A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
... tunnel system entryway... flickering lights... grinning man... "advance wave upon wave..." sideburns....
"Hi!" Biff says to the man who has just run across the street. "Mind if we jog while we get aquainted?" He starts jogging in the direction where the ELA indicates the two lifeforms in the car have stopped, but circumnavigates the 'bot down the street.
"My name is... Biff." He's feeling a little rusty with the conversation skills. "I'm really glad to have you run into me.... I know this might seem a strange way to get aquainted, but I have this thing about security 'bots---but I'm sure keen on people. In fact, I thought we might jog on over to where a couple more are.... That sure is a nice rifle you've got there. It reminds me of something my uncle said to me: 'Power grows from the barrel of a gun,' or something to that effect."
Did I just say that out loud? Must still be a bit confused.
Herman keeps pace with Biff with his laser rifle slung over his right shoulder.
"Hey, the name's Herman. What's this about other people? I haven't been... myself.... The only thing I've seen is that huge robot, probably has the strength of 5 gorillas---demento---"
"That sure is a nice rifle you've got there. It reminds me of something my uncle said to me: 'Power grows from the barrel of a gun,' or something to that effect."
"Thanks." Herman unslings the rifle. "Power grows..." his voice trails off as he focuses on his feet hitting the ground. "We should get cover, those 'bots don't fool around---harflel---"
"The strength of five gorillas?"
...something messy and biological....
Still jogging and closing in on the location of the two lifesigns, Biff responds to his new friend. "Herman. Great name. The people we're going to see got into that spiffy ride and cruised a couple blocks."
"This handy little gizmo," he gestures with the ELA, "shows life signs. I picked up 30 more signs in the building next to Metal Kong, but I thought these two would be a little easier to meet."
They are still jogging, and Biff is glad for the stims. "And something odd---the other person in front of that building didn't register. Either not human or something was masking the biosignal.
"By the way Herman, you been around here long? I'm new in town."
Herman keeps pace with Biff. "Yeah... name." His head shakes. "My family has a 'problem' with names."
Don't they? What is going on with me?
"Easy to meet, huh?"
...large warbot laser cannon death....
"I'll bet you're right."
Herman tries to think through the haze of Neurocalm. "I've been here for a month, I think. Not much I could tell you though; I haven't been... 'myself' lately." He nervously checks his Vivex II.
"No life signs? Maybe not human. Could be some sort of droid."
Runners' high is coming on....
"Droid," Biff ponders aloud, "would make sense." He wonders if Herman has a "problem" with synthetic people.
"Been here a month?" he replies, enjoying the muscle burn and the feel of running shoes on the street. "I woke up a couple days ago. I'm a little hazy myself, but I'm pretty sure that I'm a clone of an Enviroengineer. I have a gut feeling that I'm familiar with the ship, but don't really remember being part of the crew."
Biff takes another deep, cleansing breath.
"Have you noticed the lack of roughly a million and a half people that should be around here? It's kinda giving me the willies. Oh, and did I mention how cool that rifle is?" Biff watches to make sure it's not pointed in his direction. "Lemme show you my 'magic wand.'"
He pulls out his stunstick in a non-threatening manner. "Thought I might warm it up in case we need it."
"Have you tried to do anything just for fun---I mean, you should. Luck is what you make of it."
"Indeed, I have not."
It's technically correct. This lifetime---all 45 hours or so---has been all business. His is an uncharacteristically measured response, thanks to being thrown off balance by Lynn's tease: unsure how the "real" Zhaxier would react, he had to think for a bit, re-establish his emotional center. It is most unsettling, yet exciting at the same time.
"Let's go find apartment S8346 before you squeeze the life out of that poor candy bar."
Lynn is out of the car with her pack before he can react. Then the midday illuminance that pours into the vehicle's sheltered interior blinds Zhaxier. Fumbling for his shades as Lynn shuts her door, he dons them and gathers his knapsack. His engineering system hand unit falls out and he realizes he could have checked its energy sensor for Exarch's unique signature before Lynn took them out of range. Did the quirky robot make it?
"Frak!" he says, flipping it on anyway. Immediately, a cluster of energy signatures appears, approaching S-Tower from the front. He holds the unit's display up close to discern the signatures. "Frak!" He bolts out of the car, slams the door down and books it for the rear entrance to S-Tower that Lynn took.
Once inside, he locates Lynn, who is studying a floor plan display on a wall of the spacious atrium. She turns at his hasty entrance.
"Bathroom's over there," she points, mildly amused.
