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Sunset: Then, Now, Tomorrow (Nation Maintenance)

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

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Sunset
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Postby Sunset » Fri May 25, 2018 11:57 am

Special Projects High-Energy Research Complex, CORE III-Deep Space Station, Deep Space, Somewhere in the Milky Way...

"This is definitely a problem," Katryna declared, the Special Projects Director looking down on the workfloor through both a camera-in-camera system and a body that was not her own. In fact her mind was not her own - another precaution in the face of newfound danger. The body was inhabited by a copy of her consciousness, a non-sentient engram that though like her and, if everthing went wrong or right, could be discarded or incorporated appropriately.

"A big one. And maybe an opportunity."

The problem wasn't in either room but both the location and present expertise was appropriate to that problem. In the large room below hundreds of people in all shapes and sizes diligently worked to put a collection of seemingly random items in small black boxes at a pace that roamed from furious to lack-a-daisy. Here and there REDSHIRTs worked to both supply their clients with additional materials - toilet paper tubes, a rubber bath duck, three jade balls - and seal the newly created units and pass them into the next room where the required warning placards would be applied before the unit was tested for the first time.

"The problem is that this is a vector. We've been trying to find a way to penetrate the Eien and affect an individual - kill them - ever since the system was created. If we know how to do it, we know how to prevent it. Now we have a way, but I'm not sure there's a prevention here. The problem is these units; They are transactional. Give and take. Put matter in, get energy out. Open the box, give it your sanity. But we don't understand that process - we're just willing to take advantage of it. It's a huge blind spot."

"So we stop using it," her companion answered. "Stop taking advantage of it."

"Which is what we should do," she agreed. "And I'll pass that recommendation back to me. But here's the bigger issue; We now know of a way to actively attack someone in the Eien. Yes, it can't kill them, but murderous insanity is just as close. We pulled the Lieutenant's ExoCortex and I've started the process of creating a sub-section within the primary Eien HBI to house similar instances - we can't just abandon her, if there's a potential for a future fix. But if someone else were to learn of this, to figure out how to weaponize it..."

Already visions of black box 'rifles' were floating through her head and she shook her head briefly to dismiss them, "No - we need to go further than that. Yes, our own matter-to-energy systems are approaching these efficiency levels, and we can play tricks with HBI entropy dumps to make them even more efficient, but we need to figure out how this," she nodded towards the display; "How this whole thing works. But we're always left with the problem that the only way to know how the box works is to open the box, go insane, and then you just want to kill everyone or trick them into opening the box. And it's not as simple as just knowing what's in the box."

The site supervisor nodded. They knew exactly what was in the box - they even knew where everything was placed, but there was something again transactional about making one of the boxes. Anyone else could do it, but unless one had already completed the first transaction the box wouldn't work. Except; "What if we were to go through the box?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean we go through the box. Not destroy it;" Cutting the box open would somehow interrupt the whatever it was and the contents of the box would somehow become ordinary again. The prevailing theory was that placing the items in the box in such a manner was a ritual that ended with the closing of the box for the first time.

"We put matter in, we get energy out, right? But I don't think that a toilet paper tube is somehow converting matter to energy at a perfect ratio. No - something is happening inside that box. But we can't see it because when we do, we're completing that transaction and we go insane. But what if we skip the box?"

Katryna considered him, one eyebrow raised, "How do we skip the box?"

"First, I think we should bring in one of your new HMDA's. In fact, we don't need to bring one in - Procyon is still here, so I'll ask Captain Finn to take a look. See if there's any evidence of holographic manipulation. Plus she's got other sensors, so we'll put everything she has on one of these boxes, see what we find. But I'm thinking we can go further."

"Skip the box?"

"That's right. We'll skip the box, or at least try. There's always been the assumption that whatever is happening inside the box is converting matter to energy. But what if it's not? Our own systems get really close, but as you say - they're not perfect. But somehow this is? I'd suspect that whatever is happening, we're being given extra energy from whatever system is on the other side. That might indicate that the matter we're putting in is not being used up. Or it is, but this is one of those 'try it and see' ideas. So we try putting a sensor drone through."

"We have tried that," Director Silaco pointed out. "But... Now we have Plexus. So we build a drone centered around a Plexus node and send it through. In theory Plexus should be able to operate from anywhere, since it's jumping into an HBI. Do you realize how bad this potentially is?"

"Why so?"

"Because if this drone goes through and finds a big power plant on the other system that is willingly trading energy for matter at less than one-hundred percent efficiency, then that means that the insanity isn't a side effect. It's the goal. Or maybe the box really is transactional and insanity isn't the goal - maybe they want our sanity for something."

"That doesn't seem like something you can trade, Director..."

"A cardboard tube shouldn't be able to trade energy for matter, either - I think we should be ready for all possibilities here. I'll tell me that we should start rotating the Fleet through for a power plant refit. We'll leave the stickers on, but we'll move to our own systems. We can use VLEMA output to get it done quickly, but it would be wise to eliminate any CIDES use before we potentially piss off whatever might be on the other side. Which also means pulling them out of Triumvirate service, but they're not going to like this situation either..."
Last edited by Sunset on Fri May 25, 2018 1:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Sat May 26, 2018 2:40 pm

Once Again Inside the Leviathan, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

'Was it worth it, Commander?'

"We'll know in a few seconds, Admiral," Timmons answered, stepping back from the airlock where two of his faithful - and more technically minded - companions were helping an engineering technician from the Ixutsangi mount a boring device on the bulkhead door. The unit was normally used for breaching operations where extreme care was needed, for instance in the investigation of an unknown escape pod or life raft. A slow and precise drill was mounted inside a cowling that would seal to the side of nearly any object. Creating a vacuum inside, the drill would then stop as soon as a pressure change was detected. Additional tools were tucked away inside and they would get to those in a moment.

It was the perfect device for breaching the bulkhead and determining if the indicator dial on the panel was accurate and there was pressure (and thus possibly atmosphere) on the other side or if the light was simply faulty. The arrival, defeat, arrival and departure of the alien fleet had thrown a twist into the tale. No longer was the ship assumed to be many thousands of years old but in the hundreds and as many different scenarios now played out among the gathered explorers.

"Here we go," the technician announced, activating the device and stepping back. Inside his head it was going through its activation sequence, first drawing a vacuum and then slowly extending the drill into the bulkhead door. A timer incremented, measuring both time and depth, and within a slow minute the first stopped as the vacuum was replaced by atmosphere.

"Composition looks good;" Deanna reeled off some numbers, "Not perfect for most of us, but we'd survive. There's also traces of biological material. Still running the analysis."

That was time enough for the device to move to the next step and the drill was extended enough to ensure clearance before being withdrawn and replaced with a flexible sensor stalk. The silvered shaft wormed through the hole and into the space beyond. The visual feed was passed to the team and there was a collective pause, "...Commander."

"I see it."

The corridor beyond looked like the corridor behind except that where they floated in darkness the space beyond was lit from various fixtures and evidence of life was everywhere. Every nook and cranny was filled with plants that fanned out in all directions, their blooms and leaves seeking the light while roots splayed wildly. Moisture dampened the walls and small droplets shimmered here and there as they floated free.

"I'd say it was worth it, Admiral. We'll need to build an airlock out here, but there's something in there..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun May 27, 2018 2:13 pm

Hydra Septus IV, Near What Might Crudely Be Understood as 'Ozlukar Space', Somewhere Ill-Defined In The Milky Way Galazy...

"Well... Batman... Batman," the technician couldn't help but nearly break into laughter every time he thought about it; The comical images of a meter-tall penguin dressed as the famous comic book character bouncing from one towering warrior to another, vainly trying to punch and kick them into submission. Even the Ozlukar Repellent on his utility belt had proven of little use, the diminutive crime fighter having just enough of the spray to make one of the gigantic humanoids very mad.

"Sometimes you gotta use the right tool for the job, right? Utility belt? These won't exactly fit, but - according to the research - they are delicious. At least to the Ozlukar..."

Pressing the final button on the shipping container's panel, he stepped back and watched as the locks first lifted and then separated before the upper half split from the lower to lift on a quartet of pistons. The contents thus revealed certainly didn't look very appetizing, in fact they looked much like the Ozlukar themselves with pebble-gray leathery skin, a bulbous face full of stiff whiskers, and a pair of thick flipper'ed arms that pulled a stumpy, stout body forward at an awkward pace. The container was no zoo exhibit; A solid rectangle of the creatures had been mashed together and now they crawled out, one by one or in clumps of three or four, to assume something of a rough herd around the pair.

"Alright," the technician retrieved a device from one of his REDSHIRT's many pockets and pouches and handed it over to the BatPenguin, "All yours - go try them out."

----

Puzlgor looked up from his careful study of the ground, scanning the horizon, his whiskers twitching. Something was out there, something familiar to his nose but something he - who had been born far from the Ozlukar homeworld - had never personally experienced. A dribble of saliva splattered from the corner of his mouth and a rumble shook the thick roll of insulating blubber around his waist. A thick foot shifted and with it the enormous rifle he carried like a spear, the bayonet on the end nearly as long as one of the slaves.

The lookout shifted again, rotating in place with a stomp-stomp-stomp, and then he spotted whatever it was his stomach told him he should be looking for. Out among the rocks a head appeared, popping up and then disappearing just as another followed. Scents, smells, and memories of ancestral feasts filled his head and he stooped slight, looking left and right for either another watchman or worse, the chief. But there was no one watching him and he turned back to the approaching herd.

They were in the open now, their fat and succulent bodies bouncing forward between the rocks that strewed haphazardly over the plain that encircled the sprawling village. Curiosity might have prompted another to wonder where they had come from - the Ozlukar had settled this barren moon and colonized it on the backs of countless slaves rather than inherent suitability to life - but Puzlgor was hungry and these were food. Craning his neck and standing straight, he again checked for the other sentries but finding none and with his stomach now audibly gurgling, he hitched up his breech and began to trot out towards the herd.

He had his rifle out, of course - he was no fool. At least so he thought. It could certainly be that some puny foe had sent out the pups as bait, but Puzlgor was a cunning warrior and if they were out there, he'd raise the alarm and still eat the bait. If they were trying to lure him from the village they weren't doing a very good job - the herd had closed to within a hundred lengths of the walls by the time he'd reached them. Slinging his weapon over one shoulder, he stooped and sniffed at the nearest pup. Fat and stupid, it didn't even squall as he grabbed it in a massive hand.

Why ask the shaman, he asked himself? These were clearly good to eat, just as they had been for the entirety of the Ozlukar's existence. Grabbing it by the tail, he tipped his head back and opened his mouth, looking up just as his hand fell off, a tightness weaving itself around his body as thin welts of blood appeared across his body. The pup hit him in the face and Puzlgor's last moment was spent watching the ground rush up and then away as his head rolled and bounced away from the globs of blood-splattered meat that had been his body...
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Postby Sunset » Mon May 28, 2018 12:21 pm

RDF Training Academy Twenty-Six, The Southern Continent, Ares, Ares System...

The very first words out of Commander Sheldon's mouth; "Captain Kamilia Blaine, welcome back."

Somehow - and doubtless he was trying, though he'd had years of practice to perfect the art - he'd managed to pronounce her hard-won rank as though it was somehow lesser and inferior to his own. Like she was once again a newly minted cadet with an armload of coursework and a half-dozen classes to attend. It wasn't so but with tactical precision he had somehow made her feel smaller.

"Commander Sheldon," she straightened her back, pulling herself up to just under his pointed nose.

"I didn't expect to see you back," he looked down at the data slate he held in one hand, the other carefully tucked at the small of his back. "Remedial courses, I see... How on earth did you graduate," he shook his head sadly. "I must have been feeling generous that day. Or perhaps a blow to the head."

Her mouth flapped for several long moments as she stared up at him and he looked back, a sharp grin across his face. Then she clamped it shut and responded with a weak, "I have a ship."

"Do you? How special. I would remind you, Captain, that each commander is master of their own domain. Now, I'm sure I'm delaying you - enjoy your time back and," he looked over her shoulder and she turned to follow his gaze to where a feather-headed chimera stood talking to some of the other cadets, his perfect posture and lean bearing marking him as a natural leader, "Get to know some of the other students. There are quite a few that I have much higher hopes for."

