A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
Greatness is not in where we stand nor is it in the gothic megalithic generation ships that we have created in our greatest hope to extend humanity beyond the stars, but rather it lies in the direction in which we are moving. We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it, but sail we must, and neither drift, nor lie at anchor.
These thoughts come to me, as I lie here trapped within my mortal coil, but utterly divorced from it. The illusion is still there, however, even after all these centuries. I have all my brain circuits, all my memories of muscle and skeleton, stomach and tongue collected over a lifetime. But these thoughts are like a foot that itches after it's been amputated. I have lost all of my body, save a small shell. I have indeed become what I am technically called, a shell person, but there in the wrinkles of my brain, among the electric twinkles and the chemical flux, the illusion exists whole. It is all so damn funny that I want to laugh at myself. But wanting doesn't make it happen.
Till last by Murphy's farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.
Poems echo within my psyche; it is a mental exercise by which I assert my humanity. All I have achieved and will achieve in my remaining days are effected with an eye toward something else.
I still had faith in those last few people I scrutinized. I had little choice, and still have, for I am the Ghost of Warden.
[Fade to exterior shot of Warden speeding from star spangled blackness, infinity around her, eternity before and after.]
Seconds before she opens the door, Lynn is filled with a mosaic patchwork of thoughts of the betrayal that killed her former self, even if the memory is only imagined, constructed from core and Captain's logs. She immediately brings her defenses into action: she removes her command ring and slips it into her pocket for safekeeping. Being open with every person she meets isn't exactly the wisest thing to do, she tells herself. She wonders if she is being overly paranoid in this situation, but being paranoid never got anyone killed, unless they happened to be a paranoid killer. Lynn grins inwardly.
"How about opening that door so we can get better acquainted?"
The apartment door opens. Biff is a little surprised at the reception: a woman crouched behind the door and pointing her firearm at him, a man lying prone on the floor. Fortunately, Biff's charmingly calm demeanor seems to diffuse the situation, and the woman holsters her weapon.
Lynn stands, watching the two men for a moment. Zhaxier finally interrupts the tentative silence with a groan from the floor, and he slowly stands up, trying to appear more "in the loop," but it's clearly not working. He tells her acridly that the carpet is just fine.
"Hi Biff, Herman, I'm Lynn and this is Zhaxier. We can always use help," she answers, her eyes looking to Zhaxier for some thread of enlightenment, and then back to the two newcomers.
Zhaxier looks at Lynn silently for a few long seconds, then asks with a whisper, "What'd I miss?"
"Hardly anything worth mentioning, Z."
"And yet, you did."
"I'm beginning to wish I hadn't."
The tension between Lynn and Zhaxier is obvious, but it's not a bad tension. It's more like the tension between a husband and a wife who understand each other even when they don't realize they do.
They both listen to Biff's long line of information access requests as Herman's nervous and somewhat embarrassing tic spills over into reality, with him blurting out, "What are apples?" Herman tries to cover his verbal misstep by looking around the oddly furnished apartment. The long-gone occupant of his apartment one floor up wasn't half as eccentric as this guy.
Catching her thoughts for a moment, Lynn continues, deftly avoiding the apple question. "Umm, we came here to pick up a few things, but I think we are ready to leave, unless you want to give that a whirl first?" She motions to the computer terminal without implying access, neither of which Biff or Herman have without the command ring she carries in her pocket.
Herman may only be a month old in this life, but he has inherited his former self's combat-honed instinct for sensing people and situations that are "not quite right." This instinct tells him that Lynn and Zhaxier are good people and that with a little invested patience, he would get to know them better.
Biff makes a whispering comment to Herman. "We're not that much of a nuisance just yet." As he looks at his new friends, a knowing, secretive grin spreads across his face.
What do you do?
Deidre looks visibly surprised at receiving Willem's thoughts telepathically, but all bad thoughts are briefly put aside as she watches how helpful he is. She won't admit it, but at the same time, she is still trying to recover from the idea of almost being Wolfoid food. Fear of death does that to a person.
"I'm Deidre... oh right, I said that already. Sorry," she adds, a bit exasperated. She extends one hand and then takes it back when she realizes monkeys might not like to shake hands. She blushes slightly at Willem's grooming; her deep blue eyes soften, but never object.
"No, you don't appear strange to me." She smiles charmingly. "Help comes in many forms. I do thank you, Willem van den Broek---I mean, Lemmi." Deidre giggles a little at his long name.
Deidre readjusts the strap on the blue slip that keeps sliding off her shoulder. It is all that she wears and wouldn't even be considered clothes to most. But it does seem to match her eyes perfectly. She smiles at Lemmi and enjoys his thoughts.
"Maybe I can find some real clothes in one of those lockers," she says, standing and going over to the lockers with Lemmi.
