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Sunset: Then, Now, Tomorrow (Maintenance & Role-Play)

Where nations come together and discuss matters of varying degrees of importance. [In character]

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Postby Sunset » Sat Feb 08, 2014 5:19 pm

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

"Drone is in position and holding," the Pyrk technician noted, looking up from her station to where both Doctor Brilla and Captain LaCrosse were hovering over her shoulder. "And targeting resolution is... terrible. But within acceptable range."

"Good." LaCrosse looked over the station. The question wasn't whether he trusted the Ensign to have done her job correctly, but whether he trusted the mish-mash of heavily filtered and cross-referenced data they were being forced to use. According to the sensors, the drone was holding station less than a hundred meters from the vaguely rhomboid object that sat in the center of the particular stable zone they'd chosen.

"All stations, report readiness..." For a moment Felix tensed while the various bridge stations reported their status. If something went wrong he wanted to be ready to get out as fast as he could, even though the Yangtze was nearly two light years away in the middle of nothing. "All stations report ready..." He looked at the screens again.

"Waiting on pattern match," the Ensign spoke up. "Coming up in two minutes."

The idea was to wait until the movement of the objects matched a known point along the seemingly random movement of the gravitational stable areas. If there was an implosion, explosion, or any other event, it would be more likely to be pointed away from them. Just in case.

"Go ahead..."

"Thirty seconds..." The timer scrolled past. "Still holding station... Five... Four..."

On the spars of the far-away drone, four grapple units had been mounted instead of the usual missile pods. Given the unpredictable nature of the area, two were magnetic grapnels and two were just large claws that would try to latch on. If there was anything to latch on to.

"Firing..."

Four simultaneous shots and four projectiles shot away, running out until they collided with something. One of the magnetic grapnels was a clear miss, sailing off to the end of its tether, but the other three hit. Another ricocheted away, but two held.

"We have lock."

"Any reaction?" LaCrosse looked over to the main holotank, where a large image of the singularity slowly spun. It was a representation, full of lines and data points, and he watched it while another technician ran the incoming data.

"Nothing currently."

"Back the drone off then, Ensign," he turned back to the station. "Nice and slow."

She nodded and send the commands to the drone, which began to pull slowly backwards until it reached the end of the two remaining tethers. Both detached and for a moment there was silence and then a collective sigh across the bridge.

"Sorry, Captain," the Ensign shrugged, "It could be non-ferrous, or there's nothing to latch onto, or both."

"Not your fault. We'll just have to go with option two."

Option two was a net.

----

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

'You should see this...'

'What?'

Timmons paused for a moment, looking across the dark desert while around him a quartet of the Queen's soldiers slowly buzzed. Somewhere behind him the rest of the delegation was resting, moving forward in shifts as the slower human made his way across the shifting sands. The golden pyramids of the Ixut had already dropped below the horizon and in the distance he could see the low line of cliffs where the shuttle was stashed beneath it's camouflage blanket.

'They're leading me down into some kind of tomb for safekeeping. You want to see?'

'Sure,' Timmons stepped forward again. He didn't like the idea of using a tomb for the purpose, but it would be reasonably secure against escape attempts. The houses had turned out to be mostly made of the same wood pulp as most of the decorations and, for both the ixut and the two humans, it would have been easy to just push through the walls.

A video feed appeared in the corner of his vision and he expanded it out. The sand wasn't treacherous, and he was wearing his armor under the robes, so even if he took a fall it wouldn't look like more than a clumsy incident. That thought tickled his brain, but he put that aside as he watched the feed.

'Behind the throne there's a stone arch that leads down into the crypt. There's a number of stone blocks positioned to block the entrance... Three, I think. Then a long hallway that leads to this room.'

She slowly looked around the room from a point somewhere in the middle. It was square, with a row of columns on both sides, and two sizable doors on either end. Sconces for torches had been carved into the pillars, which were themselves carved with the swirling and flowing language of the ixut, and firelight guttered and flickered in each one. She walked closer to an individual pillar so that he could see that the pillar was actually carved through, allowing the torch in the center to illuminate both the middle and the wall behind the row. A series of green lines appeared over the pillar and began to pick out the flowing characters, filling in more details as she walked around it.

'It's the story of the sixth Queen,' she read off. 'Who her parents were, who taught her. A biography.'

'Interesting. How many of the pillars are carved?'

The feed swung as Trinya walked down the line, more characters being recognized and translated as she went, the results slowly scrolling by at the bottom of the video.

'Eight. Twenty total. Looks like they are planning ahead.' She stopped at the last one, 'This one is for Ma'Ejako. It's got her parents, the scribe who witnessed her birth... Huh. Wish we'd have found this place first.'

Timmons read the scrolling text, 'Yeah.'

'Kidnapping, war with Apoakhor... Destruction of Apoakhor... More kidnapping... Not a very nice lady.'

'Then why did those other soldiers rough up her guards?'

'What? Oh...' Trinya thought back to the incident they had witnessed a few days before coming into the city.

'Actually,' Timmons considered his own question, 'You might be the answer to that question. She might have spent too much, or lost too many soldiers. Taking you, when your people are supposedly far away and rich, is a calculated risk.'

'No threat of war from a distant people, but 'they' will want me back. Gotcha.'

'Yeah. So what else is in there?'

The feed began to move again as she walked around the back side of the pillars. Behind each and thrown into flickering relief by the torches, was an alcove. Some were filled with a statue while others were empty.

'I'm gonna guess these are the former rulers,' Trinya supplied, stepping up to one. It depicted an ixut in full regalia, their carapace picked out in gold and paint on jewelry and ornaments. 'This is King Saemtra,' she turned to the pillar, reading off the text. 'He was the first... Killed in battle.' She looked down to where a small shelf stood at the base of the statue.

A small container of sticks, as well as a pile of fuzzy paper and a flint and tender in their respective slots sat on one side and a small conical holder sat in the middle. 'Incense of some kind. Smells good.' Trinya held up a stick and sniffed it. 'Religious significance? Probably.'

Timmons nodded. The shift was changing, and four more guards buzzed around him for a moment before the previous set began to drop back as he walked forward.

'I'm not gonna say it's ancestor worship, but it's ancestor worship.'

Trinya moved on. The empty alcoves weren't actually empty. Instead they held various perishable goods, or served as a kind of storage. Woven mats made of a local river plant were positioned over these. They'd seen the same plant worked into the decorative tracery and glass work at the summit of the open pyramids and they'd found that the ixut ate the stalks while the leaves went into various goods, such as the mats.

'I'd guess this leads into the burial chambers,' Trinya paused in front of a pair of large doors at the end of the room. Stone slabs set into thick wooden frames, they were secured with a pair of complex draw bars that sat in elaborately sculpted gold-plated rests. These depicted a pair of ixut warriors holding spears and shields, with the spears forming the draw bars.

'Think I should take a look?'

'I wouldn't, at least not right now. They might have something about desecrating the dead. They put you in that room, so I'd stay there.'

Trinya nodded, the feed bobbing, and she took a closer look at the carved ixut soldiers.

'Wood and gold leaf. It's very nice. But the spears look real, if a bit gaudy.'

'Good to know. But I'd rather you just shoot them if you have to.'

Again she nodded, 'What about you?'

'Haven't decided yet. Should be close enough to the shuttle soon. Then I could call the Euclid. Go all Biblical on them.'

'Pillar of fire from heaven, rushing winds... The classics?'

'Well it does remind me of Egypt. Timmons leading his people into the desert.'
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Jun 08, 2015 6:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Sun Feb 09, 2014 10:09 pm

SNN Nightly News with Tanya Zaldano and Trent Lockwood...

"...and in financial news, shares of All Saints Medical dipped lower today when it was reported that the company will not be pursuing commercialization of the secondary properties of it's front-line anti-bacterial, Ster-X."

Trent looked over at Tanya, who was wearing a mostly transparent button-down shirt that was unbuttoned to the bottom of her breasts, the rolled back fabric just thick enough to obscure her nipples but not completely conceal them. Visually interesting, yes, but she was also wearing sunglasses. Trent wasn't as up on the trends as the Latina beauty, but he was pretty sure wearing sunglasses indoors wasn't. Still, she picked up the line so he shrugged and looked down to pre-read his next segment.

"Ster-X, as has been reported, can be easily altered from a powerful anti-bacterial agent to a mild hallucinogenic. This is according to research provided to SNN by an All Saints insider, who declined to be named. The research also shows that the drug is addictive, though only mildly, and has only minor side effects."

Trent looked up. That wasn't what the prompter said, and he looked down to re-read that section while Tanya continued. 'Side effects include a gradual bleaching of the iris and light sensitivity. Some cases of extreme addiction have also been reported.' He looked over at Tanya again, who was just finishing the segment. She had been hitting the parties particularly hard lately. But those smoldering eyes were part of her image. If she was addicted and suffering the side effects...

