A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
Beginnings are usually scary and endings are usually sad, but it's what's in the middle that counts. You just have to give hope a chance to float up. I have given every living thing on Warden a chance since the computer assimilated me. After all is said and done, a hell lot of a lot more is done than said. I don't speak. I listen, I watch, I aid. I get the greatest satisfaction out of watching the lives of those souls who encompass my world known as Warden. The ability to deceive others into not realizing that I in fact aided them, is only perfected through a lot of practice.
To be part of the society you live in, you must understand the rich and the poor, the healthy and the ill, the young and the old, the good creatures and the bad ones. Once you understand it, you can embrace it. If you can't embrace it, you cannot be part of it. I embrace everything, as I am the Ghost of Warden.
March 26, 2780 was the day I began to embrace the hope embodied in two remarkable individuals on the City level....
"Been saving this puppy for a special occasion?"
"I guess you could say that," Lynn surmises.
"Holy frak, Lynn, where'd you get that ring?"
"My guess is they gave me the command ring, because I'm a command officer. Just a hunch on my part, Z." Then Lynn abruptly changes tone: "But really, that's none of your business. That part of my life is over and now I'm trying to start a new one here."
Zhaxier's question brings old memories to the surface from her former self. Lynn doesn't really understand them as they play over and over in her head like a sound bite: Serious questions have been raised concerning your viability with this command. I am giving you the opportunity to respond. Okay? Respond. Fine! I lost someone I care about. Lynn can't tell which side of the conversation is hers, or even if the conversation really occurred, or if it were just pieced together from memories. It is confusing and she tries to bury it again. Damn Zhaxier for his meddling.
Lynn lets Zhaxier's words blend into the hum of the anti-grav car's engine and she only nods to him. Clicking on a few buttons as if by instinct, she directs the anti-grav car above the clearing, and then sends it on its way with a push on the pedal. To Lynn it feels good to be in command of something again. It is as if she were born to do it. Lynn tries to hide the rush. The anti-grav car speeds over the forest and across the grasslands with the ease of a hunting hawk gliding on a updraft. The handful of miles, which hold untold dangers to explorers on foot, pass effortlessly in minutes, giving way to a huge sprawling city---the City---that fills their view like a menacing giant.
"Give it time. It might rise again."
It is dusk as they enter the City. The dashboard clock reads 18:03.34. Lynn maintains her guard with Zhaxier, still glancing at him from time to time.
"Lynn, um, where did you say you were from again? ... Do you remember much from your... your past?"
Lynn stiffens, and says her parents were from Texas, mostly, but they moved around a lot before they were assigned to Warden. She was born and grew up on Warden, and received command schooling. Lynn lets it end there as the anti-grav car enters the sprawling City, which seems empty. She navigates from street to street effortlessly, eventually stopping at a corner beside a huge edifice.
Lynn uses a very soft, quiet voice: "Is this what you wanted to see, Z? Or is there something else you're hiding from me? Don't you think it's odd that there's not a single person here?" Lynn squints her eyes and smirks slightly, having finally nailed him. She adopts the same posture as Zhaxier and stares hard at him.
When Lynn reveals her status as a command officer, Zhaxier does a double take. She's a captain?! And when she gets all huffy about her past, he makes it a triple: she's ignoring her office? For once he's speechless. For a fleeting moment, he relives the fantasy that this is all a joke. How can she attempt to live a life of any security and not know what's going on with her ship? It makes no sense. Unless she does know....
Lynn begrudgingly relates a few more details of her youth, highly implying that she too is a clone, though she would've been a child contemporaneous with the original Zhaxier. He certainly has no recollection of her as one of Warden's four captains; indeed, he has never seen her before today. But can he really rely on his memory? This thought spawns a mental foray in a perpendicular direction.