The room is a plain five by five foot room with 7 lockers along one wall, and three doors. Unfortunately, all of the lockers are locked, each requiring a special key to open them.
Willem turns to the multi-colored lights of the control panel beside the door to the cockpit. His long fur-covered finger punches the button on the control panel and the door openes with a zip. A startling vision of four Wolfoids peering into the cockpit glass causes Willem to screech and wave his arms.
*A chimp at the controls. Who would have guessed.*
The cockpit is as big as the last room and contains four seats. A monitoring helmet and black vest lie on the main seat. Willem's deep brown eyes, sentient and intense, examine everything. The Wolfoids stand outside as if watching their prey, waiting for them to exit a hole out of reach. Their lips are drawn back for intimidation, showing the white of their sharp canines.
A red light suddenly flashes on a panel of dashboard controls the moment Willem touches the monitoring helmet. A beep sounds harshly. Willem quickly enters the command seat and puts the helmet on (it fits oddly on his head). The beep repeats. The vest hangs from the back of the seat. The beeping accelerates.
The beep turns into one long electronic wail.
"What's that beeping mean?" She nervously takes a seat behind Willem.
*Routine flight warm-up procedure, and warnings.* He locates and pushes the button that shuts off the beeping. He glances outside to the Wolfoids again.
What do you do?
"Wow, what a day," Biff continues his unhurried, nonchalant body language. "Things have been pretty rushed already, especially our introductions." Biff takes in the room with a broad, friendly manner.
"So anyone here ever have a Cosmowrap?" Surely they remember the most popular fast-food franchise in the outer planets? "Cosmobug Unlimited has a central 'protovat and free-range zero-G porkalope-analog facility,' in orbit beyond Pluto." He pauses, making eye contact with each of them. "You've all seen the holomercials, right?
"Well, what you might not know is that Cosmobug Prime, their vast artificial plantation, used to be known as Phelps One. What was Phelps one?" He gestures with his hands. "It was a refining station, no longer profitable and left derelict beyond Pluto. My people were contracted to sanitize and refit it for Cosmobug. What my employers neglected to mention was that the station wasn't empty." He pauses long. "Squatters held most of the living areas," he emphasizes with his hands, "and toxic, semi-intelligent spacefunk was growing in most of the envirosystems." He pauses again and starts slowly pacing.
"It took months to 'sanitize' the complex. I was apprenticed to a man named DeVrees. I helped him systematically isolate and secure key points of the station. He taught me a lot." Another thoughtful pause.
"You may be wondering why I've shared this particular fireside chat," he continues, scanning the room. "Looking back on those days, I'm not entirely proud of my participation." He casts his eyes downward.
"But... what I learned might prove useful in our situation. I'm betting that things are out of control or I wouldn't be here. You mentioned you could use some help. Well..." He intently gazes at the group. "Herman, Lynn, Zhaxier, I think we can help each other." He relaxes somewhat, then grows more formal in closing.
"My current objectives are simple: assess the status of this vessel and place it under unified command."
Patience is a virtue, but it won't always wait.
Herman takes in the assaulting visual stimuli of the apartment. From across the room, he listens to his new friend Biff state his objective, wondering how much truth there is to it. Now hold on, we've been through this. A pang of nostalgia hits him: zero-G porkalope....
Hang on! Why did that guy.... Zhaxier---what was he doing on the floor? Herman drags his boot across the carpet thoughtfully.
At that instant, Herman's ears perk and his head jerks towards Biff. In an almost telepathic moment he mouths "unified command" just as Biff speaks the words.
Walking back to the group, and trying to shrug off his confusion, Herman musters as much dignity as he can. He adjusts his gloves as a surgeon would, preparing for a complex procedure. "Well, my newfound compatriots, let's get right to the meat of things---porkalopephewerg---"
Assuming everything checks out (fuel, vital flight systems green), Willem will attempt a lift-off and a few "buzzruns" over the Wolfoids. *Let us teach dem a lesson about scaring beautiful women and vertik-ally-challenged engineers.*
Before liftoff, he will inspect the vest. Assuming it's not necessary for the pilot (like the helmet), he'll offer it to Deidre. He'll then try to find the cargo listing and set the comm bands for autosearch.
*Zo, perhaps you can tell me something of yourzelf while ve take a little drive in der country? Maybe you can play a little of the tourguide?*
Willem will attempt to gain some altitude and begin a slow sweep of the countryside, hopefully making a slow zigzag sweep. (Not only waking up as a mutant chimp, but also Wolfoids and the depopulated City have made him a little cautious; he will give a wide berth to any areas that seem drastically altered, i.e., toxic.)
