Chapter 50 (Original Archive)
IAS turn 57: Rock of Ages
The sun reached its peak and the crew escorted the tribesmen from their rooms. First the Rota tribe enjoyed the sun and fresh air. Janus, Malik and Devon explored the ruins as far as the armed crew members allowed them; they were awed by the sights and were reluctant to return to their quarters. The security team had no difficulty keeping Horatio, Foryn and Mica in line: they huddled together beneath Pandora's shadow and were happy to return to their room.
All through the day the road crew cut a path through the jungle. In the late afternoon they reached a clearing where an old tree had fallen. Through a gap in the forest canopy they caught the first glimpse of the rocky hill where they planned to build their elevator's anchor. Its steep, foreboding face seemed to mock their efforts.
Davred stopped dead in his tracks and wiped the sweat from his brow. "I hope there's a back way up 'cause I'm not climbing that cliff."
"We'll find a way," Bud replied, "Or we'll send the bots up without us. We're not likely to find out today though. We only have a few hours of daylight left."
The crew cut a path through the fallen tree, its bark was crumbling and rotten, and ventured another half kilometer before turning back toward home. Arkady was on the Pandora's bridge testing a set of small cameras attached to trees around the excavation's perimeter when they returned. "I saw you guys before you came within 300 meters of us."
"That's good but will we see anything when the lights go out?" Bud asked.
"Infrared is enabled."
Nike patted Arkady on the shoulder. "Good work. We'll keep an eye on it. No one leaves Pandora tonight without an armed guard."
[[Percy]] As Percy took his turn at playing armed guard [[OOC: Assuming he did!]] he tried to strike up conversation with the two tribes' peoples. He offered to trade stories with them. Did they have any histories they wanted to share? Particularly interesting to him were any of the stories they may have collected and passed down through the generations of the original Alexandria crew members--their descendants.
Percy thought it would be interesting to try to compile a genealogy of sorts of the various original Alexandria crew, if he could. Starting with Mike Benalidino and Ken Matahachi and working forward was probably hopeless but he inquired all the same about any details they did not already know. Then working backward from their onboard guests, he diplomatically probed their tribes' histories and lineages.
Percy was more than happy to share his ancestry without getting into details of cloning and bioroids, deep space hypersleep and the possible extinction of human life on Earth, and other overly scientific or worrisome topics.
Balancing out his people skills with introspective technological stimulation via his room's terminal, Percy continued to sift through the data stored both in the drop ship's memory banks as well as any information downloaded from both Warden and Alexandria. Data mining, it was called. What he was looking for, he didn't exactly know. It was like reading an encyclopedia set but without care of specific article or topic.
As he stumbled through the information on the computer, he paused at the records concerning the cloning bays. He read up on bioroid 'technology' and made the connection between it and his previous conversational topic: lineage. Bud had speculated he was sterile. There was only one way to find out--without involving any female crew members and carefully timed encounters, forgetting for the moment the significant time necessary to foster a copacetic rendezvous.
He paid a visit to Shiltzee and offered himself up for a medical examination- -with focus on his reproductive system. "I just want to know, doc, does the Jenkins line end with me? And will they be werewolves, too?"
Shiltzee muttered electronic sounds of surprise. "Either you've been watching too many monster movies in the archives, or..."
"Or?" Percy waited for the alternative.
"Or," Shlitzee continued, "you really are a werewolf. Or you're not."
"Oh, I definitely am a werewolf, watch this!" Percy closed his eyes in concentration but was interrupted by a hiss of air from one of Shiltzee's spray nozzles.
"Wait, not yet--let me hook you up first, if you're really serious about putting on a show!"
Anxiously, but slightly excitedly at the same time, Percy submitted to whatever tests and probes the robodoc offered to run.
[[OOC: How's that for some totally tangential plot developments! What can I say, I was feeling inspired with creative writing tonight.]]