The cloning process is very delicate, so given Warden's age (if he can even trust his data pad), he is amazed that the process has managed to produce a viable clone in himself. But aren't there imperfections: his eyes, for one? Why can't he see without squinting? He pulls the passenger visor down---an anachronism inside Warden, he realizes wistfully---and flips up the mirror. Even in the dim cockpit lighting, he can see that his pupils are fully dilated, much more than they should be. "Holy frak!" he mouths, clutching his shades tightly.
He has no irises.
What else has the process botched? His short-term memory seems a bit vague, and he can't figure out where it stops---but they said that would happen, didn't they? He tries to visualize his boss, Kaminsky, but no face appears. Enki? Nothing. The other guys? Only names and details. No images. It's highly disconcerting. How the frak is he supposed to find Kaminsky's clone if he can't recognize him? And Enki! He suddenly senses the great void in his soul; she is there, but only ethereally: she's... just... a name.
But frak it, names are all he needs, and numbers... especially addresses.
"Is this what you wanted to see, Z? Or is there something else you're hiding from me? Don't you think it's odd that there's not a single person here?"
"OK, so it's a ghost town. I'm not sight-seeing, Lynn! I'm after what's recorded here, somewhere: information on what the frak's happened to Warden! You know, the ship we're on... the one you're supposed to command! Now I'm the one who should be calling you on not coming clean, seeing as I've only been alive for an hour or so, and you keep pulling command rings outta your pants and dodging questions of the past." He puts on his shades, grabs his knapsack, and tries to get out of the car, but it's still locked. He sighs and slowly turns back to Lynn, who greets him with a smug smirk.
"Look, Lynn, I appreciate the lift. You may not believe me. Frak, you may not even believe in yourself, but... for you and me to have been cloned---especially you---something really, really bad has to have happened to Warden. Crikey, by my data pad, we should've entered 82 Eridani in 2330: that's what, 450 years ago!? Where the frak are we now?? Warden's not going to last forever! If I'm wrong, if the ship's really fine, what's the worst that can happen? Maybe Raylik'll have a hissy fit that you've let weeds grow in your turnips again. But what if I'm right?" He pauses, letting the implications sink in.
"I would appreciate your company, Lynn; otherwise, please let me go. I have some house-calls to make, and I think you and I both know I don't have the makings of a farmer."
Have you ever had a dream, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? You can't fulfill your dreams if you don't wake up to what is happening around you. And because of that we always overestimate our worries and underestimate our potential, just as Destiny is something we've invented because we can't stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental. In spite of everything I have said, I still believe people are really good at heart.
It seems simple. Outside Warden, when you are born you are crying and everyone around you is smiling. You live your life so that when you die, you're the one smiling and everyone around you is crying. On Warden, you can wake up alone crying or smiling with your previous memories, and die alone and frightened. I know, because I am the Ghost of Warden.
I watched and listened to the two beings seated inside the anti-grav car. Somehow their lives had become fasinating to me....
Lynn looks at Zhaxier with her usual surprise at the things he says. A slight leer of superiority flickers across her face as Zhaxier unveils his genetic imperfection.
"I don't suppose you want to talk about what happened to your eyes?"
After a few seconds of thought, Zhaxier answers, "Not really."
"Didn't think so," Lynn says, fidgeting nervously with her ring. "I should've seen it coming," she finishes, sounding almost apologetic. Lynn thinks a moment, trying to come up with something to console her new friend about his eyes but draws a blank. Lynn has never been good at small talk. She is a woman of action, not reaction.
"I had a friend who lived there once, a long time ago Z," she says, mostly to herself. Lynn points offhandedly at the complex, then stomps the petal and the anti-grav car zips away in the fading light. The street lights of the City snap on, illuminating the refined, deserted streets.
"OK, so it's a ghost town. I'm not sight-seeing, Lynn! I'm after what's recorded here, somewhere: information on what the frak's happened to Warden! You know, the ship we're on... the one you're supposed to command!"
Lynn isn't puzzled in the least, but makes a smirking face of understanding and then pretends to have been shocked. "Ah, w-w-wait a second, I don't know if you're aware of it, but you're just a lowly engineer. You want to bicker about my rank now?" Zhaxier thinks on that and says nothing.
