Unable to lie there hidden on the couch any longer, I climb off of it, and when the big boom goes off, like a startled doe, I do what mathematicians do best: flee. I sprint out of the room and down one of the corridors, fear and panic both at the forefront of my mind. For God's sake, I have an advanced degree in mathematics, and I am smart! Why am I so irrationally afraid, why am I running?
I run for as long as I can before finally slowing and bending over to catch my breath for a moment. I look down at the circular patch on the left breast of my tight fitting green military jumpsuit. There is a picture of an ellipsoidal ship, the word "WARDEN" above it, and a white box below with "Mat./Rp." embroidered in red. I wish I were at that job right now, where I remember it was safe and calm. I straighten up again and look around, my eyes wide with fear. My legs hurt from all the running.
Gregory Powell doesn't make a sound, though all sorts of colorful language race through his mind. With Claus dead, he now has absolutely no allies aboard this whole spaceship cum madhouse. Quickly fighting to regain control of his mind, and pushing back the mental image of Claus' gory remains, Gregory analyzes the situation. Clearly, he was not yet dead. That can only be because the autobot doesn't know he is there yet, which means it is in normal visual mode.
The robot's casing clearly belonged to an older SP-4K3 model autobot. Provided the Watcher hasn't upgraded this bot's subroutines, it should now be switching to heat sensors to verify nothing is left alive within its range. The SP-4K3 has a glitch that makes the heat sensory anaylsis program take a whole minute to load. That leaves Gregory maybe 10-20 seconds while the bot is still "blind." It's a horribly narrow window, an even more horrible gamble that he is right about the make and model of the bot, and even more horrible yet if the Watcher has upgraded this bot... yet it is all Gregory has, so he is already on his feet and zig-zagging to the intersection. He plans to turn right.
"Hey Percy! If we make it to that lifeboat, any chance you can fly the thing? Don't worry Cap'n, we're not leaving Amanda. It might be handy to have some transport though. When we get to that lifeboat, Zhaxier and Percy can do what it takes to get it flying, Nike and I will go find Amanda; you others: it's your call. And somebody remind me to file with the quartermaster for hazardous duty pay when this is all over."
"I can fly it," Nike says softly, as they move swiftly after Zhaxier. "If nothing else, I can teach someone what they need to move the lifeboat just a small distance from the ship and hover there until I can get Amanda and return."
Chelydra: "Hey Percy! If we make it to that lifeboat, any chance you can fly the thing?"
"Dammit, Chel', I'm a computer geek, not a pilot!" Percy mutters apologetically as they follow Zhaxier's hovering inventory down the corridor. He thumbs the patch on the left pocket of his uniform shirt with his right hand as proof. "I should be able to figure out how the systems work, which ones are cross-wired with others, when the backup systems kick in, what fault tolerances each component has, and whether I need to clip the blue or yellow wire, but I wouldn't trust myself to fly it." He shrugs. "Flight simulators always made me dizzy, anyways."
Nike: "I can fly it. If nothing else, I can teach someone what they need to move the lifeboat just a small distance from the ship and hover there until I can get Amanda and return."
"Yeah, let's find the boat, and then find Amanda. If we find her first, we're still in the crapper if we don't have a boat."
Suddenly Percy's eyes grow wide. "Waaaiiiitaminute! What year did you say this was, robot?"
"If by that question, humanoid, you mean for me to repeat our earlier conversation, then let me oblige." Mid-stride, Tinker pops open a panel on his torso and presses a button that has two left arrows imprinted on it. After waiting a few seconds, he presses a button with a triangle pointed to the right on it. From a speaker hidden who-knows-where, a recording plays back:
Percy: "Just how long has Warden been floating in space without a crew?"
Tinker: "I've been wandering around here for almost five hundred years. At least my persona has. This is the fifth body that I've occupied since the ship ran into that radiation cloud."
