A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
[Into frame: Exterior view of Warden. A massive swirl of colors filling the screen for a beat.]
[Continuing into space: Colors stretch to a breathtaking line of twinkling orbs in the blackness moving at a gut-wrenching speed.]
At times, life is hard, as hard as the duralloy skin of Warden. It has its bleak and painful moments that some will never understand. Like the ever flowing water of a river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of the summers and the piercing chill of its winters. But through it all, I have watched for hundreds of years, never forgetting that my aid may help to lift humanity from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate metal hallways into the former sunlit paths of inner peace that they once were.
I, Murphy, still dream of the nightmarish bonding of myself to Warden. Even in my latest dream, those moments---a flicker in time long passed---returned. After the operation, when I regained consciousness, I wondered why I didn't feel the pain, why I didn't feel anything. I opened my eyes and saw... nothing. I listened and heard nothing, reached and felt nothing. There was nothing to move, nothing with which to feel. Then a dim light came on, giving me a kind of blurry vision of gray shadows. I saw a form that I could barely make out as the face of a man, the caretaker, Dr. Heinlein, who later became my friend, who now has long since died, his corpse shriveled into nothingness, still slumped over his desk.
Yes, I still remember all those first ungodly visions. They were all in black and white, a charcoal sketch viewed on a mono TV screen badly out of focus. Sometimes I wonder if my time will end much like it began. Oh how things have changed. The fuzzy grayscale of my "youth" is now tens of thousands of digitized closed-circuit views with detail beyond verbal description, all feeding directly into my brain.
After all the loneliness, I still believe that standing up for the truth of humanity no matter what outward form it takes is the greatest thing in the Universe. This is the purpose of humanity, not to be happy, not to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. This purpose calls us to do the right thing and help others, come what may. And soon it will come and I will face it because I have no choice. Everything, even the stars, has a beginning and an end. I know all too well, because I am the Ghost of Warden.
"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."
"A more than fair exchange and a lofty ideal," Lynn concedes---barely---while at the same time trying not to react to Zhaxier's comical wit. "Perhaps it's your repugnance to plants that causes you to behave so irrationally, Zhaxier?"
Zhaxier casts Lynn a sheepish glance. "Hey, I like plants. Especially trees. They don't bite."
"I can vouch for that, ma'am," Herman says. "I too have never met a plant I didn't want to shoot at one time or another," he adds with a smirk at Lynn.
Zhaxier raises one eyebrow.
Later on the slidewalk, Herman looks around, taking in the pastel colored surroundings of the subsurface transportation system. Lynn glances at Zhaxier. Biff decides he'd better bide his time. But soon, the juxtaposition of his thoughts is too much to keep under wraps.
"Well the big difference between us, and others, Lynn: We don't mind helping and our schedule is completely open." Biff gets a relieved nod and smile from Lynn, but he still can't help but wonder if Zhaxier is her self appointed protector.
"Yeah, sure I guess---why do you ask?"
"Just warming all of you up, that's all." The three guys look at her.
"Let's say you're in a desert, walking along in the sand when all of the sudden---"
"Is this a test?"
"Yes it is. You're in a desert walking along in the sand when all of a sudden you look down---"
"It doesn't make any difference, it's completely hypothetical; the point is what is important, if you'll let me---"
"But how come I'd be there? I like trees!" Zhaxier knows Lynn has some worthwhile point to make, but his sarcastic side is coming out.
"Maybe you're fed up, maybe you want to be somewhere without trees, who knows? You look down and you see a tortoise, Zhaxier. It's crawling toward you---"
"Tortoise? What's that?"
"Know what a turtle is, right?" She sighs.
"I've never seen a real turtle, but I understand what you mean." Herman adjusts his weapon on his shoulder and fights the thought of asking if turtles are edible. Now hold on, we're going through this again....
"You reach down and flip the tortoise over on its back, Zhaxier. The tortoise lies on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs and trying to turn itself over, but it can't---not without your help, and you're not helping" Her expression is stern.
"What do you mean I'm not helping? I like turtles. I really do!"
"I mean, you're not helping. I've used you, Zhaxier, in this allegory, but really, I've just described everyone on Warden except for us, and we are the turtle baking belly up in the hot sun.... Why is that? It's because no one but us cares about what Warden is facing. Do the three of you understand what I am getting at?"
"Yeah, so begins a golden land of opportunity and adventure."
[Cut to shot of a screen built into the wall and a commercial babble of City-speak washes around you and the sidewalk, advertising a new life awaiting you on an off-world colony. New climate, new recreational facilities....]
A short time later, Lynn points out the exit. She keeps up with Zhaxier's fast trot and considers his synopsis of the mutiny that killed her former self. She wonders if it might stir any memories as dead as the lifeless escalator that they climb to the desolate street above. From the hole entrance, across the street they see a stark monolithic construction reaching up to the level's ceiling. It is the City's central elevator: a plain brown skyscraper grasping the heavens.
As they cross the street, Zhaxier pauses to look down at his energy sensor and finds nothing unusual (no robots, etc.), and Biff checks his ELA and finds no life signs in the region. Both men look at each other, realizing they had the same idea and thinking "jinx" at the same time.