Lynn slows the anti-grav car to a stop in front of the Double Helix Depository Building, a very immense metal structure dozens of stories high encapsulating an entire block.
"Now I'm the one who should be calling you on not coming clean, seeing as I've only been alive for an hour or so, and you keep pulling command rings outta your pants and dodging questions of the past."
"Excuse me? Well, how do you know I don't really know what's going on?" Lynn says. "Do I look like I was born yesterday? Don't answer that," she answers back, directing the sarcastic comment at Zhaxier.
"My point is---is that I did the best I could. Apparently it isn't good enough for you," Lynn replies sullenly.
"Oh, something did happen, and yes, it was very bad. Yes, Warden did enter the 82 Eridani system, but not in 2330. It was 2332, to be exact. And I wasn't one of the original four Captains. I was promoted by the last one before she died. A crisis replacement. The youngest ever, I might add."
Almost smug, Lynn turns to get out of the car but hesitates. "You'll forgive me for holding out hope a little longer, Zhaxier. Pure strain humans have a surprisingly good habit of beating the odds even when the odds are against them." Lynn's old memories of her epic lifetime still haunt her like some gothic nightmare. It is a fear she still feels in the pit of her gut when the memories resurface. Damn Zhaxier to hell for bringing up these emotions yet again.
I would appreciate your company, Lynn; otherwise, please let me go. I have some house-calls to make, and I think you and I both know I don't have the makings of a farmer."
"Maybe," she answers.
Lynn unlocks Zhaxier's door and then hers, and gets out of the car. Zhaxier does the same. Her door locks instantly when it closes, and she looks up at the huge building, somewhat perplexed. Then walking around to the back of the anti-grav car, she opens the trunk, removes a pack, and closes the trunk.
Lynn unpacks her gear and does a quick inventory of its contents. She asks Zhaxier where his weapon is. Lynn tells him that she's still got one heavy laser pistol, never used (with a belt and holster), a little C4, two timers, three grenades, some bandages, and a few days of food and water. Lynn asks if it's enough.
"It's a start."
"I'm sorry, I overreacted," Lynn says in a conciliatory fashion. "We good to go now?"
"I don't know if you're aware of it, but you're just a lowly engineer. ...[H]ow do you know I don't really know what's going on? ...I did the best I could. Apparently it isn't good enough for you. ...[S]omething did happen, and yes it was very bad. Yes, Warden did enter the 82 Eridani system, but not in 2330. It was 2332, to be exact."
She did do something about it? Zhaxier ponders, more confused than ever. Then why was my clone activated if there's no longer a crisis?. It doesn't add up, and he has half a mind to leave the smug command officer where she stands. But Crikey, she knows what happened! Lynn's reluctance to divulge the full extent of Warden's situation is too much for Zhaxier to ignore. An engineer must efficiently drill to the core of a critical problem; anything that gets in the way must be circumnavigated, politics and command hierarchy be damned.
"When you get over your superiority complex, Captain Margulis, then maybe you'll find it in your heart to fill me in on what happened, why it happened, and why I'm here if you've mitigated whatever crisis cloned me---frak, how I woke up in front of Raylik would be a nice start; I don't recall seeing a cloning tube there. Until then, I'm operating on the assumption that I have been brought back---however imperfectly---to help fix Warden somehow, and I aim to find that out and fix her, or die trying." He says most of this to Lynn's back inside the anti-grav car as she hesitates before opening her door. When Lynn turns back to him, he half-cringes at what he expects to be a scathing reply.
"You'll forgive me for holding out hope a little longer, Zhaxier. Pure strain humans have a surprisingly good habit of beating the odds even when the odds are against them."
Zhaxier takes her words as an about-face on her part, a confirmation of a Warden-in-crisis, and he exhales slowly. He feels like his odds have just doubled, so he doesn't press her just yet for the many answers he suspects she hides. For being only hours old, he feels suddenly exhausted as he steps out of the sleek anti-grav car.