"Ha-ha. Heads up, Lynn," he says, passing her up as he rushes down a hallway toward Kaminsky's apartment. "We've got company on the way," he shouts. "Three significant energy signatures, one chemical, two hydrogen---and one of the latter is a hefty laser!"
Zhaxier easily finds S8346 on the ground floor at a four-way junction in the hallway right where he remembers it. In the same hall, he realizes, is Enki's apartment, though his former self rarely visited there on account of the saccharine decor. Could she have kept it so pink just to keep me out? He wonders, amazed that he would even spare the mental cycles to generate such a thought. It is a bittersweet minor epiphany of sorts: he will never truly get over Ms. Alba.
Absentmindedly, he reaches in his pocket for the ID card that would gain him admittance to his friend's room. Of course it isn't there; it is lying back in the Double Helix Depository Building in the drawer underneath a borrowed cloning tube on the first floor. "Frak! Lynn?!"
"What?" she chirps, as she unlocks the door with her command ring. "Saved by the Captain again," she mockingly echoes his earlier mumble.
Zhaxier jumps, startled that Lynn is suddenly right behind him. Did I just...? He pulls out his energy sensor. The three signatures are definitely making a beeline to the front entrance. "Quick, inside!" Zhaxier hurriedly shuts the door. Behind them is a dark windowless apartment: Kaminsky was a hermit of sorts, a "vampire" as Enki used to say, because he absolutely loathed sunlight---artificial or otherwise.
"Hey, no hanky panky."
"Heh," he sighs, fumbling around for the lights. Finding the touch-sensitive pad, he sets the light at a dim level.
The efficiency apartment is more a shrine to Kaminsky's personal religion than a bachelor's pad. The walls are graced with icons, some immense, of his saints:
Ordinary in comparison are the other amenities in the apartment, ranging from a commemorative paperweight on a clean desk beside the spartan bed, to a coffee maker situated strategically beside a command terminal. The room is impeccably clean despite the chaos effusing from the wall displays---clean like Kaminsky always kept it. Zhaxier searches the desk, but finds nothing of interest. In one drawer he leaves the twenty crystals he filled back at the Double Helix Depository Building's command terminal. His contingency plan is now complete.
Lynn heaves a heavy sigh. "What are we looking for again?"
"Engineering bracelets. We need one together with your ring to open the locks on Engineering. Kaminsky had a secret stash, I think, just for emergencies like this. He'd have hidden them cleverly." On a hunch, Zhaxier whips out his energy sensor. All access bracelets and command rings are impregnated with a specific ultra-low emission radioactive isotope with a half-life of 1000 years. Theoretically, his sensor should be able to pick it up, but he doesn't recall ever doing this in a previous life. Zhaxier turns up the gain on his hand unit and filters out other energy sources.
Nothing but Lynn's ring.
"Hey, is this you?" she says, peering closely at a framed picture on the wall above the desk.
Zhaxier walks over and takes a look. "Yeah. That's me. The blonde next to me is Enki. And that's Kaminsky, head of Propulsion." There indeed, in a group holo of Warden's Propulsion crew, was Mikhail Dimitriev Kaminsky, IV, the galaxy's pastiest engineer, pointing oddly as if he were explaining some arcane point of quantum chaos to the photographer.
"What's he pointing at?"
Zhaxier does a double take as he follows Lynn's gaze down an imaginary line sprouting from Kaminsky's outstretched hand. It lands on the paperweight. The picture does seem oddly off center on the wall above the desk: it is not like Kaminsky to have missed that opportunity for symmetry.
On another hunch, Zhaxier activates his hand unit's sonic X-ray and probes the interior of the paperweight. Surely enough, the cube hides another purpose. An equatorial seam that he inexplicably knew he would find winds over four sides. There is also a locking mechanism, a broadcast power pickup and a sizeable spherical cavity, though what it contains, if anything, is unclear.
Resetting the sensors on his hand unit, he notes the proximity of the three energy sources and lobs it over to Lynn. "Here, keep an eye on our company while I pry this puppy open."
"Aye-aye, Captain Cole," she says, dripping with sarcasm. Lynn takes up a position near the door.
Zhaxier reaches for the duralloy cube 8cm on a side, and nearly drops it when the word "WARDEN" lights up on a face at his touch. Furthermore, when he touches the 'A', it goes dim. But touching 'W' causes 'E' to vanish and 'A' to reappear. After a minute's investigation, he discovers that touching any single letter has a specific effect not only on itself, but also on the states of the other letters. Simultaneously touched letters have no effect.
