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It was a warm day when they leave the school. I few birds fly overhead, slightly obscuring the cloudless sky. A light refreshing breeze passes over them, giving them a brief moment of respite from the heat of the sun. Dust settles on their boot straps as they move carefully through the forest. They leave the mountains and the school behind them. It disappears behind the growing canopy. B.U.D. moves the most confident, despite not quite knowing where he is going. His head is caught up on the parameters of his mission. There are a lot of new and wonderous items in this forest and B.U.D. attempts to collect them all. All in the name of the mothership.

Jalila and Tal follow close behind B.U.D., constantly pulling him back to the path whenever he veers too far from the path. Their sighs become as common as the bird songs that follow them on their journey.

“B.U.D. come back!” Jalila yells, sounding more and more annoyed as the day grows longer. For a moment, B.U.D. will follow the directions and walk at stride with his companions, but this is short lived as something new and shiny always plucks him from the path. Tal and Jalila continue after him. Making sure he never gets too far from the party.

Varus and Zamir keep their distance and watch the spectacle curiously. They are amused by their struggle and never once offer to help. Zarmir chuckles as he watches Jalila and his brother struggle with their large metal friend. Night begins to fall on the party. They are behind schedule but it is getting too dark to move safely through the forest. They search for a safe place to set up camp. Varus builds a small fire.  Zarmir sits and chews on some of his dried rations as he polishes his glaive. Tal begins to prep the various ingredients for a rabbit stew. Jalila finds a tree to lean against and drops to her seat. She takes off her boots and massages her feet letting out a sigh of relief. Without looking up she says “We need to tie you up B.U.D.

B.U.D Claps and replies “I had a busy day! Look at all the data I have gathered for the mother ship” B.U.D begins to set down a myriad of rocks, plants and other odd objects he found along the way. He begins to organize it by type and size, mentally documenting the novelty of each item. Satisfied with their placement, he begins to pop each item into his mouth, swallowing it in turn. He savors the item. Not the taste, B.U.D has no sense of taste, but the new experience he collects from each item. As much as he is proud to have collected items for the mothership, it is his own curiosity in tandem that motivates him to complete his mission.

“So” Tal asks as he chops carrots.  “What’s the mothership?”

“Thank you for asking” B.U.D. replies with a large grin in his face, “The mothership is where I come from. She made me and she gave me my mission.”

“Excuse me? What mission?” Zarmir perks up. He eyes his metal classmate suspiciously.

“The mothership has sent me to this planet to learn all I can about it” B.U.D. continues to eat away at his collection in between replies.

“What are you gunna do with it?” Zarmir grows more suspicious.

“Do? It is my mission to learn everything there is about this planet for the mothership” B.U.D says, excited to talk about the mothership to his friends.

“Why?” Varus asked, also suspicious by the answers.

“Because the mothership asked me too. It is my mission.”

“This isn’t going anywhere” Jalila chimes in “How do you collect data anyways?”

“Oh it’s quite a simple processes. I put the items I have collected into my mouth. They are pulled down into my, I guess you would call it a stomach, where nanobots break down the item to its basic components. I then analyze said components and collect the data. The data is then saved into my memory at which point it is duplicated and sent to the mothership  through a special connection I share with her”

“Ok?” Tal replies, not quite understanding the answer. There is a shared confusion that washes over the group as they try to piece together the nonsense of B.U.D.’s reply. “So, where does the mothership come from?”

B.U.D. perks up at the sound of the question and with his voice full of excitement he replies “Well the mothership has always been. She comes from mothership before that who comes from the mothership before that. And she comes from the mothership before that. And she comes before the mothership before that. And…”

“Ok we get it! But what planet do you come from?” Tal asks.

“I don’t come from a planet. I come from the mothership who comes from the”

“Stop!” Zarmir interrupts, his head beginning to throb ” We get it B.U.D. Thanks” He is unsure what to think of his new classmate or his mission, but he sure is annoyed by B.U.D’s strangeness.

B.U.D. continues eating his collection of items. He wanders a bit as he spots new mysteries around the camp.

The night settles and the only light they share is the fire that sits between all of them. Tal passes out the bowls of hot soup. The sounds of slurping and idle chatter fills the space and drowns out the sounds of the owls and crickets. They watch as the smoke floats away into darkness. Suddenly, a russtling in the forest interupts their peace. They can hear the sound of footsteps crunching at leaves and twigs and moving violently through shrubs and bushes.  Arms reach for weapons. Bowls are placed gently on the ground. Bodies stand up quietly and move slowly to greet whatever it is that comes for them.

