You never really get used to re-entry, Tiamus thought as she dropped out of the shuttle with her squad. Even seasoned spacefarers found themselves unable to grow bored of the brilliant corona of flame that accompanied craft on their jolting descent through the planet’s atmosphere or the deafening roar made by the superheated air. Still, she thought as she took in the sight of jagged snow-capped peaks around her, perhaps she had it worse. Her first experience with reentry was being jettisoned in a life pod as an adolescent from the Avian station where she had hatched. Those irreverent of Kluex and her pantheon were given a stark choice by the rest of Avian society: death or exile. Accepting the condemnation of her peers wasn’t what got her this far, though. As fortune had it, she was picked up by a motley group of not-quite pirates. She would later decide that “explorers” was a better word to describe them as, but at the time she was grateful enough for the rescue that, upon hearing that they had a space station of their own, offered to join them. A few kilocycles later and her grim determination saw her in command of her own team, leading them onto uncharted worlds in search of new creatures, materials, or peoples. On this particular occasion, she found herself assigned to comb a crash site on the planet Barrus, an inhospitable, rocky world kept perpetually near freezing due to its distance from its star. Named after one of Kluex’s attendants by the Avian astronomers who discovered it, it was an uncomfortable reminder of her past fittingly accentuated with biting ice-laced winds. As she finished running the final diagnostics on her gear, she signalled the rest of her team towards her. In a concise, measured voice, she began outlining the mission on a holo-display. “A distress signal started broadcasting from this planet around four cycles ago. That’s not long, but in conditions like this” - she gestured at the howling and snow-laden winds around them - we don’t have much time”. “Is the local wildlife gonna be a threat?” came from a human carrying a shotgun. “Unlikely. Historical data from Avian survey teams suggests that if there is any life, it’s got to be far underground or underwater where there’s more warmth and fewer shotgun-toting maniacs. Sorry to disappoint you, Hardrada”. An Apex near the center of the group spoke up. “Any idea what we’re looking for?” “Preliminary scans suggest that a mid-sized ship, probably a civilian transport, went down in the area. It didn’t go down in pieces, which suggests that there might still be people alive. Thus, a rescue mission instead of a salvage and recovery one.” An alarm pinged inside her helmet. Tiamus briefly glanced at it before giving orders. “We’ve got about six decicycles before midnight falls and it gets too cold in the open even for environmental suits. Follow me towards the signal and try to stay together. I’d hate to make R. send rescue teams after her rescue teams.” One and a half cycles in and they were only just a few hundred meters away from the distress beacon, and hopefully whoever had activated it. The snowfall had gradually intensified, and though it wasn’t yet impassable, visibility had dropped to the point where their Apex technician, with his multispectrum scanners, was essentially all that kept them from blindly stumbling around the valley. Ducking into an overhang formed by the stone of the mountains around them, Tiamus really wished that they could have been dropped off a little closer to the crash site. As she rested on the icy ground, she brought up the topographical data taken of the area prior to her landing. It wasn’t very promising; There were impassable peaks all around them, though they were at least too steep for avalanches. The downed ship, or what remained of it, could be resting on any one of their slopes. As she looked more closely at the display, she saw one mountain roughly a hundred meters away that didn’t look quite right - almost as if one peak decided to start growing out of another with different stone. “Svik”, she began, “Take a look at-” “Holy crap!”, interjected the Apex tech. “Chief, a heat signature just spiked like nobody’s business like-” “A hundred and fifteen meters north from here?” “Yeah..., how’d you know?” asked the bemused technician. Tiamus faced northward, observing the new reddish glow coming from the base of one of the larger crags. Even through the blizzard, it was impossible to miss. She hoisted herself up with her spear and slung her shield back on her arm. “Lucky guess. Come on, the clock just started ticking faster.” As the group moved closer towards the crash site, Tiamus grew increasingly uneasy. The silhouette of the ship against the fire burning around its flanks suggested that it was indeed a freighter, and one of Avian design at that. Tiamus was snapped back into focus by a voice coming through her suit. “Chief, I can’t be the only guy who feels like something’s off” “What do you mean, Har?” “Well, we can see that the ship’s pretty much in one piece. But it’s also an Avian ship- check out those markings.” “And Avians never leave their own stuff where other people can just waltz in and take it, right?” “Yeah. So I’m thinking that we won’t be finding a lot of Avians, at least guys who want to be rescued. I mean, ‘scuttle the ship or crash it into someone as you go down’ - that’s them in a nutshell, isn’t it?” Svik chimed in. “Well, as long as that fire’s going, the only way we’re going to spot survivors is if they come out for us, cause I can’t see through the heat for -” The Apex’s sentence was cut short by the sound of gunshots cracking into the stone around him. As everyone dove for cover against the oncoming streaks of light, Tiamus began assessing the situation. “Svik!” cried out their medic. Clutching his shoulder, the Apex struggled to point at one of the crashed ship’s opened airlocks the flames had yet to