Tinker depresses a button with a square on it, closes the panel, and looks at Percy. "I never said what year it was because that is irrelevant. Nearly 500 years have passed in our frame of reference, based on how the cesium ticks in my internal clock. Since I have no idea how fast Warden has been traveling all this time---assuming it is indeed still shooting through space at near-relativistic speeds---an attempt to provide a date meaningful within the standard Terran frame of reference is futile. Is this significant to you at the moment?" During his last few sentences, a whirring sound emanates from the now closed panel.
"You bet your bottom zorkmid it is! Not to be a party pooper, but it's a good bet that all the lifeboats on this ship might be used up already!" He wonders about that radiation cloud. He was too distracted before to think about it. But as they continue to follow Zhaxier, he wonders again if the original Percy Jenkins---"RAM", as Zhaxier calls him---made it to one of those lifeboats. Since he is a clone, he supposes it is a good bet that the original Percy had not. Then again, perhaps the radiation cleared up enough over 500 years for the ship to decide to clone a new crew, whether or not the original crew died or was wandering around. "Ah, damn headaches," he mutters again as he turns his gaze from the robot. He realizes he has been staring at him while lost in thought during their traversal through Warden's decks.
OOC: 2 questions:
"Whoa, WHOA, WHOA!" Zhaxier stops abruptly and turns around, each "whoa" getting louder to the others as he turns. "Nobody's flying a lifeboat! Least of all Butch, and not even a real pilot, like Arkady here. It's a lifeboat. It doesn't fly or hover: it floats... on water even! It was meant for terrestrial splash-downs. I am assuming it is pretty much useless to us. Tinker suspects there may be other useful things in the hangar, though, and that's what we're after."
OOC: I think it's important to remind everyone at this point that I am not Zhaxier, and I intend no personal slights to the authors of other characters. I am just endeavoring to play Zhaxier consistently.
OOC: Ok, here's the deal: it is indeed a lifeboat, however, it is a lifeboat that is also spaceworthy, i.e. for short trips to and from a planet. Capiche? It does indeed need a pilot. Keep in mind that unless the characters can recall this specific information, they may indeed have misconceptions about what a "lifeboat" is. They might mistakenly think that it is an escape pod, or something only helpful if already landed on a planet's surface... whatever. Nike has knowledge, as a pilot, of the lifeboats, as does Arkady. No one else really knows squat, in character, other than the fact that they are called "lifeboats."
Zhaxier: I think it's important to remind everyone at this point that I am not Zhaxier, and I intend no personal slights to the authors of other characters.
Ditto here for NPCs. Comments made by NPCs do not reflect the real-life emotions or thoughts of the SA, and comments made by PCs are not taken personally, either.
Supreme Arbiter: No one else really knows squat, in character, other than the fact that they are called "lifeboats."
OOC: Zhaxier ver. n knows slightly more than "squat," for what it's worth. He knows that it is "[n]ot an escape pod, but a lifeboat built to land on a planet."
I pant like a chased doe as my mind tries to think of thoughts that don't induce sheer terror in me, like one of the differential equations classes I used to teach part time. But at this moment, my mind only thinks stupid thoughts:
I don't want to think stupid random thoughts, but I can't help it. I wonder if all mathematicians think like I do? I can survive this provided I keep my act together, but my mind is going crazy again:
Ha! I almost laugh.
This talking to myself is really getting old. If someone were reading my mind or hearing my words, they would be bored by now. All mathematicians create boredom easily and it doesn't require math to do it.
Something makes a noise behind me and I yelp with fright and take off sprinting again. My legs are telling me, "Run, Amanda! Run, run, run!" and my mind is telling me, "Run faster, faster, faster!"
I try to do both.
"Zhaxier, you may have a map, but you obviously know nothing about what it is you're leading us to," Nike begins, surprisingly unirritated with him and still moving quickly to keep up. "A lifeboat on Warden is similar to a lifeboat on earthbound water vessels in that they take crew from this ship to a safe harbor. However, in this case, they can actually take crew from the sea of space to the safe harbor of a planet. They are indeed spaceworthy, for short trips from ship to planet, and were meant to do so in case of an emergency within a short distance from a planet. They fly, they hover, they float. And, for your information, I am a real pilot."