Herman mumbles something. Nervously watching what Zhaxier holds in his hands, he interrupts the silence and says, "Ah, gosh. You've really got some nice toys, Zhaxier."
What do you do?
Tilt down. Zoom in. The digital camera high up on the City's central elevator tower swivels with life-like precision, having picked up the four life signs on the street directly below. The camera then pans slowly to the far left and refocuses to zoom on the City's edge a couple miles away, investigating another pair of life signs on the move. Zoom in on the cargo carrier's cockpit. Focus on the chimpanzee in the command chair.
An extreme close-up of Deidre shows her anguish as she watches the remaining Wolfoids outside watching her hungrily through the cockpit window. "None of you deserves to live! What's so special about you, what makes you think you can eat us? You're just like the rest of them: scared animals! You can't even save yourselves!"
Willem tries to calm Deidre telepathically while at the same time doing a pre-flight check. It's all very confusing to her, but she listens to him, and soon feels utterly tranquilized after a few moments of listening to his thoughts. Deidre calms down, but Willem doesn't see the tear on her cheek. The exact reason Deidre is so upset with the Wolfoids, beyond the obvious, is not clear.
Willem's quick check reveals that the anti-grav cargo carrier (fitted with nonstandard ion thrusters) is pre-programmed to return to a specific location at the edge of the City.
Searching the vest pocket, Willem finds a black key card. The other pocket is empty. The card's exact use is unknown, but it is possible that it opens one of the lockers in the center section. The monitoring helmet displays a list of commands. Willem mentally approves the acceptance of the auto pilot and the anti-grav cargo carrier suddenly lifts off, pivots in the air and scatters the frightened Wolfoids.
Willem can't help but wave his hands and voice his approval as only a (mutated) chimp can. The carrier's only requirement is that someone be seated in the command chair while wearing the monitoring helmet. Willem suspects that whoever brought this modified craft out here did so without using its auto pilot feature.
Deidre sighs deeply as she holds onto the back of Willem's seat. A very slight grin appears on her face when the Wolfoids flee in terror. Her emotions sway back and forth like a weight scale needle. She points off in the distance as the anti-grav vehicle turns in the air effortlessly.
"My home is---was---far off in that direction beyond the fence." She bites her lip for a moment. "I don't remember much. Some are dreams some not. Do you understand that? Another curve ball, huh?" she says, tightening her grip on the back of Willem's seat.
She looks at him and tries to smile. A moment passes between them, then a beep sounds from the console as the anti-grav cargo carrier comes to a stop on a landing pad. The mile-long ride from the grasslands to the City is over just a few minutes after it started. Warehouses fill the view out the cockpit window.
Deidre blurts out that she was once a computer technician in a dream. Willem politely listens to her.
*Pleaze, go on den. Why dit you leave?* He turns in his seat and removes the helmet.
"Lemmi, I left the village to find a place where murder wasn't an official ceremony, where I would have the right to live and the right to die, which didn't belong to the villagers. I left it to find sanctuary, where those rights exist!" Deidre takes a breath and forces a slight smile. "We should go find that Android Production Center you mentioned."
His soft brown eyes look around anxiously for something. Finally, they focus on Deidre. *I'm ze canary. Dat iss der coal minen,* he bespeaks, pointing his opposable thumb at the City. Willem gets a smile from Deidre.
What do you do?
The digital camera high up on the ceiling looks down and focuses: out of the jungle a figure appears in quick flashes among the cover. Image is jumpy, shadowed. Target hard to track. Audio out of sync. Still tracking. Audio picks up bits and pieces.
[Interior view: Close on Doc Walken as she does something with her pack.]
A strange stillness settles over the area as Christine Walken's panic from seeing the "Level 13" sign subsides. She adjusts the pack digging into her shoulders.
Nothing but intense jungle lies around her. Then she hears a frightening cry---something inhuman. Christine's survivalist training takes over. She moves quickly for cover. It's daylight, but the jungle is thick, vines cover everything, and trees with hanging greenery keep visibility under twenty feet in any direction. Her vision is awash with green.
Turning away from the noise, she races through the forest. Vines entangle her arms. She breaks free, stumbles through the undergrowth. The sound is right behind her. Christine wheels to fight, her dart ejector immediately drawn and in one hand, her mouth dry. She whirls to her left on hearing a metallic click. Some type of machine beneath a swirl of vines moves up and down, performing some unknown task. She spins back around with sweaty palms.
[Angle: breaking clear]
A very tall, muscular and brunette human female bursts out of the underbrush like a ghost. Her cameo fatigues blend perfectly with the forest around her and her face is decorated with similar intricate combat camouflage. Christine has no idea how to react for a moment as she cocks her arm with the dart ejector. Christine is spooked, her eyes impossibly wide. She backs up, looking around in shock for a few seconds.
The tall woman speaks: "Sorry to frighten you, Miss. It wasn't, if truth be told, my intention, but you did run away. I'm Hershey Jenner, by the way." Her tone is very calm and disarming. "I don't think you will need that." She points at Christine's dart ejector.