[OOC: Percy has a habit of finding new side-quests and remembering old ones and I am grateful (for that and other things :^) There are clues to many unsolved mysteries, crucial and otherwise, that remain uninvestigated; I don't expect anyone to read every post or chapter to find them, so I composed a summary of our previous chapters in easy to read bites:]
IAS turn 58: Sacred Windows (4th day/night at the excavation)
Percy led Horatio and his two students down the gangplank to breathe the jungle's fresh air. The students trembled when they saw their new surroundings; their teacher looked calm but lost his usual bravado outside the Pandora. Percy had hoped to interrogate him during his first excursion from the ship but Horatio was uncharacteristically silent; in between occasional blessings, he answered few questions. Percy wanted to know more about his heritage but Horatio did not even know his father or mother. He only knew he was John Galt's descendant; Benalidino and Spragni were the only other names from the Alexandria's roster that meant anything to him. Percy asked how he had found the Pandora, and how he had known he could enter the ship through the airlock, and Horatio replied by reciting the prophet Benalidino's scripture, a strange and seemingly sacred description of Silver Birds and a Gate that Holds Back the Wind.
Horatio huddled with Foryn and Mica on his knees in the Pandora's shadow until the security team told them they could return to their room, but the Rota tribesmen were much happier to be allowed outside. Percy led them around the ruins and regaled them with tales of the Warden, about cities and parks and lakes and flowing water and life aboard the mighty ship, careful to avoid mentioning anything useful. The wilderness, the ancient ruins and Percy's strange tales enchanted them. Percy felt he was winning their trust and began asking his questions. "What do you know about your ancestors?"
Janus's eyes brightened. His mind, no longer fogged by shlitzee's sedatives, was quick and his words were to the point. He traced his lineage through many generations, naming each of his male ancestors back to one of Mike Benalidino's sons. "All of my tribesmen are his descendents. Benalidino taught Galt's sons about the Warden and how to use her technologies to capture her, but he secretly taught his own sons a different story, one of betrayal and murder and abuse. He taught my ancestors to remember Galt's crimes and keep them hidden until the day the Warden's crew arrived."
"Whatever happened to your ancestor Benalidino?"
"Galt murdered him. Benalidino feared his paranoia; Galt punished everyone he suspected of disloyalty and threw them out of Eden. Only his loyal followers were allowed to live in the comfortable homes in Eden. At Galt's bidding his most faithful followers built walls around his city to keep away the outcasts. For their own selfish reasons, Galt's Chosen accused each other of disloyalty. Benalidino was afraid his sons would be killed, so he sent them into the wilderness to find a place to live beyond Galt's control. Dozens of them escaped before Galt discovered what was happening but he inflicted his Curse on Benalidino and he died in Eden."
"Oh, this is good," Percy exclaimed. "I mean, that's terrible, but wait, let me get this down." He fumbled through his fanny-pack for an ink pen from the Warden and a sheet of paper, and leaned over a dark stone pedestal to scratch out a few notes. "Where did Benalidino's sons go?"
"They built villages in the mountains and explored further into the desert. Some expeditions never returned, but one found a place Galt had not discovered: a cave where faces in sacred windows knew even more than Benalidino had about life before Ithark."
[OOC: later that day in the medbay] Percy closed his eyes and clenched his teeth to aid his concentration. His skin crawled; a moment later his skin changed color, thick gray hair sprouted everywhere and his body changed into a wolflike humanoid.
"Nice show," Shlitzee said as her robotic eyes faded into a purple haze. "Were you bitten by a wolfoid meatbag?"
"A wolfoid?" Percy growled. "No I wasn't bitten, but I fought a pack of them back on the Warden."
"Have you ever changed into something else? I saw some strange things back on the Warden. Maybe you're a shape-changer."
"A doppelganger, a mimic, a shape-shifter. Have you tried to change into anything else?"
"Yes, but I only seem to be able to do wolfoids."
"Maybe you haven't concentrated long enough on your subject."
Percy walked over to the three corpses on ice in the medbay and concentrated on Drake's face for several minutes; he grit his teeth and screwed up his eyes and a moment later Percy looked just like him.
Shlitzee whistled and rummaged within a chest beneath one of the medbay beds. "Hop onto the table. I've never met a live shape-changer who didn't want to dismantle me."
Anxiously, but slightly excited, Percy lay down upon the table. "Alright, but just an examination, no dissections! And while you're examining me, is it true that all boy bioroids are sterile? Does the Jenkins line end with me? Will my offspring be shape-changers too?"
"Yes. Not necessarily. I don't know."
"Not necessarily?" Percy scratched his head as he tried to remember the order in which he had asked his three questions. "You mean bioroid sterility is reversible?"