Well, it might be time for the show to move to 'with Trent Lockwood' while a replacement was found.

----

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

"Like reeling in a big ol' fish!" Doctor Brilla cheered as the drone hauled in the net and the object it was wrapped around. "Look at it struggle!"

That was the part that Captain LaCrosse was worried about. As the bridge crew watched, the heavy cables that secured the net to the drone went taut and the fish analogy the big blond had voiced became even more accurate.

"It is resisting, Captain," the p'rk who was back at the drone controls called out. "Net is tight, and drone is at half power. It moved a little but it's already pulled back to it's starting position. Shall I go to full power and try to force it?"

Felix looked at the main display, his chin on his fist, and considered the little drone and it's prey. It was prey, when he thought about it. It wouldn't be hard to interpret what they were doing as a hostile act. Were they doing it out of curiosity? Because of a search for knowledge? Both true. But actions were easier to interpret than intentions.

"Negative. Release it, pull the drone in."

"Captain?" Brilla stared at him, "Why?"

"Because we need to find out more before we go and do something foolish. We don't know what that object is. What if it's holding an artificial event horizon in place in order to contain a planet that is infected with an unstoppable plague?"

"Well, I don't..."

"Not likely? I agree. But we've established that there is something there, and that it wants to be there. That's information. That's science."

"Well," Saryan sat down with a heavy plunk, "This is a fine how-do. You're right, so... Alright. We need more information, but we can't be intrusive about it. We know that it doesn't want to be moved, but we also know that it doesn't mind having something touching it, right?"

Felix nodded, "Yes, but I'm not going to let you go out there in a space suit and run your hands over it."

"Nah, not me," she smiled with a laugh, "If I went out there, I'd get my fat ass sucked right in. I'm thinking a drone. Tether it to the other drone, but give it some legs or arms or something, let it land, and let it work it's way over the surface."

"It's a sound idea, Captain," the Ensign spoke up. "We can track the movements of the drone, use those to work out the distances traveled and thus the dimensions of the object. A UHCV on the end of a cable should be fine."

"Make it so, Ensign," Felix nodded. "I'm gonna get a coffee."

----

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

The ground rumbled and Timmons froze, watching as loose rocks skittered across the ground. For nearly a full minute it shook and he looked around, panic in his eyes, as the four Ma'Ejako soldiers buzzed around angrily. It wasn't much to the flying insectoids, but they could still feel the shaking and it was making them nervous as well. Their spears came up and they flew around in a wide circle looking for the source of the disturbance.

Just as it ended, a low but loud call echoed across the rocky plain that divided the drifting sands from the cliffs that rose only a hundred meters away now. It was joined by another, then another, until the air seemed to fill with the calls of an unknown danger. Footsteps pounded, and more rocks shook, and the guards turned to stare at the dark cliffs where the sound seemed to originate. With each passing moment, the growls and howls seemed to grow louder until it seemed impossible that they wouldn't have seen their foe.

Once again the ground rumbled and as the calls died away a massive beast emerged from a cave in the nearby cliffs. Long and sinuous, it writhed forward on a hundred spiked legs until it had cleared the cave. Rearing back and lifting a dozen legs skyward, it roared again and the ground shook. That was all it took for the guards to turn and run. Timmons turned too, intent on surviving his encounter with the deadly sand centipede, but when one of the guards paused to look back he was gone...

----

'And that's how I got away,' Timmons continued as he hurriedly pushed himself into his power armor.

'Nice.'

'Yep, slipped right under the cammo blanket. I'm gonna have your armor follow me, and we'll be there in a few minutes. I'd like to beat the guards, but they might have sent a runner back to report my death.'

'Alright.'

'So hole up as best you can. They might cut you lose, since they don't have anyone to conduct ransom negotiations, or they might...'

'Hold on,' Trinya interrupted. 'They are opening the door...'

The young woman moved back, retrieving her pistol from under her robe and holding it concealed inside her sleeve. The door swung open and a pair of Ma'Ejako's soldiers stepped inside.

"You will come with us. The Queen wishes to speak to you."

'Do it,' Timmons suggested. 'At least you'll be outside of the tomb. I'm just about to get airborne.'

"I will speak with your Queen," Trinya nodded, folding her arms in front of her to conceal the weapon under the draping sleeves. The guards stepped aside and she walked between them and through the square stone corridor and up the steep stairs into the crypt's antechamber. Another pair of guards waited there and one opened the door for her as she waited.

The Queen was waiting just on the other side, standing next to the throne, along with two of her scribes. While the insectoids didn't particularly have hair to straighten or clothes to adjust, all three did strike her as looking particularly rushed. She wasn't wearing nearly as many decorations as she had been before and the scribes were still arranging the tools of their trade.

"I have decided to replace the one named Timmons with you," Ma'Ejako stated, still standing next to the throne. "He has proven weak and slow. He will stay here, and you will go to your lands and return with his ransom instead."

'Well, she's got guts,' Timmons spoke inside Trinya's head.

"Where is he?" Trinya asked. "I want to see him."

"He is sick, and you will want to leave immediately." Ma'Ejako turned and walked over to a hole in the ceiling. Her wings spread and she buzzed upwards.

A noise behind her and Trinya turned to where a pair of guards were now standing behind her.

"We will leave now," one instructed. "Is there anything you require?"

She shook her head and looked around the room. "I want to see Timmons."

He looked at her, unmoving aside from the mandibles that slide aside in a gesture that she guessed meant 'no'. "Now," he turned and swung his spear towards the door.

'Get ready, I'm hovering right outside the door. I'm gonna grab you, then we're gonna fly like hell.'

Trinya turned and passed through the two guards and walked towards the door. It swung open, the guards to either side looking at her silently as they held the door, and she continued forward, her body tensing.

'Here we go...'
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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 10, 2014 2:55 pm

Special Projects Research Complex, Terra Incognito, New Latin System...

Erika slid into the chair behind the borrowed desk and, after a moment, leaned back and put her feet up on the desk. That gesture alone was enough to bring a questioning look to Katryna's face, not the least that she still had her shoes on. It was an action that was meant to look casual but indicated something more serious was coming.

"So... I have a question." Instead of looking over at her daughter, the older woman kept looking at the ceiling. The office was dressed out in a contemporary style, with lots of wood and metal, and the high ceilings had a wooden trestle that hung down from one end and gave the space around the desk the illusory feeling of a smaller, more intimate space. It certainly wasn't something to spend a lot of time looking at though, unless one was an interior decorator.

"Alright," Katryna took a seat in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. "What do you want to know?"

"Sexual arousal. How do you do it?" After a moment of uncomfortable silence, she clarified, "Your own, that is. Not his. How do you determine when you'll become aroused? When you came in for the meeting, you were displaying all of the characteristic signs of human sexual arousal, as was Amarith."

A technical question, really on the level of engineering. But did Erika want to know because she was interested in the technical side? Or was it because it was something she wanted to experience?

"Why do you want to know?"

"Well, when I was in a recent meeting, someone looked at me in a manner that indicated they were sexually attracted to me."

"That's happened before. Was this something you were interested in returning?"

"I'm not sure. I've never had a sexual partner or even a relationship that might approach that level of interaction."

So it was less a technical question than one of a measure of growth. AI's were odd that way. Their technical knowledge could be unparallelled, but the actual application of that knowledge, especially in relation to biologicals, was sometimes difficult. Part of this was the emotions of the biologicals, and part of this was the logic of the AI. Katryna had the advantage that Amarith was also a brilliant engineer. He understood the electronic and logical side of her as much as he appreciated the physical side.

"I can give you the code that I use," Katryna answered, "But that would just make you me. I've found that I like to keep my partner on his toes as far as when and where he can expect us to have sex. He enjoys the unexpected, a random hand on his butt, a passionate kiss in the elevator. But that's him. Everyone is different."

"Do you enjoy it?"

"Yes. I mean, my body reacts physically to his touch, how he looks at me... I obviously don't have the chemical release that a biological has. There I have to fake it."

"Is that really faking it though?" Erika asked. "You've decided what actions result in a simulation of climax, within a certain set of parameters. It just doesn't feel good."

"No, it doesn't. For me, what feels good is an observation of his actions. Trying to understand what is going on in his head. The interplay between what I'm doing, what he'd doing, and whether that is triggering his desires and to what extent."

"Very scientific. So you have sex because he likes it, and you become aroused because he likes it."

"Yes. But I like trying to understand why he likes it. Putting together all those random variables and coming to a result. An ongoing experiment."

Erika could understand that. She'd built Katryna to be a scientist where as she was an engineer. While many of their disciplines were shared, their goals were different. She wanted to build an elegant system that worked efficiently and smoothly, while Katryna wanted to understand an existing or new system.

