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

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How to do it right...

Postby Sunset » Sat Dec 28, 2013 8:56 am

SDF-Chaleli, Hachiman-Class Recovery Cruiser...

With a single powerful stride, the UHCV sprang forward to push itself off the edge and out of the airlock. In the distance, the tiny shape of what was presumed to be an errant escape pod could barely be seen but the humanoid robot headed unerringly towards it, pushed along by the gravity spike that now propelled it through space. As it closed on the object it slowed, coming closer only slowly until it was barely at a crawl for the last few meters.

Once it was within arm's reach, it took the plunger-shaped device that it had been holding and placed it on the side of the object. A reel of cable attached the device to the UHCV, and the device itself bonded to the item using a WEMF (Weak ElectroMagnetic Field) generator that allowed it to stick to nearly anything. Once attached, a vacuum formed in the bell of the device. A unit on the outside of the bell began to vibrate and, by using the vibrations, the interior space of the pod was determined.

Inside the bell a small drill began to work it's way through the material of the pod. If it had been hardened, it would have turned to a small abrasive cutting jet that would fire fine particles at high speed but the metal of the pod was relatively soft compared to the cutting head and it made slow progress through the hull. The moment it breached the interior, a sensor detected the pressure change and the drill stopped. The internal atmosphere flooded the small bell and a sensor picked up the chemical composition and ratios.

Testing complete, a small camera wormed it's way through the hole into the interior and began to wiggle around as it took a complete picture. A small light came on and it re-scanned the interior. There was nothing inside, of course. The whole exercise was just that. The same techniques would be used on derelict ships or any situation where an unknown object would have to be investigated. If there was something found inside, a microphone and speaker on the camera could begin discussions with those inside, and a larger hole could be made to introduce a tiny robot that would allow more varied interaction.
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jan 15, 2014 10:00 am

A Dingy Basement, NeoVanc University, Ares, Six Years Ago...

Light and dark whizzed past as the open elevator dropped into the darkness and Dr. Stephen Ambrose tapped his foot impatiently. Behind him a pair of faceless, nameless minions in their distinctive black and orange armor shifted nervously, their short, fat stubby guns held low while they looked around the seemingly endless space that stretched out on either side of the lift shaft.

"I'm... displeased."

"Sir." They didn't question. He didn't like questions. They merely acknowledged his statement.

"A proper unrecognized genius should have a beautiful lab assistant that constantly turns down his feeble attempts to engage in sexual intercourse. I have no such assistant."

"Sir."

"I should recruit one."

"Sir. I am female," one of the two guards said and both the other guard and the doctor turned to look at... her. It was hard to tell, under the black and orange armor and helmet that masked every feature.

"Are you now? Looking to work your way up in the ranks?"

The guard said nothing for a moment, as she considered if he wanted to know or if he'd been merely stating his opinion. "Sir. I live only to serve."

"And if I asked you to give me sexual gratification?"

That was a stumper. If she said yes, it would be the instant obedience she's been trained to give the doctor under both the threat of pain and the effects of chemical substances too terrible to detail. But he had mentioned a female lab assistant who would turn down his attempts at mating.

"Currently, I would provide said gratification. If I was to be placed in the position of lab assistant, I would not."

A little too detailed, perhaps. She'd been trained to give answers in less than five words. One was ideal. Six had resulted in frequent shocks. But he had only turned to look at her closer. Still, she couldn't count on any further consideration.

"Well, you are female, and that is half of the solution. But you seem to lack many of the female attributes that the common man would find attractive."

"Sir."

"I'll have to examine you, but you seem to lack prominent breasts and long, flowing hair. Unless your armor is concealing them." A finger tapped the side of his chin and he looked her over. "But perhaps there is a solution..."

She said nothing and after a moment he turned to look forward again. The elevator continued it's rapid descent into the darkness and after a moment she forgot all about their conversation. After all, his safety was her only job.
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jan 15, 2014 3:55 pm

A Dingy Sub-Sub-Sub-Basement, NeoVanc University, Ares, Five Years, Eleven Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days Ago...

"Get down."

Doctor Ambrose looked away and the female guard, who'd been half-leaning and half-laying spread-eagle on the bare metal surface of the examination table did just that. Perhaps even a bit too quickly, though he didn't seem to notice. She was entirely naked and in fact was entirely, utterly naked. Not several uncomfortable and very cold hours ago he'd told her to remove her armor and uniform and then sent her through a series of showers and chambers and scanners that had left her feeling absolutely exposed and utterly hairless, right down to the very tiny hairs on her toes.

Her armor and uniform were sitting right there, right on that lab bench where she'd carefully arranged them, but she didn't even consider putting them on. He hadn't ordered it, and he was looking up at the array of monitors that hung around a podium-like set of input terminals. One finger tapped the side of his face, and for several minutes he just watched the monitors. Meanwhile, she stood at attention, feet spread at parade rest with her hands clasped behind her. It had to be twenty degrees in this damn place...

"As I suspected..." He turned and looked her over, "In your current state you'd hardly make for a suitable attractive laboratory assistant. A capable guard, certainly, but not a lab assistant."

Correct, as always. One might call her cute, but in a hard-edged manner that wasn't really cute as much as it was a label that could be applied in order to not have the thickly muscled woman not break all your limbs. She'd had hair but it hadn't been long or wavy but rather short and tightly wound.

"I've gathered statistical information about you. Polled your current picture among several age groups in several online forums, and the numbers are not looking good. Less that one in ten find you attractive, and less than two in ten would consider you an acceptable sexual partner."

Ouch. She would have winced, but the chemical substances too terrible to detail had removed any sense of self and body image she'd had. It was her job to serve Doctor Ambrose loyally, and her current status was merely that of a minion who met one of the major conditions he'd set out. Those numbers were bad though. Was he going to wash her out, send her back to patrol the halls with the other minions? That would be acceptable of course.

"Yes, Sir."

An eyebrow went up at that and he looked at her. The finger began to tap.

"I will enjoy the challenge. A new avenue to explore. Put your armor back on."

She did and he touched the controls, creating a holographic image of her that slowly spun as he looked it over. Another display appeared next to it and he began to fill it with images of various women.

"Other lab assistants," he explained absently. "Culled from the staff at this very university as well as from what little can be found of those others in my rarefied position. This," he spun out one image into a full hologram that stood across from her own, "Would be the ideal of course."

It was a blond woman who looked, despite the fact that she was slightly shorter, taller with long lean legs, wide hips, a narrow waist, and large, prominent breasts. She looked like a twig, except for the mechanical apparatus that sprouted from her upper back. She was wearing a lab coat and a button down blouse over a skirt.

"The lab assistant of the greatest among us, of course. Ms. X, personal lab assistant to Doc Evilonavich himself! I, of course, hope to exceed him. It is the goal of all of us."

She didn't comment. It was part of her training to both know about and be cautious of the other mad scientists out there. Evilonavich was, of course, one of the greatest. He'd also disappeared many years ago but as everyone knows, if there's no body there's no death. Unless of course it's a hero. They tend to vaporize on impact with the least little thing.

"And you..." He looked at her for a moment, taking in some detail he'd not seemingly noticed before, "...16, will be the ultimate testbed. Ms. 16. It works wonderfully, don't you think? The gorgeous Ms. 16."

The number on her armor, of course. It changed everyday, at least it had, with the number determining what the minion would do that day.

"Sir."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu Jan 16, 2014 9:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jan 16, 2014 9:57 am

Two thousand, one hundred, seventy six days ago...

Ares...

Number 16 cringed. Inside, of course.

The first batch had been... Messy. A dozen fast-clones of her, injected with various substances mixed up in the whirling, spinning apparatus that Dr. Ambrose had dubbed the 'Gene-u-vator' had been let out of the can. Messy.

First there was the slime from the can. That, at least, had poured down the drains built into the floor. With the aid of a hose. And a push-broom. But the fast-clones... They were the by-product of another experiment the Doctor had worked on in the past. A project to imbue ordinary people with super-powers. Like many such projects that involved more than just pushing the human body to it's natural limits, that one hadn't turned out so well.

Which was why she was there. Something about his previous laboratory being over-run by self-styled heroes who'd trashed the place and forced him to flee to his new lair under the art department at NeoVanc University. Go Quaggas.

It was a stepping stone. He'd said so himself as he put the fire axe through the first of the fast-clones. They weren't alive, but he did like to be sure. Which was why she'd been tasked with dumping the bad ones into the molecular decompiler. They still had traces of the slime on them, plus there was the blood. The last one had had pustules too.

"Ah, Number 16. Give me your opinion on this one." Her opinion? She wasn't supposed to give opinions.

"Sir."

"No, go ahead. Your input is important here. Call it... informal polling."

She looked down at the body stretched out on the table. The face was her's, and the general body shape, but the chest was definitely not. Nor was it entirely human. Or even alien. But it was bigger.

"I would not be satisfied with the results."

"A bold opinion," he laughed. "Yes, the morphology leaves something to be desired. But there has been a notable increase in size and it has hair."

Long hair. Flowing from the head, the armpits, the... Too much hair.

He wheeled a scanner over and positioned it over the table and turned it on while he went to the next subject.
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jan 17, 2014 11:39 am

The Art Labs, NeoVanc, Ares, Ares System...

"Dump number five," Ambrose called out.

'Good thing, too,' Number 16 thought as she looked over to watch Number 64 press the appropriate number on the control panel.

The... whatever it was... in Tube Five was hideous. Covered in bone spurs and dermal patches, it was clear that whatever the Doctor had mixed into it's DNA had resulted in the complete opposite of whatever he'd intended. Hopefully. One never knew with the Doctor. It was certainly possible that he'd switched, mid-track, from crafting the perfect lab assistant to nightmarish monsters. It wouldn't be the first time.

Tube Five slid forward until it was positioned directly over a grate that split and slide to either side to reveal more of the gaping darkness below. The tubes and the grates and the whole mechanism had been installed on Saturday, over the weekend so the workers wouldn't interfere with the regular 9-to-5 operation, and the fast-clones had been growing in there since Monday.

Nice fellows, little gray guys with big purple eyes. No questions, just got the job done.

A harsh shriek and the thing disappeared into the darkness, falling down along with the ghoulish purple growth slime, until the screams faded. Not one to normally wonder, Number 16 did wonder where the tube went. According to the laboratory schematic, it ended at the edge of the building and... ended. Oh well. Once they were outside of the facility it just wasn't her problem anymore, was it?

"Dump number eight..."

That was also a good sign. So far at least three of the clones had been acceptable to the Doctor. Attractive women with many of her own features but with suitably pronounced sexual characteristics. Not perfect, at least not according to the polling, but getting closer.

"Failure rate is still too high," Ambrose muttered as he made his way over to the console. "Gotta work on the stability of the virus. Seems to be pulling in outside pollutants..."
Last edited by Sunset on Fri Jan 17, 2014 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jan 18, 2014 9:46 am

The Tunnels, NeoVanc, Ares, Ares System...

"Contact!" 16 called out, dropping the sights of her short rifle on the target and pulling the trigger. Invisible energy followed the target, tearing head-sized chunks out of the concrete walls and sending splinters knifing back towards her. They pelted off her armor but she ignored them, keeping her eye on the target as it jumped and weaved.

Fast or lucky, in a moment it had disappeared into a chute and she moved forward, weapon up, sweeping across the opposite wall as she came.

"Contact lost! Section..." her eyes flicked to the numbers painted at the end of the corridor. "Section Charlie Fourteen. Contact is moving down! Repeat, contact is moving down!"

Contact was her. Or at least one of the many versions of her that the Doctor had fast-cloned over the past two weeks. It had punched it's way out of the tank and ran howling from the room before the Doctor had managed to take more than a swing with the fire axe. Not only was it not supposed to be able to move, but it also wasn't supposed to be able to talk. Or at least scream.

Edging up to the chute, she nosed her weapon over the edge and peered down. It was a straight shot to the bottom, nothing there, but she still moved back a bit. She could go down the chute but there were teams down there already. Best to watch her floor and keep an eye on that chute in case it tried to backtrack.

----

"Ah! You captured it, good!"

16 stood behind the Doctor now, nervous hand on her weapon as she watched him look the creature over. It had been cornered a few floors down, near the Forbidden Zone, and by the radio traffic it had been captured by pure luck. A stray shot had dropped a section of plumbing on it, which was why it now stood shackled in the middle of the Lab while the Doctor walked around it, one finger tapping his chin, and smelled strongly of shit.