OOC: I think that the tension between Zhaxier and Nike adds a lot to the game, and helps to define their characters better. I try to play Nike as she would react to situations, not necessarily the way that I would, as I'm sure the author of Zhaxier does for him. Isn't that what all good role-players do? We're just good at what we do, that's all. :)
"Look guys I don't care who flies the thing: Cap'n, Zhaxier, Arkady---even that HUT we all just got jumped by can fly it, for all I care. But, if we stand here jawing about it for too much longer, it isn't going to matter squat. I doubt these lights and sirens mean it's milk and cookies time. I just hope that thing is still spaceworthy. And Zhaxier, if this turns out to be your old self playing some sort of cosmic joke on us, I'm going to be just a little bit upset with him...."
OOC: Chelydra is more of an action guy than a talk guy. Something about what happens when you cross a snapping turtle with a security officer. Unfortunately, he seems not to have gotten the best of either; hence his asking Percy if he can fly the lifeboat.
Otherwise, so far I have understood the bickering between characters to be in-character and not between players. Well, except for the fight with the HUT: that seemed kind of personal.
I for one am very interested to see what is in the lifeboat bay, and to see where this story is going. Note to SA: if we open the airlock hatch and see grass and trees outside, I am going to be a little upset.
COMPUTER TIME LOG - DAY ONE
20:57:32 LIAISONS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 IN CUSTODY
20:57:33 SEARCH AND DESTROY PROTOCOLS RUNNING
............3 ELIMINATIONS CONFIRMED
20:59:04 LIAISON 6 MISSING
20:59:05 LIAISON 7 MISSING
The bickering makes Chelydra nervous. Sure, they are still moving, but what kind of group continues to argue in the face of danger? He can tell that Nike feels very uncomfortable having to explain herself, and he feels uncomfortable with her having to explain herself as well. He isn't entirely sure why, but a very rigid discipline and sense of order is deeply ingrained in him. "Probably a good thing," he muses, "since my first inclination is to act and not necessarily consider all the options."
The purple lights continue to flash their rhythmic dance, but the hallways are now eerily silent. Whirs and blowing air can be heard now and again, along with the sounds of humanoids laboring to escape and, of course, your ridiculous bickering.
Arkady doesn't look too keen on being a part of this merry band, but at the moment, he has few other choices. "Better to help one another survive now and be more picky about friends later" is his motto for the moment. One memory---not the least bit hazy---stands out in his mind and is perhaps the reason why he is so nervous. He doesn't want to relive that depressurization scare again, but he isn't going to dwell on it either.
Nike finally regains her leadership posture, and her composure. Zhaxier always seems to know exactly how to push her buttons. She thinks he is so self-absorbed: using an offensive nickname for her, making crude sexual comments, believing his opinion to be the only one with any intelligence behind it. And this makes her angry. Not just ordinary angry: rage angry. Her mind's eye flashes back to a time when someone she knew made her feel worthless, unimportant, and an object of drooling and insult... and suddenly she knows without a shadow of a doubt exactly why she wants to hurt Zhaxier. He reminds her of him.
But she doesn't have long to ponder the significance of her discovery. Zhaxier has led them past a four-way intersection, and a pair of security robots has spotted them. She hopes that Percy isn't onto something---that lifeboat better be there and working, or this might be the end of all of them, or at least this version of them.
The chase is on.
OOC: Sharneste, I need to know if Tinker is carrying you, or if you are walking bipedally and therefore able to move more slowly, for this next round.
Amanda, legs throbbing with effort and lungs bursting in their drive to grab more oxygen, forces the insane thoughts out of her mind and runs onward. "This time," she thinks, "I'm going to look for a safe and less obvious place to hide."
Then, just when she looks to her right, she slams into something hard.
Gregory, heart pounding, almost has a cardiac arrest as something slams into him. He was peering around the corner to ascertain the position and intent of the pair of autobots that had detected his movement just moments earlier. "Dammit!" he swears under his breath, half with anger and half with relief that the something is humanoid.