Ouch.

She turned back, some faint notion of a retort struggling on her lips, but he was already turning to leave; "Good day, Captain."

"What. A. Dick." Commander Sloan had been at her elbow the whole time and she echoed her partner's thoughts, the other responding with a nod; "Did you ever tell me about your Commandant when you were at the Academy?"

"Cut from the same mold," the blonde woman answered, taking Kami's elbow and turning to lead her off towards their first class. The building and its grounds were just what she remembered and they navigated the open hallways and rising concourses with their scattered seating, open planters, and trickling water features as just another pair of students. Here and there they passed groups or lone cadets on their own way or standing around talking or chattering away.

"Around Number Three there were rumors that they'd found Commander Nicholas embedded in magma under the Noctis Labyrinth, the spawn of some balrog or other demon left over from the War Years. Supposedly there were hundreds more down there, just waiting to be cut from the rock and promoted to douchebag. Like they were born to it; I've never heard of an Academy commandant being promoted or re-assigned. They're probably re-born in a new demonic form if that happens."

"Recycling - at least they care about the planet..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed May 30, 2018 5:45 pm

The Docking Bays, Shadowport Zid's, Coreward of the HSE, Delta Quadrant...

"Huh, tha's an odd lookin' ship..."

Quickly bored with the technical side of things, Meli leaned against the outer hull of the little prospector while inside ScLappi worked his magic on the nav computer. Effectively she was standing guard but there wasn't anything to guard against; It was their ship now, at least by the logic of whoever was paying the docking fees. That left her free to do nothing more than rubberneck while her boyfriend typed away at the old fashioned keyboard. The bays were laid out in haphazard arrangement with some up, some down, and all accessible by a pair of large airlocks at one end - anything larger than a four or five man ship would have to send over a shuttle or other small craft.

Speaking of; There were shuttles and fighters and transports and even a couple complicated gunships, but one in particular had drawn both Meli and - apparently - Zid's attention at the same time. Parked right in the middle of one of the small bays was an oblong purple pod and the station owner was just right now marching up the steps at a determined pace with a frown somehow worked into his blunt beak.

"What is?" ScLappi's reply was polite but absent and a moment later, "Aha - I think I have our answer!"

Meli poked her head inside the hatch, hoping to see a nice full-color depiction on one of the screens but instead she was confronted with rows of text and numbers and the roboticist pointing to one with a pig-like finger, "This set of coordinates, here. The time stamp shows he spent nearly twelve hours in this system before leaving and coming straight here," he pointed to a series of jumps. "Just long enough for his drive to recharge. Whatever he found there must have been of considerable interest."

"Ya, but interest to ah' rock-jockey. Is tha' interestin' to us?"

"I have reason to believe so. This," he tabbed rapidly up, "Is more typical of his stop-overs. Nearly three days, with fifty-seven hours being his average. It is possible that he found some item of particular worth quite quickly and returned to lose it at the tables, but see here," he scrolled down again, "Just one jump previous to this he was in a system for nearly two days. I would suspect that here is where he found his treasure, but here is where he found whatever reason the Kul'Drathi wanted with him. But there is a trick to all this."

"Ah'n what's that?"

Meli turned around to look back at the bay with the odd purple ship. It was no longer there and neither was Zid. Instead there was an odd alien with four black eyes, long ears like a bunny, and a confused look on her face standing there. After a puzzled look around the bay, she began to wander off towards the bar and thus the Dwarf no longer cared.

"These coordinates place most of his recent activity very close to the core, in the globular cluster surrounding the black hole at the center in fact. As far as I am aware, there are few travelers and even fewer civilizations that can or do travel so deep. The core is very dangerous; Even ambient radiation levels are quite high and the possibility of a nova, quasar burst, or other low-likelihood scenario are no longer low-likelihood but near-certainty. If the Kul'Drathi are to be found in this region of space - well, first we will need a way to get there. I would not trust even that advanced scout ship you purloined to stand up to its rigors..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu May 31, 2018 5:08 pm

Private Conference, The Secretary-General's Office, RDF-Unconquered Sun, Mars Orbit, Sol System...

"You want to what now," Erika leaned forward, bracing her arms across her desk as she stared at her daughter with an incredulous look on her face, "A core galaxy what again?"

Katryna Silaco didn't look the least bit perturbed by her mother's question. In fact, she looked like she was just about to head out for the night, with a too-short skirt and a top that looked like it was made of little more than air and lingerie. She wasn't there-there, of course, and she really was just about to go out with her husband for an evening of dancing and drinks, but that was all besides the point.

"A Core Galaxy Dynamo, and I don't want to spin one up yet;" Technically speaking, it was spin down, as harvesting energy from a natural black hole involved siphoning off its angular velocity until it stopped spinning, but; "Just start looking at what we'll need to do to do that."

"And, as Director of Special Projects, you'll need my permission why?"

"Political cover. There's only one super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy and this one is it. So if we're going to be the ones that get our hands on it, we're going to need a good arguement as to why."

"Then I'll ask the question as to 'why'. Why do we need a Core Galaxy Dynamo? As far as I am aware, the Republic's energy needs are going down, not up, and the Wave Two project will cover those needs until the stars burn out."

"To stay ahead of the curve," came the answer, her daughter spreading out an array of holographic data points across the pitch black glass surface of her mother's desk. "Have you talked to Admiral Falk yet?"

Erika mentally scrolled through the list of calls and appointments she was supposed to get through by the end of her self-decided work day, "No; She called and left a message with my secretary but she didn't say it was urgent. Then my scantily clad daughter showed up at my door so now I'm late for lunch with her mother-in-law and step-mother."

"You're having lunch with both my hyphens?"

Erika waved a hand, "Not a huge deal. Informal, and you know Sirithil. She'll spend more time showing Nathyn some magic trick than she will talking galactic politics. What did Jamie call about?"

"Her daughter, or at least where her daughter has been for the past few weeks. Seems she's been off on an adventure and Jamie, being nosy, followed up on her debriefing by pointing TRIPWIRE at one of those patches of space we haven't gotten to yet. Over near the Dornies."

Which explained a lot. New Dornalia reminded most of its Republic visitors of itself but a hindred years or so in the past. Batshit crazy, rambunctious, and just about the nicest bunch of folks you could ever want to meet. With an abundance of shared values, the Exploration Command had shifted vessels away from that portion of the galaxy to focus elsewhere; Cross-communication between the two would fill in the details.

"Based on her analysis of their capabilities and Second Lieutenant Falk's debriefing, she's put these Macistikani at just about parity technology-wise. She's passed it up the chain for further analysis, and apparently they're civilised isolationists, but that's still the point. By the time we're looking over the border at an equal power who might also want to build one, it might be too late. We should be ready to jump on it before, not after."

"And that's not the only reason," she went on, "Did you read my CIDES report?"

At last her mother nodded 'yes' and Katryna moved on to the next data point, "CIDES is a problem because it's a threat to people in the Eien."

"You've recommended all high-level officials throughout Triumvirate space have reality kittens open their mail..."

"Or anything that looks like a box, yes. I'm pretty sure the problem is contained; Onl y the CIDES unit and the Captain and a Lieutenant from Procyon know about it. Heaven help us if someone like those Wildfire kooks were to get ahold of it. But there's my next point - there's very few threats to the Eien. We've worked pretty hard on making that true. The other big threat is the nature of the Eien itself."

"If someone had a Core Galaxy Dynamo and they knew roughly how the Eien works they could grow their own HBI over the galaxy and either flush us out or hedge us out. Now, there's not a lot of people who are going to come after us for our version of immortality but there are some. They might not be the most science-minded but they are out there. And I'd be more worried about them hedging us out than flushing us out. I can move the gateways pretty damned fast - by the time someone knows they're through the first layer I'd have the second layer gateway in Andromeda."

"But I need to go - just think about it. If we're going to do it, we're going to need to figure out how to make everyone else okay with that..."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu May 31, 2018 5:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jun 01, 2018 7:19 pm

The Lunch Room, Republic Defense Force Research Annex, CORE IV Deep Space Station, Somewhere in the Galactic Abyss...

"So, Ballenger;" The lunch room, fortunately or not, was a shared space between several different project teams and Doctor (He emphasized it repeatedly, though nearly everyone on both teams was either a Ph.D or had the equivalent experience and expertise) Lucius T. McMurdo was it's most prominent fixture. In fact, the man spend so much time engaging - willingly or not - with his fellow researchers there was a shared belief that he was possibly a structural member rather than an actual person; "What's your team working on?"

"You first, Lucius;" An obvious trap, but he fell for it - hook, line, and sinker.

"Abduct-o-Ray," he answered expectantly, as if he considered it all together likely that she would start jumping up and down and clapping her hands together in eager anticipation of a further explanation.

It did sound interesting, though Heidi's inner sigh was already winding up to deliver the mother of all yawns, "Abduct-o-Ray? Something you invented or..."

"Nope," he took another pull of his coffee. "Something they brought in for us to take a look at. Best and brightest and all that. No - Fleet recovered a Sh'Dos ship after an engagement over Verlaliskarriri. I'm sure you heard about it - made all the broadcasts. Anyway, Katryna;" 'Name-dropping prick'; "Thought they weren't going to be able to get anything out of it, but it turns out that between what's left of the ship and the sensor data they gathered, I should have a shot at making this thing work."

I? No 'I' in 'Team', asshole; "How's it work?"

"Still working on that. The Sh'Dos technology dates back to the Kal-En-Vesho Era - Million years or so in the past - and they seem to have a lot in common. Bio-mechanical stuff, and of course the HOBD warhead those maniacs in the Fleet detonated inside destroyed all the bio-parts. I'm going with something of a Jurassic Park solution. Classic movie, back in the Nineteenth. They're trying to recreate the dinosaurs and they don't have all the DNA they need, so they substitute DNA from modern - well, modern for then - reptiles. I'm doing the same thing, but with Kal-En-Vesho technology. Say - I've got the movie back at my place," he eyed her up and down and then more towards the upper-middle, "You want to check it out?"

"Seen it, thanks."

"You have?" The look on his face told her that he didn't believe her, but he let the attempt to get into her pants drop, "Anyway, what we've got is that the Abduct-o-Ray is kinda like the classic teleporter, except it doesn't kill you and make a clone on the other end. Instead it moves the volume of space-time you're in from one point to another. Re-connects it to the universe at another location. They probably use the same principle in their faster-than-light drive. Weird thing is that there's a purple beam that links here to there - not sure why they need it."

"So," he repeated his earlier question, "What about you, Ballenger?"

"Golf balls."

It was close to the truth, in a versus-the-galaxy way. The new shield generator would created a cellular distortion around itself, though whether that was interpreted as something like a honeycomb or a hexagon pattern was up to the viewer.

"Golf balls?"

"That's right," she nodded, trying to look somewhat enthusiastic but not too much - got to keep it credible, "Golf balls. The Secretary-General has taken up golf and the ball's the most important thing for distance. And our research could lead to a wide range of possible applications. They're talking about a golf ball-like effect if we dimple the back third of a starship. Interacts with a space-warp field to make it faster..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jun 04, 2018 3:11 pm

Inside the Leviathan, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

'Perfect', in this case, meant 'include coughing fits, exhaustion, and near-incapacitation within an hour' and so it was with visors closed that the team set off into the newly-opened space in a loose clump, the newly-added airlock sealed shut behind them. Except for Annya, that is, who dashed from here to there with the freedom of one whose body was circuits and polymer rather than flesh and blood. There was no gravity, and lazy green streamers floated out across the corridor to whip and wind around arms and legs before being brushed aside or carefully untangled while everyone stopped to examine blooms of purple, gold, and red.

"These lights are awful bright," Deanna said, shielding her visor with a hand as she looked up at one of the overhead banks. "I think that tells us something about where they were from, and these aliens as well. But why would they grow plants in this micro-gravity?"

