The Black Rock

"I'm back!"

Ryker finds himself back inside the Black Stallion.

"Then again, that thing did say that I never left." He looked around the room he was in.

It was different from the room he was kept earlier when Jackal saved him.

Ryker jolts up from the bed and makes his way to the hallways in search for the captain of the cruiser.

"Where is that sneaky bastard?"

Ryker had his back against a door as it opened up and he fell through. 

"Oh good," Jackal was standing atop him with his hands resting on his waist. Besides him was Ming. 

"I was just about to come to get you."

Ryker winced in pain as he lifts himself. "Where are we?" He looked past the two and scans the room in awe.

"Oh, this? Hehe, that was why I wanted to come get you" Jackal explained wearing his usual grin.

Ryker found himself in a gymnasium with a fighting ring in the middle.

Jackal tugged the hand of the white-haired teen and dragged him into the ring.

"We're going to train!" He declared much to Ryker's surprise.

"Eh?"

"I mean, I'm going to train you."

"I know what you meant. What I mean is, why?"

"Because I want you to join the Black Stallion crew and venture through the cosmos with Ming and me." Ryker glanced at Ming who darted him a murderous look. 

She was displeased by Jackal's motive but there was nothing she could do. He was her captain. 

"You want me to become a criminal space pirate?" 

Jackal scratched his head and laughed sheepishly. "Well, when you put it like that..." 

"I'm in," Ryker said calmly. 

'Honestly, this is by far the most normal thing that has happened to me today.' He thought to himself recalling his time in the astral plane before he woke up. 

Jackal laughed. "I'll admit, I didn't expect to receive an answer from you right away!" He slaps Ryker on the back. 

"What did you expect?" 

"I don't know," Jackal replied. "I figured you'd be hell-bent on getting as far away from a criminal like me and start planning your revenge elsewhere."

"I did think of that." That was In fact, Ryker's intended course of action. That was until the association surrounded them. 

"I can't make them pay if I couldn't even beat an A-Grade. I was blinded by my rage, I can't do this alone. So, use me as you please, captain. But I'll be using you as well." Ryker stretches his arm. 

'I'll make a deal with a hundred devils if that's what it'll take to have my revenge.' 

"Haha, that's more like it!" Jackal quickly accepted the handshake. 

'He has a firm grip unlike any I've ever felt.' Ryker had his doubts at the beginning. But he was certain... 

'This man is strong. He's the best shot I have in becoming stronger. And until I learn more about that Etherian. I won't tell them what happened just yet.' 

"Ming," Jackal turned to address the Android. "From this day onwards, this man, Ryker Steele is our comrade!" 

Ming's next action caught Ryker off guard. 

"I welcome you to the Black Stallion crew." She bowed her head. 

Not knowing what to do at this point, Ryker bows his head as well. "I'm in your care now." He uttered smiling. 

Ming frowned at him. "Don't get me wrong, I still don't like you." 

"Tck, the feeling's mutual." 

"Haha," Jackal laughed. "Now, let's get to work." 

"Before that, I've been meaning to ask you... What exactly happened after I passed out and what came over me when those hunters invaded the ship?" 

Jackal went on to narrate how Ming intercepted Mysty's attack and knocked her out. 

'I figured they'd keep her around. He may not look at the role. But this man is cunning.' Ryker admitted to himself. 

"Thank you," He said. "You've saved my life twice now." 

"I see no point in letting you die the second time after we took the trouble to save you in the first place. Plus, I invested a lot in your new power." Jackal pointed. 

"I knew it!" Ryker exclaimed. 

"You did something with my Astro tech, didn't you? I felt a weird sensation when I grabbed it." 

"Hehe, I'll come clean." Jackal waved his hands in the air. 

"I replaced your Astro tech's core with a new one." 

All Astro techs possess a core, a rock of some sort that possesses astral energy depending on its color. 

The usual Astro tech given to bounty hunters of the association were usually White or Red depending on their ranks. 

"This will bring us to our first lesson, "Jackal raised a finger. "Astral itself. We're starting with the basics." 

"Tck, just tell me what you did exactly!" Ryker snapped. 

"I'm getting to it. You see, Astral is the energy of the Universe. It exists within everything and everyone." 

"Why are you telling me things I know?" 

"Is that so? Then tell me, why can't you create an astral skin without an Astro tech?" 

Ryker clicked his tongue, he didn't have an answer to that. 

"Anyone skilled enough can create an astral skin. This brings us back to Astro tech. Having an Astro tech will allow you to create an astral skin by tapping into the power within the Astro rock." Jackal held his hand out and Ming places Ryker's Astro tech on his palm. 

He holds out the device which could turn into a whip. 

"You were so restless when those hunters attacked that you didn't pay attention to this." Jackal pointed at the back of the device. He opens a compartment and takes out a black gemstone. 

"This is the Astro rock I put in place of yours." 

Ryker nods his head. "So my power from earlier came from this rock?" 

"Yep, you see white Astro rocks have the weakest astral particles in them. And black Astro rocks have the highest amount hence why you developed a black astral skin and was then able to harness enough power to fend for yourself." 

An Astro tech's main purpose is to allow individuals who have little amounts of astral particles in them to create astral skins which are the basis for combat. 

"I've never seen or heard of a black Astro rock before... It must be rare so why give it to someone you barely knew?" 

"Hmm," Jackal rubs his chin. He shrugged and grins. "Let's just say... I'm investing in the future." 

"Fine by me." Ryker smiled. 

"So, what will you be teaching me?" 

"I wasn't finished yet. You see, the reason black Astro rocks are extremely rare is that they can only be used once in an Astro tech." 

Ryker widened his eyes. "And here I thought I had received a new power!" He whined. 

"Haha, you didn't let me finish, snow-white. An Astro rock serves as a battery and channel for both the Astro tech and its wielder. But in this case, when a black Astro rock is used up, it modifies the astral particles of the user. Now, you don't need an Astro tech to harness the black astral skin."

Ryker listened to all of Jackal's explanations attentively, especially the last part. 

He looked at his hands. "What you're saying is... That power is all mine now?" 

"Yup," Jackal nods his head. "That is, once you learn how to harness it. And finally, that brings us to why we'll be training." 

Ryker pondered for a while before wearing a wide grin. 

"Let's do this thing!"

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