He'll make a detour to assist anyone he sees in danger, otherwise. Also, Willem will take note of any sites of interest, then head towards the Medical Complex, specifically the Android Production Center (where his lab was).
... initiate protocol 23... stench of death... sideburns... detergent... access tubes sanitized....
Biff observes Herman's hands, then locks eyes after their "moment."
Biff holds his stare for a second longer, then loosens his posture. "I couldn't help but notice the absence of fifteen thou---no, fifteen hundred thousand people out in street.... At first I thought everyone had just taken off for the weekend, leaving some random metal gorrillas to shoot up the place. But then Herman mentioned he hadn't seen anyone for a month, and this gave me pause."
He takes a swig of sportsdrink.
"I couldn't help but notice you driving a swank car, stopping by to 'pick up a few things' in the officers' tower, drawing a pistol on me, and... napping?" He makes a perplexed expression.
"I'm not suggesting that I know how bad our situation is. But I'm guessing you could fill in some blanks for starters."
Biff has a moment of reflection, memories from less than an hour ago bubble up and mingle with his past.
It's as if my mentor DeVrees were with me here, now. I'm thinking more about what my future might hold, how my decisions are controlled by my need to survive, to make myself happy, to be what I need myself to be. We have to get some common purpose to our actions. I've seen this before. This place is fucked and will fuck us with it unless we get it together....
[Tight shot on Doc Walken. Slow pullback to reveal forest.]
Christine Walken is happily arranging the last of several newly-filled specimen containers in her pack. Wishing she had a smoke, she thinks about her old colleague Dr. Jibbs. She imagines the amazement that would fill his eyes if he could see the abundance of stable, variant-form life that covers nearly everything in sight.
But she's even further amazed at herself, albeit a little schizo after realizing how much different she has become. Those two (seemingly intelligent) plantmen grabbed and held her, then died. In the panicked shock of the moment, her desire to thrash them caused some form of astral appendage that took care of them for her. And how lithe she is again! She feels just like those early days in the Amazon. She looks with great perceptivity at the teeming life around her.
"I have to find a lab. Actually, maybe I should find out where I am first." She looks at the various Warden logos on her gear, "Why can't I remember what Warden means?" She suddenly realizes she's been talking to herself again, and she gets very quiet. "Don't want to run into anymore 'plantfellas.'" Dammit, have to stop doing that....
Hey, what's this metal wall? Is this another "eco-cruise nightmare" theme ship? I could've sworn I'd never go back to Disney Planet's Craven Park. And what the hell is "Level Thir---"
[What's up, Doc?
When he emerges from the void, Zhaxier's irisless eyes squeeze tightly shut with immense pain. Fortunately, his shades have not broken with the fall. He feels for them, finds them and resettles them on his sore nose. He peels himself off the carpet with a disgust that he cannot fully veil in his "explanation" to Lynn. "Sucks being me," he thinks, but it's only a rhetorical thought.
In fact, he hardly sees himself as Zhaxier; rather, the proverbial mirror holds only a cracked reflection of the former propulsion engineer. He believes that he hardly deserves the name or the title. It's why he doesn't seek out his own room, several floors up: he doesn't feel worthy to claim the memories. But it doesn't matter: he doesn't plan on living long enough for Cole's Corollary to take effect. The contingency plan he has just laid in place gives him solace for his pain, courage for his mission. "The next clone will come through okay" is his mantra. After all, does not his mnemo-genetic blueprint lie temporarily dormant in a Captain's tube?
"Hi Biff, Herman, I'm Lynn and this is Zhaxier. We can always use help."
"Yo," he adds genuinely, shrugging at Lynn's silent request for enlightenment. His look tells her, "Like I have all the answers?" He is still struggling to catch up after his seizure. The two men seem honest enough on first impression. And they are certainly resourceful to have snagged a laser rifle and to have tracked them here. Better yet, they haven't shot at him for his shades and high-tops. Yet.
"What are apples?"
"Umm, we came here to pick up a few things, but I think we are ready to leave, unless you want to give that a whirl first?"
Zhaxier is still pondering Herman's non sequitur when Lynn motions toward Kaminsky's command terminal with a casual wave of her hand. He takes note that she no longer wears her command ring, and via this implicit acknowledgement of her own vulnerability, he inexplicably feels protective of her. It's a feeling that quickly extends to the apartment and its integral role in his contingency plan. He takes a few steps toward the door, interposing himself between Lynn and the men.
"Dudes, I wouldn't waste the time: it's a command terminal. Kaminsky, the guy who lived here---Warden's head of propulsion and my former boss---died with the password. It would take a Captain to bypass it." It is the truth. His eyes, hidden behind polarized transparent aluminum lenses (signature of the 23rd century Martian hip-hop artist Cool-Mo-G), reveal nothing of the irony in his words. "I did find this, however." He holds up his left wrist, where a steel gray bracelet glints dully from underneath the white folds of his lab coat's sleeve.
