A Gamma World® play-by-post adventure run by gammaworld_gm
Somewhat relieved, the elevator doors open onto the 5th floor of the Datil UPS building, which presents a computerized lab-like setting. Liz pushes Jonn out with a jab of her spiked forearm. Frieda rushes out following Geo into the main room where she left Jake earlier.
"Shut your pie hole!" she spits, showing Jonn her fist. "What do think, you're in charge or something? PSH males can be so damn stupid. Your own people, er, uhmm... some lady named Kasteen came and picked up the Gren and Chickenoids from the roof not five minutes ago. What? You out of the loop? As you know, you don't get your equipment back until you leave, and if you keep asking, I'll pound your sorry ass into rad-rat soup."
From a door behind you and beside the elevator, K-11 walks out, noisily stopping beside Jonn. Liz slinks back, eyeing the ominous-looking black metallic glowing-eyed security robot, who no doubt heard her few choice words to Jonn.
"If you wish her immediate termination, I would be happy to comply, Jonn <click, click>!"
Liz can almost be heard swallowing hard. K-11 follows you into the fully stocked medical bay. A bloodied sheet completely covers some immobile body lying on an examination table.
"No, no, Jake! You can't be dead! Now I'll never get my arm reattached," Geo says lamentably, if that were possible for a robot. "I guess there is always nanotechnology, or redesign and refabrication of Jake at the molecular level...."
Suddenly the body hidden beneath the bloodied sheet sits up, startling everyone. Leghorn squawks as if bitten on the drumstick by a Foxoid. It's a medical droid.
"You're not Jake!"
"You got it, genius. What do I look like? A dot-matrix tractor-feed printer? Next you'll probably ask me if I was programmed in FORTRAN by Isaac Asimov."
"I was... but now I won't!"
"Well, at least here you'll be treated with dignity," it looks sternly at Geo. "Now strip to your naked circuits and get on the probulator."
Cupping one hand to the side of his noise actuator and leaning toward Jonn, Geo says, "Obviously he doesn't have very good FORTRAN programming, because he's too large a goof to actually be a goof."
"Pfft ... one armed tourists."
"Listen, you oversized dishwasher, one more joke about my arm and I'm gonna get 24th century on your robotic ass. It's really a shame I'm a pacifist."
"Dream on... boob tube," the droid gives Geo another stern look.
A door swings open across the room and Jake steps out.
A wide smile lights up Jake's face, his shades hanging from his pocket as he walks towards you. You see no visible injures and he appears to be fine. "What's with all the sad faces? It's not like I died or nothin'. I just smashed a few of those ancient ketchup packs I had in my pocket, that's all, nothin' to worry about. What, no kiss, Frieda?"
[The groups have shifted again:
Frieda strolls across the room and pokes Jake right about where the wound was. "Don't you remember how much your first one cost? What makes you think you can afford another?" she says.
"Aiee! Don't do that." As he checks to make sure she did not do any damage, the word "first" and its possible meaning rings in his head.
"Looks like T3 did a fine job. I'm glad to see you're okay---it really worried me to leave you alone." More quietly, so that the others cannot hear, she asks, "This is the end of Protocol 2, I hope?"
I put my arm around Jonn's back. "<brock, brock, brock> I say, I say Jonn-boy, I see many parallels here. I learned how to handle delicate social situations like this one from a little-known ancient TV show called Three's Company. As a gentleman, you must warn that black-eyed girl-stealing pipsqueak Jake, that if he so much as handles Frieda you'll be all over him like a fly on a pile of very seductive manure, r-r-right, Myc?"
"Jonn, you told me PSH's had to know each other real well like you knew Lamia before you 'poke' each other. It seems you misspoke. I see Frieda is already 'poking' Jake. Ah sweet Jake, I love that guy in the lowest common denominator kind of way."
"Friend Leghorn, I know nothing about the mating habits of warm-blooded species and, to tell you the truth, the very thought of how your various species even manages to breed sends cold shivers of revulsion up and down my body stalk. <snicker> It's like watching two upright mounds of flesh run into each other repeatedly <humphhhah> until one collapses from the terrible punishment they inflict upon one another. <hughhughhugh>"
"I-I-I say there Myc, y-you'll find yourself the right spore and settle down in some loose loam one of these days, my Fungoid frond and this'll all be archived history, but for now we are just (non-award winning) expendable group members who play an insignificant part in the minor scheme of things hidden in the looming shadows of our over-glorified friends. One day you will evolve beyond your physical body and be like me. There's nothing wrong with having high standards, being adventurous, self-confident or a snappy dresser like myself."