"Just wonderful, Rufie old boy, you narrowly escape getting hanged only to run into a pair of bloodthirsty autobots!" He smirks and squats in the hallway, fiddling with his robes. The humor is lost on him---even though it is his own joke---in light of his current plight. He now has a choice: back to be hanged for a crime he didn't commit, or forward into the Watcher's territory, where he and his autobots are clearly out for blood.
"Hmm, mutant-racist humanoids or an administrative bot that thinks he's God?" he thinks sadly. Not a choice that he particularly wants to make. He can hear steel doors slamming shut from sector to sector, which tells him that the Watcher is sealing off his territory. There isn't much time.
What do you do?
"Hanging is a sure thing; autobots: there's an element of chance in that," I think, then begin to trot off into the unknown.
"Sure wish I had some gear though. Right. Top priority, whack something and get its equipment...."
Supreme Arbiter: Sharneste, I need to know if Tinker is carrying you, or if you are walking bipedally and therefore able to move more slowly for this next round.
If Sharneste can keep up she'll lope along. Otherwise she'll accept the ride.
Nike: "A lifeboat on Warden is similar to a.... And, for your information, I am a real pilot."
Zhaxier tunes out Nike's defensive polemics much like he used to tune out the blonde who taught the diffy-Q course that he audited in a former incarnation so long ago.
As an engineer, he had no use for the course. All the existence and uniqueness theory, the countless transformations one used to solve such equations precisely---useless. In practice, all his (P)DEs were solvable, and could be solved approximately and to the needed precision by Warden's central n-Cube. An engineer's chief asset is experienced intuition, not a stale set of antiseptic theorems and proof techniques, and the former he already had in copious amounts.
No, he, like the other young and cocky propulsion engineers in that course, were there just because the professor was so cute, and oh, did they give her hell! A quick gedanken synch to his former self is enough to convince Zhaxier that he's much older now than when he would've taken that class. "But just as cocky," he laughs with a bit of the self-deprecation that comes with self-realization.
Chelydra: "And Zhaxier, if this turns out to be your old self playing some sort of cosmic joke on us, I'm going to be just a little bit upset with him...."
As Zhaxier makes his way once more through the flashing corridors, Chelydra's remark provokes a wan smile across his blended face, but Zhaxier is focusing on the memory of another face: the blonde's---it's so tantalizingly familiar---and then he makes the incredible connection.
Amanda! She's Dr. Flockheart!
No wonder he couldn't previously rationalize his insistence on moving fast to find her. He had not suspected that his loyalty is rooted in guilt. "Damn, this is a small ship," he jokes silently as he races past a four-way intersection, one of perhaps millions in Warden. But thoughts of his mysterious "E" resurface unbidden, and he gives his medical bag a reassuring shake. "Not small enough," he sighs.
OOC: Amazonworshipper's two questions to the Supreme Arbiter have gone unanswered here:
- What about the shot that was offered her? I said she'd allow it.
- Wasn't it one of her hands which lost a claw? If so, wouldn't she still be able to walk okay?
The shot that Zhaxier gave Sharneste contained regenerative nano-bots. An identical shot completely, systemically and almost instantaneously healed Zhaxier's severe wounds earlier.
Supreme Arbiter, since you haven't specifically addressed the effects of the shot on Sharneste's wounds, are we to assume it didn't work?
OOC: Actually, they were answered by e-mail. The Supreme Arbiter said the shot helped with the pain, and Sharneste can walk on her legs but she does better on all fours.
Gregory Powell's heart skips a beat, but he is all too aware of the gravity of the situation to allow himself to be too long delayed. His first thought is to grab this woman by the arm and pull her with him, but he finds that she is at least as strong as he. So instead, after making sure he is not in line-of-fire with any autobots, he stops to say, "Now, I don't know what a nice young lady like yourself is doing wandering about this part of the ship when there's an evac alarm going on, but I'd say your best bet is to follow me, missy."
As a mathematician, I know that running is a calculated risk I have to take, but I also know that if you're dead earlier, you're certainly dead later on, and that is really the part I fear the most. I yelp at the man when I run into him. I look into his eyes, not knowing what to say or do, but I do know that I am happy to see a living human. I try to say something, but all I stammer are the words, "I uh, I uh."