"So what are you going to do?" Katryna looked over to the large picture window that dominated one side of the office. In the far distance the sun was going down, broad bands of red and blue clouds highlighted on the horizon by the slowly descending yellow ball.

"I'm not sure. I've adopted a model of social interaction that emphasis what is considered a pleasant, enjoyable attitude. It's significantly improved my interaction with biologicals."

"But should you start having sex with them? That's tricky. They enjoy it, and you'd be able to create various sexual interactions that would bring the most possible pleasure to your partners. You'd like that."

Erika nodded and sat up, "But sex creates complications in relationships. Some biologicals associate it with possession, while others consider it an emotional experience."

"I'd say start small. You haven't had a relationship yet. Find someone you enjoy spending time with, get to know them, and work your way up to it."

----
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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 10, 2014 3:54 pm

Tanya Zaldano's Condo, Chuh-Yu, Ares System...

"Take them off," Doctor Wilt instructed, kneeling down in front of Tanya. She'd noticed the symptoms as well, and given the context, she'd made the decision to get personally involved. "The sunglasses."

The superstar news anchor hesitated but, under the stern glare of the older woman, she reached up and slowly pulled them off before tossing her long hair back over her shoulders and looking up.

"Mmm," Mona studied her eyes and the irises that were already showing the distinct signs of bleaching. "Why do you do this to yourself?"

Tanya was sitting on the foot of her bed, and of the six people in the room, she and the Doctor were the only ones who were awake or even conscious. Given that the Doctor was a hologram and that she was walking around her office in the All Saint's corporate headquarters on Notch, it wasn't a very good ratio. Everyone, including Tanya, was either naked or mostly naked. Aside from the possibilities of a pulled muscle or similar athletic injury, that wasn't as worrisome to the Doctor as were the numerous signs of drug abuse.

"It's fun..."

"I'm sure it is, but what you're doing is deliberately risky." She stood up and walked over to a table, stepping over a naked couple who were still tied together, and to an end table where a dozen packages were scattered around. "You're mixing drugs. Safe by themselves, but together? I could tell you a dozen different harmful interactions and possible side effects. Things you might even care about. Heart problems, loss of appetite, sexual dysfunction..."

Tanya was watching as she moved around the room, but she could tell the younger woman wasn't really hearing her. It wasn't a surprise. She was probably still at least semi-intoxicated.

"Most of the people I know who've engaged in this behavior have had something else going on. Something that drives them to engage in risky, self-destructive behavior."

"Yeah..." She turned away, "Just do something about my eyes, Doc."

"Right now, the only thing I can do is tell you to stop burning Ster-X. The bleaching will reverse itself after a couple weeks and in a month you'll be okay. But you have to stop. And stop... This... too," she gestured to the room in general. "I thought you were married..."

"Mmm, yeah. Lesbians poll well."

"Honest of you. You should be more honest and go see a therapist. I know several who are very good... Very exclusive as well." Maybe that would perk her interest. "I can give you a recommendation, and a prescription."

"Whatsat?"

"It will help with the Ster-X." She didn't mention that it would also block the effects of the other various drugs. And sex would be very boring. It blocked the pleasure centers of the brain.

----
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Postby Sunset » Tue Feb 11, 2014 12:48 pm

Elbow Macaroni, Dawson's Cellar, Parson's Shoal System...

"It looks like a stack of pancakes."

Edwin Licorice and Tamara Water sat on a broad tree branch, their feet swinging over the edge, as they watched the latest addition to the colony slowly lower into place. It had seemed like a good place for a pair of teenagers to go make out, but their fun had been disturbed by the overpowering roar of a heavy lift gravship as it had first broke atmosphere and then slowly descended until it was nearly right over their heads. Latched on below it was the four-hundred meter wide saucer section of an old - very old, by the looks of it - SDF warship.

It was destined to be just one of a half-dozen that were collected together on the top of a quartet of low, uneven hills that just barely poked up above the marshy forest. The first had straddled one hill, the second sat off-center with a massive pylon connecting it to the last hill, and so on until the five and now six looked exactly like an off-balance pile of pancakes. Each of the sections was different as well: Some larger, some smaller, some older, and some much older. All had been painted and refurbished though, their outside hulls more closely resembling futurist buildings than the ships they had once been.

"Wonder what this one's gonna be," Tamara asked, leaning forward to let her long hair drape over the side as well.

"Education and entertainment complex, I think." Edwin had seen the schedule, though with the new girlfriend and his schoolwork he hadn't paid too much attention. "Some shops, a theater, some classrooms."

"We could use some shops."

That was true. Like most people, the colonists usually just printed whatever they needed up on their own system, but there was still that experience to be had of going and trying something on, or turning it over in your hands, or admiring the finish before you purchased it. Generally what was to be found in the stores was either higher quality, having some natural components, or was customized or decorated in some way.

----
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Postby Sunset » Wed Feb 12, 2014 4:45 pm

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

Trailing the long cable behind it, the UHCV moved over the unidentified object like a blind climber on a cliff. Each hold and position was carefully tested as it moved from place to place, running it's mechanical hands over the surface and noting any irregularities. Already the cable had saved it twice, which was why it was being extra-cautious now, when it had slipped off the glass-smooth surface that seemed to cover most of the object.

It now knew that the object was a six-sided rhomboid with a series of shallow trenches that ran around the exterior to divide it into several unequally sized and shaped sections. What the purpose of these were was still unknown, but it was just a drone after all. As soon as it was done tracing the exterior of the shape it would return to the larger drone and send the information back to the Yangtze for preliminary analysis.

----

"So what do you think it is?" Brilla asked, looking across the table at Constantine Lang. The husky neko researcher wasn't, strictly speaking, working on the same project but like all the scientists on board, he had some interest in what exactly 'it' was and what it's origins were. That and he was good in the sack.

"Well..." He considered his plate. It was Italian night in the recreation lounge, and the lights were down low and music was playing in the background and the lasagna... Oh the lasagna. Brill urged him on by rubbing her thick shin up his leg. "I'd guess they are a sensor platform of some sort."

"Huh."

She'd been expecting him to say it was some kind of bio-crystal-something-or-other. Since he was both a zoologist and a veterinarian. That was part of why she'd asked him though. To get an outside opinion and to make small talk until she shepherded him back to her room and showed him what else the cushion was good for.

"Why a sensor platform?"

"Well, when you tried to pull it away, it tried to maintain it's position. Why would it do that? One reason would be because whatever it's doing requires a high degree of precision."

"So you think it could be monitoring the singularity too?"

"It could be, or it could be monitoring us. Or whatever is outside."

"But how does whatever is inside look outside?"

"Well," he looked up, turning his golden eyes towards the ceiling and the disk of the singularity which was just visible at the edge of the skylight, "We're talking about a possible entity that can create and maintain a black hole. That's a lot of science that we can't do."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Feb 12, 2014 7:18 pm

The Greenhouse, Under the Art Building, Ares, Ares System...

"A greenhouse?" Agent 16 nearly laughed. Nearly. The oddities of the Doctor were... Well, mad scientist. That said it all.

"Yes, a greenhouse. He had it installed last night," Ms. 16 supplied. "And he's put all his other projects on hold."

Ms. 16 was dressed for it at least. The buxom lab assistant was wearing a pair of overalls and a wide straw hat. Just a pair of overalls. No shirt, no bra. No shoes either, which might have been a little risky in the sometimes-dangerous environment of the complex, but after a few years she'd learned to step lively and read the notice board every morning.

"Including the one with the amoebas?"

"Yes, and the one with the archway. Closed up the containment unit and put up a note for the team."

The door to the laboratory slid open and Agent 16 got her first view of the greenhouse. The whole back wall, where the tanks had been, had been removed and expanded into the space beyond. A low concrete barrier, with a higher section of cyclone fencing, blocked it off from the instrument section of the lab and the whole space had been filled with thick black soil.

"Well, that was nice of him. He's mellowing a bit, I think." The search team in question had been sent through the mysterious arch in Unit Five several days ago in order to take samples of whatever was in the world beyond. Heavily equipped and highly trained, they hadn't been heard from since. Still, he'd left a note.

Ms. 16 nodded, "A little. It was his birthday a few days ago you know."

She didn't. Maybe it had put him in a good mood.

"Ah, girls..." The voice came from inside the caged-in area and Ms. 16 pushed the gate open so she could see the Doctor as he talked. He was kneeling near the back of the large space, which was brilliantly lit by floodlights hung across the ceiling, and he peered around the edge of a strange looking shrub. "Good morning. There's a list of tasks already up, and I'm going to warn you that you'll be getting your hands dirty."

"Yes, Doctor," Ms. 16 nodded, stepping into the underground field. A holotablet appeared and she started to read from it. "Pruning... Fertilizing... Corraling..."