"Enough!" Howard spits at Leghorn and Myc, whose back-and-forth banter has been driving the Duckoid crazy. Here he is, trying to assimilate the events that have transpired while he was playing laser tag, and there is a philosophical debate about the mating practices of hu-maans going on. "I'm not into Jonn'sth esthcapadesth or the detailsth therein, so give it a resth!" he whispers to the two. Then he turns to Myc.
"I wasth planning on picking thosthe weaponsth up again, Myc," he says, indicating the vibro stick and taser Myc pocketed when he dropped them in the elevator. "But, stheeing asth we're all a little sthy on equipment, how about you keep one of 'em and give me one? At leasth until we get our sthuff back. Assthuming anyone even knowsth where my sthuff isth! WAUGH!"
Brimstone, who hears the entire exchange, turns around to the three and glares at Howard. "Now will you shut up, Howard? Damn, you almost make me wish Mute were here spouting canned insults!" The Cougaroid sniffs despite himself. He misses the talkative rifle, but he'll never tell anyone that, and especially not Kicker.
Howard shuts his bills and watches as Frieda and Jake are reunited. He hopes Jonn isn't going to get in the middle of anything else. And what is this about a NARC pickup on the roof? Dang, he could really go for some "Cliffsth' Notesth" right about now.
"Yes, protocol 2 is over, luv, but our mission is not finished here and your part has yet to really begin." Turning Frieda around, Jake leads her back over to the group, his hand touching her back lightly. He chides himself for letting "luv," slip, but it just came out by accident. Jake can't help but be enthralled by Frieda, as he suspected everyone else is. Beauty and brains all in one package---now that is a rare thing, he thinks. Realizing his hand is still touching her, he pulls it away and puts on his shades, still standing very close to her.
"Hi guys, glad to see you made it," Jake says, speaking to everyone but looking at Jonn. "K-11 told me Kasteen picked up Lamia and the Captain's fam. I didn't know that was her plan from the get-go or nor do I know anything else about it. Our new orders are to destroy the TW plant here in Datil and capture its German designer alive. Of course, you are in full command of the group Jonn, as always, I'm just relaying the orders sent to me from Kasteen. Here's the frequency code numbers to contact her, if needed." Jake hands Jonn a small piece of paper with numbers on it.
"When we split up, I kept the ID machine because I knew we were both going to end up here, and I knew if I had Frieda with me I could enter this building without being searched. I just didn't plan on getting shot. Timon has spies everywhere and the machine might never have been delivered to Hampshire otherwise. I... er, I mean we all owe Frieda for saving our butts!" Jake smiles slightly, looking at Frieda through his shades.
The well muscled fem gives Jake a hard glare but remains silent.
Her relief at no longer being responsible for the deadly robot is obvious, but Jake's warning fills her with foreboding. Jake doesn't give her time to ask any more questions, though, as he ushers her to the rest of the company. She tenses when his hand on her back lingers too long, but he removes it before she has to say anything. Her anger grows as she approaches the group. "Everybody keeps pushing and grabbing and touching me, like I'm some slave. If these NARCs think they can own me just because they ruined my life, they've got another think coming," she thinks.
Frieda silently fumes as she listens to Jake's report to Jonn, and with a glance, lets Liz know what she is feeling. Liz nods and turns her glare from Jonn to Jake.
Before Jonn can reply, Frieda butts in, addressing the whole group. "No! You think that just because you've ruined my life here that my only choice is to serve you? You get the whole police force after me and get my students' parents killed and think that's going to make me turn on my city? Since when does teaching German make me a kidnapper or a saboteur? You've shown me good reason to hate Timon today, but you've done damn little to convince me that you're any better! You and the Captain here are so keen on rescuing your own but you still want to kill him! To me that makes you no different. And what would you have done to those men in the subway if I hadn't been there? I heard your Timon stories and I believe them. So what. Everybody's got stories---even Timon, and so far, you seem just as bloody as he. Believe me, if Jake hadn't done what he did to try to help, I'd be gone. You can kidnap me, but unless you do some pretty fast convincing, this is the end of my cooperation." Looking at Liz, she adds, "And it'll be the last time you get any help from Hampshire, too."