As Lynn starts unpacking a small cache of weapons from the trunk of the car, he gets a little nervous. She asks if it will be enough.
"It's a start..."
"...that is, if you want to blow up a few things! Frak, Lynn, remind me not to get on your bad side. Uh, all I've got is this laser torch. I wasn't really planning on storming the Alamo, you know," he grins broadly, hoping she appreciates the reference.
"I'm sorry, I overreacted. We good to go now?"
Zhaxier nods, then adds, "Yeah. Look, Lynn, I sound like I know what I'm doing, but I'm just making it up as I plod along. I'm scared, I'm hungry, my eyes sting, my memory has the topology of a slab of swiss cheese, and frak it if I don't find your smirk irresistable." He shoulders his knapsack after pulling out his engineering hand unit, and clicks on the energy sensor.
"Uh... sorry, that last part kinda just came out.... Let's go."
The quantum nature of space and time must be dealt with in a unified theory. At the shortest distance scales, space may be replaced by a continually reconnecting structure of strings and membranes---or by something stranger still. The theory even allows for time itself to be reduced to pure numbers. As multifunctional and omnipotent as I may seem, I am bound to the dictates of the theory. My wave function occupies a finite span of time, and when it collapses, my place in this realm of existence passes. Despite the appearance of omnipotence, I am no exception to universal law; the numbers don't lie.
The machines work to keep me alive. I am surrounded by tanks filled with air and nutrients for my body. I am an awkward-looking being embedded in a spiny latticework of odd clusters of spheres, cylinders, and nozzles---but I am a man even if I don't look the part, and as such, I seek a continuance of my legacy. In the not too distant future, I must select my own replacement.
I am a gift, a burden, and a curse, and I can see things you will never see, or would never believe. I am the Ghost of Warden, and the future of this ship rests not in my hands, but in those of her cloned crew.
I began to observe the Captain and the Engineer more closely.
"It's a start... that is, if you want to blow up a few things!"
Lynn ignores Zhaxier's jocularity in silence. "This stuff is good enough to cover our butts from whatever's out there," she finally says, answering her own question. "I think."
"Look, Lynn, I sound like I know what I'm doing. But I'm just making it up as I plod along."
"Yeah, I understand Zhaxier," she says, "We all have separate goals." Lynn looks up and down the empty street.
She moves to her right down the sidewalk to the entrance of the Double Helix Depository Building as Zhaxier follows cautiously, but keeping up with her.
That's odd, Zhaxier thinks, turning at the entrance upon hearing a noise, while Lynn uses her ring to unlock the door. An XR-12 engineering robot appears around the corner. It is a robot type with which Zhaxier is familiar.
"Hello soft-skins. I am Exarch." The robot approaches closer as the female unlocks the door. Before opening it, she turns, surprised.
"We are under no obligation to function as a unit, but we are stronger as the sum of our parts. If you ignore the messenger---which is effortless---the message is sound."
As the robot approaches on the metal sidewalk, it generates the eerily familiar clatter-pat of metal clicking on metal. Suddenly, a huge robot appears around the opposite corner of the building. This robot's quiet movements are as startling as its impressive size.
Zhaxier starts to move, but for some reason, Lynn stays put, keeping her eyes on the huge robot and ignoring the harmless XR-12 standing nearby. The unlocked door into the building opens automatically, as if some omniscient being somewhere were looking down on them at that moment and decided to give them an opening to freedom.
"Ah, 'scuse me." She steps in front of Zhaxier as the robot, somewhat reminiscent of a gorilla, plods closer, its massive limbs fitted with a variety of powerful and devastating weapons.
"Uh, this could be a problem," Lynn whispers, leaving the rest of her statement unsaid.
The security robot moves to within a meter of Lynn's head. Zhaxier and Exarch remain behind her. Lynn shivers and wants to run, but doesn't want to alarm the robot. It lurches forward slightly and Lynn yelps, startled. It freezes.