"Interesting, very interesting... I didn't grow you a brain, did I? I suppose I might have..."

There was only one way to find that out, and a few minutes later it was stretched out on one of the tables, shackles tightly strapped at ankles and wrists, while the scanner slowly moved down it's body. It's perfect, sensual, body...

16 couldn't help but look. It was, as far as she was concerned, perfect. It seemed to be impressing the Doctor as well, and as the scanner worked he was already busy polling various chat rooms and forums as to the overall desirability of the woman who glared angrily at him.

"Interesting... Very interesting."

The scanner stopped and numbers flew by on the displays above the console. Several times they stopped, numbers and letters highlighted in red, but they meant nothing to 16. They did to Ambrose though, who rapidly tapped at the keyboard and flipped through the sheets of a holographic notepad that appeared next to him.

"A happy mistake, really... I should have seen it."

Flipping the notebook closed, he walked over to his workbench and retrieved a large extractor before walking over to the examination table. The woman screamed as he jabbed it into her arm and blood began to fill the vial.

"You are very lucky," he said, off-hand, as he walked back to the workbench. He held the extractor high, looking over the vial as he did, and carefully removed it and plugged it into another machine. "Or I am. On a hunch, I added a few of the sequences I used in the SHE virus."

The Super-Human Expression virus. It hadn't worked as planned but the Doctor wasn't one to let a failure in one area keep him from trying the same thing in another.

"Despite my intentions, it seems you were born with a brain. And quite a healthy one at that." He looked over at her again, "And a very lovely body. Oh my, yes. 16? Put her in Unit One."
Last edited by Sunset on Sat Jan 18, 2014 11:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jan 18, 2014 11:32 pm

Containment Units, Under the Art Lab, NeoVanc, Ares...

16 walked the short line of seemingly open bays, 52 stalking along just slightly behind her, and looked over those contained within. Her objective was the subject in Unit One, of course, but a reason was needed and a quick patrol to check in with the minion was reasonable. He was stationed at the far end of the bay, up on a raised platform that was only accessible through a hardened blast door or somehow scaling ten meters of flat wall. There was that one blind spot right under the platform, but it was of no real concern if the guard was paying attention.

Unit Eight and Unit Nine, directly across the wide bay from each other, were both occupied at the moment. Unit Eight held one of the Doctor's older projects, a seemingly harmless looking little old lady. At least if she wasn't off her medication. Longer than a few hours without the special sauce and the spines started to grow and her eyes turned red. Otherwise, nice lady.

Unit Nine was full of water. It sloshed up against the transparent barrier and provided a spectacular view of the piranha. They weren't especially in need of containment but the Doctor had eliminated the trap they normally lived in and they needed a place to stay. Most of the minions privately suspected he'd grown attached to them despite how useless the trap had turned out to be.

Seven and Ten were both empty. Or at least it seemed that way. They'd all been warned to never open Unit 10, for any reason, even if directly ordered to by the Doctor himself. This was reinforced by a warning painted on the wall above the bay that specifically said 'Do Not Open Ever, Even Under Direct Order'. It was also painted on the floor. And the walls on both sides of the Unit. And on the back wall of the Unit. How that had been accomplished was something of a mystery but no one wanted to open the Unit and find out.

Six was empty as well, and Eleven held Gale Render. Blue tights with silver thunderbolts down the outsides of the arms and legs, going up to grey clouds near the shoulders and hips... Very heroic, very cute. He flashed her a white-toothed grin as she passed. 52 stopped, however, and pressed the button next to the barrier and held it down. Inside Gale was in a panic as the air began to evacuate the room. Gale whirled around, trying to keep what he could as close to him as he could, and after a few seconds of watching 52 relented and released the button.

52 was a little protective of her.

Five was... interesting. She didn't like to look at Five for too long. In the middle of the Unit stood an archway and inside of this archway were stars. And void. It was about fifty-fifty. She didn't know where Ambrose had gotten it from, but he'd sealed it in Five and occasionally things would come out. Hooded figures, or nightmare horrors. The worst were the children. Children who filled the room, silently screaming and disappearing one by one until only a single little girl was left and her eyes were full of nothing and...

52 nudged her and she moved on. Did she forget Twelve? Everyone forgot Tw...

Four was occupied by the one, the only, Serial Justice. Famed super-hero, he'd tried to break in and put a stop to the Doctor's 'evil schemes' until he'd triggered one of the gas traps on LevelD. That had put him under and the Doctor had injected him with one of his various concoctions. Which was why Unit Four was occupied by the quickly decaying bones of Serial Justice. The process was interesting to watch at least.

Thirteen! Unlucky number Thirteen. Empty. It seemed that everyone who was put into Thirteen escaped, which only went to prove that you make your own luck.

Unit Three was one of her favorites. The barrier was down - it always was - and a waist-high fence had been set up across the entrance. Inside nearly twenty kittens snoozed, played with toys, climbed on carpet trees, and just generally enjoyed themselves. The Doctor fostered any that the local shelter couldn't handle at the moment and there were always a few in there.

Whether it was because he had a soft spot for kittens, or because Unit Fourteen was across the bay, who could tell? But Shatterblood was in Fourteen and as far as anyone could tell he hated kittens. One of Ambrose's rivals, he'd been brought in at the same time as the mysterious arch. Perhaps the two were connected? Pointless speculation but the way he stared at her, 52, and the kittens with his four tertigram eyes that flashed within the depths of a black cowl that constantly dripped blood was a pretty good basis for it.

Unit Two had a robot in it. It was quite silly looking, with a voltmeter for a face and a decidedly non-threatening body. It didn't have any cameras, or indeed any other sensors, but if you opened the barrier it would try to kill you. It wasn't very good at it's task but it would spout verbal abuse - again, no mouth - and ram into it's victim until put back into it's Unit. The fascinating thing was that it lacked any kind of power unit or indeed motors that would allow it to move. And it spoke fluent Latin, which was itself odd as she'd never even heard of the language until one of the other minions had detailed it's capabilities and oddities.

Fifteen. Ah, Fifteen. He should never have questioned the Doctor. Never question the Doctor. From time to time, Ambrose would remember he was in there, hanging up on the wall in the back of the bay, and send someone in to tighten the screws and make sure the IV was still full. Never. Question. The. Doctor.

Sixteen? Why not One? That was her objective for being in the Containment Units after all. But then she'd have to check on Sixteen last and it would look weird since Sixteen was empty. And she was 16. She looked back at Fifteen for a long moment. Then she stopped and turned to Unit One. Sensual, intelligent, perfect... That body, those looks, the hair, the fierce yet penetrating stare, the body, the way Ambrose had looked at that body.

"Where is Subject One?"

"Up in the Lab. The Doctor's got her in there for an experiment. 43 and 45 came for her ten minutes ago. Why?"

Shit.
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Postby Sunset » Sun Jan 19, 2014 12:42 pm

Doctor Ambrose's Lab, Ares, Ares System...

Several Years Ago

Subject One floated serenely in the tank of purple slime, her body obscured by the semi-opaque fluid, but that she was naked and that she was wearing some kind of full face mask and framework headgear was still readily apparent. That she was in the tank was somewhat re-assuring to 16 and more-so the seemingly uncaring way in which the Doctor was treating her. A command at the console and a small arm, built into a unit in the back of the tank, extended out and pressed up against her side. Her body recoiled from it and then tensed up in agony as a large needle pierced her abdomen and extracted a sample through a transparent tube and into a sample vial.

"This," the Doctor noted, "Is what I need a lab assistant for. The routine denial of sexual intercourse will be a useful by-product that will focus my mental energies on the tasks ahead of me rather than pointless breeding."

Leaving the console, he retrieved the vial and then walked it over to the workbench and plugged it in.

"These routine tasks could then be handled by my stunningly attractive yet physically distant assistant, increasing my efficiency perhaps two-fold."

There was the question of why he couldn't use some kind of drone or robot for that task. Minion 16 knew that there were plenty of examples, from the comic book Tony Stark to the diabolic half-machine Instructor Three-Zeta. The Instructor was something of a special case, certainly, as he tended to incorporate machinery into everything he did. She'd been approached by some of the various Minion headhunters out there but the resume question 'Are you willing to sacrifice your humanity?' was still something she didn't want to answer.

Faceless minion? Merciless executor of orders? Certainly. But inhuman servant of a diabolic half-machine wasn't something she was considering, despite the bump in pay.

After a few minutes Ambrose walked over to one of the other tanks where a fast-clone, identical to Minion 16, floated silently. Inserting another vial at the back of the tank, he watched as the robotic arm did it's job. This time there was no reaction to the injection, the fast-clone lacking nearly all of it's nervous system aside from that which was necessary to simulate life. One by one, he went from tank to tank injecting a different vial into each one of the seven subjects.

"Now, if this works correctly, the virus I've attached Subject One's genetic material to will spread through the body and result in the expression of pronounced female sexual characteristics."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jan 20, 2014 6:06 pm

SNN News...

"And this year's 'Underwear of Women in Power' issue of the VirtuaGov Times hit news stands today, along with the accompanying fourteen month calendar. Featured in this year's edition..."

Imaged of various women in Sunset who hold various positions of power began to appear. All of them were dressed in various outfits, either lingerie or swimsuits, and all either suggestive or extremely suggestive.

"Secretary-General Silaco, her daughter Katryna, Ambassador Demi Love, Secretary G'hrnla, Grand Admiral Glafka, CEO Li Chirasa of Climax, President Wim Wen of Hua, Director Faewia Curith of PenguinTek, MNN's Marerith, Sung-ye Yareng, Cessa Fairchild from ESNN, Actress Feari Wer, Director Nicolette Santana from EHMI, and me!"

"You, Tanya?" The anchor's co-host bantered across the desk at her, "What does your family think?"

"My husband loooves it, of course. And my wife's down with it too. She's got it hanging up in her closet."

"Good! As usual, all of the profits from the sale of the calendar are going to the Children of Ares orphan support network. Next, Morbo with some analysis of last night's..."

----

The Ice Fields of Titan

Erika dug in and pushed hard, her muscles pushing her high above the methane ice and her legs and arms extended before, at the last moment, she pulled them in to spin around in a tight spiral before landing on the ice. Her skates sent up a spray of ice that drifted away from the planet as she swept under it in a long, graceful arc that ended in another fantastic jump, this time a tight spiral that ended with a leg thrown out. Around and around she skated, not a care in the world as she carved the gracefully sweeping lines into the natural surface.

----

Grand Admiral Glafka's Office, Notch System...

"So what have we learned from this whole debacle?" The Admiral leaned back in her chair and looked up at the ceiling for a moment before returning to Captain Vu'evere and Admiral Gelath. The Admiral was the only one there in person, as the Captain had already left for Ares and had been busily settling his new command before the Grand Admiral's call.

"I do not consider it a debacle," the trilat responded, drawing a questioning look from Glafka. "While the loss of the Wright Brothers was unfortunate, it has served to shed some much needed light on various areas and, in combination with other factors, has offset the loss of both the ship and it's crew."

"I would also note," Gelath put in, "That the losses are not yet tallied. Just this morning we received a report that three survivors have been found."

"Yes," Jennifer nodded, "In... Roania... of all places."

"Which brings the number of recovered crew to ninety one," Gelath supplied, "And a good portion of those are senior officers. Ninety-three if you count the two field-deployed to Mantar Ayr."

"Still a significant number missing. What about the ship itself? Any sign of it?"

"None. But with the report from Roania... It's a big mystery how the crew of one ship was scattered over so much space. We've widened our search, but it just makes it harder to find those that are out there. That brings up another issue. There's been a lot of allergic reactions to the chemical hibernation patches, but only among the human crew members."

"Meta-Human as well?" That would include Sanglanti, Neko, and the like.

"Yes, so it's a potential risk for about fifty percent of the SDF."

"What are these reactions like?"

"General sluggishness. It's like they take a long time to shake them off compared to the non-human crew. I've already passed it over to Research, and they are taking a look at it."
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Jan 20, 2014 6:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:01 am

A holovision studio, Ares, Ares System...

Tall, handsome, and somewhat boy-faced, Doctor Tyson 'Ty' Arera was the host of the moment. Never mind that the moment had lasted a whole six months so far. In the fast-paced world of the Sunset media six months was twelve blockbuster action movies, four boy bands with endless spinoffs, two daytime talk shows, and three hit kid's cartoon shows come and gone. It was a multi-million dollar contract for the next six months which, if he played his cards right, would let him do almost whatever he wanted after that.