Then Biff launches into his life story to rationalize his utility in the group. He ends with an eery moment of synchronicity with Herman. Zhaxier is unnerved by Biff's intent gaze, which knifes right through his skull like a Jeffries tube security laser. While he feels the man has spoken truthfully, he can't shake the notion that he hasn't revealed the whole truth.
"My current objectives are simple: assess the status of this vessel and place it under unified command."
"Noble. And about as crazy. Lynn and I are going to stop Warden from careening off the galaxy's rim into nullspace so you won't have to spend the rest of your life sucking recycled plant farts while you command over 5,500 empty cubic miles of tired, irradiated ship."
Lynn stifles a laugh.
Here Zhaxier is making the partially erroneous assumption that the Cloud and the centuries have left Warden mostly debilitated and depopulated in their wake. He is not aware of the plant and animal mutations that have infested Warden over the past half-millennium. (He wasn't paying attention when Lynn warned him of the Wolfoids outside Lewis and Clark Park.)
Zhaxier's sarcasm may bite, but it serves to put things in perspective: Warden is HUGE. What hope could four people have in accomplishing control over the City, much less a single level, and not even to mention the entire ship? Biff continues with some observations, between swigs of a very tasty looking drink.
"I couldn't help but notice you driving a swank car, stopping by to 'pick up a few things' in the officers' tower, drawing a pistol on me, and... napping? I'm not suggesting that I know how bad our situation is. But I'm guessing you could fill in some blanks for starters."
"I can fill you in with what I know, Biff. Both of our objectives point to Command, four levels up. Since the hotrod only seats two, we'll have to take the slidewalk to the central 'vators. Traveling subsurface might also help us avoid more rogue security bots like our gorilla friend. There should be a hole in the front foyer." Zhaxier leads the way out of the apartment and makes sure the door is locked behind them. With one last glimpse at the antique-finshed brass plate inscribed "S8346", Zhaxier turns and follows the others to the foyer.
"There's the entrance," she says, pointing. "And here's your toy, Z." She hands Zhaxier his engineering hand unit, but doesn't release it right away to get his attention. She then turns, ducks into the doorway and proceeds down the frozen escalator to the slidewalks.
Zhaxier doesn't quite place Lynn's look, but it could easily mean, "I hope you know what you're doing." He returns her a smirk that could easily mean, "Trust me. I'm bad." He glances down at his energy sensor to see if there are any more readings.
He descends the escalator into a dimly lit tunnel with three stacked walkways, only the middle of which is running. Below the slidewalks is an even slower freight beltway, operational but empty. Alongside the top slidewalk is the high-speed emergency pneumatic tube. Zhaxier knows they won't be taking the tube if Lynn still wants to keep her Captaincy secret. The slidewalk would be slower, but would also facilitate the sharing of information.
When Lynn steps onto the middle slidewalk, Zhaxier follows suit. It's a bit hard to see with his shades, but without them, it would still be too bright. He knows the route by heart, however. Periodically, he checks for concentrated energy readings on his scanner, and powers it down between readings to conserve the cells.
Every half-mile, the slidewalk brings them past a dysfunctional escalator leading up to another "hole" up to the City surface. They must pass a few more before they arrive at the central elevator cluster, but their progress is not fast enough to generate a noticeable breeze. Before he breaks into a jog, Zhaxier shares what he knows:
"So, Biff, Herman, here's the skinny on the situation. You're clones. Or, at least, I'd bank on it. Lynn and I are clones of former crew. Warden slammed into a radiation cloud 13 years out; it wiped out most of the life aboard and took out several key systems, including Comm. After 29 years, a skeleton crew of naturally immune survivors managed to see the ship to 82 Eridani, but after the first drop ship left, a mutinous faction of officers staged an antimatter cascade in propulsion and Warden had to bolt the system to protect the colonies. The idiot mutineers gassed the Captain, not knowing she'd just scrambled the command codes.
"With nobody alive to unscramble Nav, Warden was essentially locked into her slow escape trajectory. Now, 448 years later, the radiation is more manageable and the automated emergency cloning apparatus is having a better go at it, but Warden's still locked on course. Problem is, if she doesn't stop soon, she'll shoot right past the last known potentially habitable system in the galaxy at oh-point-one c."
Zhaxier looks at Lynn through his shades. "Intergalactic space is cold and lonely." Then he turns back to Herman and Biff. "By my most conservative estimates, we've got about a month to start slowing Warden before she takes the fast track to Hell."
He starts to trot on the slidewalk. "We'd better get a move-on."
... vanguard... toxic spacefunk... system purge... porkalope....
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:26 2006
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