"Technically speaking, no, because that would violate UWSC law. But your birth technically broke Terrestrial law, so what the hell do I know? Just between us humans, I see no reason not to fix your plumbing." Shlitzee lifted a bone saw from the chest and spun the blade for a fraction of a second; her eyes spun slowly, changing color in pulsing bands of red. She chuckled mechanically at the look of horror on Percy's face. "Just kidding, that's for autopsies."
The sun went down behind the mountains. The sky grew dark and the crew settled in for the night. Nike and the security team watched the monitors on the ship's bridge, waiting to see if any predators appeared around the excavation's perimeter.
Irsa, a bit bored aboard ship, goes outside for a short while. After checking to be sure the area is safe, she spreads her wings and goes flying around the area, checking out the ruins from the air. Eventually, her wing muscles very tired and sore she returns to the ship to rest up.
Irsa examined the ruins from the air. The dark, rectangular stone buildings were clearly visible against the green grass, but the ruined dropship vanished from view. The sky was growing darker too, which made it harder to see, and drops of rain stung her eyes. The strange, cotton-like things scudding across the sky (Percy had told her they were 'clouds') had turned grey and hid the bright light in the sky (Percy said that was called a 'sun'.) The rain started falling faster and Irsa sought shelter in one of the stone ruins.
She had much to learn in this strange new world: water on the Warden only fell from the sky at night, and it lasted only a few minutes. Irsa dried her feathers and watched pools of water form among the grass in the trenches outside. The rain fell in sheets with no sign of letting up. She flew around the chamber and examined the ancient language carved into the rock wall but could make no sense of it.
The rain finally stopped and Irsa came out of hiding. The puddles were already drying, the water sinking into the ground; it was one more difference from the Warden where puddles lasted for hours or days.
IAS turn 59: 4th Evening at the Excavation
Nike and the security team watched views of the jungle from the infrared cameras they had secured to the trees surrounding the excavation. The Pandora's bridge was silent except for the occasional slurping of instant Hot Joe Now.
Late in the evening during the first watch there was movement in the jungle. Bud was first to spot it; then Nike and Percy gasped in turn as each saw movement on one of the monitors. It appeared first as a dark purple shape; it resembled the cold hard trees and lifeless rocks surrounding it, but it moved, slithering down the pathway they had cut through the dense forest toward the lip of the excavation. As it drew near, the crew could distinguish its legs from its body, creeping forward, its belly close to the ground like a giant leopard stalking its prey.
Two tentacles with bulbous ends stretched forth from its back and two long triangular ears pointed forward; the creature changed direction, crawling straight toward the camera. It seemed to stare straight at the crew of the Pandora; heat from around its two eyes glowed faintly as its large feline head grew larger on the monitor. One of its tentacles lashed out and seemed to graze the surface of the screen; the monitor went dead.
"What happened?" Nike exclaimed, staring at the white-noise on the screen.
"No feed from the camera," Bud replied. "Looks like it's destroyed. I can't find the creature... No other cameras share the same field of vision."
"Pandora, can you see the creature with any of your cameras?"
"Negative, Nike. It has not yet entered the excavation."
"Damn." Nike muttered, thoroughly aggravated at the entire situation. "Now if only Schwarzenegger was here we could have ourselves a real party." She paused, fingers massaging her temples in the gesture that had become her trademark.
"Pandora, is there any sort of mobile imaging system available? Sort of a guided drone camera?"
[And after she receives a response from Pandora,]
"Arkady, Chel - do we have any sort of special vision gear that can help us to see that abnormality while on the ground? Like in a hunting party?"
[And later after responses received to those queries,]
"Do we know what this thing is after, or is it just hungry? Can we tell it's intellegence level? What I'm getting at here, people, is can we communicate with this thing?"
If Irsa is asked, she will note that it looks like what killed Alexie and it looks to be hunting for food. She is not happy to see it again.
IAS turn 59.2: Evening at the Excavation
"That's the thing that killed Alexei," Irsa cried, "and it looks like it's hunting again."
"Guided drone camera," Nike said with conviction.
"On it ma'am." Davred hurried from the bridge, grabbing the drone plane from its resting place against the bulkhead.
"Do we have any night vision gear? We'll need to be able to see that abnormality if we leave the ship to hunt it down."
Arkady's eyes went wide with horror at the thought of going out into the dark. "We've just made parts for the elevator, and those complicated little cameras: they took all day to make."
"Do we know what this thing is after? Is it just hungry?"
"Hungry for manflesh," Caleb mused.