I pause to catch my breath. "I'm uh, Dr. Amanda Flockheart." And the Riemann-Lebesgue lemma zaps it again, my mind speaks as I try to think of something to say. "Umm, I wasn't wandering, I was marathon sequencing my speed by assigning 1, 2, 3... to it. That's the fastest sort routine I know!" I wonder if I am making any sense to him.
"Ok, ok, I'll go with you then. Please take me! Wait, where are we going?" I am ready to follow Gregory wherever he will lead me. My face is red from running and I am still panting a little. If x were negative, my runaway thoughts would go sky-high. It's the only time in my life I have ever felt found and lost at the same moment.
The cold, oddly lit hallways continue on in all directions. At each intersection or branch, the sheer vastness of the world seems to overshadow Rufus, threatening to consume him in inky anonymity.
Picking up any useful debris or 'bot parts, Rufus only occasionally slows his pace to listen with tall ears pricked up at any odd or unexpected noise.
He thinks he hears voices ahead, but he isn't certain. Warily, Rufus creeps nearer the intersection, and peers around the corner at about a foot off the floor. His snout samples the air.
"Hurry it up, Zhax," Arkady says, just loud enough so that those in front of him can hear him, "but keep that bag in sight so we can see you!" He briefly turns to make sure they haven't lost anyone.
If Sharneste is notably slower than anyone else, he calls out to her, "Damn your pride, kitty! That bot can carry more than any of us, and still outrun us."
Gregory Powell does a double-take. "What? Marath.... We'll discuss it in a lifeboat. Come on!"
This time, Dr. Flockheart lets him take her hand, and he pulls her down the hallway leading towards the lifeboats.
Gregory is tall and slim, with a long well-chiseled face ending in a jutting, dimpled chin. His thin lips sport a moustache above them, and his full head of brown hair is swept back, almost as if he has just left a barber's shop rather than a room full of firing autobots. He too wears a Warden uniform.
"You'll forgive me for being this forward," he says as he runs. "I don't normally take strange women's hands like this, but the situation does warrant a bit of... indiscretion!"
That said, he hears an autobot behind them reach the intersection, so he clams up and runs faster down the winding hallway to stay out of sight.
"I'm not going to say exactly what I mean because I'm not absolutely certain myself. Ok, ok, I do forgive your indiscretion. This is going to be an adventure for you... and for me.... and before I leave this subject, I would like to tell you something interesting: run faster!"
I decide I mustn't be too rigid like when doing fluid mechanics, so I run as fast as I can. An engineering lecturer once told me, "If you find bear droppings around your tent, it's fairly likely that there are bears in the area." The same adage goes for autobots too. I'm sure the saying is right whether it is valid or not, like most engineers believe. Either way, mathematically there is no reason not to believe it.
"Let t go to infinity," I tell myself.
Percy pants as he runs, listens and observes. He doesn't recognize the corridors. He realizes that his cloned self probably hasn't had enough muscular stimulation to prepare him for a good sprint---probably only just enough to make the muscles work as requested by his cloned brain. "Dang..." he thinks, completely amazed at how the cloning technology even works. Then he spots the robots.
"Hm," he says with a complete lack of surprise. He was hoping they wouldn't come across any more monsters of steel, but he also knew his hope was in vain. He does a quick mental survey of his stuff. He figures he will never get close enough to use his wrench on those (no doubt) laser-firing machines, nor would doing so be any good with his meager muscle power. Then again, what if he were stronger? But would Percy the half-crazed Wolfoid be any better than Percy the human against a group of killer robots?
As he runs, he tries to ignore the danger of the situation and instead focuses on how he can use his knowledge of the ship's systems to gain them an advantage over the robots. Maybe they can't track them if they have no help from the cameras? He decides that he will start systematically smashing each camera he sees with the wrench. Maybe the Watcher will have a harder time doing his watching.