Which was why, every afternoon between 2 and 3 local time, he welcomed an endless parade of snake oil salesmen, fitness gurus, quacks, genuine homespun country doctors, and every other health and wellness 'expert' that had some kind of quirk, oddity, or was just plainly lying that he or his production team could dig up. The bolder the better, usually. Those with a magic cure for cancer (leading killer in Sunset) were the best, as were those offering some kind of therapy to improve one's sex life (audience polling suggested they were mostly losers at love), or general 'feel healthy' claims were the best.

Today it was fad diet pills, with noted biologist and research fellow at NeoVanc University...

"Doctor Steven Ambrose!," Ty called out, welcoming the scientist with wide arms and a hearty handshake. The Doctor was wearing a very nice suit and had his normally wild salt-and-pepper hair carefully split to either side. He'd shaved as well, his mustache and long goatee making him look very distinguished instead of his usual several days growth and wild spiky hair. "Welcome to the show, Doctor!"

"Thank you, thank you!" Ambrose shook his hand enthusiastically and then turned to wave to the audience as he took his seat. Minion 16, dressed in a nice sweater and skirt combination, smiled back and did her best to cheerfully wave as she did. She'd been ordered to, as had Minion's 52, 63, 18, and 23. They were, polling suggested, the most attractive of the Doctor's minions and thus best equipped to seed the audience with positive reactions to his product.

"Doctor, today you're here to tell us all about telomeres, right?"

"That's right, Ty," Ambrose began enthusiastically. "The telomere," A huge hologram of a DNA chain appeared in the middle of the stage, with the appropriate section being highlighted, "Is that part of the DNA chain which protects the chromosome from aging and pre-mature consolidation with other chromosomes. Good telomere health is important to prevent premature aging..."

"And a short telomere can be an indication of an unhealthy individual as well."

"That's right! In my research at NeoVanc University, I and my team..."

Back and forth the two Doctors, one with fifty years of experience in creating horrible abominations and the other with barely a year out of medical school, went for the next ten minutes until the first commercial break. After that, it was time for Ambrose to introduce his own little contribution to the field of fad diet pills, the aptly named SEXYE pill. Which, when it came down to it, was a generic genetic health pill wrapped up in a fancy package and industry-leading spokesman.

But the public loved it.

----

Later, At the Lab...

"Ah! Excellent progress!" The good Doctor looked up at Subject Two with more than a little admiration and pride.

She was progressing well and the fast-cloned body had gone from a flat-chested muscular young woman to a thin, sensual busty trophy piece in just a little under two weeks. Introducing the physical changes via a virus took longer than directly adding them during the fast-cloning process, but for a subject who was still alive, it would be needed.

"Technically, yes, I could just chop your head off and graft it onto this body, but where would the fun be in that?" Ambrose mused, looking over at Minion 16.

"Sir."

If that's what he wanted to do, that's what she'd do. Generally Ambrose erred against direct experimentation on his minions though. There had been unfortunate incidents in the past, and he wished to avoid them even if he did have... precautions in place. No, better to let the fast-clones fully express themselves and finalize the formula before 'asking' for 'volunteers'.

Even if the virus didn't pan out, there was always Subject One. She was progressing marvelously, and had gone from an infant-like intelligence to early childhood already. Somewhere under that mask and helmet she could count to twenty and knew all her letters. Intensive neuro-plasticity therapy combined with an advanced education II core was pushing her through the early years at an advanced pace. Hopefully by next week she'd be ready for middle school and her first kiss.

Or at least the memories of it. He'd purchased several 'off the shelf' engrams from various sources and was in the process of splicing them together to form just the right life for an intelligent, attractive young woman who was only interested in her research and quite uninterested in the sexual advances of a sixty year old mad scientist. It was complex work, but fascinating.

"Yes, quite fascinating..."

He moved on to the next tank. Three was nearly identical to Two, and that was encouraging news. He'd introduced slight variances to each of the viruses, sometimes aiming for altered physical features, and sometimes for more dramatic alterations. Like Subject Four.
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jan 22, 2014 6:55 pm

Ixutsangi, Ixut System, One Hundred Forty One Lightyears from the Ares System...

"Wow..." Trinya stared at the cluster of pyramid-shaped structures that rose out of the hot, hazy desert sand. "Just... wow."

Timmons couldn't help but agree with her estimation of the alien city. Pictures from orbit were one thing, but this was quite another. Each of the four-sided structures soared nearly a hundred meters into the air. On the scale of those used to super-materials it wasn't very impressive but these appeared to be stone and not simply massive stone piles but rather open frameworks.

Each stone spine was only a meter wide, at the most, and they all met at the top in a graceful pyramid shape that created a pointed arch between them. This arch was then filled in with an even more delicate looking tracery made of wood or some other material that had been covered in glittering gold leaf. Some of these traceries were filled with bits of colored glass, except at the scale they were viewing the pyramids from these bits had to be up to a half-meter in size themselves. These depicted plants, animals, or the inhabitants themselves in wonderful detail.

These traceries only filled the top third to quarter of the pyramid. Below that they were open until about half-way down and then more traceries began to appear. Sometimes they were free-floating pieces of art, hanging on the inside of the spine as dividers or barriers, while in other places they were full spans, delicate necklaces that hung between the spines to display a fabulous pendant or stone. There were nearly a dozen of these pyramids, each different, but there was yet more wonder under them.

Below each of them a city or village sprawled. Green plants grew in lush abundance and between these the two explorers could pick out houses made of some kind of sandy brown material, possibly mud or plaster. Some of these were painted, though most were not, and all appeared to be little domes, or clusters of domes, with slit-like windows and a hole at the top that allowed the residents to enter.

"Insectoids..." Timmons focused on one of the aliens, his suit's system automatically adjusting to follow it as it flew around the city.

"Do you think it's a hive mind?" Trinya asked, though the young woman was already forming her own opinion on the matter. She had already picked out several pairs who seemed to be going about their business together and while their body shapes did not immediately suggest male or female, they did seem to be interacting with their fellows in a distinctively individual manner. One pair might stop to interact with an individual for a moment or a minute, and there seemed to be other indications of singularity within the group.

"No..." Her partner was a little more definitive in his declaration, but for an entirely different reason.

He shoved his camera feed to her and she watched as a lone individual stood engaged in... "Well, it must be conversation," with two other aliens who were definitely not the same species.

The locals were insectoid, thin yellow to orange to red creatures with black accents. With two large hind legs and four arms that freely rotated from arms to legs, they were distinct examples of the phenotype. They all had the same large, iridescent wings and all were wearing some type of clothing. This mostly consisted of straps and bands, clearly meant more for carrying than covering, though these were often decorated and in some cases lavishly.

While the locals were winged and thus seemed to prefer the air, the new species was definitely terrestrial. Slightly taller than the locals, they were digitigrade bipeds with brown skin and unusual four-fingered hands and feet. Timmons watched as one of the pair used a foot to pick up something off the ground, hand it to it's partner, and continue it's conversation without pause.

"Prehensile feet, so I'm gonna guess they are somewhat slow on the ground."

"But the insects don't seem to be taking advantage of them either. They don't appear to be slaves, or otherwise unequal..." Trinya pointed out. "With their superior mobility, the insects would likely dominate them in a local conflict."

"Unless they control a resource the insects want," Timmons pointed out. "They can get a lot of those materials," he focused on the pyramids, "Locally, but not all of them. The stone would certainly be easier for them to harvest."

"We didn't see any large populations of this species from orbit. It could have been something we missed, or..."

"Likely something they missed on the initial survey," Timmons surmised. "They spotted the pyramids and focused on them. Whatever happened, this is a useful coincidence, though it does present another decision."

"Which is?"

"We can either make contact with these guys, or hunt down one of the populations of the terrestrials. The good thing is that we'll probably get a good reception either way. They're already used to the idea of another sentient species."

"I'd say we go with two for one. They've got visitors; what's a pair of humans to add to the mix?"

----

Dr. Ambrose's Laboratory, Ares, Ares System...

Subject Four was... Interesting.

"Yes, that's just about the right word for it," the Doctor murmured as he looked over the Tank that contained the aforementioned Subject Four.

Minion 16 would have put 'it' firmly in the realm of unearthly horror. The creature inside was no longer human, even if it had once been such, with six arms and no legs, four menacing... triangular... eyes. At once she realized where it had come from and she recoiled a bit.

"16? What is it?" Ambrose looked over at her with something approaching genuine concern.

"Shatterblood, Sir."

"Oh, yes, you are quite right. I obtained a sample of it's genetic material and mixed it in with Subject One's. Though technically not genetic material, it was sufficiently analogous for re-combination to occur with the benefit of Subject One's healing abilities."

Which had produced the inhuman creature that slowly turned in the tank, it's long arms causing the fluid inside to swirl into pattern that were somehow soothing and...

16 raised her weapon and pointed it at the tank. "Get back," she shouted!

Instinctively, Ambrose looked up at the tank just as a swirl of fluid resolved into a pattern that glowed red and silver. The whole tank shivered for a moment and a long spiderweb of cracks ran through the whole, matching the pattern that the fluid had left on the inside. 16 fired, the heavy molecular disruptor punching a clean hole through the glass. Fluid poured out and she fired again, chopping another semi-circle out of the tank and opening a matching hole in the body of the creature beyond.

The tank shattered and whatever it was leapt up and into the shadowy darkness above the row of tanks. 16 fired again, a rapid trio of shots that sent bits of concrete spinning around the room and resulted in a heavy thud as the thing detached and tumbled to the floor. Another shot and it reared up, three legs waving wildly while the fourth hung by a bloody strand.

KRATHOCK!

It pitched over. Neither Ambrose nor 16 approached it for several long seconds, the former reaching for the ever-present fire axe while the later kept her heavy rifle trained on Subject Four. She wasn't willing to risk that it might be playing dead, especially not considering that it shouldn't even have had a working brain.

KRATHOCK!

Only a twitch, perhaps in death, but it was enough to warrant an answering shot. Quickly Ambrose wheeled a floodlight into place and turned it on, focusing it on the fallen form from across the lab, while the doors at the end of the lab slid open to admit a trio of armed minions.

"Report!"

The lead minion, 3 by the number on his armor, looked at her.

"Containment breach, Subject Four. Threat appears to have been neutralized."

Appears being the important and immediate operable word. The four minions spread out around Subject Four, their long shadows falling across it in the glare of the spotlight, and 3 slowly moved in with his own heavy rifle held out like a barrier in front of him. After a moment, and still cautiously backing away rather than turning, he moved back out to the circle.

"It's dead. Lethal damage to the neck."

Ambrose nodded and moved in, still holding the fire axe at the ready. With the hooked head, he grasped the body and pulled it over so that it splayed out on the floor. 3's assessment had been spot on, the head nearly severed by 16's final shot, and he finished the job with a sparking swing from the axe.

"Prepare... Unit Six? One of the available units in the Containment Unit. Full restraint table, mobile tank."

"Sir," 3 nodded. It wasn't his place to question. If the Doctor felt that this... thing deserved further restraint and research, it was merely his job to carry that out. Most things didn't survive having their heads blown off by a molecular disruptor though.

Ambrose nudged the head with the axe, and scooped it up on the spike. A mass of what would otherwise be tendons, veins, and arteries hung down below and these were wiggling.

"Quickly."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jan 23, 2014 10:56 am

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

For a moment the two insectoid aliens paused, their broad faces turning this way and that, their green eyes shiny in the morning sun. In the depths of the cleft that was their impromptu observation post Trinya and Timmons pressed themselves against the walls, their optical camouflage actively matching their armor to the sandy cliff. Each of the aliens was carrying a spear in one pair of arms while the other held a shield. Both were practical, functional items that posed no threat to the two explorers.

"What do you think," Timmons asked through their communications link. "Military or some kind of security patrol?"

"Wild animals?" Trinya responded. "No, I don't think so. There were others standing around in the city, so I'd guess they have at least some form of standing military. Though they might also be a peacekeeping force. Notice the symbol on their shields?"

"Very good. Same symbol that is worked into the apex of the biggest pyramid. I'd guess that's the symbol of either their government or of a royal house."

"A royal house? That seems somewhat prejudicial," the young woman put forward. "Putting a human norm on a non-human species."