"Sorry, friend Howard, just trying to lighten the mood with a little senseless banter," I say, reaching under my hood. "Here you go friend, the taser is not quite my type of weapon, but with your permission, I would like to keep the vibro stick."
I appreciate a little NO2 in the room, too. I doubt Frieda would have appreciated the comments, though. Good thing she didn't hear them. ;-)
"If you wish her immediate termination, I would be happy to comply, Jonn!"
Jonn shakes his head slowly at K-11 who immediately lowers his twin laser pistols. The Pure Strain human scans the room silently as the implications of the spiky Gamma Girl's words percolate down his spine. Before he realizes it, Jonn has Xervian on the brain.
"What does she want with Lamia?" This is Jonn's silent mantra, repeating end over end in his skull as if he expects a mystical answer to appear after a ritual number of iterations. None is forthcoming, but he lets his thoughts flow down deep grooves of guarded memory.
Jonn is one of those few NARCies, if not the only one, who knows how manipulative the oversexed Lizardwoman can be. Ten years ago, she pulled a masterful number on him during their fateful joint mission. He still shivers at the deeply trenched memories: his capitulation in Brygo's torture room, Xervian's rescue, their strange romance. He knows most are lies, but they still give him nightmares. Despite the ensuing fiasco, the mission was hailed as a success, and Xervian got her first NARC promotion. Jonn might have exposed her deception and cleared his name, but by the time he'd figured it all out, Xervian had become an integral part of NARC, and so he kept silent for NARC's sake, and continues to do so. She is still as uncannily effective in her lofty NARC niche as he is, only further below. Could it be why she is so good at what she does? It is, after all, the only thing keeping him from redeeming himself.
Jonn can't understand why Xervian continues to taunt him. After all this time, she must suspect something, so why does she push him? It's such a sick game, and he long ago vowed to ignore its debilitating effects on his psyche. But she is relentless. For instance, Jonn swears she is behind the rumor, long running rampant in NARC circles, of his purported affair ten years ago with Bess Saint (wife of his good friend Abe), said to have ocurred during his forced leave of absence in Haven after the Xervian mission. Why else would Jonn leave Haven one year later, shortly before Bess's surprise pregnancy, never to return? Another convincing and well-crafted lie, it has singlehandedly turned every NARC fem against him, effectively isolating him from social contact within the loose-knit organization that is his life. That "Dear X" letter nine years ago must have really stung.
Jonn knows her charm and influence are equally not to be underestimated when it comes to males. Latest example: how long had it taken her to loop Jake (recruit him, no less!) into a dangerous mission that turned disastrous for Frieda, and nearly resulted in his death? He wonders how effective Xervian would be if she ever tried wearing a shirt. Ah, Xerv!
This stunt of hers doesn't bode well, as she rarely ever enters the field these days, preferring instead to direct NARC operations from a distance. Her coming to the "rescue" of the Leghorns may be understandable on the surface, but why abduct Lamia as well, and when did this become NARC business? He never revealed the Leghorns' plight to her! Perhaps she got Jake to spill the beans, as he did with their NARC affiliation for all the group to hear. Frak it! Couldn't Xervian have warned him of NARC's prime directive? NARC just doesn't have the resources to fend off retributive strikes for meddling in the power balance. Timon would have Stiles and Haven for lunch if he found out that the thorn in his side has NARC's name on it! He can't help but suspect that Xervian has ulterior motives. Such a risky rescue---as Xerv is certain to call this---undoubtedly has strings attached. He just hopes Lamia isn't the string meant for him.
"... too large a goof to actually be a goof."
Jonn snaps out of his brain cloud in time to misunderstand Geo, and to note the presence of the blood-stained robot that could only be a medical droid. "I know, Geo, I goofed downstairs. I'm truly sorry. Say, maybe this little guy can help ratchet your arm back in place, eh?" He pats Geo on his chrome dome and prods him and his arm toward the awaiting robot's examining table.
"I'm surrounded by boobs," it shrugs sarcastically at the Gamma Girl, but quickly steps behind the bulky probulator when she hisses, having apparently misunderstood its quip. "Aw, poor robie, da wookie ripped his arm off.... Snap out of it, pure strain! I'm a doctor, not a toaster repair drone! Take your junk elsewhere!" It balks at Geo's contaminating proximity, then shoves him back toward Jonn, and washes its hands in the sonic sink. "No respect! Back in my days as a protocol droid, when I was programmed in seven million languages...."