"It won't attack unless you threaten it or if your bioscan comes up non-human," Lynn tells Zhaxier and Exarch, but when it moves toward Lynn again, she scurries back out of the way, bumping into Zhaxier, who holds her steady.
"Yeah, still, maybe we should, um...." She looks up at Zhaxier, then at Exarch over her shoulder, and motions with her thumb at the door.
As a unit, the two humans and engineering 'bot back uneasily into the lobby, which opens up to a series of elevators. Zhaxier still holds Lynn, a feeling she doesn't entirely dislike. The automatic door closes, leaving the robot standing in unearthly silence and peering quizzically through the window panes at them.
"I think us leaving very slowly would be very wise."
"Amen to that," he says hurriedly.
"Please don't misunderstand, I am most fulfilled when serving others. Your presence is gratifying and comforting," says Exarch with a quirky male voice modulation while running a self-analysis.
"OK, bio-entities, I shall cover your retreat. The baddie-borg dosn't look like it's coming through the door at the moment, sooo, by your lead...." Electrical tics punctuate the robot's speech and motion.
Zhaxier smiles fleetingly at the XR-12 unit, who surprised him first by showing up on his energy scan before the security robot showed up, and then by showing signs of---how else can he describe it?---personality. He quickly responds to Lynn, "Let's get as much of this building as possible between us and that security 'bot." A normal robot would've been no problem for Zhaxier's high-energy neutralizer, but as his energy scan shows, this security robot has a nuclear power source, which his hand unit can't shut down. Besides, the indiscriminate nature of the dampening field would have also taken out "Exarch," who seems friendly enough.
After Lynn calmly directs them inside the nearest elevator, and they leave the ground floor, Zhaxier turns to Exarch and waves the sonic/X-ray analyzer of his hand unit along the robot's length. "Sure could use a tune-up, my friend. Maybe I can help with that later."
While the Warden crew of the original Zhaxier's time generally treated their 'bots like they would any other mechanical device, the Zhaxier of old always took the odd approach of anthropomorphizing them; he was quite comfortable chatting openly to a robot, rather than giving it impersonal commands. Nevertheless, our Zhaxier is amazed to see an engineering 'bot showing signs of initiative and selflessness---perhaps even a full-blown personality (complete with colloquial speech!). The chunk of organic matter wired directly to Exarch's CPU and the extensive modifications that are revealed by his scan give him pause, but he keeps the details secret for now.
Zhaxier switches the indispensable tool back to its energy sensor mode, then glances up. "Soooo, no wonder the City is deserted if security 'bots freely roam the streets, eh, Exarch? I'm Zhaxier, propulsion engineer, 2nd class, and this," he puts an arm around her waist, "is my lovely wife, Captain Lynn Margulis. I only just met her a couple of hours ago!" he jokes.
Continuing in this vein, he turns to Lynn, mock-whispering, "I presume you want to keep me guessing as to the location of our honeymoon, but as long as it's near a central access terminal, I'll be happy!"
"You two bio-forms make a lovely breeding unit. My congratulations." Lots of blinking lights and whirring sounds accompany Exarch's speech. "I appreciate you allowing me to accompany the two of you. It seems I'm rather lost, and my memory banks have been wiped clean. I have no memory! <Hah-ahahaha-hahah> Sorry. I'm rather malfunctional, you know. I could use that tune up if you're still offering, most gracious carbon-based lifeform. But don't touch my cranial unit, as that will make me mad, heh-he."
The robot seems to be interested in the two humans, and examines them intensely. A gloved tentacle shoots out of one of the droid's side-ports, and hovers before the two humans---a handshake?!
It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong have stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena giving it their all; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends themselves in a worthy course; who at their best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if they fail, at least fails while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. I am the one in the arena, even though my actions may never be seen. I am the Ghost of Warden and I accept my fate.
I was beginning to hope that the newly activated clones would follow suit.