"I don't think they did," Timmons answered, brushing his way through a floating thicket. "Mean to, that is. There's got to be a mechanism to transfer from the rotating sections to the core - the seeds probably made their way through and found whatever crevice they could to grow in. They have to be getting nutrients from somewhere though."

The Seeker turned to look behind her, "And they are getting thicker. So its probably not deliberate but as you say - a leak in the system somewhere."

"Which also means that someone - or something - has to be going through that transfer mechanism, right? And probably someone, since I don't see an animal or a really smart plant figuring out how to work those controls. Hell - we didn't figure out how to work those controls. We just cut through the door!"

The big explorer considered Alwyra's statement for a moment, "You're right - that's a really good catch. So some of those frozen herbivores we found in the ruined section probably survived. I don't think it would have been the carnivores, since they clearly knew about the wreck and could have taken their people off at any time. Which also means we could run into the inhabitants at any time."

Ahead was a positive wall of vegetation and after a few minutes of trying to push their way through or worm their way around the only solution was to chop away at the dense mat. For a while they worked in silence, slicing away at the barrier with their knives and throwing handfuls of greenery behind them to drift away or snag on whatever protrusion caught them first. Then Kedo spoke up, "Why wouldn't they have repaired the ship's systems though? They were clearly in control of the ship right up until the bomb in the control center went off - I'd have made repairs, if only so I could keep track of the people who were trying to kill us."

"Yeah, that doesn't make sense..."

"Here's one reason." Annya had returned from wriggling through a narrow tunnel just right for a dog but too narrow for anyone else. "Past this wall there's a big tangle of wreckage. It looks like a piece of the comet may have hit the access corridor and partially collapsed it without compromising the integrity."

Timmons stopped in his work and leaned up against the woven vines, "Someone really made some stupid design decisions when they built this thing. Only one route to the control room?"

"I'd bet you those... Grosh Ner Grat? I bet you those guys were in on the whole thing from the start. Like setting out a trap for an animal;" It was a now-familiar concept to the city-born Amirah, who now spent part of the year with her husband running a trap line for the native Pelwyr on the icy planet Kayv. "You want to give them one clear choice, one way to go, then you put your trap right there."

"Too bad we're going to have to figure out a way to go around or through," Kedo countered, another slash of the molecule-thick edge dropping a whole blanket of vines and opening up the corridor beyond to their inspection. Tangled and twisted sheets of metal filled the space, along with huge structural members that had pierced through from one side to the other. Conduits and cables formed a dangerous maze and there was little to do for the moment than take a collective breather.

"Can you slip through," Timmons asked, turning to Annya as she floated on her haunches. The shepard shook her head, "Maybe - but even if I do, you're not coming behind me. It's going to be a big pain in the butt, but I think we'd best return to the airlock and then go outside, try to find a good place to punch our own hole or get direct access to one of the torus. If there are survivors or inhabitants, that's where they'll be..."
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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Sunset » Fri Jun 08, 2018 8:27 pm

Constabulary Annex, RDF-Shiva, Singularity-Class Station, Shiva Orbit, Ares System...

"...what a sleaze!"

Constable Savyge shifted from where she was leaning against a convenient console to look over at Constable Davvis, who had been steadily scrolling through what seemed like an endless volume of text until her moment-ago outburst, "Hmm? Who's a sleaze?"

"Ugh - Doctor Ambrose! I've been going over his research notes;" Which had been seized during the Marine raid on Ambrose Military Industries' facility on the moon Minamoto. Since then they'd been transferred to the Orbital Constabulary for law enforcement review and that duty had then been assigned to Constable Savyge; "And... You gotta see this!"

With a pinch, she took the displayed image on the screen in front of her and tossed it out to a lighter-than-air hologram that stretched from waist height nearly to the ceiling. It was more than text; Formulas and diagrams were scattered between notes written out in both scratchy block letter and elegant cursive, both marked and re-marked with corrections.

"This," she pointed to one particular formula that was already circle in red, "Is the original formula for SEXYE;" Which looked less like a neat connection of lines and atomic circles and more like a tribble with a bad perm.

"So?"

"And this is something he's calling 'SEXYEu'! Look at this..."

Her co-working leaned closer, following the Constable's finger while Savyge watched her face, anticipating a similar response. For a moment she studied the diagram carefully before giving a shrug, "So? How does that make him a sleaze? Though, if I'm remembering my high school chemistry, some of that doesn't work that way."

"Huh," the Constable checked her finger, "Oh - not that," she moved up, circling a section of small, faint text and making it large before adjusting the contrast with invisible controls to one side, "This! 'Hourglass Figure, Wide Hips, Large Breasts' - that's what the original SEXYE did. 'Full Eyelashes, Thick Wavy Hair...'"

"So?"

Savyge looked back to Davvis with an incredulous look on her face but then that collapsed into an exasperated sigh. Her colleague filled out her uniform near to bursting and, slouched against the console as she was, her cleavage nearly spilled out the unfastened top of her blouse. If there was a poster child for a SEXYE user it was the Constable.

"Okay, well - you may take the stuff and you might like looking like that, but look at this! 'SEXYEu: Husky Voice, Full Pouty Lips... Mustache removal?! Come on - how's that not sexist?!"

Davvis shrugged, "Then don't take it..."

"...Unnecessary Hair Removal - Landing Strip?!"

"It's crossed out."

"That just means he couldn't make up his mind whether he wants you to look like a little girl or like a manicured lawn! How is this not offensive," Savyge countered, her voice rising to nearly a scream.

"Because you don't have to take it. There's a hundred other supplements out there, you know."

"He's objectifying women, literally! He's turning them into sex objects! Look here - 'Stronger Kegels'!"

"Really?" Davvis leaned closer, searching the page, "Does it say when it's going to hit the market?"

Savyge closed the holograms, crossed her arms with a huff, and turned her back to the other Constable, "You - I'm not talking to you..."
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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Sunset » Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:02 pm

The Docking Bays, Shadowport Zid's, Coreward of the HSE, Delta Quadrant...

"...A'h don' fuckin' like it either, but it ain' up to me. The voices in ma'h head are tellin' me we're off this one, so," Meli kicked the side of the little scout ship hard enough to leave a boot-shaped dent and move it nearly a hand-span across the deck, "We're off this one. Higher-ups ah' gonna send a proper explorer ship."

Tweelie straightened from where she had stood braced, looking through the hatch and over Doctor ScLappi's shoulder, even as it had nearly been torn out of her hands, "What of us? What are we to do?"

"Ain' sure yet," the Dwarf kicked the ship again, her porcine boyfriend rocking back and forth in his seat like a particularly well-dressed bowl of jelly.

"I would posit that new orders will not be long in coming," he offered, tabbing out of the navigation index and then locking the display. "Though we are left with the decision as to what to do with this ship. Simply abandoning it would seem... untidy. I might suggest that we secure it and return to our previous activity, perhaps using our new-found skill to engage in a high-stakes game with our penultimate purse being this vessel. If my appraisal of the average skill level is correct, we may be able to 'clean house', as it were."

"We?"

Turning in his seat and edging out the door, the Doctor looked up - and up - at the towering Maiorca, "'We' being a general term, with the strategy involving the two of you losing regularly in order to draw a potential 'sucker' into a big bet when the best odds present themselves. Given the crowd, it would be best to avoid any glimmer of impropriety on our part, which is why I feel this strategy would play well at the table."

Meli eyed him through one half-closed lid, "Thahks for sayin' 'We suck' nicely!"

"You're welcome."

"So, who will be replacing us," Tweelie chirped, turning her back on the scout ship and walking back towards the bar not-just behind her two companions of considerably shorter strides, "Did they say?"

"Tha's what really chaps ma' ass," Meli answered, thrusting her hands deep into her pockets and curling into a half-slouch unusual for the stocky woman. "Th'a got someon' in mahn'd, but they say it will be a few months before they graduate... Cause apparently a buncha rank cahdets are gonna do ah better job thah'n we will."

ScLappi put a thick, hairy hand on her shoulder, "Console yourself," he said, pushing through the door with the other, "Soon we may be both richer and in need of some of your particularly blood-thirsty brand of violence to defend ourselves against those with a less-than-favorable impression of our victory."

"Ya', whatever. Fah'st A'h want a drink."

The bar proper was just inside and so instead of proceeding to their former table in the corner, the three waited at an open stool - or four - before the bartender crab-walked his way down the plank. All except for Tweelie looked up at the hulking Ogre, who seemed both out of place with a stained apron on and disturbingly at ease with the left arm of something pink and formerly humanoid hanging from a corner of his tusked lips. With a final slurp the previous resident disappeared and he opened his massive maw in a low rumble, "What'll ya have?"

"Tequila Fanny-Banger, make it two. Top shelf."

"What is a Tequila Fanny-Banger;" The Doctor might not have known, but the Ogre seemed comfortable with the order and turned - carefully - to reach for a golden yellow bottle and another of clear before pinching an orange between his massive fingers and instantly rendering it to pulp. While he shook together the first two ingredients, ScLappi turned to survey the bar.

"That one," he declared after a moment, pointing to a table where a short woman with braided dark umber hair who looked like she'd just walked out of an urban fusion movie with heavy Slav influences sat already engaged in a brisk game. A gun sat openly on the table in front of her, as well as a small neat container of various pills and concoctions. Perhaps through chance or perhaps perception she looked up and caught his eye, showing off the intricate eagle tattoo across one side of her face.

"Wah her?"

"Because she has limited liquid resources and will likely depart before depleting them, but is colorful enough to attract considerable attention and lure in a 'big fish'. Now, if you are suitably fortified..."
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Jun 11, 2018 8:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jun 14, 2018 5:32 pm

Landor City, Terra Incognito, New Latin System...

Gunther twisted the handle, reving the engine and sending the back end of his first-generation SHZero into a standing fishtail as he held the brake with the other hand. It was all an illusion - release the brake at that speed and the bike would go into auto-pilot mode, asking for his destination and taking him there safely at otherwise breakneck speed - but to the teenager and his friends that illusion was of critical importance. So too was the freedom that the hoverbike represented and so beside him his small cadre also revved their engines, some going up on one 'wheel' for a meter or two or burning out in a tight donut that left no skid marks on the pavement below their feet.

"Alright," he cocked his head to one side - helmets weren't mandatory, for reasons that would become quickly clear - and shrugged out his shoulders before hefting a gun-like device and pointing it ahead like a medieval lance, "Who's ready to see this baby in action?!"

It looked like a gun but only in general shape. A Western Revolver, as it were, with the same curved handle and trigger guard but in modern materials. Mounted to this was a device of some sort in the general shape of a cylinder but the barrel had been replaced with a blade-like plastic extension. This was no slap-dash construction - blade, frame, and grip frame were one piece while the cylinder and comfort-grip handle had been designed to complete the whole. A chorus-call of approvals met his gesture and the young man swapped the weapon to his off-hand, twisting the handle and shooting forward to slide out of the wide alleyway and onto the open streets of Landor City at the head of a pack of whooping teenagers.

For a few blocks they were only a general nuisance with bikes zipping back and forth between pedestrians, columns of the raised maglev track that ran down the middle, and jumping over or through the various planters and trees that provided travelers a healthy snack on their way from here to there. A fountain splashed in the middle of an intersection and they raced through, soaking themselves and then passers-by as they sliced their bikes from side to side to shake water off fenders and tails. In the grand scheme of things it was all harmless; The bike's piloting computers prevented any collisions, turning their fun from suicidal to merely obnoxious.

Shaking the last drops of water off his purple-red bangs, Gunther raised the weapon and looked from friendly face to friendly face, a question mark on his brow; "That one," a cheerfully busty Ju-Docri suggested, her second pair of hands pointing out the potential victim to him.

Down the street a severe-looking woman in her early-later years walked along, purse clutched under her arm, and it was clear why she was the victim of choice. Everything from her curly gray hair to her public-radio totebag filled with groceries suggested a miserable wretch intent on inflicting her misery on everyone else, especially teenagers. Gunther lined up his sights and she responded with a snort and a wrinkle of her nose, suggesting that even if he was so bold as to shoot her that spite alone would carry her through.