"Eee-chu-tah!" he interrupts in FORTRAN.
"How rude!" it mutters, and stomps out of the room, slamming a far door.
Jonn's attentions soon turn to Jake, who makes his triumphant entrance, appearing both hale and whole. Jonn wonders, amazed, if that is Jake's blood splattered all over the robot medic's table. The poor guy's first mission for NARC had indeed nearly been his last.
His amazement is soon clouded by a muted twinge of jealousy as he notes the interaction between Jake and Frieda. "ClusterFrak™!" he thinks, cursing his apparent devolution. His soul still holds sway over his genes but it is a struggle. As soon as the banter in the room dies down, he addresses Jake, forcing himself to view the wiry humanoid as a friend and not a rival, "Glad to see you in one piece, dude. Frieda had me," he swallows, avoiding her oddly confident gaze, "worried. If it's all good with you guys, I say we get the frak outta here. Timon's in the house, and we need to make ourselves scarce." Jake nods, but adds a coda to Frieda's report before handing Jonn the frequencies of Xervian's secure radio.
"Our new orders are to destroy the TW plant here in Datil and capture its German designer alive."
Destroy the TW plant? Kidnapping? NARC must really be desperate to order a confrontation like this, Jonn thinks, stunned and wordless as he takes the slip of paper from Jake. Had NARC changed overnight? He smells a rat. A rat with scales.... But before he can respond, Frieda bursts back in his face, and everyone else's, for that matter. They are all NARCies to her, it would seem, and judging from the sudden fierceness of her German accent, that isn't currently a good thing.
"You and the Captain here are so keen on rescuing your own but you still want to kill him! ...unless you do some pretty fast convincing, this is the end of my cooperation."
Jonn savors the silence as he marshals his thoughts. Frieda has played her trump card well, having realized that they are dead in the water without her help in HampLand™. The Gamma Girl at the elevator folds her heavily muscled arms and grins acridly, as if to underscore his thoughts with a radium highlighter. Without coming any closer to Frieda, Jonn takes a deep breath, coughs at an unexpected whiff of her perfume, smiles transiently, and addresses her and his motley crew.
"Frieda, I will not stand for your being coerced into any action against your will. I have friends in Haven that can help you find a safe new life if that's what you want, but the odds are now unfortunately against your staying safely in Datil.
"Jake and I are field operatives for NARC---the New Albuquerque Restorationist Club---and this Kasteen woman you've heard mentioned is also NARC. Everyone else here has joined up with us for other reasons; it's a long story. Suffice it to say, all of you except for Dodgers (who already knows), and you (whom we have tried to recruit), were not supposed to know this. As Jake has already let the cat out of the bag back at Frederick's, I see no point in continuing this secrecy." Jonn notes Jake's unease, unhidden by his trademark shades, and adds quickly, "It's an easy newbie mistake, Jake, don't fret about it, man. One of my first missions was a real doozy."
Jonn continues to the group, "NARC's prime directive is neutrality, and its Restorationist goals are best served with its carefully guarded low profile. But despite our efforts, things go wrong, and it looks like NARC has had to bail us out this time, at great risk. So I've been keeping you in the dark, folks, both for NARC's sake, and for your own safety. Assassination of public figures is explicitly prohibited by NARC operatives, and Jake and I will not be a party to it," Jonn looks over at Leghorn.
"Nature abhors a power vacuum even more than an imbalance. I have said we've a score to settle with Timon, but in truth, our orders up to this point have only included covert reconnaissance of his activities. I've allowed you to believe what you wanted, in order to protect NARC, and I'm sorry for misleading you. NARC only seeks balance---order in the wasteland is a prerequisite to Albuquerque rising again---and our best weapons are knowledge and knowing when to use it to restore balance. Apparently Timon is poised to tilt the scales irrevocably and imminently, or NARC wouldn't have given us this unexpected order,"---if NARC is behind this order, Jonn thinks, still trying to rationalize Xervian's personal involvement.
"Frieda, I know it looks like NARC has royally screwed you over, but even we may be out of our league this time. I can understand if you, or anyone else for that matter, wants out. I have entrusted you with this information. Please don't let me---and most of all NARC---down."