"Or jackalflesh," Arkady added. "No offense intended."
"Damn." Nike muttered, thoroughly aggravated by the entire situation. "Now if only Schwarzenegger was here we could have ourselves a real party." She paused, fingers massaging her temples in the gesture that had become her trademark. "I wonder how intelligent this thing is. What I'm getting at here, people, is can we communicate with it?"
"We could say something to it on the loudspeaker," Amanda suggested.
"Yeah, I noticed it on one of Percy's Post-It Notes over here. Here's the microphone. What do you want to say?"
The crew heard Davred lower the heavy gangplank and a moment later the spy drone whirred into action. The snowy monitor went black. The drone's camera was aimed at the sky; as it soared its nose descended, capturing the treeline in its ghostly infrared view. The plane flew in wide circles, camera turning as Bud manned the controls. "There it is, Nike, I can see the creature at the edge of the pit."
The image shook a bit but Nike could see the creature crouching, watching the circling drone.
"Zoom in, Bud. I want to see if it can hear me."
The image shook a bit but Nike could see the creature crouching, watching the circling drone.
"Zoom in, Bud. I want to see if it can hear me."
[[Bud]] "Roger that skipper, zooming in."
Bud silently wonders at the damage a kamikaze drone could inflict.
[OOC] okay if I hop back in?
Ahhh yeah! Welcome back :^) Glad to see you're still lurking. It would be a different game without Bud!
Bud silently wonders at the damage a kamikaze drone could inflict.
Arkady looks at Bud and wonders what devious plans he's scheming...
[OOC] Brilliant idea! I gotta look in the MA4e rules to see what kind of damage a collision with a flying drone could do (and the possible saving throw :^) It doesn't have any weapons but there's a stun rifle mounted beneath the Pandora that could fire if the creature comes within line-of-sight of the gangplank.
Coeurla sat perfectly still and gazed into the pit. The shiny, silver creature at the bottom did not move a muscle. She watched and waited, her ears pinned to the back of her head, anticipating trouble at any moment.
The giant silver bird crackled and squawked, making loud bellowing noises like a frightened creature calling to its mate. If the thing sitting at the bottom of the pit was trying to communicate, Coeurla thought, she might be in luck: only cattle and other non-intelligent beasts used sound to speak. Perhaps the pit's inhabitants were not as dangerous as her mother had once warned her, but still she was cautious. Coeurla chose to watch silently for a little while longer.
"Roger that skipper, zooming in."
"Hello," Nike said into the microphone. Her voice echoed from the spy drone's audio input playing back on the bridge speakers. "Can you hear me? We come in peace."
"We come in peace?" Percy chuckled. "A bit cliched, don't you think? Makes me feel like I'm in a twentieth century scifi flick."
"Well, what do you have in mind?"
"Take me to your leader? No wait, that's a cliche too. I don't know, just ask if he wants to be friends."
"Isn't that what I just said?" Nike asked and Percy shrugged. They waited and watched the figure in the monitors. It did not move or respond.
"Maybe it doesn't speak English," Amanda opined.
Bud watched the creature's dark silhouette in the video image and smiled, silently wondering what damage a kamikaze drone might inflict. He practiced flying the drone toward the creature with the camera aimed straight ahead, and whizzed off at sharp angles to try again.
Arkady watched Bud and wondered what he was thinking. Bud twitched as he worked the controls, jerking his head from side to side like he wanted to dance in his chair. "Are you thinking of using the drone as a missile?" Arkady asked.
"You'd better believe it," Bud bobbed his head in time to a silent rhythm.
"That's a heck of a way to make friends," Percy chided them.
"Do you suppose that thing carried off Alexei to make friends with him in its secret hideout?" Bud shot back.
[OOC: Great idea Bud! I've been looking through the MA4e rules to see how this might work. (Sorry it took me so long to get another turn going) I'll consider the spy drone a "wire guided missile" (Weapon Class 4) but since it's an improvised weapon there is a penalty of 4; total: WC 8. For damage I'll treat a hit as if the drone were a frag grenade. What will you do? :^) ]
[[Previously, in the medbay (4th day at the excavation)]]
Anxiously, but slightly excited, Percy lay down upon the table.
"Alright, but just an examination, no dissections! And while you're examining
me, is it true that all boy bioroids are sterile? Does the Jenkins line
end with me? Will my offspring be shape-changers too?"