"True," the elder explorer admitted, "Though communities of this size do tend towards a monarchist or despotic structure. They have enough people to make the accumulation of power in a single individual useful, and not enough that a single individual cannot effectively run it."

"Again, human norm. Several of the insectoid species thus-far encountered have had a hive mind and thus a more advanced organizational structure that carried forward into smaller group sizes."

The flying patrol having left, the pair moved carefully forward until they could directly view the city in the distance again.

"Back to the patrol. Military, or not?"

"I'm gonna say military. While they are peacefully interacting with another species on an individual basis, that means nothing in terms of the larger social and economic picture. The orbital survey showed a few hundred of these structures, and I'm guessing they are all built around a similar oasis. That means that at least one important resource, water, is limited."

"Which will in turn cause strife between the various settlements as that resource varies in abundance or scarcity. I'd call that a good reason to have a military."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:19 pm

The Doctor's Laboratory, Ares, Ares System...

Only four fast-clones floated in the tanks this time. Tank Five was still there - broken and shattered - though the smaller pieces had been cleaned up and swept down into the unknown reaches. Seven and Eight were empty and One held Subject One, of course. It was a little messy, to the Doctor's mind, to have that blank spot between Four and Six but the contractors had told him it would be two weeks to have a new Tank prepared.

"Last series, what do you think, sixteen? If this works... Well, you'll have a whole new you!"

"Sir."

She was hoping it worked. There was that fine line between mad anxiety and nervous anticipation and the minion was straddling it carefully. In a sense she'd volunteered for the program, though she hadn't explicitly said she wanted to be turned into a buxom trophy assistant, but then again she had spoken up in the first place. Once the Doctor's mind was made up to head down a path the best thing to do was to make sure everything in his way disappeared before one was swept aside themselves.

One by one, skipping five of course, the Doctor went from Tank to Tank and loaded in his final serum. The mechanical injectors did their job and the clones floated serenely, quietly, in their tanks as he left them and walked back to where Subject One floated.

"She's in high school now, you know. I've yet to decide what to do with her. She is you, and you her. Two lab assistants would an attractive proposition. Especially a pair as attractive as this. Oh yes..." His eyes flashed as he looked back at 16. "Which brings up another idea I had. Two assistants, properly equipped, would eliminate the need for any minions in the lab. As much as I enjoy your presence."

Walking over to the console he brought up a hologram of her, dressed in her guard armor, with little labels detailing all the systems she had at her disposal. Augmented vision, communications gear, weapons, and the like.

"With a bit of tweaking, I believe I could mount all of these systems in you. Even the molecular disruptor."

It would be an impressive feat. She was wearing about forty kilograms of hardware, and the massive rifle was another eighteen. Another image popped up, this time of the marvelous Ms. X, and he swung the image around to show the mechanical apparatus mounted on her back. Her clothing faded away - 16 noted that she would 'out-class' certain of Ms. X's attributes if Subject One was any indication - and showed how the system was linked directly into Ms. X's spinal column.

"One option I have considered is to replicate Ms. X's system, but using current materials and methods. Evilonavich was limited by the materials of his time - though his materials were ahead of their time - and I could easily reduce their weight and increase their effectiveness by half. The whole thing would be detachable so you wouldn't have to sleep on your stomach and..."

The Doctor's eyes lit up and she recognized one of his sudden inspirations. The image of the grotesque six-armed woman who was now cooling her head in Containment Unit Six appeared and was just as suddenly replaced with a wire frame and then slowly re-worked into something else as his hands flew over the console.

"Yes, not just detachable, but independent. An assistant's assistant!"

----

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

"I'm thinking... desert nomads," Trinya began. Her feet were up on the table and she was slowly making her way through a bowl full of noodles and cooked vegetables as she sat there in nothing but her underwear. They'd both been glad to get out of their armor after a few days of observing the Ixut from their cliff-side perch. "We'll throw on some robes and there you go. Just some nomads from a far-off land."

"Why?"

"Culture shock. Two people flying in and wrapped in walking death? Probably not the best way to approach them." Leaning back, she dangled a long streamer of noodles over her face and slowly lowered it into her mouth, chewing off pieces every so often. "We didn't have a problem with the Onaeric, but they were a vastly different circumstance."

Timmons had to agree with her there. The little three-legged people had been welcoming, but they were already riding on the back of a giant centipede through a giant planet-covering forest filled with huge temples dedicated to a long-vanished insectoid warrior race. Which had devolved into the giant centipedes.

"With the Ixut and the... Cayr? Cayr. Completely different circumstance. They are also a martial people and it would be best to just appear to be somewhat neutral. If we come bearing firepower, they could want that firepower."

Her assessment of the Ixut was colored by an encounter they'd witnessed just before they had returned to their shuttle. Another patrol of the local warriors had been ambushed by a larger group. It was less an ambush than a roughing-up, with the larger group surrounding them and pushing them around, taking their weapons from them, and sending them back to the city naked.

"I'll tell you, that seemed strange. As near as the survey shows, all the nearby cities are smaller than this one. Why would they risk the displeasure of a city that can likely field a much larger force?"

"Could be any number of reasons," Timmons mused. "The nearby cities have an alliance of some kind? That would be my guess. But it does give us another reason to stay out of local politics. Combat armor, we'll come in at night and park the shuttle nearby and camouflage it. Then we'll walk in wearing your robes."

----

Hanson's Kneecap

Kyle held the stone up to the sun, admiring the play of light over it, turning it over in his hand... Even uncut, he could tell it was something special.

"Where?"

He didn't need to ask, really. Unlike the Mud King, he'd planted a tracking device in every case that he sent out with the convicts. He knew where they were, what they were doing, and who had decided to strike out on their own. Already he'd swooped down on a couple of them, recovering a couple nice stashes of stones and bringing the convict's back to start the process all over again.

"Western wastes..."

The woman's answer wasn't very useful but again, the tracking devices. And he knew the area. He'd worked it himself when he'd first settled down in the Desert Reaches. He'd missed this though... He turned the stone over in his hand. It shone with a faint golden light through the caked on dirt. Once it was cut... A Golden Tyrant. He wasn't sure if Hendrick had any but they had to be worth a lot more than the usual purple and red stuff.
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Postby Sunset » Sun Jan 26, 2014 4:11 pm

SNN Nightly News with Tanya Zaldano...

"...and in fashion news, the latest trendy is hand-knitted sweaters and tops made from locally sourced animal fibers."

Tanya was, of course, wearing a prime example of one of these sweaters though as it was unbuttoned to somewhere south of her bra-line it barely qualified. Her co-host was wearing one as well though; A nice sandy brown sweater with a tight, small knit and blue and white accents.

"Other fashion tips of the day: Tight pants, high heels, and hand-made. Don't spend too much though; Excess is out!"

"Thanks Tanya... On to the weather..."

----

The Housing Wing, Doctor Ambrose's Lair, Ares, Ares System...

"So what do you think of the new design?" Minion 52 asked as she and 16 stripped off their armor.

Like her, 52 had been stationed in the Lab that day and she'd watched as Ambrose had worked on the design for his latest invention, the Assistant's Assistant. It wasn't a very good name but he'd likely come up with an obtuse acronym at some point during the design process.

"It looks painful," 16 noted, tossing her clothes into the bin and following 52 into the sauna.

The Doctor's living facilities for the Minions were excellent; Sauna, pool, entertainment suites, the full nine yards. Sales of SEXYE were picking up and he'd scheduled a full of week of interviews and spot-sales pitches for the next week to keep the ball rolling. Most of that money would be going into his experiments of course; Fast-clones were not inexpensive, and the containment and grow units were high-maintenance. But some of that money would be coming to Minion Services as well.

16 sat down on one of the wide wooden slat benches that surrounded the steaming hot rocks in the middle of the room and tried to ignore the sounds of 28 and 40. They were going at it again in one corner of the room, and while she'd been trained to ignore nudity in all it's forms in the pursuit of her duties... Come on? Having a fuck in the corner of the sauna?

"Yeah, it did. Still, if he keeps on track you'll get to move out of here," 52 noted. "Fancy private quarters right next to the lab itself? Sounds nice."

"Right next to his. The continual sexual denial will help keep him focused." Supposedly. 16 wasn't so sure that his theory of repeated sexual frustration and emotional distance would bring about the work pattern that he supposedly found himself lacking. "If I even get the position."

"What do you mean?"

"Subject One is nearly through college now. She'd make a much better assistant than I would. I'll need to take classes, learn procedure..."

16 put her hands behind her head and leaned back against the slatted back of the bench. The steam was working it's way through her body now and she could feel all the tension being flushed out. A few more minutes and she'd jump into the pool.

"Well, that may be true, but I was paying attention today. Did you see what he was doing with the design?"

16 had to admit she had mostly been focused on Subject One and the progress of the fast-clones response to the virus. They were all looking good now, nearly perfect imitations of Subject One, and they hadn't needed to flush any of them.

"He forked it. There's one that's designated 'Ms. 16' and one that's designated 'Lady 16'."

"What's 'Lady 16'?"

"Can't say," 52 shook her head before reaching forward to ladle some water onto the rocks. As soon as the hissing died down she continued, "It's a basic prototype. He made some notes but I didn't catch what they said."

----

GEC-8540 (Notch), All Saints...

"So that's good?" Dr. Mona asked again as the Commander finished.

Gi nodded, "Oh, yes, definitely. We're pulling back most of the deployed forces and pushing out our scouts and explorers again. From what we can tell, the Psyducks have either abandoned the area or shifted their focus elsewhere. It's hard to say for sure though, as we've discovered that this 'Flower' seems to have a destabilizing influence on their mental facilities."

"It makes them crazy?"

"Yep! We fast-cloned a few dozen of them, and once we got one to talk, it seems as though they are reasonably rational beings. There's a tendency to misuse their telepathic powers, especially around non-telepathic species, but that's more of an issue for education."

Mona groaned and sat back in her chair, "Don't tell me you're thinking of introducing them into Sunset!"

"Umm," Gi faltered, "I, uh..."

"Ugh. I have no problems with non-humans. Zero. None. I love to treat them, love to see them come in for a check-up. But these things are rampaging, psychotic, telepathic, murder-ducks!"

"Well, to be honest, I don't know what the status of the program is," Gi answered. It was somewhat truthful.

"Well, to be honest then, give them my honest opinion that we should wait a long time. At least until we know a lot more about their culture and civilization and... Everything."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll tell them that," Gi replied. Whether the Doctor's opinion would do any good was another question entirely... "On to good news though. Since Notch is now one of the primary transit points for commercial traffic to Moad, we're upgrading the delivery schedule for both an Aurora and a Singularity."

"Which are what?"

"A transit gate and a starbase. The transit gate will speed commerce to and from the system, and the starbase will allow a much higher volume."
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Postby Sunset » Tue Jan 28, 2014 4:04 pm

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

"...and in manufacturing news, the contract to build the SDF's premier warship has been shifted from GlobalArmSystems to Python Manufacturing after an investigation by the Department of Justice uncovered systemic corruption inside Global."

An informational graphic appeared beside Tanya, showing Global's stock price over the last several years with an overlay of it's chief executive to one side. Tanya was, of course, wearing one of her typically low-cut outfits that seemed to make the dull business news just the least bit more interesting. It was a slimming little black blouse and skirt, cut wide across the chest and off the shoulders, if you're interested.

"Global's stock price plunged and given that the Dawn-Class contract made up nearly eighty percent of their forecast revenues, it is widely expected that the company may be purchased in the following days. The contract was worth over forty trillion di-coins over the next twenty years, and investors in Global are already calling for a criminal investigation into CEO Howard..."

"Tanya, if I might?" Her co-host, Trent, cut in. While she had been presenting, he'd been playing weatherman, putting up various graphics for both Global and Python as well as hunting down information on the breaking story.

"Sure, Trent?" She smiled and the camera panned to him without even a hint of rivalry on her face. Below the desk though? Right in the shin.

"Breaking news on this story... The board of Global has met and fired CEO Howard Urathu." Another graphic of the now ex-CEO appeared. "They have released a statement that says, in part, 'We believe that Mr. Urathu was involved in a scheme to cover up numerous contract violations on the Dawn-Class contract.'"

"Bad news for Mr. Urathu. Anything else?"

"Not yet, but Global's stock price has taken another hit. I'll give you more when I have it."

"Thank you, Trent!" Tanya looked down for a moment and then back up to the camera. "On to our next story..."