"Corraling? Like... horses?" Agent 16 asked. She was already starting to get warm under the blazing lights, especially in the tight-fitting outfit that was her standard uniform. "What exactly are you growing in here?"

"Ah, an important question, Agent 16. I've obtained samples of the floating fruit of the planet Tsubasa. They are filled with little sacks that contain helium-3, and even in our heavier gravity they are quite buoyant. What we will do with them... Well, first, we need to get them to grow in sufficient quantities."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Feb 12, 2014 8:13 pm

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

"So, what's our next step?" Trinya asked as she pulled her armor off. It was good to get out of the suit even though it had saved her life. The Ma'Ejako guards had thrown spears at her as they'd fled and though most had been deflected by Timmon's armor. One had come uncomfortably close to her bare head though, and that was what Timmons was mostly focused on.

"Mmm, I don't know. That was risky, and a poor decision on my part. You're not trained for this, and you're not supposed to be taking these risks."

Trinya made a face. "There's always going to be risks. You can't sacrifice freedom for security."

"Not even what the phrase was supposed to mean. How about we just sit on it for a few days? Do some remote research, let things cool down..."

The young woman sighed and scooped up her armor to drop it onto her bunk where it bounced away to hit the back wall with a thump. "That's not really fair. It's not our fault. There were cayr walking around, it looked like they'd be fine with foreigners..."

She did have a good point, but Timmons wasn't ready to let the whole thing go. "And a little bit more research might have told us that she's ambitious. The cayr are likely walking around because she doesn't have a reason to pull them into one of her schemes."

"You know, that does suggest our next move. We already know she's got enemies. We find them, and we find friends."

"Unless kidnapping for political purposes is routine here. One thing's for sure... We shouldn't try to look rich this time. Maybe safely middle class."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Feb 13, 2014 11:53 am

SNN Nightly News with Tanya Zaldano and Trent Lockwood...

"Good evening, and welcome to the nightly news. I'm Trent Lockwood..."

"And I'm Valerie Owen, Tanya Zaldano is on vacation."

Not quite true, but Valerie was an acceptable exchange for Tanya while she was in rehab. The blond woman was a mix of professional and sultry; Long blond hair up in a quick bun and wearing an open jacket and short skirt.

"Tonight's main story," she began, "The assassination of the Prime Minister of Facucki has led to..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Feb 13, 2014 12:59 pm

Terra Incognito, New Latin System...

"As simple as that?"

"As simple as that," Demi shrugged.

Demi Love, long-time Sunset Ambassador to the Martian Duma and now Ambassador-at-Large, stood framed in the large picture window that dominated Mayor Imahara's office. The Mayor, the local SDF commander, and several other important locals were gathered in his office to receive her report on the resolution of the subterranean situation.

"The Lieutenant was able to make contact and, with aid of Doctor Richardo, translate and initiate communication with the Heon. Once they realized we weren't trying to kill them, they opened up and we were able to figure out just what the problem was."

"Which was?" The Mayor leaned forward. Unlike the Ambassador and most of the gathered notables, he was seated at his desk. Or more properly behind it, as the cyborg Mayor's lower half was a tread-covered metal ball in a housing.

"The city's main power plant. While the low-level radiation that makes it through the fusion core's shielding isn't harmful to us, it's like a migraine to them. They interpreted it as an attack."

"So some additional shielding and we can avoid all... this?" He gestured to the window. In the city beyond they could all see the half-dozen or so large sink holes that had managed to swallow several good-sized chunks of the city.

"Yes, and the same with the other cities. Landor City just happened to be built above a major Heon nexus - that's what they call their cities - and we were giving a population of several million a continual headache." Taking another drink from the stem she held in one outstretched hand, she turned to the window. "They regret the loss of life, but if we go through with the shielding they will be willing to help us avoid their infrastructure in exchange for a continued connection to the outside world. They are quite interested in the concept of non-crystalline life forms."

"Just how many of these Heon are there, Ambassador?" Admiral Than asked. The ranking SDF officer for the New Latin system, the Admiral was intensely interested in specifics, especially if they didn't keep their word.

"That's hard to say, Admiral," Doctor Richardo answered. "They have a completely different concept of identity than we do. Each intelligence seems to be built up of many different fragments, all of which can migrate to a new location when the Heon move, or only a portion, or the whole can break up and self-identify into a completely new intelligence. It would be like being able to lend Mayor Imaharu your arm. But not just your arm, but your arm and your knowledge of how to use a weapon."

"A fantastic ability," The Mayor mused. "We can do that now by adding an II Core to a specific limb, but that's not the same, I gather?"

"No, this is full integration. It's as though there was never a different intelligence at all."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Feb 13, 2014 7:00 pm

Plot Three, Row Four, Under the Art Building, Ares, Ares System...

"Yes, that's quite a nice sample..." Doctor Ambrose looked over the branch that Ms. 16 was holding up for his inspection. It was incidentally making one breast rise dangerously high out of her overalls, but he didn't mention that. Notice, but not mention. "Take a sample from each plant and put it through the scanner. You'll need to recalibrate it though, I haven't had a chance to do that for the Tsubasan plant life yet."

"Yes, Doctor."

He turned over to where Agent 16 was working on the new Tank farm. Tank Farm... With a giggle at his own attempt at humor, he walked over in her direction. The new tanks were much smaller, designed to fit the much smaller shrub-like Tsubasan flora, and had a variety of manipulators built into them as well as a generous reservoir for soil at the bottom.

"How is the installation going?"

"It is taking some time. The regular contractors would have been better suited to this, Doctor."

Like Ms. 16, after the first few days of working under the hot lights the Agent had abandoned her regular garments for something more comfortable. A modified version of her body suit, sans armor plates, and cut like a swimsuit with an extra-deep neckline (more like a naval line) and short sleeves was worn together with a pair of denim shorts, unbuttoned in the front and only held up by the Agent's narrow waist and wider hips.

"I understand," he agreed, "But they had something else on their schedule and no amount of bargaining seemed to persuade them."

"If I might ask, what is the goal of this project, Doctor?"

"Well, at some point in their life, one must begin looking towards their legacy. An army of super-powered mutants unleashed on a city? It's been done. A hyper-sexy lab assistant and her genetic predecessor as a superior agent? Quite enjoyable, but not exactly a legacy. No, I must find a way to leave my ultimate mark on the universe."

"By tinkering with berries?"

"One never knows the paths that science may take us down, Agent 16. I have many ideas on how they could be improved and find a sudden usefulness whereas they are only a minor product of a minor world now."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Feb 14, 2014 3:44 pm

Beyond the Archway, Known Space, Unknown Time...

34 ran forward, unstoppable as a juggernaut, with a half-dozen of the gibbering fiends close on his heels. A gap opened up in front of him as the land became an island and he jumped, his thickly muscled thigh pushing him up and into the not-air of the alien realm. Below him a fierce red glow signaled an eruption and he threw his arms in front of his face just as the terrible not-water of the place shot up from under him.

Only droplets made contact, sizzling where they hit his armor, but two low keening wails from behind him told him that at least some of the fiends had suffered in their attempts to follow him. He landed with a heavy thud, stumbled forward, and a shoulder went through one of the many sharp-edged stone fingers that twisted high into the void. Shards of the low-density material sprayed, knife-like, and he turned his head away.

Fortune had favored him as the side-long glance had revealed another of the fast-moving creatures running up on his flank and about to pounce. It hissed and leapt, exploding in mid-air as he swung the barrel of his squat rifle around and made contact with it's torso just as he pulled the trigger. Bits of the creature bounced off the hard surface of the floating island and he dodged around them as they still skittered and tried to latch on.

In the distance he could see the archway. Whether it was ten feet away or a hundred was hard to tell in this place. Next to it, he could see the small figures of 85 and 72 and he called out, "Incoming!"

Whether they heard him or not was impossible to tell, but he still had more of the fiends behind him to worry about. Another island, floating parallel to his own, moved into alignment and the two merged, seamlessly and soundlessly becoming one as the whole composure of the terrain shifted. What had been, moments before, a forest of rising knife-like spires became a hell-blasted muddy plain, the spires shrinking to the size of grass and crunching beneath his heavy footfalls.

Buzzing wings surrounded him and one of the pursing fiends zipped past in a near-miss, it's forelegs stretched out sword-like in front of it and it's new wings wildly whipping at the air. A quick shot from the rifle chased it but only succeeded in blasting a chunk out of a far cliff, it's face edged in leering statues that dipped and moved in an oddly-timed rippling motion. A planet hung over them, oddly familiar, and something zipped across the face of it as he watched.