"Yes. Not necessarily. I don't know."
"Not necessarily?" Percy scratched his head as he tried to remember
the order in which he had asked his three questions. "You mean bioroid sterility
"Technically speaking, no, because that would violate UWSC law. But your
birth technically broke Terrestrial law, so what the hell do I know?
Just between us humans, I see no reason not to fix your plumbing." Shlitzee
lifted a bone saw from the chest and spun the blade for a fraction of
a second; her eyes spun slowly, changing color in pulsing bands of red.
She chuckled mechanically at the look of horror on Percy's face.
"Just kidding, that's for autopsies."
Percy dreamed of algorithm lectures, self-erasing white boards,
freshly-pressed Warden uniforms filled out nicely by various shapely crew member peers:
anything and everything to keep his mind from the dread brought on by
Shiltzee's examination, tests.
After she had finished a few minutes' worth of probes, needling,
whistling, whirring and eye-color changes, Percy had made up his mind. "Yes."
"Yes?" Shiltzee said, pausing in mid-analysis of a blood sample.
"Yes, I want you to uh... fix the plumbing." He continued without
pause. "Do I need to call in special authorization to override some kind of
UWSC regulation? Hell, the UWSC probably only exists now in the command and
control structure we've tried to maintain here on Pandora and in the
memory banks of all the computers and bots stirring around this ship and the
two glorious birds parked up in orbit. Will I need to schedule a follow-up
or is it just some tweak you introduce into my fake human nano-pieces?"
Late in the evening during the first watch there was movement in the
jungle. Bud was first to spot it; then Nike and Percy gasped in turn as each
saw movement on one of the monitors....
Percy's skin tingled as his body hairs raised in fear and brushed
against the interior of his jumpsuit. He monitored their attempts at
communicating with it and had an idea. "Amanda," he spoke in lowered tones to not
disrupt the rest of the crew, as he walked over to the math genius's station.
"Do you think we can cook up some speech
translator program? As long as we're quoting 'come in peace' type
dialog we may as well try to make ourselves a 'universal translator.'
Amanda paused, pushed a few controls on the panel she was sitting at,
and countered. "It's a good bet we actually have a translation program in
this thing, at least for Earth-based human and some advanced animal
Percy continued her chain of thought. "Exactly! Maybe we can throw
some dolphin or whale at it." His excitement caught Nike's attention.
"Something you care to share with the rest of the class, professors?"
Percy and Amanda, nervous for both the different reasons, gulped. "Not
yet, Captain. Just an idea we have: maybe we have a translation matrix
in the memory banks, we've just started looking," Percy offered. Then
he realized it wasn't down to their blind search. "Waaaaaaaitaminute.
Shall we ask Pandora?"
"Just kidding, that's for autopsies only :^) The surgery is performed by nanobots; you sit back, relax, drift off, and in a few hours you wake and the surgery is complete. I will require some setup time to program the nanodocs for your bioroid physiology."
Shlitzee took a sample of Percy's skin and blood cells, passed them through a DNA parser and replied, "Your DNA matches your last sample. You may have wings and look like Drake Meatbag, but genetically you are still Percy."
Percy remembered his own face, shaving in the mirror, and slowly resembled his old self. He made up his mind and said, "Yes, I want you to uh... fix the plumbing. Do I need to call in special authorization to override some kind of UWSC regulation?"
"Puh-lease. Your say so is all the authorization *I* need."
"Will I need to schedule a follow-up or is it just some tweak you introduce into my fake human nano-pieces?"
"Oh, it's a tweak all-right. You'll experience some bruising and you should see me 24 hours later for a check-up. Possible adverse effects may include, but not limited to, infection, inflammation, hemorrhaging, scarring, changes of local blood flow, loss of weight, loss of function, testosterone imbalance, estrogen imbalance, etc."
"Do you think we can cook up some speech translator program?"
Percy asked. "As long as we're quoting 'come in peace' type dialog
we may as well try to make ourselves a 'universal translator.'"
Amanda chatted with Pandora and found a language translation filter; she pushed a few controls at her workstation. "Sure, we've got several languages here, plus dolphin and whale."
Nike spoke into the microphone and her words came out in French, Tagalog, Russian, Japanese, chittering squeaks, moaning cadences and a Babylon of other tongues.
The effect on the dark silhouette in the video image was inscrutable.