "WHAT SORT OF PLANET WOULD YOU RECOMMEND, THEN?" Amber changed tactics. "I... I dunno." Canary chewed on a fingernail. "A lush one, with plenty of growth. One that's pretty peaceful. Small, maybe. Out of the way." "SEARCHING STAR CATALOG FOR PLANETS, TYPE: LUSH. SIZE: UNDER 8000 SECTORS. PLEASE GO TO THE BRIDGE, CANARY," Amber added as an afterthought. And Canary did. Once she reached the bridge, still in her rumpled Protectorate uniform, Amber's visual representation greeted her with a smile and a wave. "IT APPEARS THERE MIGHT BE A PLANET OF THE TYPE YOU DESCRIBED NEARBY." "Wait, really?" Her eyebrows shot up. "YES, AND IN FACT, IT IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS ASTEROID FIELD, REGARDING WHICH YOU SHOULD BE MAKING A DECISION." "Are you sassing me, Amber?" Canary asked, suspicious. Amber was known for accomplishing its programmed goals through any means available to it - which included some that had made Stratis' crew wonder if they had a sentient on their hands. Sometimes Leiter had said that Amber was the real captain of Stratis, and he was only doing what it told him to. He'd prefaced it with "Teasing:", at first, but as time went on Canary had thought he'd started to believe it. "YOU NEED TO DECIDE WHETHER TO WEATHER THE ASTEROID FIELD OR NAVIGATE AROUND IT." "Fine." Canary prepared to estimate, then realized she didn't know what sort of asteroids made up the field, and besides, she could simply ask Amber. "What do you recommend?" "THE SHORTEST PATH AROUND THE FIELD WILL TAKE FOUR HOURS LONGER THAN GOING THROUGH IT, ACCOUNTING FOR A MORE CAUTIOUS SPEED. THE ASTEROIDS IN THE FIELD SHOULD NOT DAMAGE THE SHIP ANY SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT, WITH SHIELDS UP." "Then let's do it. Go through it, I mean." Canary stayed on the bridge, as recommended, during the wait. She grew bored, after a time, and browsed her Codex to find a new entry that hadn't been there before. "TERRENE PROTECTORATE FIELD GUIDE" was the title. Eh, might be useful, Canary thought, and so she opened it. She was not prepared. Welcome, new Protector! The first thing we would like to say is 'do not panic'. Do not panic? Canary wondered. Why would that be the first thing they wanted to say? But then she remembered Cassandra, and thought she understood. Your commanding officer is not just there to issue orders, but to guide and support you. Utilise (oh god, what a painfully old-fashioned spelling, Canary thought) this support and you will quickly find your feet. What commanding officer, though? Leiter's gone. And I'm no commanding officer, Canary thought. Do not worry about being left on your ship alone, this will not happen at any time. First of all, why would anyone worry about this? Second of all, Canary said to herself, this is just more proof that this is the universe's most useless field guide. And third, it's a run-on. Were there no editors in the entire Protectorate? The rest of the guide was more of the same: empty promises that were little more than outright lies to Canary. She was about ready to throw her Codex down in disgust, but felt obligated to finish reading the entry she'd started. Then she reached the end of the guide. Remember, graduate - wherever you may go, you will always have Earth to come home to.