He pulled the trigger and for just a half-step forward she continued, her knee coming up before she went semi-stiff and she went down, her body sprawling limp on the grass. A whoop of satisfaction was answered by others and they raced past, over, and around the fallen victim as voices already called out suggestions for the next.

----

'Incoming Call; Eien System Administration; Phillino Jones...'

Katryna didn't even realized she was reaching out a finger to take the call until she did, fingertip on an invisible button, the work on her desk paused in front of her, her eyes still focused on the last few sentences of the report she'd been reading, "This is Director Silaco..."

After all, it could be a wrong number or a misplaced call.

"Director Silaco, hi - this is Phil, down in the ESA;" He pronounced it 'Eessa'; "We've got a bit of a situation here."

An eyebrow began to creep up her face. Jones was in Systems' Administration. Taking care of 'situations' were exactly why he was there; "What kind of situation?"

"Random disconnects. That is, we're getting reports from users that they are getting randomly disconnected from their Prime Extensions, ma'am," he finished, a nervous note in his tone that in turn made her sit up a bit more and reach to close the report. "I'm looking into why, but... There's a pattern here, and I'm not finding anything technical on our side."

It was a possibly plausible possibility, of course. Even in the future entropy happened, hardware broke down over time and had to be replaced or repaired. Sometimes a router would have to be pulled, a wiring harness replaced, but again - that was the ESA's job. That he was calling her suggested this was more than just a rack down or an Eien interface on the fritz.

"So what's the pattern?"

"All of the Prime Extensions were in Landor City..."

She sat up sharply, nearly banging her toe against the back bar of the desk, "What? That's..."

"Nearly impossible? I know - that's why I called you. They're getting back online, but..."

"Where?"

Damned right it was nearly impossible. Each ExoCortex was mounted in a rack with others, basically at random. That meant that for each group of sixty-four there should be an essentially random distribution of Extensions all across Republic space and wherever its citizens could be found. Based on the above example, the likely scenario would be that the hardware between the rack and their Extensions had failed. It wasn't unheard of - there were a lot of people in the Eien now, her among them - at least technically. Technically she was in an interior-interior HBI that was not directly connected to one of the HBIs where the everyday citizen's consciousness lived.

All neither here nor there.

"Where?"

"Yes - get me their exact Prime locations," she repeated, already pulling up traffic and police reporting sites and scanning for anything odd. "I'm right there - I'm going to go take a look."

Data began to stream through on a side-channel as she stood up from her desk and went to the door that led out onto her private balcony. Beyond were the crisp blue sea speckled with the white ragged lines of breakers rolling in and, hanging just off the edge, a prototype version of the new Republic-Dornalia SHX-3 SkyCycle. That was the advantage of working where she did; Someone was always tinkering with something on the floors below. A step and she was in the saddle, riding armor clawing up out of the seat to surround her.

----

It had only taken a few half-way hesitant shots to go from malicious test-firing to general mayhem...

"Her, her!" One of Gunther's friends pointed to a new target; A woman walking down the street alone, her outfit and poise marking her out as one of the fashionable set. It was a cross-over shot though and he missed, dropping a man behind her in a well-cut suit with a hand in one pocket and an equally well made-up girlfriend hanging off the other arm. He dropped like a rock, the woman standing there shocked until the double-tap hit her between the eyes and she pitched over like a department store manikin.

The teenagers flashed by the three and the street was now relatively clear, but this presented another opportunity for the rogue gunner. In the distance a knot of people were gathered at a sidewalk cafe - time to check the weapon's range. Pulling sharply to the side, he wheeled around to come up side-on to the distant group. His arm extended, he took careful aim at a patron sitting by themselves and pulled the trigger. Nothing.

"Could just not be Eien'd," he muttered under his breath, shifting his aim to the larger cluster and firing again. This time someone went down, pitching face-down in their soup while the waiter looked on, a basket of breadsticks in their hand. He fired again and endless breaksticks scattered across the cobblestones and the whole group burst into mocking laughter and jokes. Turning to his friends, Gunther posed with the weapon held high and a sneer on his lips, "Not bad - not bad at all!"

"You should take it to school," Kayti suggested, the Ju-Docri leaping from her own bike to wrap all four arms around him and grab his pants tantalizingly close to his crotch, "Then next time ol' Crabpuff opens her yap-hole... Bam," she put out a hand and mocked pulling the trigger, at the same time pulling against his waist.

That was practically an invitation to turn around and kiss her, but the moment he slung his arm over her shoulder and planted one on those lusty lips, he found himself looking down the barrel of his own gun at a suit of black and gray power armor that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. It was walking right towards him and as he looked past Kayti with his eyes wide plates and joints began to slide aside and away until a woman with short, spikey hair tipped in purple and with matching lavender eyes was standing just at the tip of his gun, the suit abandoned behind her.

Faster than he could follow she grabbed his wrist in a crushing vice but he fired anyway, an electronic tingle hitting her square in the chest. There was a blink, a shift in her face, but she didn't let go; "Who... How..."

Twisting his hand to both sides, Katryna examined the weapon, "Side-loaded engram. Interesting - you realize you're in big trouble, right?"

"Yeah, how?" He struggled to pull his hand free, but despite a body that had to be half his weight her grip was as solid as iron and he only succeeded in half-dropping the gun. "I didn't hurt anyone. Just disconnected them..."

"Property damage - cuts and bruises. Billable hours. Broken bones. Do you have a job?"

"No, I;" She finished twisting and the weapon dropped from fingers now numb into her other hand. This made it disappear into her body, a compartment opening up in her side and disappearing as seamlessly as if it had never been there, "Damage to government property - I'm sure there's a whole list of charges being written up. Serious stuff..."

Again he made the demand through ground teeth, "Who are you," but her answer was to turn his hand loose and he clutched at his wrist with the other. By rights he had her surrounded - Gunther and a half-dozen of his friends against a woman who looked like she weighed less than forty kilos. But she'd abandoned her power armor and none of them had made a move.

"But I can make it go away. One-time offer, call it a consultation fee. Here," she rolled her fingers and a holo-card appeared, "Tomorrow morning."

Behind her the suit began to shift and in a moment it was the low, vaguely familiar shape of the SkyCycle again and she turned to throw a leg across the saddle. Armor surged up around her and she looked over her shoulder, "I'm going to keep this though, is that alright?"

He stared down at the card and then back to the woman with the sunburst logo on the shoulder of her armor and a set of gold chevrons with a single silver star on the collar, his jaw moving but no sound produced; "Good, thanks," and then she was gone...
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jun 16, 2018 6:16 am

Special Projects Research Tower, Outskirts of Landor City, Terra Incognito...

"So what is it," Amaril asked, leaning over his wife's shoulder as she stood at a workbench, squatting down so she could rest first her elbows on the granite and then her chin on her laced fingers. What it looked like was an old-fashioned western revolver but in modern materials and with the barrel replaced with an equally modern-looking bayonet. Since it didn't look like the bayonet could be fired across the room as a deadly spear, it was an easy assumption that it was an energy weapon of some kind.

"It's fairly genius, is what it is," she answered, contining to stare at it through idle purple eyes. "I was expecting a miniature FTLi generator, which - I suppose it is - but it doesn't work the way you'd think it would."

"Which is..."

A finger flicked to one side and a wireframe hologram appeared above the workbench, elements and circuits drawn in as her fingers moved. These were then labelled, though often in archaic or technical language that only described what it was if one were a specific flavor of engineer.

"Most FTLi generators work by either 'hardening' or 'blurring' their affected volume so that a particular type of faster-than-light drive can't operate or doesn't recognize it as passable. Which is one way to block an Eien node from communicating through the HBI, which is something of a specialized FTL 'effect'," She added the last quotes with her pinky fingers. "Gunther there," here eyes glanced up to a wall-mounted display where her earlier interview with the teenager played silently over and over, "Came at the problem sideways. The issue with a FTLi 'gun' is that these systems need a lot of power - or at least more power than whatever ship can put into their effort to punch through. I've built a weapon with the same purpose but its the size of a bazooka," she finished, adding a hologram of her own design to the collection.

"What did he do? How is his design so much smaller," the elf asked.

"Came at it sideways," she repeated, her shoulders coming together for a tense shrug.

"Most faster-than-light drives that are 'point to point';" Those that moved the ship from one point in the universe to another with 'nothing' in-between; "Have a pre-jump safety system that checks the destination to make sure you aren't jumping into a wall or something. They take a peek at the destination really fast - the TRIPWIRE and BOOBYTRAP arrays use something of the same method to sample the space-time matrix across their target area - but this little guy," she poked the pistol, "Is basically a drive without the drive. All it does is the pre-sample. Which momentarily disrupts real space in that area and thus the Eien Node's connection. Unlike this thing," she flicked her own design away towards the trash, "It uses very little power and still has decent range."

"And he built this thing himself?"

She nodded, "With only a little cheating. He pulled the FTL design off the net - there's a lot of open source drives out there - and pared it back to just the pre-jump safety. But the theory and the execution are all his..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jun 18, 2018 7:54 am

RDF Training Academy Twenty-Six, The Southern Continent, Ares, Ares System...

"See, that would have been something useful to know..."

Unlike most buildings in the Republic, which featured either a glass-enclosed 'ponic greenhouse or a lush garden - both tended by drones, the roof of the multi-level academy featured a confused jumble of acronym systems. These were there both for the day-to-day operation of the building and connected to the various classrooms for the use of the cadets and instructors; Starship systems tethered to the unyielding bonds of earth. Having stumbled across this fact, Kami had also decided that it would make for the perfect semi-private study area, or at least one with a northern view.

Since she was not a cadet and thus not - technically speaking - subject to the Code of Study, she'd had no problem applying ill-gotten knowledge to one of the rooftop doors, bypassing both the alarm and the lock to allow her and a rolled-up hammock out onto the chipped-white gravel. A sturdy-looking something made for a solid post on one end and she'd been arranging a hook on the outer wall for the other end when she'd looked over the edge to the terrace below. There, out of the view of all but the most keen-eyed students (or those who came in every morning on a transit shuttle), stood a familiar figure with his back to her as he looked out over the central quad.

Reasonably there would have been a door either in the back of his office or nearby and this allowed the Commandant access to the rooftop for his own peace and quiet. What was more interesting to the Captain was the ashtray next to him full of the stubbed-out butts and detritus common to the cancer-stick user.

Smokers were rare in the Republic. The habit had been strictly off-limits during the colonization years on Mars and even as habitation had developed towards its modern orientation the corporations that had built and ran the arcologies charged smokers a premium due to their extra load on the air purifiers, not to mention cleaning up their mess. Even as terraforming had crept over the various worlds of the Republic and wide open spaces had become more common the habit had stayed to a minimum and was more often considered an occasional recreational activity, even by those that did.

An over-flowing ash tray and a more-than-scattering of cigarette butts around the cornice were more than an occasional indulgence. It was the sign of a man who soothed his nerves with nicotine; Nerves that, until that moment, Kami had assumed he didn't have.

It was something to file away, though whether it was something to use - that she was not sure of. Finishing her contrivance, she tested the fabric with her body weight and swung back and forth before regaining her feet. With study materials and a refreshing beverage arranged within arm's length, she swept off her uniform blouse and trousers to reveal a high-cut bikini of only narrow coverage. With a pair of sunglasses to keep the mid-afternoon sun tolerable, she fairly collapsed into the hammock and within minutes was gently swinging back and forth, propelled by a toe propped against some piece of unimportant-looking equipment that was sure to affect some important simulation.

Everyone had their own method of handling stress, after all...
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Might as well open my own...

Postby Sunset » Mon Jul 02, 2018 1:09 pm

Special Projects Covert Research Facility 74-A (Sigma), Denali, The Yukon System...

Doctor Fredrick Kraus slowly paced his way around the three recent additions to the laboratory, looking each of them up and down and then past them to where a host of instruments were arrayed around, all pointing inward at the three purple capsules. Recovered by RDF-Tontongo and carefully ferried to Denali before being ensconced in the high-security wing, he already knew a host of information about them; Everything, it seemed, but the most important questions of what was inside and where were they from? And not where were they from as in the people inside - intelligence reports coming in from across the galaxy indicated there were almost certainly people inside - but who exactly was seeding these things and what was their purpose in doing so?