----

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

Before they'd made it to the outer perimeter of the city Timmons and Trinya had been intercepted by one of the city's flying patrols. A pair of the winged insectoids had dropped out of the sky only a few meters away, their wings buzzing furiously, and had planted themselves and the gleaming spears they carried in the hot desert sand.

"Welcome, strangers... What business do you have with Yefizusu?"

That, they already knew, was both the name of the city and of the ruling family. There were personal names as well but the Ixut took whatever business or government they belonged to as a surname. It was a rare family that had their own name. Timmons stopped and waited for a moment before pushing back his hood. It was impossible to tell if the wasp-like alien showed any surprise as their insectoid facial features were still quite indecipherable to the human.

"I am Timmons, of Sunset, and I am here to meet with Yefizusu and discuss relations with Sunset."

That wasn't exactly the truth, but to a city that was nearly at war, the concept of a tourist or researcher would likely sound more like 'spy'.

"You are not known to us. You do not look like the Cayr..." The soldier moved forward a little, his multifaceted eyes studying the larger black man closely. "But you wear their robes. Where do you come from? The forested lands of the north?"

That in itself was interesting and both of the explorers made note of it. The survey had shown there were some isolated forest lands in both the north and south near some of the few large bodies of water. They were rugged lands as well, with many cliffs and canyons, and it would be easy for a civilization to hide in among them. Especially with the much shinier Ixut cities out in the open.

"We come from much further away," Trinya swept her own hood back. "From the distant south. A place called Sunset."

"I have not heard of this place," the warrior looked over at his companion, who looked back at him. The mandibles on their faces moved; an expression of some kind though neither could read it. "But the south is very distant and you speak the trade tongue."

Or at least their translators did.

"We have come far to meet with Yefizusu," Timmons repeated. "And simply wish to bring word of our coming to her ruler."

The pair looked at each other again, and after a moment the nearest guard stepped back. "You will wait here. I will bring word of your arrival and they will judge whether you should be given entrance."

"Very well," Timmons gestured to Trinya, who's hand emerged from her robe holding a small cylinder. "Please, bear this with you. It is a testimony of our people."

They'd had a lot of fun decorating the simple cardboard tube. It had been like being back in pre-school again with glitter and glue. There was still glitter everywhere inside the shuttle too. Inside was a long roll of paper with a 'localized' history of Sunset printed on it as well as several pictures. And an IntelMouse.

"A gift..." The insectoid looked at the decorated cylinder with it's gold and silver sparkles. "Wise of you. I will bear this to the Queen."

----

Test Area Two, Ares, Ares System...

16 watched the oddly shaped robot run through it's paces as the Doctor put in various commands from the raised console station. There really wasn't any need for the security of the Test Area, but the Doctor had directed for the SLAA (Sexy Lab Assistant Assistant... It wasn't a very good acronym.) to be placed in the center of the wide, reinforced chamber for testing.

There was also the remains of Tank Five, which had been wheeled in by some of the little gray contractors who were busily replacing it and upgrading the rest of the tanks. Somewhere behind the torturous chemicals that ensured her loyalty to the Doctor she knew she should be a little upset by the overtime he'd agreed to pay them to get the job done in two days. New tile in the restrooms would have been nice.

The SLAA was testing nicely though. It looked something like a high-tech camper's backpack, a slim unit that would fit precisely to the middle of the wearers back. There were no straps or harnesses of any sort and the Doctor hadn't quite explained how that was supposed to work. Once he'd activated it, four small arms had folded their way out of the unit and it had lifted off to hover around the room as the Doctor had put it through it's paces.

"Let's try verbal commands now..." Ambrose said, moving back from the console. "SLAA, bring me the vial plugged into the back of the tank."

A complex command, but the Doctor's new toy was loaded with an off-the-shelf 'Assistant' system. A system made by his old school rival, Erika Silaco... He grimaced and carried on. She'd gone on to wealth and success building robots and selling them to the masses and then... He clenched his fists. Every time he'd walked past her on campus, every time he'd looked behind him at those long legs and perfect ass... How many times had he asked her out to coffee? How many times had she been too busy?! Every. Damned. Time!

The SLAA had pulled the vial out of the back of the tank, slid noiselessly across the floor, and was now hovering in front of him with the tiny glass container carefully held in it's little metal hand. Ambrose stepped back, reached under his lab coat, and pulled out a heavy pistol. Leveling it at the damned machine he pulled the trigger and it exploded. Bits of smooth chassis careened across the room to skitter along the floor and pinwheel through the air.
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jan 29, 2014 7:12 pm

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

Tonight it was all Trent. The boyishly handsome young man sat alone in the middle of the set with no desk and more importantly no Tanya. During the break he'd snuck a quick look at the numbers and his were up. Trent Lockwood, trending... Were they trending because the latina bombshell wasn't sitting next to him giving everyone an eyeful? Did he care? Once in a while it was nice to have your ego stroked...

'Live in... five, four...'

Trent straightened his shirt and smiled, leaning slightly forward in his chair so it would look like he was interested in whatever was about to come up on the teleprompter. Which he was. Trent loved the news. He loved reporting it, he loved reading about it, he even loved watching other broadcasts.

'One...'

"Welcome back to SNN Nightly News, I'm Trent Lockwood. Tanya is on remote assignment and we'll be live with her later in our broadcast!" Damn. Soon enough it would be 'with Tanya Zaldano' again. 'Better make the best of it.'

"In economic news, the Department of Industry has put out it's latest numbers for Sunset's durable goods sector. According to the report, the month-to-month growth rate is at a sustained one-point-five percent, which puts it ahead of the industry average across known sectors but behind Menelmacar. The report indicates a general satisfaction with this growth rate, noting that it has been sustained over the past six months with only minor fluctuations."

An information graphic appeared, charting durable goods growth compared to overall inflation and population growth.

"Based on the one-point-five percent growth rate, the durable goods sector is currently expanding at a higher rate than both the population rate and inflation, which should mean a general downward pressure on prices. Tomorrow's numbers on consumer confidence should reflect this, and an informal poll does seem to confirm this."

"Moving on, the SDF has announced that a contract for retrofit and upgrade of the sensor platforms on the Venture-Class of heavy explorers has been tendered..."

----

Shalbatana Arcology, Sunset, Mars...

Kyle Jung, from Information Services, watched with some satisfaction as the new company CEO plowed her way through her first all-Company report. The orc was smart and definitely not the traditional old white guy. She didn't play golf, she didn't play squash, and she didn't make hundreds of millions. In fact...

"And I'm pleased to announce that company profit sharing will result in an average check of nearly twenty-three thousand di-coins for all employees, depending on several variables such as hours worked and hiring date. The largest check will go to Milton Freewater, in Accounting, for nearly forty years of service. Thank you, Milton!"

She smiled and there was mild applause around the room. Milton was an okay guy, though a bit of a stickler when it came to expense reports, but he worked long hours to make sure everyone got paid right and on time.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jan 30, 2014 11:34 am

The Forbidden Zone, Under the Art Labs, Ares, Ares System...

A dark shape, hunched and scrabbling, scurried from one dark shadow to another and 16 swung her weapon to track it though she didn't touch the trigger. There were a lot of... things... in the Forbidden Zone. Whether they were an experiment gone wrong or something that had made it's way up from the Depths, the Doctor occasionally sent a team into the Zone to retrieve something or someone he needed for one of his experiments. Unless they were distinctly hostile the minions had been instructed to leave the other residents alone.

16 scooted forward, watching the environment just as much as she'd been watching the creatures. A lot of things ended here. What had been a complex high-volume air conditioning system - a carefully engineered system of ducts, pumps, and wiring - simply stopped a few meters away. The duct work ended in a ragged cut, as though something had sawn through it, but there was nothing laying there. Perhaps it had been scavenged by the inhabitants or perhaps just never installed in the first place.

The Forbidden Zone was like that. Where the Complex' Schematic ended, all bets were off. For a moment she wondered why she was down here. She knew why she was down here. Minion 2 had sent her and 52 down here. But he hadn't said why. He'd just sent her and told her to check the Zone. Check it for what?

The dark shape in the corner moved again, slinking out of it's little pool of darkness and deeper into the tunnels. It had left something behind though, and she shined her light to check what it was. A tapered cylinder that glinted in the light and it smelled like...

'Whiskey?'

She moved closer. A bottle of Old Number Nine; Black Label, lay on it's side. It was empty but the pungent smell was quite recognizable. 16 took off at a run, following the steps of the dark shape that had only moments ago shambled it's way into a side tunnel. Disregarding the danger, she pounded past a series of open cages with 52 hot on her heals. He had to be here...

Somewhere...

She turned the corner and her light fell on something squatting up against a wall. The lab coat it wore was dark, dirty, and torn and the hair was a scraggly mess, but the glinting eyes were unmistakable behind the layer of filth.

"Doctor!" She called out. The man turned to her, a small flask in one hand. "Doctor Ambrose!"

"Eh? Wh... fuck you. 'uck all of you. You anner robots... Shoulda... Shoulda stuck to people..." He took a firm belt from the flask and tossed it aside. "Nice, moldable, people... Fuck em..."

"Come on Doc," she slung her rifle and crouched next to him, putting one of his arms around her shoulders and hauling him to his feet. "Let's get you cleaned up."

He turned to her, "16? Zat you? Yer a good minion... Not pretty, but... but... I'll solve that.."

A sudden, sharp stabbing pain and 16 looked down to watch as Dr. Ambrose pulled a nasty looking syringe gun away from her side.

"Real pretty..." he giggled.

----

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

"I'm kinda surprised no one else thought of this," Demi mused aloud as she made her careful way into the deep tunnels. Tucked into the crook of her arm she had her secret weapon.

They'd figured out that the crystal pathways that run parallel to the tunnels were just that: A way for the intelligences that lived within the rocks of the world itself to move through the rock and inhabit a new area. That hadn't told them how to talk to them, or even what language they spoke, but she held the secret to that.

She hoped.

"Alright, I'm there, and I'm about to put him down."

Back in his lab on the surface, Doctor Richardo nodded, "I hear you. I'm starting the recording now."

It looked like a rock, and if not for the complex crystalline structure that filled the interior and dozens of small cracks that ran through to the surface, it might have been just that. But the Doso were sentient and, she hoped, similar enough to whatever it was down here that communication could be established. Normally the Doso lived in symbiosis with either a humanoid-shaped mass of plants or, like the Lieutenant here, nestled inside a robot. But he'd found the idea intriguing and had agreed to the experiment.

Demi set the Lieutenant down and stepped back. Part of the deal was that she'd stay there to pull him out if something went wrong. Risky, certainly, but nothing more than she was asking him to do.
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Postby Sunset » Sat Feb 01, 2014 7:40 pm

Senate Chamber, CORE VirtuaGov, Sunset...

"...is yet another reason why we should be looking to expand to new colony worlds!"

"Because of dead people?" The Senator from District Seventeen, who looked very much like a spinning top, looked over at the Senator from District Fifty Seven. Looked being a word very much up to one's interpretation. The top tipped slightly in his direction at least.

"Among other things... Yes."

"Well, I think we can get behind more expansion, but where? And do we want this to be a state-driven effort or government investment policy?" The Senator from District Nine rose and leaned on the desk in front of her. That nearly decapitated Seven and Ten, given that Nine had adopted the Queen of Blades as her avatar and the long slashing spines on her wings had a habit of catching on nearly anything. "Disregarding the notion of providing more room for cemeteries, which is definitely private sector as well as subtractive and thus stupid, I think we could encourage more expansion. A policy that directs Industry to direct more funds towards colonial expansion sounds reasonable."

"Sure." Industry was, in this case, Secretary G'hrnla and she was in attendance for the session. Or at least connected and semi-paying attention. In reality she was at a nice Italian place with her boyfriend but she'd taken a side trip to the lady's room. Unlike most of the Senators her avatar was her, a black-eyed, purple-haired, green-skinned woman. "I don't see any reason why we couldn't shift some investments that way. As long as it's not too specific of course. Perhaps offer some investment for companies willing to expand in some specific directions. But where?"

----

SDF-Hubble, The Periphery...

"Lieutenant Taidasha..." Senior Lieutenant Onera looked up, and up, at the half-Troll.

Not only was she tall, but she was also riding on the back of a horse. A very big horse, even compared to the horses of the men who surrounded her on four sides. Like them she was wearing armor but her's was cruel and magnificent, black steel worked with tremendous skill to fit her savage form. A great open mask framed her face, adding yet more tusks and horns to her already impressive features. What wasn't covered with plate was covered with mail, itself skillfully wrought and hung at the joints with decorative plates with a menacing spike in the center.