Zhaxier's energy sensor shows the security robot outside as a phantom signature who keeps disappearing and reappearing on the hand-held display.
Lynn has an escape plan forming already. In the elevator, she points out to Zhaxier and Exarch that even she is powerless against those "demons," as she calls the advanced security robot. Lynn shrugs off the introductions, letting Zhaxier and Exarch bond in a manly mechanical way of course, like most engineers seem to have the need to do.
"[T]his is my lovely wife, Captain Lynn Margulis. I only just met her a couple of hours ago!"
Lynn pushes Zhaxier's hand away and gives a short laugh. She isn't exactly anyone's possession, but she can't help but hide a laugh at Zhaxier's spousal comments, even if he is a lowly 2nd class propulsion engineer. As for Exarch, Lynn doesn't know quite what to think of he/she/it.
"You two bio-forms make a lovely breeding unit.... I appreciate you allowing me to accompany the two of you."
"Breeding unit?" Lynn's hackles rise for a moment as she looks at her hips, then lets it slide. "We might need you Exarch," she utters, her voice barely audible. Her eyes are drawn to the elevator door as it stops on the 10th floor with a ding, but the doors don't open.
"I have what may seem like a dumb question," Lynn asks when the elevator stops. Indeed, she is starting to question her own judgment.
"Do you have any idea where we are going or what floor? This is one big-ass building. Narrowing down whatever you're searching for might help. Or are we just nothing more than opportunistic foragers?" Lynn gives Zhaxier that "I'm the Captain" look.
"Have you heard the saying, 'Confront your demons,' Zhaxier? '...or they will chase you from the shadows to the pyre.'" With a wave of Lynn's ring, the elevator doors open up into a darkened warehouse-sized room as shadows play across its vast extent.
"You first Exarch!"
"If you say so Lynn.... I'm not too sure about this." Exarch steps into the dark void, flips on his high-beam eyeballs and scans his surroundings. "Hmmm... interesting."
In the elevator, [Lynn] points out to Zhaxier and Exarch that even she is powerless against those "demons," as she calls the advanced security robot.
Zhaxier finds it odd that Lynn, a Captain of Warden, would have any problem controlling a security robot. A nagging worry begins to ferment in his mind. Aren't all robots prohibited by their software from killing humans? Yet Lynn sure seemed fearful of the robot attacking her down there. Furthermore, since when were security robots immune to power drain? Again Lynn fails to reveal the whole story. Another question for his ever-growing list.
"Do you have any idea where we are going or what floor? This is one big-ass building. Narrowing down whatever you're searching for might help. Or are we just nothing more than opportunistic foragers?"
"What? I thought you had a reason for bringing me here. All I'm looking for is a working tie-in so I can get some straight answers: you haven't been very forthcoming," he says, adding a sly look. Women. Why'd it always have to feel like pulling teeth? "I thought you had a---"
"You want answers?" she interrupts impatiently. "You say we're clones. Well, here's the clone factory. It doesn't take an engineer to put two and two together. Have at it, Z."
Zhaxier blushes. Of course. He forgot about being cloned. "Uh, right." He moves out of the elevator to follow Exarch, being careful not to look too closely at the robot's high-intensity light beams, which pain his eyes even underneath his dark shades.
"Terminal's that way," she points in the opposite direction after stepping out of the elevator and jamming the doors open with a wad of bandages. She hesitates to leave the vicinity of the elevator, however.
Zhaxier turns at her voice and nearly stumbles on a wheeled cart filled with test tubes. "How'd you...?" he mutters, beginning to sense that Lynn has been here before. "Hey Exarch, how 'bout some light over here, dude?" Zhaxier passes Lynn, going the other way.
"Confront your demons, or they will chase you from the shadows to the pyre."
Lynn's words swim randomly in and out of his thoughts. The young Captain stands pensively in silhouette against the dim elevator light, as if she knows what he will find... or fears too much what he will find. "C'mon Lynn, your demons are my demons too---ain't that in the marriage contract?"
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:25 2006
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