"So," he put on a pair of safety glasses and hearing protection before picking up a bone saw with a particularly vicious-looking blade, "Let's find out, shall we?"

A high-pitched screech filled the room as he thumbed it on and with one hand barely holding the saw against the torque of the spinning disc he ran down the checklist one more time, "Sensors... Check. Cameras... Check. Security..."

He looked over his shoulder to where a pair of Marine Ghostdragon's were positioned to either side of the enormous doors that led into a hardened airlock, their drone rifles and defensive spheres already spread out and ready to intercept or destroy anything hostile that might show itself. Inside the airlock a squad of REDSHIRTs in body armor waited while across the room and behind a bank of cameras and safely in his distant office Site Director Kuzniak watched and waited, a bag of popcorn in his lap.

"...also check."

He'd also tucked a heavy Treznor-made stun pistol into the small of his back. Based on a technicality he wasn't strictly concerned for his own safety but it couldn't hurt to keep something at hand, "Which means we are ready to go!"

Again with his thumb he flipped the speed setting on the saw to its highest mark and the room filled with the worse fingernails-on-chalkboard sound one could possibly imagine. There was one more item on the list and he read this aloud as he inched the blade closer to the translucent purple shell, "Open the capsules... Touch them?! What do you mean, touch them," he asked aloud, his voice just barely understandable above the din.

"I mean 'Touch them, you bile-some idiot," Kuzniak's voice came through from a speaker in the corner, next to a virtual window that showed the man sitting there, calmly plucking popcorn out of the bag one piece at a time and thoroughly chewing it instead of eating whole handfuls like a normal person. "Didn't you read the 'New Monterrey' incident report? Or 2nd Lt. Falk's debriefing? All you have to do is touch them!"

"Well," Kraus tossed the saw over his shoulder, the still-spinning blade catching on the raised deck plating that made up the bulk of the elevated platform the capsules sat on and chewing a meter-long hole in the composite before catching fast and exploding, sending chunks of shrapnel here and there, "That's no fun. Are you going to tell me which one to touch first?"

"No." Crunch, chew chew chew...

"Fine," he held up a finger, "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go, Eeny, meeny, miny, moe - My mother told me to pick the very best one, and you are not it!"

His finger pointed to the one in the middle but the speaker in the corner once again barked, "Not that one, you malformed testicle!"

"Geeze, fuckin' make up your mind;" But Kraus didn't give him a chance, instead taking the half-step forward to put his bare finger against the one he'd already chosen. "Here we go!"

At least the process was interesting. Because he hadn't been told otherwise, he left his finger in place on the comfortably neutral surface and watched as a shadowy hand with two pointed fingers and two pointed thumbs spread out from where he'd placed it. Then a neon orange line appeared inside the thickness of the semi-opaque shell, racing around to form an outline of the hand. The shadow disappeared and the outline began to fill, bottom to top, with yellow-orange light until it had reached the tips of each finger.

"Well that's cool," he said, just as the swirling purple fluid that filled the capsule's interior was sucked away into a million not-quite-unseen structures in the shell. He'd already established it was some kind of organic cellular structure, but the exact purpose of some of the sub-structures hadn't been clear until that moment. This left the interior filled with a black shadow similar to the vanished four-digit hand.

From the tip of each finger and thumb another line of orange-yellow darted out in four different directions, leaving nothing behind but a streak on his vision as they reached the four corners of a rectangle and began to race towards each other, this time leaving behind a solid line of glowing nothing until they formed a near-rectangle along the long axis of the capsule, a hard-angle bulge in the middle allowing for more clearance for the occupant to exit. On the outside of the shell above the lines the translucent capsule began to melt away, flowing into itself until a distinct line had formed in the otherwise-smooth surface. Then, as fast as he could intentionally blink, the interior of this hatch melted away along with the glowing hand to leave his finger suspended in mid-air just shy of the shadow that filled the interior.

A moment later this too vanished and he found himself looking down at the occupant. There was a brief glimpse of feathers and beak before whoever it was was unceremoniously ejected from the capsule to land at his feet while an enormous black shadowy hand - again, two pointed fingers and two pointed thumbs - grabbed him up and pulled him into the capsule. Squirming against the crushing strength of the indistinct form, he could already see the process reversing itself, the hatch closing up and the face of Site Director Kuzniak grinning maniacally in the window outside.

He'd even zoomed in, the bastard.

"...oh fudge-sickles."

And then the capsule was gone...
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jul 09, 2018 12:30 pm

The Exact Same Special Projects Research Tower, Landor City, Terra Incognito, Blah Blah Blah...

"You want to do what the what?"

The researcher didn't so much answer as mumble, his face pressed against the granite slab of the workbench, "We need to figure out a way to move an implanted ExoCortex into the Eien without going out and collecting them. Apparently the Ozlukar are... 'abusing' our assistance in order to expand their war-fighting capabilities and this has the higher-ups in a tizzy..."

"A 'tizzy'," Doctor Brilla repeated back to him, her attempt to make the word somehow small lost in the attempt. "What's a 'tizzy'?"

After a moment he looked up, a sigh painted across the bottom of his face, "Polite word for 'howling panic'. This is bad, Saryan. We're already treading a very fine line here - the Ozlukar are slavers, and we're this close to enabling slavery by providing them with the means to expand their operations. They're talking about pulling the plug on the whole program, calling a summit to discuss the 'Ozlukar Problem'... Nothing's been done yet, but they're looking for options."

"Ho'kay," the blonde dropped her shoulder against a wall then folded her arms, "First, you're going to need to explain what an Ozlukar is. Then you're going to have to tell me what we're doing right now that's... Whatever. Explain!"

Wrenching himself free of the surface, the research technician pulled himself up into something faintly resembling a man-like form and began to explain - with only a small amount of incoherent mumbling - how the Republic was currently providing so-called 'Obedience Collars' to the Ozlukar under the guise of providing medical assistance and how these collars were actually freeing the individual from their chains right up until the point where the Ozlukar were attaching bombs to them.

"...so, the higher-ups want us - me - to try to figure out a way to get those people out of there. We've already got a next-generation work-up for the implant we're currently providing but they want to see if there's a way to use the existing systems to somehow move the ExoCortex into the Eien. Since that's your voodoo," he wiggled his fingers, "I called you."

"That's some serious voodoo."

For a good long minute she stared at him or perhaps through him, and while it was clear the gears were turning at the end it seemed they were clogged with sand, "...nope. Can't think of a way. Details - I need some details. Let's see this implant."

A press of a button and a hologram appeared, exploding into several parts and then slowly coming back together again before repeating the cycle. Each part was labeled, but he went over them again, "So, there's an ExoCortex. The whole unit is implanted and the individual's consciousness is migrated over. In a normal circumstance this would be connected to the brain, but instead we have a junction - here - that kicks in once the migration is complete. The ExoCortex is re-routed to a Plexus node while a non-sentient 'control' module takes over the body. The individual can switch this on and off, but let's face it - who wants to be a slave?"

"Right, so..."

"There's also a medical implant that keeps the body healthy. Basic stuff."

"So how does the new unit work?"

Again, a hologram with the labeled parts though he pointed to only one in particular, "This is an Eien Shell. Well, not 'the' Eien, but that's what we call it. Basically, once the individual has migrated over to the ExoCortex, the Eien Shell - which surrounds the ExoCortex - activates and moves the ExoCortex into an HBM. It's basically an inactive HBI. Then its collected, moved to a sub-HBM, and there you go. One freed slave."

"All very neat and tidy," she admitted. "Okay, so... Then our line of attack is the Plexus node. That's an HBI, but... Two problems. We already know that it's possible to re-program an HBI. To change the boundary conditions. Katryna did it with the Dulyani artifact to improve the seal. Tied it all up in knots. The problem is that there's no shell here - so we'd have to change the... Ugh. Did I mention I'm not an engineer?"

"I am. So, you tell me your thoughts and I'll see if I can... Come up with something. We're gonna get really collaborative," he sighed, pulling out a virtual scratch board.

"So, what we'd have to do is alter the boundaries of the Plexus HBM to allow it to manipulate itself. There's examples of that - I mentioned the Dulyani artifact? Well, apparently the boundary interface was rigged so that it would recognize and absorb Dulyani blood as a way to create itself. We'd do something of the same, with the Plexus node absorbing nearby material to create an Eien Shell around the ExoCortex and then move that... The problem is that we'd be screwing with the Plexus HBM."

"...and that would be bad. The security implications..."

"The security implications?"

"Sure," he explained. "See, we're selling the Plexus network as a secure, high-speed information network to anyone who can pick one up at a Kwik-E-Mart. If we alter these Plexus nodes - for a good cause - it will be clear that we can then alter all Plexus nodes everywhere. No one will buy the things and their intelligence value will be ruined."

"Intelligence value? You said they were secure..."

"They are. Completely encrypted. All the data going from one end to the other is completely opaque to us. We know its there, since we're moving it from one node to the other, but we don't know what's in it. But..."

But there was a 'but' and she gave him the stink eye, "'But' what?"

"But TRIPWIRE and the new sensor platform on the Nebulous-Class can pick them up. TRIPWIRE if we've got a few nodes in the array really close, and the HDMA if a Pathfinder is within a couple hundred thousand kilometers. So it's secure, but we can track them and that can give us a lot of useful information."

"Okay, so we change it and we change it back, only affecting the Ozlukar slaves... How? How would the Plexus Node know who to move and who not to move? Can we restrict it to a certain spacial area?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"I'm asking out loud. Maybe..." With a finger, she began writing on the air, her digit leaving a glowing string of characters behind as she did. Equations and notes and all of it essentially gibberish to the researcher. "Maybe some kind of trigger signal? Now we're programming an HBI to respond to an outside stimulus... Next thing you know, we're going to..."

Saryan paused. Not just paused, but positively froze with her finger right in the middle of a letter and her stance shifted just so as she reached to finish the end of an unfinished word. Her head turned as she looked around the room, trying to find something - or someone - that wasn't there. Or maybe wasn't there.

"Does it feel a bit... Cold in here?"

"Cold?" The researcher looked at his arm, as though expecting the hairs to be puckered and standing stiff, "No... Why? What were you saying there about 'next thing you know...'?"

"I was going to say; 'Next thing you know, we're going to be creating a sentient HBI.' Then it felt cold in here. Like someone was breathing on my shoulder," her eyes narrowed, "And I'm certain I've felt that sensation before. Any moment now..."

But whatever she was anticipating, it didn't seem to come to pass and only left the researcher staring at her as though she'd grown a second head; "So... Anyway..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jul 12, 2018 7:56 am

Special Projects Covert Research Facility 74-A (Sigma), Denali, The Yukon System...

Site Director Kuzniak paced along the line of containment units - three in all - stopping at each to consider the creature inside. Built on the same raised platform above the smooth concrete floor where the purple capsules had been situated, each unit was identical and consisted of four thick transparent panels - two of which were prodigiously perforated with two centimeter holes - and a metal housing on the top and bottom. The upper housing was then connected to an articulated manipulator that would allow the individual unit to be picked up, turned this way or that, and - if necessary - plugged into a socket on the back wall for dramatic incineration of the contents.

"So..." He stopped at the first and looked over the contents, his hands stuffed into his lab coat pockets and his tone neutrally sarcastic, "First we have a flying towel. Interesting, but not very."

It wasn't a flying towel, and to any other observer of alien life it would have been interesting. What Doctor Kraus had momentarily thought to be feathers and a beak before he was so fortunately whisked away was in fact a triangular-shaped flying creature with a single claw at each corner that it used to latch onto whatever surface it landed on before again flinging itself into the wind. Its body was thin, nearly a bat-wing-like membrane, and with a three-pointed thickness of muscle and tissues down the middle of each branch where the organs and other grisly bits were located. Six proto-eyes were spread out along the forward edge and he could swear - but not care - that these were tracking him as he moved on to the next unit.

"While you, Mister Whatever-You-Are, are concerning."