A lone figure steps out of the forest. He is a slender man with shoulder length black hair. He is sweety and dirty. His hair matted from the sweat humidity. He looks at the party as the feeling of fear and apprehension overcomes him.  He throws his empty hands out in a feeble attempt to ward off oncoming attacks and shouts “No wait! I saw the fire and came to check it out. I mean no harm. I’m a bard!”

Zarmir and Varus keep their weapons trained on the stranger. They eye him closely. His clothes are dirty and covered in small tears from travel. Over his shoulders hangs a small worn bag that has begun to fray at the seams.  There is no visible weapon on him. Zarmir moves closer,  closing the distance between him and the stranger. He places the blade end of the glaive inches from the stranger’s chest. The metal rings that line the dull end of the glaive jingle as the blade comes to a stop. Zarmir in a hostile voice says “Who are you? What are you dong here?”

Caught off guard by the sudden hostility, the stranger nervously lets out “Um. I. My name. My name is. Is Rodrigo and I um. Can you please point that somewhere else?” Rodrigo motions slowly towards the glaive and waits for an answer. Without a word, Zarmir moves closer, now pressing the blade to Rodrigo’s chest. The cold polished steel makes a small cut in his tunic. Rodrigo swears he can feel the blade digging into his skin. He swallows hard, his hands start to shake. Cold sweat starts to run down his back. His voice shakes as he lets out  “I’m not. Im not here to fight. I saw the fire and thought you were adventurers. I didn’t want to be alone in the dark in this forest. I’m on my way to Charise. To visit my aunt. I swear that’s all it is. I don’t have any weapons, check my stuff” He drops his small bag by his feet. Zarmir watches Rodrigo closely, still filled with mistrust.

“Back up” Zarmir orders, he pushes the glaive a bit into Rodrigo’s chest who moves back slowly. His hands still shaking and raised. Sweat starts to fall down the side of his brow and glistens with the light of the fire. Zarmir reaches down and opens the bag. He spreads the contents around on the dirt. Within the small bag there is a journal full of stories and poems and songs.  A worn out pen and half a bottle of black ink. There is a flute, polished and delicately wrapped in cloth. There are a few dried food rations and a waterskin that is mostly full. Zarmir drops the blade from Rodrigo’s chest. We walks away from the mess he’s made, back to his bedroll where he picks up his bowl and continues to eat. He watches Rodrigo from the corner of his eyes.

Rodrigo picks up his belongings. Taking long breaths as he tries to calm himself. His hands still shake. “So. Would it be all right if I spent the night here with you guys. I won’t be any trouble I swear.” He slings the bag over his shoulder and waits for a reply.

“I don’t see a problem with that” Tal says as he begins to pluck at his lute.

“Thanks a lot. This forest is no joke” Rodrigo drops to the ground and takes off his bouts. He breaths a loud sigh of relief as he wiggles his toes in the fresh air. “So what brings you guys out here?”

Tal still a bit suspicious replies “We are going to Charis to investigate some issue the village is having.

Rodrigo perks up at the mention of the town. “Wow that’s a coincidence. Would you guys mind if I tagged along for the rest of the way? I can play music, tell stories, jokes?”

The party is silent until it becomes uncomfortable. B.U.D. is the first one to break the silence. He says in his happy go lucky tone “Yes that seems logical. We are going the same way.”

Rodrigo eyes B.U.D. curiously. With the tension settled, Rodrigo looks at B.U.D. for the first time. His metallic body glistens in the light of the fire. It isn’t armor, he thinks to himself. At least not the kind that can be removed. “What are you?” Rodrigo finally lets out, not quite sure what to make of this strange creature. He had never seen anything like this. He pulls out the journal from his bag and begins to take notes. He describes B.U.D. in short bullet points.

Metal humanoid. Seems to speak and understand common.

B.U.D. replies ” I am a Biomechanical Universal Diplomat and I was sent here by the mothership to learn everything I can about your planet. People here call me B.U.D.” Rodrigo starts taking notes furiously, squinting at the letters on the page he can just barely make out.

“What is the mothership?” Rodrigo asks without lifting his gaze from his notes.

“Well the mothership made me and tasked me to come to this planet to gather data. She comes from the mothership before that who comes from the mothership before that who…”

The rest of the party move as far away as possible from the two. Jalila and Tal relieved that someone else gets a turn with B.U.D. Zarmir and even Varus chuckle to themselves as they hear the murmurs of the endless loop that is the story of the mothership.