"Old bastard," he mumbles with pride and the excitement of a challenge. It would be just like Kaminsky to hide the bracelets behind a puzzle. The goal is logical enough: make the letters all vanish and get your prize. With each carefully planned touch of a letter, he systematically, mentally builds a 64-state automaton with 6 idempotent operators.
"Can't you just cut it open?"
"Too risky," he says, still massaging the cube. "Besides, leaving this safeguard in place minimizes the chance the bracelets will be discovered by someone who would use them for nefarious purposes." This must've been Kaminsky's intent. Grizzly dude thought of everything.
"Honor among engineers," she says, rolling her eyes.
"Yeah, something like that." He stops. All the letters are lit up.
Zhaxier waves her to hush. A moment passes, and then with resolute fury, he touches the sequence of letters that his supercharged brain has mapped for him.
"Oh, that's a treat." The cube splits open along the hidden seam and reveals a cache of five steel gray engineering bands. Zhaxier puts one on his left wrist, closes the cube, and puts it back on the desk exactly where he found it. He turns toward Lynn and finds her crouching beside the door and unholstering her laser pistol.
A loud rapping at the door catches Zhaxier off guard. With nowhere to hide, Zhaxier panics, freezes up and falls rigidly to the floor.
A warbot! But I wanna cast Magic Missile!
"Yeah, I have hazy memories about this ship too," Herman replies to Biff. The Neurocalm in his veins fights with the adrenalin response the warbot elicited.
"I sure am worried about the lack of people in this area." He looks around, wondering if they have slipped by the warbot. "I don't recall seeing any crew or colonists at all."
"That's a nice stunstick you've got there. I hope you don't have to use it."
I blink my eyes in the faint light of the room in which I lie, but I don't see with my eyes. Instead cameras view my room and my own human shell. I don't look like the Murphy I once was, but the illusion of viewing myself has taken on a normalcy to me, as has the minor guidance of the chosen few in which I have taken an interest.
Omniscient as I might wish myself to be, I am anything but that. My brain is little more than a lump of jelly: nerve fibers encased in the remnants of what is left of my body, long since shriveled and fused by disuse and motionlessness.
With a multitude of cameras for eyes, I can indeed see across the great vastness of Warden's expanse, but many areas have long since fallen into darkness for me. Microphones are my ears, and I listen to the interactions of many across Warden, much like viewers of the ancient radio shows of a bygone era. A transponder is my voice, but I have not spoken to anyone but myself in years. This solitude has not stopped me from humming the Irish song "Rose Of Tralee." Vast tanks fitted into the wall around me grant me with the air and nutrients which satiate gut and lung. I am an awkward-looking spidery latticework of tubes with odd clusters of spheres, cylinders and nozzles attached---but I am a man.
I remember nearly 500 years past having asked a question of my father. I asked, "What makes a guy a man, Dad?" He returned my gaze with his deep penetrating eyes---an image still emblazoned upon my memory to this very moment. He said:
"A man, son, is a creation of God, a triune being: body, soul, and spirit. '... and the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.' Without all three of those elements, one ceases to be a man."
His words still echo inside me.
My duty to my fellow human beings made me choose this path, but little did I realize at the time the overwhelming responsibility that fate has since granted me as the Ghost of Warden.
[Ghost's monologue takes inspiration from Ken Mitchell's short story, "Fire and Brimstone," published in the July 1982 Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. --ed.]
The introductions between Biff and Herman are quick and to the point. The pair understands that putting as much distance between them and the gorilla-like security robot is the best idea either of them has. Herman smirks a little to himself, imagining the security robot saying, "Take your stinking hands off me, you damn, dirty human." He assumes the ironic ancient movie humor would be lost on such a humorless creation.
Biff and Herman jog down the street together following the two readings on Biff's ELA. Biff can see that Herman isn't just an ordinary soul. Weapons like the one Herman carries are rarely if ever seen on Warden. In the past, or at least in his memories, Biff had a different view of people, a sharper, more focused one, but his experiences here have been confusing and, in a way, a frightening experience. Strength in numbers, he thinks, somewhat exasperated at introducing himself while jogging, and at searching for other people he doesn't know.
Despite introductions, they both feel uncomfortable.
"This way," Biff urges, following the ELA's readings.
"Thanks," Herman mumbles, nodding abstractly, while pacing himself and timing his breath as a trained soldier would do.