OOC: It seems Percy has picked up 4 crude spears from the environmental bay in the fight with the Wolfoids. I assume that he has strapped them onto his sack, if the SA thinks that's feasible. Frankly, I forgot about them. It is feasible that he left them in the control room, but he is collecting everything he finds.... SA's call, I guess.
OOC: Percy has consistently been hoarding everything he finds; therefore he still has the spears. They will make it more difficult to run unless you specify some quick and easy way to carry them while maintaining flexibility.
COMPUTER TIME LOG - DAY ONE
21:01:22 LIAISONS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 IN CUSTODY
21:02:14 SEARCH AND DESTROY PROTOCOLS RUNNING
............4 ELIMINATIONS CONFIRMED
21:02:25 LIAISONS 6, 7, 8, 9 MISSING
21:02:41 INTRUDER DETECTED SECTION SEVEN
The autobots are gaining ground. Zhaxier begins to notice room numbers: S8323, S8324, S8325. Under each number is a name. Unfortunately, before he can stop to look at one more closely, BLAM! The corridor behind him explodes in a fiery display of color as shards of steel and other metals fly madly. The good news is that the damage is about 15 meters behind him. The bad news is that the autobots now consider their targets to be in firing range, and they are closing.
Everyone's adrenaline pumps some extra speed into their lagging strides; everyone except Tinker's, that is (even if he had adrenaline). Even carrying Sharneste, he seems to maintain a fast pace easily.
There is no nearby intersection to take before the autobots catch up, but there are some indented archways on either side of the hallway above two doors. They are labeled G10 and G11.
Rufus feels free. There is no way that those bull-headed zealots would continue to chase him into this section, especially now that it is sealed off. Not having a death sentence hanging over his head seems to expand his lung cavity and put extra bounce in his step. Unfortunately, his feeling of freedom is quite short-lived.
Rufus thinks he hears voices ahead, but he isn't certain. Warily, Rufus creeps near the intersection, and peers around the corner at about a foot off the floor. His snout samples the air... only to see two humans talking in urgent but hushed tones. He can't make out what they are saying, but sees one of them motioning toward his intersection, and then they start down the hall in his direction, in quite a hurry.
Rufus is not able to distinguish if the humans are friendly and benign or menacing and deadly. He isn't sure if it is the adrenaline mixed with stress and extreme fatigue or the flashing lights distracting him, but he can't get a clear instinct on them.
Gregory and Amanda hurry down the corridor. Amanda is panting and out of breath, and Gregory is a little surprised at finding such an attractive female human running around in this section. "I wonder what, if anything, she has to do with the Watcher being so furious?" he thinks, and pushes ahead.
What do you do?
OOC: Before Group 2 posts, I need some die rolls e-mailed to me; specifically, 3d6 rolls for Gregory, Amanda, and Rufus.
Zhaxier's medical bag and laser pistol come together as the Blendoid ducks into the alcove labeled G10 and quickly tries the door. Warden is elephantine beyond imagining, but some optimistic part of him harbors the hope that this is the same "G10" that Dr. Flockheart screamed as she was abducted from the envirobay's control room. He doesn't know why he hopes this, nor does he take the time to reflect.
"S8346 is 21 doors down, Tink," he says as the robot joins him with Sharneste on its back.
"Your point? Right around that is our lifeboat. What's so special---"
"Not close enough. These 'bots are too fast! Look, Amanda yelled 'G10' when they grabbed her---this room is important too. Cover me."
OOC: If the door doesn't open for Zhaxier, Tinker will use his cutting torch.
Rufus quickly plunks down, and flops his right arm out into the hallway as if he's collapsed.
Playing into any compassion or even mild interest the hoomungz might have, Rufus plans for a quick fight if plan A fails.
With tongue rolled out like a carpet and his best, "I'm a sad, poor, sick, (nearly unconscious) little pup" eyes, Rufus waits for them to find him.
Gregory puts on the brakes, swinging out his arms to keep the woman from running past him. "Wait!" he says, looking down at the sad, poor, sick-looking thing on the floor. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he asks her.
"We could use him as a shield in case those autobots get us in range again!"
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