In one hand she carried a lance, long and slim, with a wickedly tapering blade at the end and a sturdy guard that surrounded her gauntlet-ed hand. In the other was a shield, itself a mirror of the open mask that she wore. A heavy mace hung at her saddle, flanged and cruel, and she looked nothing less than the warlord of a mighty empire. The four men - they were all men - around her were armed and equipped in much the same way though with less show and more function than the half-troll.

"Warlord Taidasha, Breaker of Thrones and Render of the Dragon of the North. Who are you, and what do you want of me?"

"Err, yeah. Well, we tracked your escape pod back to here. You seem to be doing well though."

Taidasha looked down at the Lieutenant then leaned forward on her mount. "Yes, I am well." She sat up and casting her gaze to both sides, she turned to the man on the right. "Leave us. I will treat with this one alone."

A moment later and the four horsemen had pounded away, leaving the pair standing along in the field in front of the city. It hadn't been a city when she'd arrived, but now the walls were growing and every day families streamed in from the countryside to add to the burgeoning population.

"So... How's it going, Lieutenant?"

"Eh, pretty good."

"What, exactly, happened here?" The Senior Louie looked up at the city on the hill and the bee-hive of activity that it seemed to contain. Shops and buildings of all kinds were under construction and the walls that were being built were going up a good kilometer away from the old palisade. "That's... pretty ambitious. Is that you?"

"Yep! Have you ever looked through the TYCS survival manual?"

"Of course. There's a whole course just on the contents."

"Yeah. So, I took over. The king was a douche, and around here they respect physical power a lot. Even on a woman. And with me, they got civilization. Crop rotation, sanitation, education... The works."

----

The Lab, Tank Two, Ares, Ares System, Several Years Ago...

16 screamed. It didn't do any good, but it felt good, and so she screamed. Not that anyone could hear her scream through the thick glass of the tank, or through the swirling purple goo that surrounded her, but it felt so good to scream. After a while the pain dulled and she looked down.

She knew why she was in the tank, and she knew what was happening from seeing it happen from the outside, but now it was an entirely different and almost terrifying experience. Under the effects of the purple goo and whatever had been in the needle gun her body was changing. What had been hard muscle was now softening and what had been two soft and altogether subtle mounds on her chest were swelling.

They had grown from the last time she'd looked. Apples were now oranges and headed towards grapefruit. God, they were magnificent, weren't they?

Another jolt of pain and she screamed again. The Tank was accelerating their growth as well as all the other changes her body was undergoing and oh god, it hurt so fucking bad. Nerves screamed as skin stretched and ligaments groaned and muscles roared and...

"Aaaaaaaah!"

A shape emerged from the purple darkness to stand at arm's length from the tank. A white coat, slim... For a minute she thought it was the Doctor. But the way it stood was off. One hip thrust to the side, a silhouette that was more hourglass than rectangle. The realization hit her and she screamed again. Pushing herself forward she ignored the pain to press herself again the tank. Her new and tender chest ballooned against the glass and she pressed close enough to see through the purple murk to where she...

Yes, she. Subject One. Ms. 16.

To where she now stood in a white lab coat with a gorgeous red silk camisole underneath draped over that stupidly sexy body. Those lovely heart-shaped lips with their silky red lipstick and delicately rouged cheeks and those glasses and the long wavy black hair...

16 screamed again and shrank back from the glass.

"She seems to be progressing well, Doctor," Ms. 16 stated, her voice matter-of-fact but somehow still dripping with raw sexuality. "Physical characteristics are expressing as expected and her vital statistics are normal. She does seem to be in some pain though. Shall I sedate her?"

"No, no," Ambrose looked up for a second from his console. "Minion 16... No... She'll need a new designation. Something in line with her new position."

"New position, Doctor?" Ms. 16 looked over at him, one eyebrow cocked under her glasses.

"Well, yes, of course. You've been groomed and molded. The perfect lab assistant. She was a warrior, a soldier. And I am no general, no leader of men. She shall be that leader. But she will need a title."
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Beyond the Horizon (Open to Allied RP)

Postby Sunset » Sun Feb 02, 2014 4:00 pm

OOC: Like everything in here, this next 'story' is open to those of my allies and friends who have any reasonable way to know about it. It is planned, and will be reasonable momentous, but it's also very exploration-driven as well.

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

Spaghettification... That's what it was called when something crossed over the event horizon of a black hole. A good reason, to Captain LaCrosse's mind, to stay as far away from the screen-filling sphere of absolute nothing as he could. What was annoying was that the scientists kept asking to go closer...

"How about 'no'?" Felix answered - again. Across from him sat the primary thorn in his side, Doctor Saryan Brilla. She was a thickly built woman of medium height who, according to her service records had grown up on a dairy farm on Anuke - the biggest agricultural world in Sunset - and had then gone on to earn a Doctorate in singularity physics. She also looked like she could wrestle down half of the Marine contingent. It did make saying 'no' over and over just a little bit harder too.

"Why not?" She pouted. It wasn't a very attractive pout, more of a whine, but a pout still. "We've got millions of kilometers before we'd even be close enough to get into the teensiest bit of trouble."

"No." He finished his drink and thought about ordering another one. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the four-armed Ju-Docri at the bar start his order and he sat back. "We're more than close enough for the sensors on the Yang to pick up every little thing you'd need."

Especially his ship. His brand new, state of the art, just came out of the VELMA at Ares, Venture E-Class, baby... There was no way he was risking her for 'just a little bit closer' to something that could and would reduce her to yet another little piece of a featureless spinning singularity.

"I'll fuck ya."

Thank goodness he'd finished the drink. LaCrosse still choked a bit as he looked across at the burly and... Not even wingman-cute woman across from him. Not that it would have worked anyway. There was a distinct line between professional and private for the Captain and that would have crossed it, signed its name, and turned in its commission.

"I'm kidding," she held up a large hand, "Kidding. Though I grew up on a farm. I know some things..."

His drink arrived and Felix took a rather larger belt than he'd intended, but the burn did do a little to wipe the image of a... 'Yeah, enough of that,' he thought. "Why are you so fired up about getting closer? We're one of the best sensor platforms in the galaxy, we've got a VDA scattered across a few million klicks to pick up even more, and you're willing to jump into the sack to get us closer?"

"Sure," she looked down, twisting her glass back and forth. "See, something smells wrong. Like a late-summer cow pie."

"What's a cow pie?" he asked.

"What a cow shits out. It's usually a big, black, steaming pile of crap. Attracts flies like crazy, and depending on what they ate it's..."

"Enough! So, something stinks." He looked up to the ceiling, which itself was a pseudo-window on the wider galaxy. This close to the core the sky was packed with stars and he could easily make out the distinct trails of four different nebula that were slowly being swallowed by the singularity. "What about it stinks?"

"The math for one." Fair enough, she was really good at math. If he was looking for an expert on singularity physics, she'd be one to go to. "The big girl out there conforms to the standard model for black holes of its size, location, and age by less than point-oh-oh-oh-seven percent."

"That's good, isn't it?" One plus one equaling two was always good in his book, LaCrosse figured.

"It's too good," Brilla slugged back her drink and slid the glass aside. A practical person, she'd just ordered three up front. "It's the standard model and the standard model always has deviations when you get out into the field. Otherwise, why else would we be here? See one black hole, you've seen em all. Might as well go back home, toss out the physics texts, and take up landscapes."

"So you're saying it stinks because it's too pretty? A cow pie that doesn't stink."

"Nice try," she laughed. "But you're getting there. I dunno... It just feels like... This is exactly what we're supposed to see. And if we get closer, maybe we can see what we're not supposed to see."

"You think there's something there beside a black hole? That sounds a little crazy."

"I know! Which is why we're talking in the bar, and not in the weekly meeting. Cause it is crazy..."
Last edited by Sunset on Fri Dec 23, 2016 3:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 03, 2014 6:00 pm

A Beach, Terra Incognito, New Latin System...

A long line of footsteps stretched out behind the young Asian woman as she jogged along the wavering line between surf and sand. The late morning sun flashed off the water warming her dusky skin and drying out what little water remained from her earlier swim. Step after step, her trim body barely moving despite the tiny bikini she wore, she made her steady way up the shore towards a distant headland and the soaring glass tower that rose from it's summit.

It was another one of the many research complexes that made up the physical part of Special Projects, though as far as those on the warm sandy beach and the curving road that wound along the cliff above were concerned it was a high-end condominium tower. That explained the gate and the security, as well as the private landing pad that projected out from the rim of the headland and shaded the rocky cliff under it. A short stairway that started at the beach was built into this, and Katryna pounded up the short flight of steps to stop at the plain-looking door at the top.

A moment later it slid aside and, just inside a short hallway floored with spaced wooden beams that allowed the sand she'd carried inside to fall off, the door to one of a pair of elevators opened. Just inside a thin, elfin figure stood and as the doors slid closed she turned to him and pressed her body up against him. His neutral expression became a smile as he looked down at her and she raised her lips for a quick kiss and then a little more. A hand went out, moving towards the 'Stop Car' button but he caught her wrist even as a hand went to her backside and slid under her suit.

"Not now," Amoril laughed gently, returning yet another kiss. "We've got a meeting in five minutes!"

"Uh huh... But it's my meeting..." Katryna slid a hand down his stomach, "And you can always be late to your own meeting..."

"Not when your mother is going to be there."

"You're no fun!"

"Just think of it as a good reason to keep things short. Then we'll go up to your office and..."

The doors slid open and another pair of researchers stepped into the car. Katryna and Amoril didn't separate - nothing wrong with a little PDA - but their conversation shifted to the augment space and by the time they arrived at their destination both were visibly aroused. Whether their elevator companions noticed, well... The meeting was suspiciously short.

----

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

A week later and Professor Brilla had her numbers. What had been just a tickle in the back of her head was now confirmed, double-confirmed, and tested and confirmed.

"I told ya!" The hefty woman slammed down her hand on the table in a triumphant gesture. "It's right there, in all it's multi-spectrum glory!"

In the middle of the table a hologram of a half-dozen different bars and graphs and streams of data came together into a single three-dimensional graphic. One layer of the sheet that floated in among the grid was constantly in motion, representing the output of the many different black holes that had been surveyed and studied by the Exploration Command and it's sister organizations. The other was a similar sheet except this one was notable smoother. If the two had been oceans the first would be storm-tossed and liable to sink any vessel that ventured out and the other would have been the best day of sailing ever.

"It's a fake black hole!" She spun the model around, the various graphs that fed into it scattering like leaves, until it lined up again and the scattered holograms began to drift back into place. "I'm like... Ninety-nine percent sure!"

"Alright, so... What does that mean?" LaCrosse asked. "We can fly right through it?"

"Oh no, no way," she shook her head, "Fake, but real. Which is absolutely," she rolled 'absolutely' out to triple it's normal spoken length, "Ludicrous. Who builds a fake black hole? And how?"

That was also an interesting question. Sunset was capable of making an artificial singularity, certainly. The Aurora Transit Gates created an artificial wormhole that connected the two distant locations. In fact, the data from the transit gates was just one of the data elements that was slowly scrolling past. But this wasn't a little singularity that would allow the transit of a starship but a vast, all-consuming maw that matched any black hole out there in size and intensity.

"Maybe you should be asking yourself 'why'?" One of the other researchers, a white-haired bajoni, suggested. "That might lead itself to 'how'."

"Good idea, Tithral!" Saryan agreed. "Problem is, if it's being used for something, that something is going on internally. I've looked through the sensor logs for anything nearby - a station, a ship, anything - and there's nothing but nebula out there. Although..." She looked over at Captain LaCrosse, a devious look in her eye, "The readings aren't as clear close to the event horizon. A lot of data loss..."

"Oh, I see..." LaCrosse folded his arms and gave her his best skeptical look. "You want to get closer."

She shrugged, "All I'm saying is that there cooould be something hiding right at the edge of the event horizon."

Felix sighed as a half-dozen scientists and researchers looked at him expectantly. The problem was that he knew they were right. Before he'd taken command of the Yangtze he'd been assigned to the Orson Welles, a very old Cohort III-Class Cruiser. When it had been taken out of service, it had been moved to a high-security storage facility that was located in the tidally locked zone between three black holes. The three singularities sucked away any trace of the facility's existence.