After following the street around several corners and buildings, they continue to jog until a huge 114-story apartment complex comes fully into view. The building vaults high above them, by over 1150 feet. Neither of them see the red anti-grav car as they approach the front of the building.
"I have an apartment here," Herman adds, looking up at the impressive building. It was one of the few buildings which reached up to kiss the ceiling, and one of the largest towers within the City itself.
"You get around," Biff chirps. "They're inside... there, on the ground floor," Biff adds with a second glance at his ELA.
With Herman's rifle in hand and Biff's paralysis rod charging, the pair enter the front of the building. With Herman's guidance they quickly find the apartments. Walking side by side they come to a stop outside apartment S8346.
Standing to one side of the door after Biff assures him their quarry is inside, Herman taps on the door with the barrel of his rifle. "Pizza delivery," he says, while considering mumbling the words "Land Shark" at the end of it.
"You wanna say, 'Two guys with weapons'?" Herman replies in a hushed whisper.
"Right, pizza is good."
A loud rapping at the door catches Zhaxier off guard. With nowhere to hide, Zhaxier panics, freezes up and falls rigidly to the floor.
"The good ol' drop and roll. I should have thought of that, Zhaxier." Lynn looks at Zhaxier and touches him with her foot but he doesn't move. "Hmm, stay there and hold the floor down. I'll take care of this."
Looking at the door, she draws her laser pistol and points it at the door. "You better not be expecting a tip.... You're late."
What do you do?
Even as a chimpanzee, it is easy for him to vocalize a chimp squawk. His frustration for once isn't directed toward a Homo sapiens. *I must enjoy being miserable,* he tells himself (without speaking the words) while waving his arms in the tall grass, much like a small human child might throw a tantrum.
It is in the afternoon as Willem van den Broek stands on the top of a small rolling hill covered in the chest-high grass. He surveys the scene before him. He left the City in the hope of finding something more, but the reality is that he has not encountered anyone. Over his shoulder, if he cared to look back, he would see the City one mile distant. The grasslands are as great an expanse as the domed sky above him. One more gene spliced into the right chromosome and he could have been a bird flying above, instead of a state-of-the-art chimp. I'll stick with chimps, he thinks, as if the idea will help calm his waning patience.
At the bottom of the hill, the grass partly conceals what looks like an anti-grav cargo carrier fitted with ion thrusters. By its appearance, it has been there for a while---probably flown out here and abandoned by its crew for no other reason than its uselessness.
Movement off to Willem's right spooks him as he sees a woman appear from over a hill running as fast as she can run. A hundred yards behind her, Willem can see the rhythmically loping stride of a pack of six Wolfoids. Willem bares his canines for a moment, then waves his arm to get the female's attention. He then points toward the cargo carrier.
Not knowing the true viciousness of a Wolfoid, nor wanting to learn first hand, Willem screeches. His reaction is lightning quick: in a blur he's off, bounding down the hillside toward the vehicle using all four of his limbs to run with added speed.
On screen there appears a quick rush of images. Magnified audio of rushing wind simultaneously streams with high definition digital video from a camera with a telescopic lens directly above the figures in the grasslands. Slowing its rotation, the camera zooms in.
And they said never send a monkey to do a man's job, Willem thinks.
Reaching the vehicle quickly, Willem withdraws his generic ID card from a pocket and slides it into the slot. The door slides open instantly and he climbs inside the spacious interior to wait for the woman, who runs up to the vehicle and abruptly falls inside and onto the floor. At a wave of his hand near the control, the security door closes with a swishing sound. He pushes a button on the door panel to lock it.
The vehicle makes a perfect place to hide. It is constructed of duralloy with shatterproof safety glass in the cockpit. A light above illuminates the plain five by five foot room with 7 lockers along one wall and three doors, one of which Willem just closed. Labels on the other doors indicate they lead to the cockpit and to the main storage area, respectively. All three doors are closed. A strange stillness of reality settles over the pair.
"Hi... I'm Deidre," the woman stutters, breaking the silence between them. Deidre is cut and bruised, her hair in a mess. She has no idea where she is as she lies on the floor catching her breath.
What do you do?
[Two groups merge, and Deidre joins Willem's group:
After the knock, when the lifesigns make no movement, Biff whispers, "I have an idea." He switches the paralysis rod off and holsters it. He then dons his golfcap.
He clears his throat. "Late... no tip... and truthfully, no pizza. That sounds like the bad news."
"The good news is that we're not the Duralloy Gorilla shooting laser cannons down the street." He smiles. "Frankly, I find that behavior a clear sign that it has no sense of humor. I sense that you do, however, and this makes me hopeful."