A distraction that nearly cost him as a warning burr sounded in his ear and he tumbled forward, rolling head-over-heels in a somersault that would do James Kirk proud. Coming up with his rifle in hand, he fired and fired again, two more of the fiends torn asunder or sent spiraling into the mud. He turned, ignoring the pair for the moment as they scrambled together to form a weird conglomeration that shook and fought itself in confused terror.

"Incoming!"

The archway was only a short distance away now and both of his fellow minions had turned to him. They raised their rifles and in an instant he realized they were pointed at him. He ducked, pivoted to the side, and explosions sundered the ground where he'd been a moment before. He turned in disbelief - perhaps they had been shooting at something behind him - but there was nothing there. Pounding footsteps that turned into a thundering gallop caught his attention and he looked out to watch as 72 came to a skittering, snorting stop in the middle of the junction that joined the three canyons.

What had been 72 was now a horse, with hooves of darkest night and a mane of serrated fangs. His armor hung useless around him, and four tetragram eyes blinked orange as his blunt head swiveled from side to side. 34 took aim, and a piercing whistle caught the creature's attention for the moment it took to put a round between his eyes. A gout of sparkling gems erupted from the wound and the former minion dropped noiselessly.

Pulling back sharply into the canyon, 34 looked around cautiously. Where was 85? A few quiet minutes passed. There was nothing for it but to make a run.

A final check and 34 burst out of his hiding spot at a dead run, splashing through the purple slime that covered the reef as he bounded from pinnacle to pinnacle just above the waves. In the distance the lonely island that held the archway loomed and there was no sign of the remaining minion. A single span of arching stone linked the edge of the ocean and the distant island and he raced along it. A stumble, a tumble, and he stood at the threshold just as a dozen sets of limbs clambered over the edge and he dived through.

----

"Quickly... On to the table!" Ambrose urged as Agent 16 carried the heavy bulk of 34 through the lab's swinging doors.

Even with his weight on her shoulder, she was at a dead run. The minion had come through the archway, the alarm had sounded, and all three had raced for the Containment Wing to leave the fields untended. They'd found 34 inside, fighting off a dozen bizarre and alien attackers, and Agent 16 had vaulted into the narrowly open space to finish them off just as a trio had finally borne him down under their long claws.

"Get his armor off!"

"Yes, Doctor!"

Ms. 16 started on his chest, her hands still covered by the gardening gloves she'd been wearing, while Agent 16 turned to his helmet. The familiar catch just below the ear, the thick chin strap with it's microphone and re-breather, and the dull black face guard with the etched number across the glass.

"Oh my god..."

She tossed the helmet to one side. It was still Minion 34 under there, but yet it was not. Two sets of three-cornered eyes squinted against the harsh brilliance of the overhead light. His skin, the shape of his cheeks and his mouth still familiar, was gray and thick. Several lacerations scarred his skin however and from these flowed simple, honest blood. The pair finished pulling off his armor and Doctor Ambrose stepped up to him, a needle gun in hand, and it hissed as he jabbed it into an arm.

"A most magnificent specimen!" He enthused, swapping the now-empty vial with a fresh one and drawing out a matching volume of blood.

His thickly muscled body was now markedly changed. Under his chest a broad section of flesh was ribbed as though a tube ran under it, and there were matching sections through his biceps, forearms, and thighs and...

"Oh my god..." Ms. 16 nudged Agent 16 in the side, calling her attention to his midsection. "Was that?"

16 shook her head, "No, it was substantial but not..."

"If he's okay... You up for a threeway?"

Agent 16 looked at her sidelong for a long moment. Would that be a little weird? "Well, um..."

"Uh hum!" A warning from the Doctor called them both back to attention. "If you're done considering this man's sexual prowess, I'd encourage you to consider his short-term survival first! Ms. 16, he's injured."

"Yes, Doctor. I'll treat his wounds..." One eye still on the impressive specimen in front of her, she knelt down to pull out the required equipment and began to position the apparatus over his more serious wounds.

"And 16... Get the Tanks back in here, on the double. I want them ready in five minutes!"

"Yes, Doctor!"
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Postby Sunset » Sat Feb 15, 2014 3:45 pm

The Abandoned Greenhouse, Under the Art Lab, Ares...

"Yes, take the whole lot..." Ambrose answered, sparing only a quick glance to the little purple and gray contractors who were busily digging up the Tsubasian plants and bundling up their roots for transport. "Doctor Fritz will take all of them."

That was Doctor Fritz at the University of Anuke. The sprawling research facility on the nearby agricultural world was already investigating the plants for possible transplant and cultivation, but Ambrose' samples would prove useful. Or at least that was the hope. He didn't care. He was simply looking for someplace to dump them that wouldn't result in the floating fruit clogging up the air conditioning system or pelting him with rotten berries when the helium sacks finally burst.

His concern was the specimen that floated in the newly-restored row of Containment Tanks. The first held Minion 34, who floated naked in a neutral green goo, and the second held a large amoeba. The green, slightly star-shaped organism slowly rotated inside the tank behind a heavy layer of shielding. It was carefully suspended in a zero-gravity field and pushed away from the sides and the various mechanism by the same.

"A lovely coincidence, wouldn't you say?"

Ms. 16, who was once again in her lab coat and skirt, was standing just behind him taking notes on a holopad and she paused to reply, "Yes, Doctor."

"What do I intend to do with these two seemingly different specimens, you ask?" She hadn't, of course, but he went on. "According to the data, Minion 34 seems to have been affected by the strange energies of the Void in ways that make him an ideal test subject for an experiment I've been contemplating for some time."

How, exactly, they made him the ideal test subject instead of say... A gerbil or a monkey... Again, he didn't answer that question.

"This organism is one small segment of a very unusual species of amoeba that makes it's home in deep space. Unlike a normal amoeba, it feeds on various types of energy. Directed energy weapons are especially potent, for the most part, feeding it and resulting in a vastly increased growth rate. I've been considering ways to weaponize it for some time, aside from simply introducing it into the target environment, and... Specimen 34? Yes. Specimen 34 gives me an ideal opportunity to do that."

"You intend to combine the two?"

"Essentially correct. The amoeba's ability to absorb energy will augment Specimen 34's increased durability."

"A sort of super-Minion, then?"

"If successful, yes. We spoke about how I could leave my mark on this universe? Where one door closes, another opens..."

----
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Postby Sunset » Sat Feb 15, 2014 5:04 pm

Unknown System (GEC-995151), A Week Ago...

The last of the psyduck warships had just died a wracking death when Grand Admiral Glafka surged out of her command chair and began issuing orders.

"Put the Neo Cairo, the Toconao, and the Arima on close perimeter patrol. Order the Baer," That was the Orbital-Class Recover Cruiser that had accompanied the task force, "To the center of the debris field and as close to the unknown ship as possible. Put us on one side, and the Mazamba on the other. Anything at all pops up, I want the Baer to get out of here. It's first priority should be the unknown ship, then as much recoverable debris from the psyduck ships as possible."

"Yes, ma'am!" Captain Reynolds was already on her feet as well, moving around the bridge and checking the various systems. While the Admiral was in overall command of the task force, she had been in charge of the ship itself and now she was anxiously checking over the various damage reports that had been sent in. "We took some minor damage - a few armor plates here and there - but nothing to slow us down."

"Good. I'll take care of damage control, you get those ships moving. I don't want to give them," she nodded towards the main display and the tumbling black debris, "Any chance to respond before we get out of here."

For all she knew, they could be deep in psyduck territory with a whole armada of the psychotic aliens only minutes away. Thus the priority was on the unknown ship. It wasn't the Wright Brothers, but it also wasn't psyduck.

"Anything on who's ship that is?"

"Nothing yet, Admiral," a technician called out from one of the stations around the outside of the bridge. "Still working though."

The unknown ship was a broad gray manta-like vessel, with a tapering tail and board wings with what looked like a row of windows or view panes curved around the front. A mesh-like grill wrapped over the top, and there were several other sections that looked like they might be hatches or weapons of some sort. The ship was clearly dead in space - no lights lit the exterior and a small piece of a destroyed psyduck ship had clipped it with no response.

"Admiral, Toconao is reporting damage to it's space-warp drive. Repairs in place are possible but," the communications tech paused while the report continued, "It could be several hours. Better estimate to follow."

"Tesseract?"

After a moment the technician replied, "Functional."

"Alright. Have them deploy fighters, along with the other two, and set those to cover the gap. Have Toconao pull in close and dispatch repair crews from Dauntless to assist."

She looked up just in time to watch a dozen tiny dots detach from the Baer and hurl themselves towards the unknown ship. "Boarding party," she muttered. "Guess we'll know if there's anyone aboard real quick now."
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Postby Sunset » Sun Feb 16, 2014 2:45 pm

Unknown System (GEC-995151), A Week Ago...

"Tactical feed, main holotank, yes ma'am..." A communications technician replied, the requested feed appearing in the large holotank in the forward-center of the bridge. "Lead unit."