When it had first rolled out of the capsule it had been a fat little lizard-like baby, all purple-scaled skin and huge eyes with just a hint of the crystals that would sprout out of its shoulders and spine as it grew from a knee-high ball of coo-cooing fun to a gangling teen-aged lizard-man over the next few hours. It was still growing too; By the Site Director's eye, it would fill out the unit entirely in the next two hours and then possibly squish through the walls, turning it into some kind of disgusting spaghetti. Through eyes that now glinted in their depths with the same electric-white crystals that adorned its body, it too watched him as he moved on.

"...which would be gross. But you," he moved on to the last unit, "Are a disgusting blood-filled pustule that should be drained, sterilized, and cauterized. Indeed, you are the ugliest thing I have seen on the face of this or any other planet. I cannot imagine what womb gave birth to you and can only hope that it died in screaming agony rather than suffer existing as your mother."

"Hey! We look almost exactly alike!"

"Yes, I know," Kuzniak wiped away a tear. "My poor hideous mother. But what to do with you?"

"You could let me out," Fredrick said, gripping the perforated side of the cage with his fingers. "There's nothing wrong with me - you said so yourself! And I've been there for twenty years," he finished, his eyes growing wide and crazed.

"Ho ho ho - let you out? Did I mention I lied?" The Site Director laughed again. "No no no - I can't let you out. Aside from the aforementioned physical defects, as well as your terrible work ethic and questionable morals, there is something wrong with you."

"Twenty years," Kraus repeated. "What could possibly be wrong with me that I can't get out to see my wife and son?!?"

"Well, first of all, you're a dribbling idiot. You could have disconnected from your body at any point - and don't think I don't know it. Second, you have a parasite!"

"A parasite? And don't think I didn't try..."

"Yes, which brings up a whole other can of worms. Speaking of worms," he pulled a wand out of his pocket and expanded it to a long pointer before tapping on the air and creating a large and disturbingly realistic hologram of the Doctor's insides. "Right here - jammed up your ass, as it were."

In fact - and for those with queasy stomachs the following sentence may be disturbing - whatever it was filled the entirety of the Doctor's colon from end to end with a sickly orange-brown mass of wrinkled awfulness.

"...explains why my morning constitutionals have been less... Actually, I haven't had one for fifteen years. Aren't you going to ask where I was for the last twenty years?!"

"Ho ho - First you'll have to explain why I should care. And you haven't been gone for twenty years - it's been fifteen minutes. We had these," Kuzniak reached out and patted the closest containment unit, "In storage. Since the tenure of Director Tibitoski. Apparently he had them prepared for the day when you went - and I quote," he held up his fingers to give additional unneeded emphasis, "Batshit insane. Good thing too, because only a crazy person would claim to have been gone for twenty years when they were only gone for two hours. Yet somehow they managed to pick up a... Perhaps I'd better not ask about your bedroom life."

"But I have proof," Kraus objected, rummaging around in the tattered remains of his lab coat before pulling out what looked like a well-gnawed twig. "See?! I carved notches in this, one for each day I spent in that hellish place! And I called! I sent emails! Text messages! Video chats! I used emojis... Twenty... Years!"

"It looks like one of those sticks you'd put in your hamster cage so their teeth don't grow through their jaw. Not that I ever did."

"Yeah, well, it was a log, okay? Twenty years..."

"I'm not going to say I believe you, but I did get a lot of messages today. But I blocked them all - not one of the most pleasant people to deal with. Still, in the interest of science, tell me about this nightmare world you described to me in intense, near-religious detail in a series of increasingly disturbed and rant-filled communications I may or may not have skimmed while grabbing some coffee and how this led you to an intimate relationship with what appears to be some sort of intelligent suppository..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jul 13, 2018 3:33 pm

Remote Call, Special Projects Blacksite 'VonCarlos Ganglia' to Director Silaco via relay through SDF-Unconquered Sun...

'Normally I'd ask if it's important, but I'm waiting on two young parents and if anyone is going to be delayed - it's them. What's up, Tibowski?'

'Well, I..." For a moment Site Director Tibowski paused, parsing her words until the meaning and the opportunity became clear, "I wouldn't have normally called, but we found something very interesting and I thought you might want to know immediately. It could be important - could even be urgent, depending on..."

'Depending on what?'

Quite a while ago he'd been retired, though that wasn't the proper word for it. After his stint dealing with the malignant Dr. Fredrick Kraus and his obnoxious idiosyncrasies, Adam had first started with a long vacation - touring, as it happened, many of the same locations as Kraus had during his honeymoon but with an eye towards the cultural rather than the absurd - and then a new posting at Blacksite 'VonCarlos Ganglia'. VCG, as it was called internally, had been established as an ultra-secure facility for the investigation into the Krȃng and their associated technologies. To suggest that the work was exacting was to do it an injustice; 'VonCarlos Ganglia' was one of only a handful of sites with an active NEMESIS strategic strike targeted on the facility.

It had already been executed three times.

'Depending on how thoroughly we've been able to purge the Krȃng genetic infiltration attempt sixteen months ago. The genetic unit found something in the Krȃng sequence...'

One of the goals of VCG was the complete untangling of the Krȃng genome. This was both a delicate and intricate task; The amorphous species had added additional pairs to their sequence until they resembled a thick woven braid, and some of these pairs appeared to interact with the other pairs as a sort of 'genetic archiver' that allowed one pair to hold significantly more information than it had base pairs. As had become apparent during accumulated incidents, many of these pairs had nothing to do with Krȃng biology and instead contained the instructions for birthing other species and even machinery, making the monstrous intruders especially hard to root out.

'...which could prove problematic, depending on how long the infestation remains in the wild.'

Which was in turn concerning for its own reason; The remnants of the i'Halalaentariel that remained after their ascension had declared their intention to purge any such infestations they located - regardless of collateral damage. But that was the concern of Blacksite 'Off-Key Drum Solo' - this was Site Director Tibowski's dime.

'What is it, Adam?'

'It's a ship - a big one. We're still fully untangling the imprint;" Krȃng technology was a mix of the mechanical and the biological, with the latter being their preferred method of construction. Thus the plans for a particular ship could be contained in a single cell and loaded into one of their world-devouring Synthesizers (That term being borrowed from the Blishi'i) for mass replication; "But it follows something of the same design as the earlier artifacts we've found.'

'How big?' He supplied a number that evoked a virtual whistle, 'And we've never found any of these? If I had to guess, these were the ships that would have made up the Krȃng invasion fleet - they were probably hunted to extinction by the i'Halalaentariel.'

'Likely enough. Based on what we've got so far, the i'Halalaentariel WarSpheres seem the perfect counter; These are attack ships fitted with a low number of high-output laser weapons and a few smaller point-defense and short-range engagement mounts. Fast too - we're estimating they're something like one-third sub-light drive. We're still working on the interesting pieces, but we're also going slow and careful. I'll send over a report when we've got a full picture...'
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jul 14, 2018 5:30 pm

Interior of the Leviathan, Interstellar Space, Southwestern Delta Quadrant...

"They're in there, Commander," Deania announced, falling back on the familiar military rank despite the subject's officially retired status. "I've got a half-dozen of them on the scanner but they are staying as far back as they can."

"They know we're here then;" But that had to be obvious. They'd passed through the rotating airlock a few minutes before but instead of thinning out the vegetation had stayed thick, though it had changed in character from the thick vines amd foliage of a humid swamp to the thinner dry trucks and branches of the savanna. Thin grass grew near their heads in dense stands and meandering paths between these and under the trees were sure signs of the heavy-footed herbivores.

"Say - these trees look really dry." Reaching up, the Seeker twisted a gloved hand around one of the crooked branches to rub the bark off in easy flakes, "Think they have problems with wildfire?"

"Maybe. There's bulkheads and the airlocks though. Gotta be a fire suppression system... Can't blame them for being nervous - they probably think we're the Grosh Ner Grat, here to finish the job..."

Behind them Kedo Maric and his wife had been mostly silent but now he piped up, "If we're going to make contact we're going to have to adopt some of their methods and do some hunting - or at least stalking."

Timmons stopped and looked back at the Neko, acknowledging the point with eye contact and a nod. Kedo was a trapper, after all, and successfully stalking game his livelihood, "What are you thinking?"

"Split up. Two of us stay quiet near a narrow point - say that bulkhead door behind us - and the rest of us circle to one side, spread out, and sweep across. Either we can trap them in the lock or encircle them. I'd suggest Deania do the waiting - the rest of us have hunting experience. All you'd have to do," he turned to the Seeker and mimicked his example, "Is hunker down and stay very quiet and keep your scanner out. Ideally they'll pass you by and we'll trap them in the lock."

Both the Duab'Akii and the big explorer nodded agreement, though it was Timmons who answered, "Sounds good. I don't like it, but we've got to make contact somehow. I suppose we could leave them here, but sooner or later someone else is going to come across this ship and they might not be as nice as we are. But I want to specifically caution everyone," he looked from face to face, "Don't touch them if you can at all avoid it. No flying tackles. We want to corner them and get them talking, right?"

Everyone nodded their agreement and the team broke up, one heading towards the proposed choke point while the rest headed up the side, dropping one and then another of their number behind until they reached the far wall. Near the door Deania huddled, one eye on the scanner and the other on the trees and grass surrounding her...
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Postby Sunset » Sun Jul 15, 2018 11:47 pm

RDF Training Academy Twenty-Six, The Southern Continent, Ares, Ares System...

"Back in my day..."

"...four years ago..."

Kami ignored her partner's interruption to continue again, "Back in my day we had to run ten klicks - what is this?! That guy's walking!"

"Back in your day cadets didn't come in with custom bodies capable of running twice as fast and ten times as hard for ten hours straight. We've had to make some changes in the obstacle course," Commander Sheldon noted, every point of his rail-thin posture making it clear he didn't like the idea. Along with the two officers, he stood above a virtual window that looked 'down' from above on the spread-out obstacle course 'below', "And that wasn't even true in your case, was it? How much did your mother's purse put into your application?"

"Ouch;" Though the point had been properly scored. There hadn't been any rules about 'wearing' various formed of cybernetic appliances when Cadet Blaine had made her own particularly splashy application to the Academy - this Academy, as it happened - and she'd dipped into her family's considerable finances to make her dream a reality. But the body she'd applied with was the body she'd walked through the doors with. Now it was near-impossible to find a cadet whose chosen extension wasn't a perfect example of their preferred form. Muscular bodies and super-model faces were everywhere and even the Tlokselo she'd passed earlier looked somehow cute and adorable for a fleshy brown tube the length of her leg.

In fact, among the entire campus population the three observers were the most ordinary with Commander Sheldon wearing the same body he'd been born with and the two officers having little more than the occasional nip, tuck, or fluff. Nothing you'd notice unless you happened to spend a good deal of time naked with someone.

"...so we've had to make some changes," Sheldon repeated, returning to the point. "The course isn't about physical ability now - its about mental preparation and dedication."

"And picking locks."

"Yes - and picking locks," he agreed, turning to look down through the grating to where the current competitor was kneeling at a locked door, a thin metal shiv slipped into the knob. "Though they don't have to pick the lock. This challenge is a pretty good indication of where a cadet is heading. Engineers take the door apart, Marines punch through the walls, and Command officers wait for someone else to come along and open the door," he finished, a pointed smirk on his razor-thin lips.

"The course changes every week with the second year cadets devising new challenges and twists and the first years complaining about them. Second years focus on group and individual scenarios."

"Suggested by the first years?"

He shook his head and added a small sigh, "As much as I love the idea of each class tormenting the other, we pull the scenarios from field reports and logs. We're getting them ready for ship-board duty or deciding if they're not quite there. You're no longer an anomaly, Captain Blaine. Most of these cadets will go straight to bridge duty. They need to be ready for anything, not just following orders until they get a chance to give them..."
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Jul 16, 2018 3:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Sunset » Tue Jul 17, 2018 3:29 pm

Special Projects Covert Research Facility 74-A (Sigma), Denali, The Yukon System...

Fredrick held up the bewildered-looking wooden stick, "So the first thing I did when I found myself on the inside was carve myself a shiv!"