The only way to access the storage depot was to go there, which meant...

"Fine." Brilla began to smile but LaCrosse shut her down before she could get out of her chair, "But we're not going. We'll send in a drone, as close as it can go. But I want some hard data."

"Oh, yeah! Of course, Captain," Saryan looked around the table at the other researchers. "We'll figure out where the horizon seems to be the stablest and set up a search pattern. If I was hiding something, that's where I'd do it."

----

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

Still several years ago...

"Ah, Agent 16... You're awake..."

16 groaned and turned her head to look over to where Doctor Ambrose stood next to the exam table. She was stretched out on it, completely naked except for a pair of straps below her breasts and across her thighs, and his eyes were roaming across her wonderful, delightful, supple new body. His clear lust didn't help that much. A mirror hung in a casing above her and she could see that her entire body looked like it had been worked over by a prizefighter. Her chest especially was a giant mass of bruises and blotching skin.

"How do you feel?"

"Ugh..."

It wasn't a very specific response but it was apparently enough for the Doctor, who turned to Miss 16, who had been standing to one side, "Run another scan, and prepare her for the first set of procedures."

"Yes, Doctor," her doppelganger nodded, stepping up to the table and pulling the overhead scanner down until it was in position over her feet. As it began to move up the table she reached under the table and swung a complex-looking device up and into place.

"What... What proc..."

Miss 16 looked up at her. Her face was calm and dispassionate despite the condition her double was in. "The Doctor has elected to augment your existing capabilities in light of your new position, Agent 16. Advanced cybernetics..." She brushed a hand through her long, silky black hair to push it behind one ear. 16 could see a row of small implants there, a half-dozen in total, and there was a thin bundle of cables that ran from them to the back of her neck. "As well as some alterations."

Turning, she walked away... Oh, those hips... And returned with a large needle gun just as the scanner moved into the finished position above her head. Without hesitation she shoved it against her stomach and pulled the trigger and 16 tensed in pain as the vial emptied into her.

"Some of your chemical conditioners are... inappropriate for your new role. More independence, less self-sacrifice. You'll be receiving some cognitive conditioning as well..."

Another device swung down over her head and Miss 16 carefully, but firmly, strapped it down over her face and head. A moment later there was a click and she could feel, but not see, as the device that had been positioned over her arm was swung down and locked into place. Another was closed over her leg and a low tingling pain shot through both limbs.

"Ready, Doctor..."

In an instant the pain went from low to excruciating and the newly titled Agent 16 passed out.
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Postby Sunset » Tue Feb 04, 2014 3:36 pm

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

"Data, get your red hot spicy data!" Brilla called out, making her way onto the bridge like a tugboat under way. A crewman stepped back suddenly and she nearly squashed the poor woman flat as she brushed past in her hurry to reach the Captain. "Whoops, sorry!"

"What is it?" Felix looked up from the console where he'd been working. It seemed that every military in existence ran on paperwork. No matter how much automation there was, someone had to sign off on it.

"You wanted it and baby, do I got it!" The blonde woman moved a hand, interacting with an invisible object, and a holographic image appeared at her fingertips. "And holy shit snacks you're gonna love it!"

The graphic showed a stylized representation of the singularity overlaid with a topological-style map. The relative peaks and valleys of gravitational force that represented the boundary of the event horizon swarmed over the surface. Of these, a number were highlighted and as he and the nearby crewmembers watched, they slowly slid over the sphere of the singularity.

"Ah! There you are..." Doctor Tithral hurried up behind the larger woman, "You lost me back there."

"Yeah! Well, this part is gonna blow your fucking mind!" Saryan exclaimed as she grabbed the black hole and threw it overhand towards the holo-projector in the center of the bridge. "High school football..."

The hologram expanded to fill the much larger space and she stepped up to it, pointing at one of the highlighted areas. "These are the areas of relative gravitational stability that Doc Tit's been mapping out, right?"

Felix nodded, sinking into his command chair as he did, "Alright... They don't look that stable to me though. They are moving."

"Yeah, but..." A thought and the image sped up. While the highlighted areas moved over the sphere, they never seemed to vary in size and never disappeared or appeared. "You'd think they'd vanish, or new areas would form over time, right?" A smaller image appeared next to the larger one. "This is a normal black hole."

"KX-370-A, coreward from Roania..." the bajoni supplied.

"Yep. Perfectly normal. It's got the same variance in activity, but they move around and..." One of the zones weakened and disappeared. In the fast-forward of the hologram, dozens vanished and re-appeared over the course of a few seconds. "That's what it's supposed to look like."

"Which means this one is not normal..." LaCrosse leaned forward.

"Not even the best part!" Brilla gestured and the little hologram disappeared and a series of lines and data points as well as times sprouted up on the larger one. "Not only do the stable areas never disappear, but they also never touch each other. In fact, they steer clear of each other!"

"You're saying these areas of stable gravity are under some kind of control?"

"Well, I don't..." Tithral started to clarify before the burly woman cut him off, "No... Well, maybe. I'd say control in that they move in a constant pattern but not in that they are being manipulated from somewhere else."

The singularity sped up, the lines racing over the sphere until, one by one, they began to move over themselves again.

"If we hadn't been here for over a week, we'd have missed it," she pointed out. "It takes about nine standard days for the pattern to repeat, if this holds true, but I'll bet it will. And I'll bet you a week's pay that there's something hiding inside those stable points of gravity, right on the edge of the horizon!"

----

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

"Human..." The Queen pronounced the unfamiliar word again before sinking back on her throne.

A raised hand and one of the two female servants who flanked her began to fan her. It was enormous and paddle-shaped; a long slender piece of wood curved back on itself and covered with textured paper and richly decorated. The paper seemed to be everywhere in both the palace and the city, and the explorers had already determined it's origins. Like the wasps of Earth, the Ixut could discharge a cellulose and water mixture from a gland under their mouths and slowly form it into various objects using the small mandibles on either side as well as their hands.

Nearly all of the delicate traceries and lattice works were formed of the stuff. Outside the palace they were often painted with a white chalk-water mixture and then painted again with various details but in the palace there were bits of gold leaf on top of this and the structures themselves were usually of much higher quality. That and an abundance of wood; scarce in the region but indicative of continued trade with the Cayr tribes in the north.

"I have not heard of humans before," she stated, without seeming to admit ignorance. "You say you come from the far south?"

"From very far away," Timmons clarified without going into detail. "We come to talk of trade and friendship, both of which we crave."

Whether she heard this or not, she ignored it and continued along her own line of thought, "My family stretches back over many generations. My father's-mother's-greatest ancestor sent a general and an expedition to the far south to see what lay there. Many of those with him did not return, but yet he found his way back with riches and spoils but yet he did not report the existence of humans."

"The world is large, oh Queen," Trinya spoke up. "And we are a tiny people before your greatness. It is easy to overlook us."

'Laying it on thick?'

'If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.'

'We haven't tried the brilliance bit yet...'

"Perhaps so," Queen Ma'Ejako agreed. "Though two of you managed to cross many days of desert to reach us, a feat which would tax one of the Ixut to their limits. Why come so far?"

"Tales of your glory have reached even into our tiny kingdom," Trinya replied, "We could only come to see for ourselves."

"Your tongue is slippery, like watered honey," Ma'Ejako stated, "But honey soothes. What do you and your companion wish of me?"

"Trade and friendship, your majesty," Timmons spoke up, "We have precious gems, and gold, as well as other goods that we would willingly part with to secure the friendship of Ma'Ejako."

Never mind that the gems were space-age plastics run off on the shuttle's printer and the gold was scavenged from the survival packs.

"And for this, all you request in return is knowledge and friendship?" She looked at the pair sharply. "Your kingdom must be rich indeed..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Feb 05, 2014 3:55 pm

Agent 16's Apartment, Under the Art Building, Ares, Ares System...

An alarm went off in her head and 16 woke up. There was no yawn, no long stretch, just a sudden moment of asleep and then awake. With one hand she swept the blanket back just enough for her to slip out from under it and then sweep it back into place. For a moment she paused as her eye caught her reflection in the long mirror mounted on the wall directly across from her. It, like everything else in her new apartment, was in a style that could be called 'harsh modern', but it did a more than adequate job of showing her reflection.

Fit and athletic - and all-together naked - she couldn't help but enjoy the look of her new body. The bruises had faded quickly thanks to the Doctor's upgrades and a bath in the purple slime and now she was, as far as she was concerned, perfect. Everything from the slight bronze of her skin that suggested the beginning of a tan to her flashing dark gray eyes and...

Something moved in the bed behind her, distracting her from her survey of the new body the Doctor had given her, and she moved aside to check the reflection in the mirror. It was large, a little hairy, and definitely male. In short, it was 34. With one hand on her hip, she looked at him in the mirror while he shifted and started to get out of the bed, messing up the blanket as he did. And of course leaving it a mess.

It had been a while since she'd had sex with someone else and she'd chosen 34 to break her fast. He was big, muscular, and well-equipped for the task and it had been enormously satisfying. Possibly too much so...

She looked down at her body. Things had felt much, much better than the last time. It was possible that some of the implants she'd been provided with were intended to enhance physical sensation, but it was also possible that the Doctor had tinkered with her body somehow. That was hard to say, but she casually examined herself as she stood in front of the mirror. No marks of surgery, though there were some bite marks. Interesting.

Behind her 34 knelt, found his underwear, and pulled them on followed by a tight t-shirt. That served as sufficient reminder that she should get dressed as well and she turned to slide open one of the low drawers under the bed. Inside were a number of different garments, all of which were visually similar but different colors. Picking a body suit at random, she began to pull the blue and white garment on. Skin tight could only begin to describe it and the difference between it and her old, well-worn armor was fascinating.

It looked something like a racing suit except for the hexagonal sections of flexible armor plating on her thighs, chest, and upper arms. There was a matching pair of gloves and knee-high boots that were designed to look like they had a heel though they were actually quite stable. She didn't need them to make her butt look good, she noted as she turned and looked over one shoulder in the mirror.

By now 34 was dressed as well, or at least as much as he needed to be before the trip down to the armory to put on his duty gear, and she stopped him as he walked past, "Thank you. Your sexual performance was extremely satisfying and I will keep you under consideration as a long-term partner."

"Oh, uh, sure. Thanks..." He looked down at her, surveying the colorful uniform that was quite outside the minion's norm. "That looks good on you, but..." He reached out and pulled the seam down from where she'd had it at the neck down through her cleavage and past her stomach to just below her naval. "I think it's supposed to be like that."

"Thank you," she nodded.

As soon as he'd left she moved over to the locker that had been built into the wall next to the bed. Waving a hand over the security sensor, she stepped back as it swung open. A personal armory - another perk of her new position - filled with every sort of standard issue weapon. She strapped the holster for a heavy pistol to one thigh in a low gunfighter position and slid the weapon home before adding a matching combat knife on the opposite thigh. A harness for a sub-machine gun around both shoulders and a pair of ammunition pouches for the guns on the back of her hips.

The last thing was the glasses. She didn't need glasses - one of the cybernetic augmentations had been new visual implants - but they had polled very well and the Doctor had insisted. 16 slid them on and turned to look at herself in the mirror. Oh yes, she looked good. Damned good.

----

"Ah, good morning 16..." Doctor Ambrose looked up as soon as she entered the lab. He was kneeling next to a brand new machine that looked vaguely industrial rather than scientific. "I trust you slept well?"

"Yes, thank you Doctor."

Miss 16, who was standing next to the long line of now-empty tanks taking notes on a holopad, turned to her. It was hard to say who looked better, especially since the former Subject One was a clone of Agent 16 and Agent 16 had in turn been injected with a virus tailored to pass on select portions of Miss 16's spectacular anatomy.

"Was your sexual intercourse with Minion 34 satisfactory?"

That did give Agent 16 a bit of a pause. Lines were being erased and new lines drawn, it seemed, and she was unsure as to where her line was. But that question was answered a moment later when Miss 16 walked over to her and leaned in close, so that the Doctor could not hear. "The Doctor has suggested that one of my goals of providing him with a suitably motivating amount of sexual frustration may be enhanced by casual banter between the two of us regarding our sexual activities."

"Oh," 16 considered her answer. "Then it was very satisfying. 34 brought me to orgasm several times and the results were pleasurable."

"He has also suggested that, as a result of our shared previous position as minions, our conversations may be too... structured in their nature and that we should try to have more casual conversations in his presence."