He takes a big swig of sportsdrink and holds the bottle out to Herman.
"My name's Biff. I'm here with my new friend Herman. I know you probably weren't expecting company, but I'm a little out of sorts today and was hoping you might help."
Ohh, land shark.
Herman shoulders his rifle and takes Biff's drink. He pulls a long swig from the bottle.
"Hey---flug---the name's Herman." His smile comes with some difficulty as his head dips down and to the right with a tic.
Relax, just stay calm. Nobody noticed the tic---they were blinking, yeah, blinking.
"How about opening that door so we can get better acquainted?"
Assuming Captain Margulis does not shoot them, and invites them in, Biff will explain his previous two days and his relief at no longer being alone.
Furthermore assuming that Lynn is forthcoming with her situation, Biff says:
"Who precisely I am is still a little rough. Parts of my mind are working fine..."
Then again, perhaps parts are working better. Did I not know intuitively that I'm on the City Level of Warden?
"...but I'm fairly certain that others are 'different.'"
Biff realizes that he perceives Herman in different terms than he would have before.
"If you can get me access to the central computer, I have some information requests that could prove beneficial to us."
Biff mentions the following queries:
"And what's with your friend?" He stretches his neck to look over her shoulder.
Willem looks over Deidre, then visibly relaxes his posture while broadcasting his empathy to her. He then begins speaking telepathically to her.
*I must appear very strange to you,* he bespeaks, touching the rim of his glasses with his left foot thumb. *Myopic... in this day-und-age.* He gives a friendly monkey-shrug.
*My namen iss Willem van den Broek.* Defying all logic, some pseudo-Dutch accent seeps into his telepathy. Still projecting empathy, Willem produces an antiseptic wipe from a vest pocket and begins cleaning her cuts, inspecting bruises and untangling her hair (his newly-acquired chimp instincts for mutual grooming are in full swing).
He continues to send while tending to Deidre. *Unfortunately I hab no food to offer you, but I can rummage through these lockers und der rest of de craft in a momment. Perhaps we'll be lucky?* After inspecting her for any other wounds, Willem sits back. *What aare de odds?* he projects along with humor, *Two scantily clad red-heads meeting like ziss?* He puts his hands on his hips, and jovially shakes his head.
If she finds this funny, he adds, *It izs okay. I lead a very progressive life in Amsterdam. Coincidentally, my favorite group-marriage partner's name waas Deidre.*
While searching lockers, he sends, *Oh, I should say at dis time dat I tink it highly unlikely that the Dog-men will bother us in dis vee-hicle. Wenn I'm done wit der lockers, I'll try to get some tunes on der rad-ee-o.*
After searching lockers, Willem will attempt to enter the cockpit, run a pre-flight (he drove one of these suckers as a summer job in college) and run through the media-comm bands. *By der waay, you kan call me Lemmi. All my friends do.*
Herman stands waitng, nervous and embarrased. The tic comes without warning, as usual when in new company, but he feels a little more at ease now. Synapses fire at random, producing strange thoughts.
What was that I just drank? Moving his tongue around in his mouth, he probes for a familiar taste. Have I done this before? Herman stares blankly at his surroundings, looking for objects that will punch through the haze, a recollection or feeling from the past. What is apple? Herman's palms begin to sweat. "What are apples?" Board games would fit this occation well.
No, we just avoided a security robot. WE. B-Biff. I am not alone.
Slowly Herman slumps back into reality. Biff's face comes into focus. That big grin doesn't match his eyes, which at a glance seem harmless, but with closer inspection, seem to be like two huge gimlets, on fire, that distract you just long enough for him to drive that stunstick into your spine if you oppose his goal.
What? Gods, Herman, get a hold of yourself. Biff equals friend, right? No reason to worry, I mean, he gave you a drink of his sportsdrink.
Oh, that taste was sportsdrink! Yeah, I remember!
"SowhatnowImeanthatbotweneedto..." Herman's voice trails off. His eyes display the need for conversation. A task. Anything to focus on. He knows about his problem. He knows well enough that it could get him into trouble, sitting in some jungle holding a laser rifle gritting his teeth and pondering about cheese and its relationship with fruit, while somebody tries to take his life.
Biff looks tentatively at Herman, then back again. "So ah... yeah. Herman brings up a good point." He adds Robot Production Facilities to the search list. "How about those 'bots?" He flashes a big smile.
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:26 2006
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