"Thank you, Ensign." The Grand Admiral turned to take a quick look before going back to her own console. It wasn't micro-managing - she had enough to do with making sure the battle group was moving back to combat readiness - but simple curiosity. She wasn't the only one, either, as most of the bridge crew turned to take a look from time to time or keep one eye on it if their seating (or physiology) permitted.

The lead unit, as dispatched by the Ralph H. Baer, was an unmanned humanoid combat vehicle or UHCV. Uw-Cavs, as they were often called in casual conversation, were perfect for a high-risk operation like this. Heavily armed, armored, and essentially (expensively) disposable. They'd found a hatch that appeared to have been forced by the psyducks and they were now sweeping through the unknown ship looking for survivors as well as any information on the occupants or owners.

Already they had a good deal of information. A common artistic looking symbol was likely a flag or badge, while bits of unknown script were on various hatchways and doors. Much of the ship appeared to have been vented to space, either by accident or on purpose, and there were overwhelming signs of a struggle. There were also closed hatches though. There might be survivors behind them but they would have to wait until the environment could be sealed again to open them. They were marked however and the UHCV's moved on.

The first corpses. The Admiral watched as one of the lead units locked on to a reclining organic form in the corner of a room and made it's way over, leading with it's weapon and carefully working it's way around the body to check for any traps before approaching it closely. Now the Uw-Cav was under the control of a specialist, a drone pilot aboard the Baer, and the precise and mechanical motions of the UHCV became fluid and life-like. It rolled the corpse, scanning everything as it did, and they got their first glimpse of the occupants.

It was a blue-skinned female, at least judging by the typical mammalian sexual characteristics, though much of the body from the chest down was a frozen, bloody ruin. Clothed in some kind of uniform, it at first appeared to have some kind of collar but this was revealed to be a physical feature as the UHCV ripped away the remains. They shattered rather than tore, an interesting detail for later, and Glafka watched as the pilot took a tissue sample.

The collar was low and narrow, wrapping around the alien's neck just as if it were cloth, though it was much thicker. It was also varied, having several protruding knobs and secondary ridges, mostly at the back. It wrapped around the neck, spread across the chest, and wrapped down and to the side of the breasts. From there it was impossible to track as that area was destroyed tissue and frozen blood. The pilot turned to the head. An almost human face, it had the barest trace of a nose, though there were no nostrils, and a small depression ran down the center just between the eyes to spread out and form something of an inverse brow ridge.

The eyes were open and appeared fairly typical though possibly a bit larger than average. There were no ears, and a low ridge shaped similarly to the collar ran back from just above the temples, widened out, and disappeared into the back of the head. This too had a shallow depression that matched that on the nose, and it had several small dark markings in it. These were the same from side to side, but essentially random in dispersion. It was hairless, though the skin seemed human-soft and of a similar consistency.

One arm was still intact and the pilot examined this last. There were the standard number of joints, and she would have called it 'fit' though that was no indication of muscular strength. Another depression on the forearm with more dots, and a low cuff at the wrist, again with a knob and slight sub-collar. While the legs and feet were shattered, it appeared as though the alien would be somewhat shorter than the average human, perhaps a meter and a half, but that wasn't a solid indication of the average size for the species.

The UHCV turned from the corpse to a weapon that floated nearby, and the Admiral turned back to her own work.

----
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Postby Sunset » Sun Feb 16, 2014 3:46 pm

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

"Well, shit-cakes. Fuck if I know," the large blonde woman threw up her hands in frustration. Now that they were outside the theoretical and had something concrete to work with, Doctor Brilla was at a loss for ideas. Not that she didn't try.

"It looks like... Something. It's certainly something."

LaCrosse looked at her from the end of the conference table and smiled. He'd been doing that all morning, now that Saryan seemed to be running out of steam and just kind of huffing along. It had started as soon as the drones had returned and the reconstruction of the object had begun. Still, she'd gotten one thing right. It was a rhomboid, a long six-sided crystal shape with a series of sharply angled grooves running all the way around the outside. They divided it into numerous smaller portions but still left no clue as to it's purpose.

"Anyone else have any ideas?" Felix asked. Brilla crossed her arms and shook her head and he looked to the rest of the table. "Anyone at all?"

"Well," the bajoni researcher, Doctor Tithral, spoke up, "The first thing I notice is that all the sides of the grooves are somehow equilateral. This might suggest that the object is meant to be rotated in some manner. Like a child's toy." An image of a Rubik's Cube appeared above the table and began to turn and rotate. "The shape created with each rotation would be different, however, and..."

The object in question, a hologram that floated in the center of the table, began to rotate.

"There are a possible one hundred and eleven iterations."

"Huh. What if all of these objects are the same? If each one of them is capable of the same rotations?"

"It's a lot more," Tithral shrugged.

"Which makes me think it's a lock of some kind," LaCrosse mused. "A lot of combinations, essentially unguessable, and enough that it would take a very long time to unlock."

"If that's even what it is, or what it does," Brilla groused. "They could just be lines."

"They could be, Doctor," Tithral shrugged.

"We could send the drones back out to try it," the chief engineer offered. "Test the idea that they can move."

"We might gain more insight into the question by examining the others first. Assuming there are others," another researcher put forward. "Though if it is a lock... What is locked up?"

"Assuming. Theories?" The Captain asked.

"Something valuable or something dangerous," his executive officer, a slim elf, stated. "I'd tend towards something dangerous."

"Why?"

"Because the method of containment, or storage, is itself dangerous," he smiled. "Which doesn't mean we shouldn't try to find out whats inside. What's dangerous to one civilization can be valuable to another."

"What are you thinking?" Brilla leaned forward.

"We look at it as a question of good versus evil." Several people around the table, Felix included, nodded in agreement. "But what if it's the opposite? In fact, it almost makes sense if it were the opposite. Assuming it's a lock, we don't have a keeper. What's the old saw? Evil always turns on itself?"

"So, what you're saying is that some..." Felix didn't really like the term 'evil', since it made things seem so monochromatic, but it would do for the time being. "Evil empire captured or created or otherwise something 'good' here and locked it up? And then abandoned it."

"Or was driven away, and whatever 'good' accomplished the deed was unable to open the lock."

"We certainly wouldn't find any trace of it," Brilla nodded. "After a few days anything that didn't move off would be sucked in."

"A trace around here," the elf corrected. "I propose a two-pronged approach. We start by deploying the drones again, along with an assault shuttle, to investigate the other stable zones. Map any structures, check for correlations, and the like. The shuttle will act as a local base of operations. Meanwhile, we'll go and investigate the nearby star systems. And perhaps turn the VDA outward. We're watching the black hole, but perhaps there is something else in deep space watching it."
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Postby Sunset » Sun Feb 16, 2014 9:49 pm

Under The Art Lab, In the Laboratory, With the Cranial Bomb...

"...and I've affixed a cranial bomb to your spinal column, just at the base of the neck," Doctor Ambrose half-turned, showing the spot with his hand. "Just in case there are still some unforeseen side-effects from the cross-dimensional radiation."

That Minion 34's transformation had been a result of exposure to the dimension beyond the archway had taken some work to confirm. Ambrose had, once they'd cleared out the shrieking mass of pulsating purple pseudo-fingers from the Containment Unit, sent another trio of Minions through the archway. Supposedly they were there to track down the missing Minions that had accompanied 34, but they had also deposited a set of experiment stands right around the archway. In the hour that it had taken them to make their sweep, the exposed tissues had already begun to show significant effects.

One of the puppies was now white, with blood red eyes that slowly wept a mesmerizing fractal pattern. Another was dead. And alive. It depended on the direction that it was facing. The last seemed to be okay, but after a trip through the scanner Ambrose had rushed for the fire axe and chopped it into little pieces. The thought of what he'd seen on the scanner still shook him.

"But other than that, you're fit to return to duty."

"Sir," 34 saluted.

"You'll do a full report every six hours to Ms. 16. Make sure to note any odd or anomalous events that happen near you. If you feel strange, or have any sort of feeling that something isn't right, I want you to report to Ms. 16, Agent 16, or myself immediately. This goes past 1, 2, or 3, am I understood?"

1, 2, and 3 were the senior-most of the regular minions and did much of the day to day running of the operation, aside from what the Doctor had himself directed.

"Dismissed."

----

Agent 16 lay in bed, waiting, a sheet drawn over her naked body, until the door to her bathroom opened and the hulking form of Minion 34 stood silhouetted in the light. His massive body cast a long shadow over the bed and she couldn't see his expression but she had no doubt he could see the form of the shapely young woman under the sheet. He stepped forward, the door closed and she could feel him coming near.

"Oh... Oh my god. You're serious... Oh my god. Woof!"