reach. “The shots came from there!” In the midst of throwing a flare in an attempt to blind their attacker, Tiamus looked at the passageway. She thought she saw some movement, but between the falling snow and the light cast by the fire it was hard to make out more than a blur. Ducking before a shot could take her head off, she turned to face Hardrada. “Har!” She shouted, “What are we up against?” “Small-arms fire, probably a light blaster!” yelled back the human warrior. Just one of them, judging by the frequen-” He was interrupted by Tiamus’s sudden vault over the boulder she was crouching behind. A single “Follow me!” was all she gave before charging through another burst of gunfire from her shield. Svik allowed himself the luxury of a single explosively-issued expletive before scrambling up the icy path after her. As Svik and the two remaining group members rushed towards the door, two clearly heard thuds were heard from inside the burning ship. As it turned out, the first thud came from Tiamus and her shield ramming into the surprised gunman with a force that would have impressed a bull. The second was a result of their attacker colliding with a wall inside the ship, accompanied by the clattering of a firearm jolted out of grasp. With the immediate threat neutralized, the Avian carefully approached the sprawling form, bootsteps echoing sharply against the metal floor. Now that she wasn’t in combat, a closer look revealed a biped with long, green hair from the head and two arms, either naked or wearing some sort of organic armor, almost leaflike in the way the plates and membranes- Leaflike. She instinctively raised her spear, realizing something important. Judging by their various gasps and snarls, her squad behind her had realized the same thing. There was only one race that relied on organic armor, and that race could have been doing only one thing on an alien ship. “Floran!” Tiamus barked as the captive stirred, “What did you do here? Where are the others from this ship?” Fixing the Avian commander with her own glossy black eyes, the Floran responded in an exhausted, chittering voice. “I found this... with my seed-mates on another world. A distant world, now. It landed, and many of your plumed folk left it... we took the ship from those who remained, and I alone survived the fall” The spear’s point shifted a little closer. “So you’re just a murderer and a pirate then, and so were your friends.” “It is no crime to hunt those who harm the children of suns” rasped the Floran. She tried to continue, but fell into a coughing fit. Meanwhile, Tiamus duly noted an alert warning that a third of the ship was ablaze. They were currently near the prow, she reasoned, and since the fire had started from the rear engines, they had plenty of time at this rate. Finally regaining some of her composure, the Floran continued. “It is no crime to leave a home where you are no longer welcomed.” Tiamus immediately whipped back to face the plant-creature. “Fronz,” she called, “give her some nanites. I want to hear what she has to say.” As the medic hurried over and administered medical nanos into the Floran, she pressed on with her story. “The elders, my progenitors, my tribesmen, they said I was not Floran enough. That I was hateful to the suns and the earths. That I was an enemy of the leaf folk.” She looked down. “They were wrong.” she spoke, her voice a strained murmur. “I loved the Floran. But I learned that it does not matter how right you are if your tribe thinks you are wrong. I came for this ship with the other forsaken before my tribe came for me. That is the only reason I still draw breath. In truth, I died before I set foot on this vessel”. The alarm pinged again. Fifty percent. Temperature was rising even in this compartment, and the licking flames could be heard growing louder from outside. Tiamus formed an idea. Signalling the medic aside, she knelt at the Floran’s height. “What’s your name?” “It doesn’t matter now”, the alien tried to say. “Yes, it does. Everyone has a name. We carry it with us to give us our meaning,” she went on, “so that we can choose to travel down our own paths.” Maybe she was imagining things, but she could have sworn she saw the Floran’s eyes widen slightly. “Ino. My name is Ino.” “Ino,” began Tiamus. “You made a mistake on that ship. You killed people- my people - who didn’t deserve to die.” She paused, but neither outcast averted their eyes. “But you we can sort that out later. You thought you were alone, and I know how it hurts you-” “You presume to feel my pain?” cut in an angered Ino. “Shut up,” said Tiamus. “I was exiled by my people too. I didn’t know what to do for a while. All I knew was that I had been betrayed by people claiming that I had betrayed them. Sound familiar?” Ino gave a small shudder. Taking that as an affirmative, Tiamus continued. “But something changed. I found a new people. A new tribe. I remembered my name, and with it, I made a new purpose for myself.” She slung her spear on her back and reached her hand out. “Come with me.” Tentatively, Ino reached out with her own green arm. The alarm went off again. “Chief!” Shouted Svik as the rest of the group ran through the door. “Three-quarters of the ship are burning! We need to get out, now!” Quickly nodding an affirmation, Tiamus leaned forward and scooped the Floran up, fireman-style, before following the rest of her team out of the craft. “Ino”, Tiamus panted aboard the shuttle with the rest of her crew, “There was something I didn’t get to tell you. There’s this old Avian nesting rhyme that helped me through dark times:” “The little chick knows/ as surely as Aether wind flows/ she’ll soar wherever she goes/ once her full plummage grows” “Corny, I know, but what do you think?” Even lying on the shuttle’s medical cot, Ino couldn’t stop herself from smiling a toothy, Floran smile. She had just remembered what it felt like to have a tribe.