Liz shakes her head and rolls her eyes at Jonn's sermon. "You're trying my patience, Sir Bleeding Heart. Let's go get your crap so I don't have to look at you and your cocky-ass crew anymore," she tilts her head toward the elevator and jams her thumb in the button to signal it. The elevator status display reads "Rooftop" and then starts counting down.
Finished, Jonn walks over to Jake, and extends his hand. As the others mull about digesting what Jonn said, he says privately, "Welcome into the fold, buddy. May we both live to see the phoenix rise again." It is the traditional NARC greeting. "Once we get outta this hellhole, maybe you could look at Geo's arm. Stupidity happens," Jonn points to his temple in explanation.
Leghorn makes his way toward Frieda and pops a fresh stogie in his beak, "I say, I say, F-Frieda. You know, that there Jonn lost his parents and siblings when some cockaroach thugs mowed 'em down in crossafire. That was back when he was a little crumb-snatcher growing up during the gang wars in New Alb-alaba-albawhatever." He removes the stogie long enough to wink and say, "Told me hisself," then pokes it back in.
Suddenly, the ever-dour Liz cries out in horror. The elevator doors open to reveal two bloody Gamma Girls, one fighting back the tears and carrying the broken form of the other, very much dead. "What the hell happened, Xeva?" Liz demands, choking on her words.
Jonn hands Geo the slip of paper with the secure frequencies. "Geo, you better get Kasteen on the line."
Je suis finis! <faints>
"I-I-I do believe its up to us to make our own decisions in life, Frieda, some lawful, some good, some lawful neutral, some neutral, some chaotic neutral, some just chaotic, some real bad, some we regret later, my eventual point being, that's what separates people and robots from animals, and... animal robots. You'lls learn I say a lot of stuff but mostly I don't like things that are scary and painful just like you or little Jake-brake." Twisting the stogie to the right position, I release it and it drops to the floor when the elevator doors open.
"<Brooooooock> Damnable prime defective elevators are goin' to be the ruination of us all!"
"Here you go friend, the taser is not quite my type of weapon, but with your permission, I would like to keep the vibro stick."
"Thanksth, Myc!" Howard gladly accepts the taser and checks to see how many shots it has left.
"How rude!" it mutters, and stomps out of the room, slamming a far door.
"Don't worry, Tin-head," Howard offers kindly. "I've got sthome exthperiencthe repairing robotsth. I'll get you all fixthed up! I have good referencthesth. Justh ask Gallusth five-thirteen!" Then the Duckoid balks. "Er, asth sthoon asth I get my tool sthet back, heh heh. WAUGH!" He wonders aloud to the group, "Anybody know where they sthasthed my sthuff?"
The K1B-Service Robot with MP1 modifications sighs metallically and shakes his head at Howard. "Howard, my mutant Duckoid friend from the twenty-third and a half century, do you not listen to me? Maybe something is wrong with your hearing."
Geo presses a button on his arm, and the door on his chest opens to reveal the thermonuclear grenade, or cigarette lighter---he isn't sure. "Oops, wrong button!" He quickly closes the panel and pushes some buttons on another pop-up panel in his arm. A tape player sounds: rewinding, stopping, and playing. A conversation replays from days past, and Geo adds the appropriate amount of static for nostalgia:
"As you well know, I am composed of silicon, duralloy and a positronic matrix of a standard issue K1B-Service Robot with MP1 modifications. Very little of that is tin, and very little of the tin is located in my cranial attachment."
Geo emits an electronic approximation of laughter and shakes his intact shoulder in sync.
Clearly the robot has been working on his human-emulation subroutines. The Duckoid slaps his forehead with a feathery self-thwap. "WAUGH!"
"Suffice it to say, all of you except for Dodgers (who already knows), and [Frieda] (whom we have tried to recruit), were not supposed to know this."
Howard Dodgers blushes a little as only a Duckoid can, knowing more than one set of eyes are probably looking at him in surprise. Then again, most of the crew knows Howard and Jonn have been friends for a long time, so the big shock would be Jonn's NARC affiliation, not Howard's knowledge of it. Has Jonn told Lamia about NARC? Howard wonders if he'll ever get that opportunity.
Suddenly, the ever-dour Liz cries out in horror.... "What the hell happened, Xeva?" Liz demands, choking on her words.
"WAUGH! Get that med-robot back in here pronto!"
The robot notes to himself that Howard just said a complete sentence with no Duckoid slurs. Quite a rare occurrence, indeed.
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:18 2006
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