"Oh, sweet mystery of life at last I've found you! At last, I know the secret of it all!"
Last edited by Sunset on Sun Feb 16, 2014 9:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 17, 2014 6:47 am

SNN Nightly News with Tanya Zaldano and Trent Lockwood...

Tanya was back. Whether Trent was happy about it was another question, but with Valerie the ratings had suffered and while she'd proven a bit more... friendly... than Tanya he'd trade the sexual favors for the ratings any day. Ratings, of course, meant money. And more time in the spotlight for Trent. Even if it was opposite Tanya.

"...and violence in the Western Daygord nation of Agraotha continues to heat up. Religious minorities, long suppressed under the rule of Oclidan the Fifth, have taken to the streets in protest at what they see as an increasingly sadistic and heartless government."

Trent picked it up and images of several dozen poles with something disturbingly humanoid tied to them and set ablaze, appeared.

"Last week, to mark the fifth anniversary of his ascension, Oclidan ordered the ceremonial public cremation of three dozen of his political enemies, most of whom were alive and members of the minority Ketherite religious group. In a statement attributed to Lock Graymas, the head of the faithful Ketherites, he condemned the execution in the strongest terms and urged both his followers and all members of faith in Agraotha to take to the streets. 'Antilock will protect us and take their lives from them,' he wrote, echoing the words of several of the victims, shouted just before they were set alight."

"The Secretary-General's office released a statement condemning the execution of innocent men and women, but the Agraothan government put out it's own release stating that worshipers of false gods, especially those who's religious tenants encourage cannibalism, were openly opposing the rule of law and justice in Agraothan..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 17, 2014 10:53 pm

The Lab, Under the Lab, Ares...

"A fortunate turn of events, really," Ambrose nodded to himself, watching as the contractors moved in yet another row of tanks, tucking them away in the space that had been opened up to house the greenhouse. That project, and any results of it, were essentially forgotten now as the Doctor turned his energies to his new experiment.

In the foremost of Containment Tanks a whole series of clones were already growing. Some had tentacles, pseudo-pods, missing limbs, multiple vestigial limbs, and in one case it's lungs were growing on the outside of the body. But progress was progress, as far as he was concerned. The space amoeba had been moved into it's own tank in one corner of the lab, out of the way, while another section had been filled with what looked like an enormous cannon mounted on an adjustable arm.

"Ms. 16..."

He looked over to where his assistant was busy working on yet another piece of equipment and suddenly stopped, his question forgotten. She was bending over, her smooth backside in the air, the lab jacket having slid up over her hips and leaving nothing but the tight thigh-length skirt she wore between her slim, toned legs and his lusting gaze.

"Yes, Doctor?" Her reply was muffled, and it didn't shake him from his careful study of the object in front of him in the least. "Doctor?" She called out again, straightening up and turning to look at him. "You needed something?"

"Um... No. Carry on."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 17, 2014 11:37 pm

Special Projects Laboratory, Terra Incognito, New Latin System...

It was, one had to admit, a very beautiful flower.

Positioned right in the middle of a high-walled glass sphere, planted in a good mix of volcanic soil purchased at the local home improvement store, and watered via a misting sprayer built into the rim of the spherical vase, was one of the six-petaled flowers that had been recovered from the psyduck ships. Just one. It made the measurements provided by the cluster of instruments positioned all around the vase that much more precise and therefor that much more useful.

There were any number of instruments, from those that measured purely physical aspects, such as the weight of the plant, it's size and shape, to those that measured any number of different types and spectrum of energy. The whole setup sat on an open balcony, high above the ever-present surf of the oceanic planet, shielded from the wind both by physical barriers and various carefully arranged energy barriers.

It was the combination of all of these that had given the researchers their first hints of what the flowers were capable of. That it was a biological power storage medium was easily discernible, for those who were watching. A series of stalks inside the ring of pink and purple striped white petals had a tiny bulb at the tip and as the sun shined the bulb grew brighter and brighter until, with a flash of multicolored light, they exploded in a puff of spores.

The first time this happened, the balcony had been carefully cleaned and inspected for the results and the myriad spores collected for further experiments. More equipment had been added and, due to the sensitivity needed, the energy barriers had been added. But the barriers leaked, even just a little, and while the instruments were calibrated to compensate the flower wasn't. Even when sunlight wasn't available it continued to grow, the little bulbs slowly growing until someone had the bright idea to switch off the barriers.

That slowed the growth and established that the flower was feeding on various different wavelengths and forms of energy. Now they were trying more, carefully isolating and measuring which had the most effect and which had the least. But something else was showing up as well. As long as the plant was absorbing energy, it was radiating it as well. That had been picked up by another instrument that was there to make sure that the energy sources that the plant was exposed to were properly shielded and emitting the proper type of energy.

This energy, on a specific frequency, wasn't very common in the universe at large, but experimentation had shown that it was regularly emitted by the flower and the more energy the flower was sucking up, the stronger this energy by-product was. One of the little Mecce researchers had discovered this last bit, as well as the exact scaling ratio that it followed, and had labelled it the flower's 'Energy Bloom'. That too had proven important, as it served as an indicator of how close the flower was to releasing more spores.
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Postby Sunset » Tue Feb 18, 2014 6:35 am

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

"We are simple merchants and travelers from the far-off people of Sunset," Timmons replied, looking up at the guard who hovered over them. Like the previous guards they'd dealt with, this one was armed with both a spear and shield, but unlike those of the far richer city to the north, this one's weapons were of simple undecorated wood with a bronze head.

Their own appearance was simpler as well. Fancy robes had been replaced - or at least made to look like - rough cloth with patches at elbows and knees and while both wore the heavy necklaces of a merchant these were cloth instead of leather. That was one of the interesting facets of civilization on Ixutsangi that they had picked up. Individuals, and merchants especially, tended to wear their coinage around their neck on long, cloth or leather strips with many pockets. Where this particular cultural tradition had evolved from wasn't yet known, but it was an easy way to both identify them as merchants as well as people who knew something of local custom, despite their different appearance.

"Enter then, and welcome," the hovering warrior responded. He had looked them over carefully, perhaps surveying them for weapons, but neither carried sword nor spear.

"Thank you. Where might we find the market?" Timmons asked.

"And a place to stay," added Trinya.

"Yes, we have traveled many days, and have many more ahead of us." Timmons noted. They'd added to their disguise by adding a pair of packs, seemingly stuffed with goods, though in reality it was mostly survival gear with a layer of trinkets and nick-knacks they'd printed off on top. Colored glass ornaments, children's toys, and the like.

"The market is next to the Pools of Saeshet, which is in the center of the town across from the Throne of Saeshet," the guard pointed with his spear. "You may find rooms for let there as well."

Like the previous city, the Throne proved to be separate from the Palace though both were of lesser beauty and decoration than before. Based on their knowledge of the previous city, however, Timmons paused outside the Throne to allow a tiny brown rat to scurry down his robe before continuing on to the Market. Immediately it snuck it's way inside and began nosing around for the Royal Crypt.
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Postby Sunset » Tue Feb 18, 2014 2:03 pm

Unknown System (GEC-995151), A Week Ago...

"We're out of here," Grand Admiral Glafka announced the moment the little psyduck single-ship exploded. "Pull your crews back, grab anything at hand, but no dawdling for anything shiny."

There was a chorus of answers in the affirmative and she turned back to the holotank where the little black ship was now a rapidly expanding debris field. There was something not quite right about these psyducks. The ship was clearly a scout... Or was it? It was of a size and configuration that she would consider a scout. Big engine, lightly armed, and lightly armored as well. But it had come out of FTL within easy weapons range of the Toconao and that cruiser had vaporized it almost immediately.

"I wonder," she mused aloud, "Do they not know about what happened here? Technical..." One of the station technicians on the outside ring of the bridge turned to her, "Check the sensor logs. Did they show any evidence of outside communications when we arrived? Anything that might indicate they were calling for help?"

That was a long-shot. Most everyone used a different sort of communications that made intercepting and, more importantly, understanding the communications that much more difficult. It was one of the things she had on her list, if they were able to recover enough of one of the alien craft.

"I'm not sorting out anything that looks like long-ranged comms, Admiral," the technician noted after a minute. "There's distinct short-ranged communications though. Translation is working on it, but it's likely encrypted and we don't have a complete translation."

Or even near-complete. That was one of the other things they were learning. The psyducks didn't like to talk to outsiders, and when they did it was gibberish and nonsense. Either deliberate attempts to confuse or just plain crazy.

"Thank you. Keep working on it. All ships, we leave in sixty. Deploy VDA, set targeting parameters to psyduck ships, and let's see if any of them fly into the web."