"...a shiv. Not two minutes ago you told me that was some kind of primitive time-keeping device. Since you are wearing a watch, I'm going to..."

"Tututut," Kraus held up a finger, nearly putting it on Kuzniak's disbelieving lips as if to silence him. "Its the journey - not the destination. Let me tell the story."

A knock on the window next to the chamber's heavy-duty airlock interrupted the Site Director before he could put words to his disdain. Standing just outside was Fredrick's wife Meri and the blue-skinned Kaissi had a transparent plastic hanger bag in hand that she held up as her reason before operating the controls; "Wait, you can't..."

The Site Director was in no place to do anything about it and before he had a chance to issue orders or blasphemies to the contrary the inner door was opening as the airlock finished its cycle.

"Ah, right on time! Thank you, my love," Kraus said from behind him as Meri bounced up the steps to the platform, her jiggling cobalt hourglass providing yet another unwanted distraction.

Without even a question she stepped up to the pedestal that house the controls to the containment units and toggled his to the open position, amber warning lights flashing as the unit separated from its base to rise above the scientist like some magicians fantastic prop. A few steps and she was at his side, handing over the bag in exchange for a kiss on the cheek.

"Here you are, Freddie - fresh trousers, shirt, and lab coat. Sorry I'm late. Little Fredrick was making a fuss."

"Late?" Kuzniak looked at his own watch, mental calculations spinning as he estimated the time it would have taken her to assemble the garments, take care of the youngster, and then make her way through a kilometre of hallways, security challenges, and corridors. "You've only been here..."

"Oh, about ten years ago. And you're interrupting my story," Kraus chided, tearing off his battle-scarred tie and tossing it aside to follow that with jacket and pants. "As I was saying, the first thing I did when I arrived was carve myself a shiv."

"Arrived where?!" The Site Director had now completely lost the battle to control the conversation and his frustration was wrapped tightly around his throat.

"At the Giana IV Research-Prison Complex, of course. Haven't you been paying attention?" Kraus was down to his skivvies now and these too were discarded, shoot as if a rubber band over the railing while the Site Director turned and coughed into his fist; "I didn't want to see that..."

From the back pocket of her deliciously tight jeans Meri had retrieved a fresh pair of silken boxers and he pulled the purple heart-covered shorts up over his pasty white backside, "See what? Anyway, yes - that's where the pod went next. Apparently that's a thing. They go one place, deposit whoever was inside, pick up someone else, and move on. At least, that's where I found myself waking up but its probable that the Venavlians found the capsule somewhere else and took it to Giana IV. Which is italicized because it's a ship or a station and thus should either be surrounded by single quotation marks or italicized if possible."

"It didn't take me very long to find out the nature of the Giana IV - there was a sign, actually - which is that the station was specifically built by the Venavlians to contain and research these pods and their contents. The whole thing is carefully positioned just inside the event horizon of a black hole so that if they have to..."

Kraus made a swirling motion with his finger before being interrupted again; "Who are the Venavlians?!?"

"Ah, well, again - there was a sign. More of a virtual reader board, but you asked so here we go... A race of parasitic worms with strong bones who are governed by a hive mind. They breathe methane and have some of the finest soldiers in the galaxy. Their home-world was rendered uninhabitable centuries ago. Their government routinely assassinates individuals that are thought to be dangerous to the safety, productivity or happiness of others. It is seen as their responsibility to do so. They naturally produce a chemical that can be used to increase the life-span of other races. Because of this, other races have repeatedly attempted to invade their world. Some of these attempts have been successful; the Dabvangans enslaved their race for over two hundred years before being overthrown. A state lottery reduces population growth by killing those who win. All adult members of the species are automatically entered."

"Oh, and you've met one."

"I've met one? You mean..."

"That's right," Kraus turned and wiggled his hinny at his superior, Meri offering a giggle that she hid behind her fingers. "Meet Adaylith Five-Five-Nine. The 'Five-Five-Nine' is italicized because in Venavlian culture it is important to know how many previous generations preceded an individual's birth. That's important because of the whole 'death lottery' thing - which is why Adaylith is here. He's applying for refugee status," the scientist finished, a finger raised as though this was an especially important point in the immigration-friendly Republic.

"Aww, did you win," Meri asked, bending over to ask the question directly to her husband's butt. "Were they going to kill you?"

"Unfortunately in order to exfiltrate himself, my friend was forced to discard the cybernetic carapace that allows him to speak. My colon provides a safe refuge for him for the time being, though I will require burrito night to be bumped up so that he can continue to breath."

Meri pinched her nose, "I hate burrito night..."

"So these Venavlians - they were studying these capsules aboard this station?"

"Yes! That's right. Interesting tidbit there; Due to their preferred living environment, the Venavlian Travesty exists cojacent to a number of other star-faring polities in the bright reaches of core-ward Gamma. Seems no one really objects to carrying them around, especially if they're a civilization that happens to love burrito night! Anyway, when these pods started popping up the Venavlians - who's economy mostly revolves around various data brokering services - decided that there was a lot to learn from them and set up Giana IV to do it. Well, first they launched Giana, but there's a reason I found myself on Giana IV."

All this time the researcher had been finishing his dressing process and, with his tie finally tied and adjusted by the slender hands of Meri, he suddenly found himself completely out of words. There was a long, uncomfortable pause while he stood with his hands in the pockets of his lab coat before something tickled at his fingers and he pulled out a wire-bound notepad, "Ah! Here we go. These should help... My notes," he demonstrated, flipping over the hard over to show a page filled with unintelligible scribbles. "Took them while I was on the inside."

"Prison's a hard place," he continued, moving from page to page before settling on one that might have made sense, "Yessir - real hard place. Hard to get even a pencil inside, so I split my time between solitary for shanking that guard and one of my spare bodies in the closet on Sub-Level Twenty Seven Bravo. And sex - lots of sex. Anyway, here's a drawing I made using a pencil I made from the leg of a vegetable woman. Traded that for some of my blood which she then traded to this hooded wizard-type. I probably don't want to know what they're using it for."

"So it looks like they'd collected a couple hundred of these pods, but based on all the rumors I heard or made up myself they didn't know any more than we do about them. Just that they appear, there's someone inside, and then if you happen to be too close to a pod that has or has not encountered your species before it will snatch you up before disappearing to drop you somewhere else. My personal theory is that this is some higher-level being playing galactic twister with us. Or would that be spin the bottle?"

"...which is a party game often used by teenagers in combination with alcohol in order to introduce them to awkward casual sex inside a small space typically used for storing extra garments. I was never invited, which explains why," he dug around in his back pocket and pulled out first a wallet and then a card that appeared to have nothing on it, "I have a long-standing membership in Epsilon Mu Eta. The running theory is that, when they pick up a new passenger, these capsules can move forward or backward in time and, depending on whether or not the opening species has or has not been 'acquired' at that point in time, grab them up and take them off to somewhere new."

"Hmm," Site Director Kuzniak stroked his beard, "Interesting - but to what end? Other than providing the basis for a series of far-fetched stories of first contact, why would entity go to the trouble? Especially you."

"My theory? The extra bit of my DNA that lead to the location of a hidden spaceship that may or may not be intended to serve as a method to evacuate the sentient species from the galaxy before," Kraus held up his fingers - and the notebook, "'Something' happens. Best guess. But we kinda talked all that out in the first couple hours, and then I got really bored. So I figured I'd do some inventing while I was trying to figure out how to escape."

This, of course, led to another long, uncomfortable pause with the Site Director opening his mouth and then closing it, first one question and then another plaguing his tongue as he tried to decide if Kraus was just a moron, a maniac genius, insane, or yanking his chain.

"Now, it's not really my field, but since I was trapped in an alien prison inside a black hole anyway, I thought I'd take a look at this Penrose Generator proposal. The problem," he flipped a page, showing a remarkably cogent sketch surrounded by precisely written equations and notations, "With the Penrose Generator is that the start-up cost is enormous. Even then, they aren't very efficient - and that's not including the cost of building them. And they have the problem that they're built around, you know, a black hole. With our current top-tier power generating tech, if the system goes offline or is damaged the solar wind will just push it away. Easy peasy..."

"So what I've created is something I like to call the Penrose Rifle. Instead of building a mirrored sphere around a black hole, we'll make a huge gun," and he added the requisite finger-gun-bang-bang gesture, "Except instead of shooting matter into the black hole - which we either have to make or harvest - we'll redirect a particle fountain and harvest the energy gained on the other side. I'll have to do some work on it, but I think I might just be on to something here..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jul 18, 2018 8:05 pm

StongBad (BadStong? Either way, stupid...) , Nowhere Near What Might Crudely Be Understood as 'Ozlukar Space', Somewhere Ill-Defined In The Milky Way Galazy...

Under a lurching tower of boxes, crates, and miscellaneous spare parts Meli staggered down what could be called a street, except it wasn't. Anywhere else the muddy plot might be called a rut or a string of irregular profanities but here it was the best way to get from here to there without going through the monolithic buildings that somehow lined the road despite having the appearance of having been set down essentially at random. Due to the immense weight of their occupants most were enormous stone slabs hacked from the earth and lined up in castle fashion. This set them looming overhead with some looking ready to topple at any moment.

It wasn't so much that the load was heavy but that it was awkward and the slave collar around her neck only make it worse. To imply that it was more rust than metal was a disservice and the Dwarf was absolutely sure she could snap the thing with one hand. But that would tempt her to scratch at her neck where the ragged choker scrapped against her neck and that might send the whole towering amalgamation toppling into the mud.

Not that the Ozlukar would notice.

Among the many problems of slavery as an economic system was one of perception. Meli was a slave and was, by her dress and manner, doing slave things. As long as she continued to do slave things she would be rightly left alone, beneath the notice of the noble Ozlukar warriors both physically and mentally. Of course she was not actually a slave, but the story of how she had come to be wading through the muddy streets of the colony was pertinent to the tale.

"...which means Ah don' want to go over it ahgain - fucking nosy intelligence types and their fuckin' fancy..."

"Whurg?"

"Nothin, master. You great ugly piece of shut."

Fortunately for the Ozlukar, the only word it understood was 'master' and that was enough for the great beast that blocked her path to step aside with a 'chuff' and let her through on her task of going wherever it was that her owner had sent her. Beyond lay her objective, a scattered landing field - one of four situated at each corner of the oddly-shaped colony - where the massive landers that relayed warriors and their slaves up to the ships in orbit sat idle. Here and there was an Ozlukar tending to the slaves that then tended to the craft, but at least for the moment the yard was mostly quiet. Soon night would fall and the slaves herded into their pens while their glutinous masters feasted.

"Which means Ah better get moving," she said, carefully turning her head to look at the fading sun and careful not to let her burdens fall. Or, perhaps, not as careful as she should have been. Atop the heap a container shifted and fell into the mud with a 'plop', sinking immediately up to its depth in the green-purple slop, "Oops. Well, no way Ah ken pick that up."

And there was no way that an Ozlukar would stoop to helping a slave either, so the container remained where it had fallen, the shadow of one of the titanic landers engulfing it. A meandering course led her from one to another and each in turn received one of her accidental presents until her burden was mysteriously lessened. That left her with a final box and with that atop her head she walked up to the Ozlukar that was guarding the gate.

"Candy gram for Mongo! Candy gram for Mongo!"

"Me Mongo..."

"Well shit - jus' your unlucky day, isn't it?" Pushing the package high, it still wasn't within easy range of the guard and he bent over to grab it out of her hands, "Thanks! Now, I'll just be off then."

Plugging her fingers in her ears, she turned and walked away as fast as her feet could carry her. The Ozlukar stared at her for a moment - even for a slave it was unusual behavior - but a succulent smell from the box attracted the attention of his nostrils and he returned to the unexpected gift. Fried ambal was a favorite treat of any Ozlukar and without question he yanked the container open.

The resulting explosion blew the top of his body into ragged chunks and Meli turned to watch as the signal jumped from package to container and around the circle of the colony, ravening spears of fire following behind as the warheads oriented on the nearest large mass of metal and detonated. One after another and as fast as the eye could track the transports were torn in half or in part, ragged holes from end to end or across the mid-section as she'd deposited her gifts.