"So... He was a good fuck."

"Nice!"

"If you two are done conspiring in the corner," the Doctor called out, "I have need of your assistance, Agent 16."

The pair separated and 16 went over to the Doctor, who was still working in the guts of the machine. Now that she had a chance to examine it, it seemed to be a manufacturing device of some kind. Powders went in one end and a whirling metal wheel and a circular series of pressed turned them into pills that were ejected on the other end.

"I need your help adjusting this press," he called out from inside, "If you will read off the numbers on the top display and make the adjustments as I require them?"

"Certainly, Doctor," she moved around the machine to the interface panel and studied it for a moment. Across the lab, Miss 16 had returned to the tanks and her notes. It was, 16 mused after a few minutes, the new normal.

----

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

"Isn't there anything you can do to clean up the feed?" Captain LaCrosse asked. He already knew the answer was 'no' but he had to ask.

"I've already done everything I can do, Captain," the skri lieutenant offered from his station at the back of the bridge. In the holotank the direct feed from the drone shifted and fuzzed with interference from the nearby singularity.

In the depths of space the little drone wasn't so little. One of the four fighter-sized drones the Venture-Class normally carried, the old Aggressor Heavy Fighter had been stripped down to make it as light and powerful as possible. Even with all it's weapon systems removed, armored access panels unbolted, and everything else that could conceivably be stripped off done away with, it was still operating at the margins. But at least it was a drone.

One by one, it was nosing it's way into the shifting areas of gravetic stability and looking for... Something.

"This is driving me bonkers," Brilla muttered from her commandeered chair. She'd been watching since the very first patch when they'd found absolutely nothing and come away with even less. The interference from the singularity was so intense that the transmissions back from the drone just weren't reliable. It was recording everything, in triplicate, and they'd wait until it did a few more to pull it out and examine the recordings. Still, it had been her doing and it was her research so she stuck it out.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Feb 06, 2014 2:01 pm

All Saints, Notch...

"Commander..."

Commander Yon Gi nodded to Admiral Glafka and fell in beside her as she strode purposefully across the tarmac towards a distant shuttle craft. "Admiral, this isn't exactly the working lunch you mentioned."

"Sorry Commander, but the Dauntless leaves orbit in ten minutes with or without me."

The Dauntless was the Grand Admiral's personal ship, a Dawn-Class Dreadnought, which in reality meant it spent much of it's time on patrol while she spend most of her time planet-side. Still, it was her personal ship, so...

"Why the rush?" the perpetually smiling Gi asked. There wasn't any kind of general alert, nor anything else that might require the sudden departure of a pure warship such as the Dauntless.

"Two minutes ago the Archimedes picked up traces of the Wright Brothers. They also picked up traces of Psyduck activity. They are moving to investigate but I'm pulling together a task force for a smash and grab."

----

The Lab, Under The Art Lab, Room 113, Ares... Some Time Ago...

The machine whirled away in the center of the lab and Agent 16 watched as a steady stream of pills slid down the ramp and into bags. There wasn't a lot of the powder left, according to the display, and soon enough it would spin down and... What? What was the point of this exercise?

"Doctor...?"

"Yes?" Ambrose looked up from the console where he'd been working the whole morning. She wasn't exactly sure what he'd been doing but she'd seen flashes of color and women, both naked and clothed.

"What are you doing?"

"Making a brochure... Oh! The pills, yes... Take a look at one."

Retrieving one from the bag, she held it up and rolled it over. "SEXYE." There it was, stamped right into the little white pill. "Why make them ourselves? It's just a generic genetic health pill..." There were dozens, if not hundreds, of manufacturers who could make the same thing, in bulk, for far cheaper.

"And that, Agent 16, is the point," Ambrose laughed and conjured up a large hologram of the presentation he'd been working on. It showed a woman... Actually, it showed her as she'd been several years ago. When she'd first been inducted as a minion she'd been thin, with a decidedly average appearance, and the markedly subdued sexual characteristics that had inspired the Doctor to modify her.

The image began to morph from her as she'd been to her as she was now, conveniently skipping the heavily muscled minion stage, and this was accompanied by several flashy but meaningless graphs and graphics.

"SEXYE's sales have been dropping off, and I need the money to work on my next project..." "And to meet payroll," she injected. "Yes, and that. So I had an idea. I'll boost sales by mixing in some pills based on our little virus. We'll call it 'unfortunate side effects' and sales will go through the roof as desperate women seek that perfect body!"

It was, she admitted, a brilliant scheme. By labeling it as a side-effect rather than normal, they would avoid promising to make women beautiful while still extending that potential. They would just keep buying the cheap generic at inflated prices until they got lucky or realized the futility of their purchase.

"And what is your next project?" Miss 16 asked, leaning out from behind the examination table that had been shoved off to one side. "I should begin the preparations now..."

"All in due time, Miss 16. I'm still waiting on a package from an old colleague. Tonight though, I want you and Agent 16 to take these pills to the regular manufacturer and adulterate their next batch. Then the 'side effects' should start manifesting within a week!"

----

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

"Will you lookit that, Captain... What did I tell you?"

It certainly was something, Felix admitted, but what was it? Even the data files from the recovered drone were suspect and after a few hours of piecing them together, matching them to what the Yangtze's own sensors and VDA had, and letting the computer do it's magic, they still had a whole lot of fuzz. Fuzzy with a side of some blotches that Saryan was now pointing at excitedly.

"It looks like..." A slightly darker fuzzy patch.

"Ah, but you're only looking at this section. Now, take a look at this!" She gestured and a dozen more fuzzy patches appeared. "What we have here is regularity, and I'm not talking about the results of last night's dinner."

"Thank you for that charming mental image."

"Yeah, well, as I said. Regularity. Each section had one of these... possible objects, each the same size, and at the same position within the area."

"Are they generating the singularity then?"

Brilla shook her head, as did Tithral, "No, Captain. While we can't verify the dimensions of the object, they are only about two cubic meters in size within a margin of twenty to forty percent. Not scientifically accurate, but enough to generalize the hypotheses that they cannot produce the power output necessary to maintain an artificial event horizon of this scale."

"Right! If I were to guess, and you know I love a guess, I'd say they are either some kind of sensor platform to allow something else to monitor the singularity, or they are... Fuck if I know. I say we send the drone back out and catch one."

"And if they are maintaining the singularity? What would happen then?"

Brilla shrugged.

"Good answer. Let's get some real answers worked up before we start messing with a black hole, alright?"
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Postby Sunset » Fri Feb 07, 2014 3:08 pm

SNN Nightly News with Keira Quinn and Trent Lockwood, Several Years Ago...

"Tonight's big story is SEXYE..." Trent began, looking into the camera. It was several years ago, and several years would not seemingly age him at all. It would, however, see the lovely and talented Keira Quinn put out to pasture in favor of that spotlight-stealing bitch, Tanya. "And I'm not just talking about Keira!"

The woman next to him, a middle-aged but quite attractive redhead in a tight jacket that was cut low enough to emphasis her full chest and lack - or need for - a bra, laughed politely and blushed a delightful shade of red before picking up, "Thank you, Trent. That's right; SEXYE, the designer genetic longevity drug purveyed on the Doctor Tyson show by spokesman and noted biologist Doctor Steven Ambrose, has been plagued by side effects over the past week."

"These side effects seem to have originated with the latest manufacturing run of the once-lagging supplement."

"Once-lagging?" Keira asked. "Not anymore! As of this morning, sales of the drug are up nearly four hundred percent from yesterday! What might cause a drug with adverse side effects to take off again? Well, if the side effects of your drug included possible breast enlargement, hair growth, hair reduction, and apparent sexual sensitivity, you might take a second look at what exactly it is you're trying to market!"

"Wait, so you're saying that one of the potential side effects of SEXYE is..."

"Being sexy, yes. Already bottles of SEXY are going for several times their normal retail value on various web sites as supplies run low in local areas."

"A statement from Doctor Ambrose, which was accompanied by this graphic..."

The graphic of Agent 16 pre-virus and her transition to post-virus appeared and slowly played out between Keira and Trent.

"Said in part that DSA Inc and Doctor Steven Ambrose were upset by these developments and, while noting that the product was not released under the Consumer Product Safety Service's guidelines and regulations, it is based on a well-known and tested formula and these side effects are both upsetting and completely unintended and that an investigation was forthcoming..."

----

"Mmm, you ready for another, lover?" Stephanie D'Angelo, divorced mother of three and nearly fifty, rolled over to look at her new partner. She'd met him in the hall of their shared condominium complex. Or, rather, he'd met her. She'd been looking at him for years. Those muscles, that handsome face... But ol' dumpy Stephanie, who's husband had left her for a woman a third of her age and not even the same species, had been steadfastly overlooked.

That is, until a chance encounter with a tainted bottle of SEXYE. Now she was hot. Smoking, sexy, seductive, hot. It had hurt like a son of a bitch, and she'd had to call into work for a week straight, but now... God, look at him. And he was looking at her. She didn't know or care that he had a partner of his own at home, or that he would go home later that evening and engage in the same passionate lovemaking with her. It just wasn't important at all. Just the moment, the touch, the feeling...

It wasn't important that less than a day later his partner would start feeling the same aches and pains she had, even though she'd never touched SEXYE...

----

Ixutsangi, Ixut System...

"This one," Ma'Ejako gestured to Trinya, "Will remain here."

Timmons looked over to Trinya and then slowly back to the Queen. This, he had to admit, he hadn't been expecting. Both were surrounded by soldiers - nearly twenty of them - and they all had their spears pointing directly at the two outsiders. Some were on foot while others were buzzing just above them and it made a highly effective cocoon around them.

'What do you want to do?' she asked, speaking through their invisible augmented link. Suddenly the younger woman was in completely uncharted waters. In their armor, they were relatively safe, but neither had their helmet on and a well-aimed shot would still kill or incapacitate either one.

'Go along with it,' Timmons instructed. 'Let's see what she has to say.'

The Queen continued, "Your country is rich, you have gold and gems, but yet we have not heard of you? I grow suspicious. You," she pointed to Timmons, "Will return to your country with a flight of my most trusted soldiers and the scribe Sepritsi. He will treat with the leader of your country for both her life and our friendship."

'Which means, if we don't bribe them, they'll declare war,' Timmons supplied.

'That would be interesting.'

'And short, and messy,' Timmons smiled internally. 'But I'm not going to risk you for that. Go with them, I'll see if I can't slip my guard and come back for you. Just don't try anything.'

"I will do as you ask, oh Queen..."

"Very wise of you," the ixut agreed. "Now, you will leave shortly. Across the hot sands my soldiers will travel best at night. Prepare yourself, human."

----
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Postby Sunset » Fri Feb 07, 2014 7:58 pm

SDF-Yangtze, Near the Core...

"It could blow up," Brilla ticked off, "Implosion, explosion... Take your pick. Depends on if we're looking at an artificial singularity, or an artificial event horizon, or a real singularity that is somehow being managed..."

"Wait a second, back up there..." Felix held up a hand. "Managed?"

Doctor Brilla, Captain LaCrosse, and a select few others of the research team and senior officers were gathered in the conference room just off the recreation lounge, itself positioned just at the summit of the ship's wide saucer section. Outside, in the lounge, those of the crew who were off-duty were enjoying a variety of different entertainments. Including more than a few stiff drinks, which Felix wished he had at the moment.

"Are you saying that we could be looking at a scenario where someone, or thing, has the capacity to actively manage the output of a black hole?"

"Well, there's black holes and there's black holes, Captain..." Brilla noted. "There's a few civilizations out there that use a confined singularity to generate power for large space ships. But yes, there exists the possibility that some civilization could, somehow, do the same thing with a regular black hole."

Felix fixed her with a hard look, "Do you think that's what we're looking at?"

"Oh, fuck no..." the heavy blond woman held up her hands in a warding gesture, "No way. One, maybe two percent chance. You asked for possibilities, and I'm giving them to you."

"Alright, then what's the biggest possibility?"

"Implosion. We grab one of those things, it turns out to be some kind of generator, and the singularity goes all wobbly and shoots a jet of quantum fuck-you out the other side."

"Which means we want to be well away from it. That's pretty sound strategy no matter what though, so let's go forward on that basis. We'll equip the drone for a capture," here he nodded towards the senior engineer, who made a note on a holopad, "And back way off. We'll leave the VDA for observation though."

----
My Colors are Blue and Yellow

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