"Yes, ma'am!" The Dauntless' tactical officer replied with apparent relish. A few seconds later they could all feel the heavy turbines that housed the cyclone torpedo system spin up and seconds later empty themselves into local space. There was no blaze of light as the torpedoes shot away. They would lay there on low power until a psyduck ship came into the range of their massed targeting sensors.

"If they didn't send out a distress call, or even if they did, we'll give them a bit of a surprise," Glafka smiled. Sometimes, a minefield did have it's uses. "Take us home!"
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Postby Sunset » Tue Feb 18, 2014 4:02 pm

Arsia Mons, Menelmacari Carnil, Mars...

For a moment Su stood, perched on the edge of the platform, with the wide wing of the hang glider spread out above her, until a long gust of wind caught her and sent her surging off the launch ramp and into the high Martian atmosphere. There was a moment of concentration as she worked to gain control of the glider, shifting her body around in the harness to direct it's flight, and then she was soaring.

The winds that roared down off the Tharsis bulge and Arsia Mons were especially swift that day and they quickly propelled her, and a half-dozen others in similarly fancifully colored gliders, down the mountain and east. Rolling just slightly in her harness, she watched as the distant ground below slide south as she went north. Under her the ground was rocky and clear, too high and cold to sustain much in the way of plant life, but it was a rugged beauty.

Here and there a narrow valley appeared, and as was their way, the elves had filled it with green life and delicate looking manors built onto the cliffs and above the chasms. She was too high to appreciate the skill of the architects but she could see the tiny blue tumbling rivulet that was the rushing headwaters of the Labyrinth River. Already it was passing out of view as she turned north, but she could see the vast broken lands of the Noctis Labyrinthus on the horizon.

An hour passed, then two, the tiny glider pushed along by the rushing winds while the pilot stayed warmly cocooned in her high-tech flight suit. The ground was changing now, shifting to the browns and greens of wine country. Directly below her was the border, though from here the line of carved rune stones were less than invisible and as much suggestion as definition. Broad terraces picked out with winding rows of vines were just visible as squiggly green lines, the grapes harvesting on the vine and protected from the high winds by the clever craft of the vintners.

The hill country passing away below her, she came to the broad Tharsis plain, the vast expanse that separated the Sinum Echus from the Tharsis Montes. Below her an artistic patchwork spread out towards the distant bay; fields and farms mixed with light forests and glittering lakes as well as the occasional city and town. This too straddled the border, with immense factory farms on the southern side while the northern side tended towards smaller establishments. While on one side she could see massive robotic farming equipment slowly working the fields, on the other side she could see horses, stables, and riders out at play among the scattered elven manors.

Water, green and marshy, opened up below her as the high cliffs of the Tharsis plateau flowed down to the broad expanse of the Sinum Echus. It was late afternoon now, and the broad Kasei expanse spread out in front of her. It was time to head home though and she turned south towards the Valles Marineris. By late evening she was circling over the glittering lights of the canyon-filling super-arcology and spiraling down towards the scattered towers of New Vancouver. Behind her other fliers were descending as well, though there were an adventurous few that would continue on through the night towards the far distant Kajali territories and the Vadus Chryse.
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Postby Sunset » Wed Feb 19, 2014 1:19 pm

SunLabs, Neo Cairo, Casablanca, Sunset...

It was another scorcher outside but then again, on Casablanca it was always a scorcher. That's what had made the relatively minor colony world a center for the manufacture, development, and sale of solar cloth. Solar cloth, for those that didn't know, was a type of cloth with the properties of a solar cell. Even when cut, sewn, and stitched it was still able to absorb solar energy and turn it into electricity. On Casablanca the most obvious use was in making the ubiquitous long desert robes that most of the residents wore, except that these now had their own air conditioning units thanks to the solar cloth.

SunLabs had taken that one step further and had begun integrating a whole host of electronic systems into garments made from solar cloth. With the development of polymorphic solar cloth - one that could change it's own texture, shape, and color - the industry had really taken off and SunLabs had gone from a little backwater development operation to a major Fortune 1000 company. Everything from evening wear that could be as revealing (or not) as one liked, to casual clothes that became evening wear, to the uniforms that were now standard issue to the SDF.

"Who's ready to see this year's line?" K Cadaosa, Marketing Rep, stood in front of a small group of seated individuals who, as it were, represented much of her future. These were Retail Reps; Vice Presidents, Senior Managers, and others in the retail sector that SunLabs depended on to get it's product out to the consumer. Looking up from their various holotablets, private augmented conversations, or pointless doodling, she caught their eye and started the presentation.

The world around them changed from a modern, but reasonable bland, conference room to a tropical beach. Waves gently rolled up the sand behind them, and not a few feet away palm trees swayed in the breeze. In the far distance a volcano could be seen trickling smoke. Not only did it look real, it felt real as well, with a gentle breeze flowing and the smell of fruit and salt in the air.

"This year, we have a whole range of new features in all of our offerings. From one person pup tents, to ten person pavilions, your customers will find plenty to like from our Great Outdoors line. First..." K walked over to stand next to a small green square on the ground, "Our smallest offer. This one-person tent has all of the features of it's larger kin but is perfect for the solo adventurer!"

The tent began to silently inflate, the cloth powering a small fan that blew air into a series of airtight tubes that would form the framework of the tent.

"The Solo will set itself up in under two minutes. Once inflated, it will activate a strong field generator on the bottom of the tent that will create a bond between the tent and the ground it's sitting on as long as the generator is active. Unless you're expecting a hurricane, this means no more stakes! The floor inflates to form an air mattress with three-chamber isolation technology so that no matter how you sleep, you'll have a comfortable night."

K brushed aside the door flap to show the now-inflated mattress, with pillow, that made up the majority of the small space.

"Right above the door you'll find a holoprojector," she didn't bother to mention the mesh networking, "That will allow you to watch your favorite shows even in the middle of nowhere. There's a full surround speaker system built in as well, and of course it connects to your augments for privacy. It's not just useful for shows either..."

A noise could be heard, and suddenly a large bear emerged from the undergrowth. Several of those present laughed, bears not being native to most tropical islands, but K smiled broadly and laughed along.

"The tent also includes a motion detector that senses when an animal - or person - above a certain size or threat level approaches too closely."

The bear changed into a raccoon, a far more realistic threat to those who carried food into the wild, and began to nose around the tent. Then a massive bear appeared, along with an earthshaking roar, and the raccoon fled into the undergrowth.

"And once again your snack chips are saved! The system will respond appropriately, either warning the occupant or generating any number of prerecorded sounds and images that will drive the threat off. It also includes a very low level constant field generator that will drive off insects and other small pests, leaving your campground safe and your skin unmolested."

Around the tent, the ground slowly changed to the desert sands of Casablanca and, where the tent had been a blended green that had fit the tropical setting, it became a sandy mix of browns.

"The Solo can also be set to match the local environment, picking out a collection of colors on it's own that complements the natural environment. It's air conditioned as well, to keep the occupant comfortable. And... If you have the Solo Deluxe..." She gestured and the sands of Casablance faded to the enormous Malorn woodlands of Mars, "The tent itself will change to match the environment. We've partnered with a leading designer to create a whole line of unique looks, from fanciful and elfen to modern and high tech."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Feb 19, 2014 3:41 pm

Special Projects Laboratory, Terra Incognito, New Latin System...

Kids will be kids...

Even when the kids are brightly iridescent cyclopean, psychic, humanoid ducks. A half-dozen of them crawled all over the playroom, playing with the toys and each other while a pair of psyduck androids shepherded them away from anything dangerous. They were fast-clones, created from DNA recovered from various corpses and grown in birthing tanks in a couple of weeks. The technology to cause rapid growth in their particular species was still under development, but just observing them at play was proving insightful.

"I'm not seeing anything that I would call abnormal behavior," Doctor Cinwan noted. Like the other researchers, the lanky felinoid was concealed from the playroom by a thick wall of one-way plastic. On the other side it appeared as a colorful mural, showing a pastoral forest scene with cartoon rabbits and other small animals, while the wide expanse gave those on the other side plenty of room to observe.

"They play, they squabble... It's all pretty normal behavior. Even their attempts to use their psychic abilities could be considered normal."

Being very young, they couldn't bring their formidable abilities to bear on one another, but there were halting attempts to do so. Mostly they resulted in one dropping a toy that another might desire or getting mad and throwing it at them.

"Their awareness of the psychic activities of their playmates is interesting," Another researcher noted. "They know when it's being done, and they treat it like being hit or yelled at."

"Instinctively, which is important," Cinwan agreed. "If they were only able to detect it when observing the other directly, it could be based on body language."

"I think the most important thing is that we're seeing no early signs of psychosis or other mental illness."

Cinwan nodded, "None at all. It will be important to see how they age, but I think that research into why the psyducks thus far encountered are the way they are should be concentrated on a physical cause."

"The Flower."

"I'd say so."
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