"Perfect..," she looked up to the sky, where the orbiting warships were starting to manuver as if expecting an attack at any moment. Around her the city was quickly waking up, feasting interrupted as warriors poured back onto the streets with weapons in hand. A thick hand went to the collar and tore it away as easily as one might separate candy from a baby.

Throwing the disguise aside, she laced fingers through each other and raised her arms high, cracking her knuckles as she stretched first from side to side and then forward and back, nearly touching the mud behind her before straightening up with a smile, "Now - what is it they said? Somethin' lahk 'I'm not trapped in here with you - You're trapped in here with me..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jul 19, 2018 4:07 pm

RDF-Springbok, Intergalactic Space, Just outside the Milky Way Galaxy...

"Everyone ready?" Captain Brown looked around Springbok's bridge from station to station, particularly focused on the row of extra consoles and their attending engineers who had been ensconced along the back wall. Nods, 'Aye's, and 'Yessir's rang out from the various officers but he looked past them to individual displays where rows, columns, or circles of green lights seemed to indicate that everything was ready, "Alright - Comms, give us a countdown..."

Like chocolate and peanut butter, it had taken two good ideas to come together into a single fantastic flavor. Add a little salt and his pet project was off and running again!

The idea had come when he'd been browsing some of the various project files that had come across his virtual desk. These weren't 'must-read', of course, but from time to time he liked to catch up on what the rest of Republic science had been up to while he was noodling around with both his recent promotion and the various side projects that seemed to occupy too much of his time. Here the peanut butter had been in the form of an intermediate report from the CORE IV super-station's research annex. Heidi Ballenger's team was well on their way to making their goal of linking a WALNUT battery to this new Segmented Shield System - S3 - a reality but it was the S3 and that link that had intrigued him more than the firepower possibilities.

The (current) problem with the Quantum Frame-Shift drive was that the created spindle tended to wobble, and by tended to he meant 'knock chunks off of whatever starship it was mounted on'. That was in turn because the drive only created one reference point and how that reference point interacted with local space could be thrown off by... Well, a lot of things. Making the spindle bigger was a non-starter; The system was already finely balanced with regards to power generation needs. But incorporating the segmented design of the S3 into the Quantum Frame-Shift drive had given them the ability to even out the spindle.

Plus it looked cool.

"Five... Procyon shows ready... Four... Wright Brothers shows ready..."

He'd also expanded his little test fleet out past three. The Procyon was just coming off an emergency refit and it mounted just the kind of top-end sensor platforms they need to keep an expert eye on the test series. While the Springbok would attempt to parallel NX143 along its course, the larger Nebulous-Class would remain behind with the Recovery Cruiser to focus its new HMDA and VSSA systems at NX143 as it sped along.

Hopefully sped along...

"...Two..."

Brown spared a final glance to his own console, where he'd slaved the sensor sweeps from all four ships into a single simplified picture of the supposedly empty space that surrounded the four for thousands of light-years. Here, way-way-way-way beyond the galactic rim, there should be absolutely no sign of either inexplicable geometric shapes or obnoxious talking air and the scanners reflected this.

"...One..."

Out in the darkness the few scattered lights of the testbed platform were suddenly replaced with a single point of light that grew in an instant into the double-ended cone of the quantum spindle. Instead of the previous crackling red of its i'Halalaentariel-based predecessor it was now a mesh of hexagons interlaced with lightning that flowed through the gaps between segments.

"Very cool," Captain Brown breathed. "Engage..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jul 21, 2018 5:23 pm

A Random Planet, Somewhere inside Ozlukar Space, Gamma Quadrant, Milky Way Galaxy...

"...whut dat?"

"This?" The hulking reptilian woman patted the strange device that lay out on its support frame next to her, "This is opportunity. You see, the Ozlukar are sitting on a potential gold mine of trace elements and rare minerals. But these are all locked up outside of your reach. That is to say," she eyed the knuckle-dragging mammoth from the tip of his curled fingers to the crux of his shoulders and torso, "Beyond your current ability to extract them. Open pit mines and even shaft mining can only go so deep, and they are relatively unintelligent methods. These little guys..."

Little guys wasn't exactly correct, though they were little compared to both the Therian and the Ozlukar. Each rig - there were more waiting in closed containers stacked up around the landing site - was a quarter-meter tube another four meters in length and equipped with an intricate-looking tool head that consisted of several inter-meshing grinders and drills. This trailed back through a flexible-looking body to a tapering tail, rendering the whole thing into some kind of nightmare mechanical lamprey.

"...These can bore right down into the mantle and seek out the pockets of trace minerals and rare elements we're talking about. Then the on-board advanced resource extraction and refining unit," she pointed to a marked panel about half-way down the length, "Extracts the good stuff and leaves the junk behind. The extracted material is then processed into ingots and hauled back to the surface. The whole thing is completely automated - once we hit the 'go' button there's nothing else you or I need to do - just sit back and let the woolongs roll in."

She continued, "And they will roll in - these units will be targeting the minerals that make modern life possible, with high demand across the entire galaxy. So much so that the Republic will pay a premium if you'll let us deploy them. Woolongs in your pocket - that's what they are!"
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jul 21, 2018 7:57 pm

Tivrusky IV, Ozun System, Gamma Quadrant...

The outpost was, at its base, little more than the interstellar version of a backwoods shack. Certainly there were a trio of landing pads out front but these had been literally burned into the moon's regolith by repeated take-off and not-so-gentle landings. These had baked the ragged circles to a carbon black finish and with the decision made for them, the proprietors of 'Irregular Fiscal Endeavors' had laid out a perimeter of landing lights around each of the three, as well as another set to guide visitors towards the covered impact crater that seemed to make up the whole of the impromptu settlement.

It was an easy solution often adopted throughout the galaxy; A small'ish crater had been selected, the interior evened out into a flat-floored cylinder that had then been sealed against the vacuum beyond and this had then been capped with a transparent dome barely forty meters across. For the vast majority of the galaxy this would have been more than enough room for a hundred or more people, but the system's majority inhabitants made it feel small during their frequent visits. The most frequent visitors were the various Pursars and Coinmasters, there to trade for either the electronic currency favored by the rest of the galaxy or to redeem those aetheric sums they had captured to their own hard currency.

Outside of the ships and building there was nothing except hard vacuum and thus the trip involved considerable effort for those needing to make it. Hard suits would be necessary and for the monolithic Ozlukar this was no easy task but for the latest visitor it seemed only a trifling inconvenience. Stepping to the counter - and up the steps provided for the rare visitor of shorter species - the newcomer paused for only a second before their armored helmet uncurled from their face and head to conceal itself neatly among the intricate details of their vacuum suit.

This revealed a woman of exceeding beauty and grace, with careful pointed ears and piercing gray eyes and hair of shimmering wheat, "I am Falathiel nos Loslóriel and I am expected."

The robot behind the counter looked at her, its static face somehow quizzical despite its un-moving features and then it turned to walk to the side where a door built into an extended wall allowed access to the back rooms, "You are expected. This way."

A moment later the door was opened, the robot standing to one side while the Elf whisked through, a metal hand allowing it to drift shut of its own accord. But some stiff breeze seemed to keep it open for a moment more and then it swung shut, the robot checking the handle to verify that it was again locked. With this assured it showed her through room after room - more than the little counting house might appear to have from the outside - before they reached an elevator built into the solid rock of the crater wall.

Here there were waiting carts and trolleys filled with woolongs, the odd metallic currency of the Ozlukar. This glinted with a purple shine, its substance infused with the kumur that was a defining element of the giant humanoid's civilization. Right on cue the doors slid open and another robot exited, an empty trolley ahead of it; "This way..."

It was not a long trip but it was a secure one, the car moving not only down but to the left and to the right, forward and back, until it arrived at its destination. Past a fortified emplacement, this was revealed to be a large open vault similarly filled to near-capacity with the local coinage though efforts were clearly already underway to expand with a second elevator at the back under the early stages of construction. Just in front of it was a desk and at that desk a man sat, surrounded on all sides by stacks of the more familiar - and broadly useful - credit chips, sticks, and slips that dominated galactic commerce.

Only when she stood across from him did he finally move, though there was a strange suddenness to his motion - as though a moment before he had been in another place entirely.

Perhaps he had.

"Ah - Mistress Loslóriel. Stanley Doorknob," he pronounced, pushing to his feet and extending a hand across the desk. "Feanor Holdings?"

Her answer was a perfect nod, "Yes," and he shook her hand, perhaps a little too enthusiastically; "Good, good - excellent. No room for a lot of confusion there, is there? Not a lot of Elves make it out to this uncomfortable corner of the galaxy, do they? Well, I imagine you'll be wanting to see what we're doing. Valuable contributions you've made - Feanor Holdings, that is - and I'm sure you want to make sure your money is being well spent! Close the doors, will you gentlemen?"

His question seem directed at nothing but air and the air did not respond, but behind them the great vault door began to swing shut and then close itself off, elaborate and likely unnecessary mechanisms dropping into place with a thud of finality. Taking a coin from his pocket - a Roanian one ces, to be precise - he stepped up to a wall covered in numbered deposit boxes and stood particularly still before giving it a flip, "Heads."

The wall flowed away like water to reveal another elevator open and waiting...
Last edited by Sunset on Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jul 23, 2018 3:05 pm

Sunny Meadows Condominiums, Bakhuysen Arcology, Mars...

Stanley Miyeko stood in the mirror adjusting his tie. It wasn't a particularly nice tie - gray silk and definitely on the matte side - but it was important to get things just right. Behind the Ju-Docri his suitcase lay open on the bed, also filled with clothing that wasn't particularly nice. Mostly flat blue trousers and slightly-less-gray shirts, there was also another trio of ties in various other bland shades, some gray socks, and a second pair of shoes in just-barely black. Toiletries, a best-selling mystery from three years ago, and absolutely no hidden compartments, firearms, or other irregularities. A pair of jackets hung across the back of a chair and he picked up both, sized them up, and picked one of the two at random; There was no difference between them.

If Big Blue had still been a thing, he would have been the top performer in his division.

Another adjustment and he again checked himself in the mirror, buttoning the jacket, unbuttoning, and then buttoning again before determining that his fly was indeed down. Only average - perfect.

A watch - cheap, imported - joined the ensemble and he gave his suitcase the once-over before flipping the soft lid over and zipping it shut. A handle slid out of the back and he clipped the other jacket into its bag before attaching this to the handle and rolling both to the front door. Quickly checking the peep screen next to the door, he turned to take a final look around. Clean, tidy, but there was a coffee cup on the end table that would probably leave a stain if it wasn't put away.

He left it. Average - perfectly.

With no one to say 'goodbye' to or share a last-moment peck on the cheek, he grabbed his luggage with one hand and put the other in his trouser pocket and with all the casual deliberation of a middle-manager off on a long-planned business trip stepped up to the door, which whisked open to deposit him in the clean, quiet, and carefully decorated hallway that linked all of the various apartments and condominiums in the Sunny Meadows complex to the outside-inside world. Normally quiet.

Across the way the opposite door had opened and a woman - he didn't know her name - had stepped out as well. Blue jacket, gray blouse, skirt just below the knee, and trailing roll-away luggage behind her.

"Good morning; Good morning."

Polite but not interested and he turned to walk just ahead of her towards the corner, just in time for another door to open ahead of the pair and another traveler, this time a blue Oeie in an equally blue jacket and trousers combination. With her back to him, there was no reason to exchange greetings and the three walked on, one turning to the left, the other to the right, and he walking straight ahead to the monorail that ran along the edge of the terraced interior of the arcology. The spaceport was an uneventful ride away and shortly he disappeared from the crowds and into the maze-like interior of the orbiting station...

----

...only to reappear from quarters assigned to him aboard RDF-Westerlund as the alert was given that they'd be arriving at their destination shortly. Tracing his way through the halls, he found himself at one of the ship's small shuttle bays and right behind two others who were also waiting, all three in the same blue jacket and gray shirt. For just a half-second they exchanged glances between them but then all three returned to their previous carefully neutral expressions.

Average.
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