Memories, images and thoughts spin inside Christine's head. She lowers her weapon and kneels beside a metal box covered with kudzu-type vines to catch her breath. Does everything here always have to be so intense?
"You can call me Christine Walken. You wouldn't happen to know where a lab is around here, would you?" Christine makes eye contact with Hershey for a few seconds.
"No, but I have a shipping container I call home not far from here and a weird plant thing I found. At least there we are safe from the mutant plants," Hershey cautiously looks around.
What do you do?
[Group two doubles up:
Christine thinks of the jungle and the plantfellas. "I'd love to stop by for a visit," she replies to Hershey while holstering her dart ejector. "Trail mix?" she asks, opening a bag and offering it.
She follows Hershey after catching her breath for a moment. Giving Hershey another once over, she queries, "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
Hershey leads the way to her crate. <munch, munch> "This is great trail mix. Care for an Ultrabalance Dailybar?" She produces one for each. <munch, munch>
"Don't I know you from somewhere?"
"I don't think so, unless you're a sports fan." Hershey continues to keep a vigilant scan along the route, as this place is full of nasty things. "In my infamous past, I was a Decathawarrior." She shoots Christine a sidelong glance, looking for signs of recognition. "You might have seen me on the Holos." <munch, munch> "How about yourself?"
"The Hershey Jenner!!" Shocked, Christine momentarily forgets their surroundings. "Decathawars was my favorite show, until you retired. DeLan, Zelkin and Cho---all wannabees." She gets hold of herself. "Astrobash 5000 replays still top the Ceres Network Feeds. You're much larger in person."
Life can get pretty dull in the lab, so Christine vicariously relives her Amazonian days through Hershey. "As for myself, I'm just your friendly neighborhood---" she looks around the overgrown storage facility, "geneticist."
Nagging thoughts creep in....
"I...I'm with the Shang Francisco Institute. And---" She can't quite get a grip on it. "Is this some kind of 'Fantasy Asteroid' trip? Where are we?"
448 years... we're clones... radiation more managable level... 30 sessile human reads in building... android reenters building... clone gestation period?... How long till my beard fills in?
"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...."
"That's a good turn of phrase, Zhaxier," Biff says jovially, with a pat on his back, "and a good point, as recycled plant farts are all I have ever known. I've never been to Earth. Or even Mars... every breath I've taken has been from an environmental system."
Biff enjoys the feel of sportshoe traction, the fleeting thoughts of his favorite healthcenter on Ceres.
"In fact, I'm pretty familiar with the one on Warden. I happen to know that most of the Command Centers and between decks are fed by sizable conduits for air, water and sewage. Not to mention accessways along the power grids. Conduits for a ship this size are so big and ubiquitous that most of their maintenance is automated with regularly scheduled scrub-downs, usually with industrial-grade agents. They also have toxicity sensors and security counter-measures."
Biff quickly glances at his ELA, then shuts it back off.
"When I say big, I mean big enough to drive a grav-truck through, since that's what we use to repair most of them."
Navcommand codes are scrambled.
"Zhaxier... you seem like a resourceful guy." Biff's focused, friendly gaze travels from Zhaxier's steel-gray band, to his scanner, to his face. "You got some solid intel on what happened to the ship. Stuff that would likely be encrypted in the command logs. That's a pretty neat trick---one that says something to me: either command code access has been granted to everyone, which would be extremely helpful, or among this group, we have access, which is tantamount to the same thing... right?"
He continues with a softened, friendly expression. "A trick like that could really help us gain access to some key points of the ship, or at the very least give us an idea what we'd be up against. If we could access Envirocontrols, clear a conduit highway to Engineering, to Command---actually most of the ship would become available." He furrows his brow in deep consideration.
"It will probably take us a while to make definitive gains. We might even have to pay some heavy dues accomplishing it." He has pragmatic set to his jaw and eye. "But it could prove a workable strategy, not only to make that 'last stop' in the galaxy, but actually give a chance to spread humanity, however flawed, to another planet.
"Ultimately," he looks to each, "I think that's why we built Warden."
Tortoisebiff takes a breather and watches for seekers of golden adventure.
"Is this some kind of 'Fantasy Asteroid' trip?"
"Bad trip is what I'm thinking," she replies, taking a second to gauge Christine. "I'm not entirely sure where we are myself, but I do know that I've signed on the Warden crew, and I'm pretty sure that's where we are."
She looks at Christine's Warden logos. "I don't think everything is normal. For instance, you're right, I'm usually about a foot shorter." She thinks it over and decides to share more, especially as this might be her only companion for some time.
"Height isn't the only thing. My reflexes are better than when I was a kid, and I see things differently too. It's like I know where things are weakest, or unbalanced or imperfect... incredibly detailed. At the same time, I can't feel anything---no tactile sense." She pauses to see the reaction.
"And some other things too: I fried a Plantman with my mind.... It was the freakiest thing I'd ever experienced until I blinked across a ravine. I was working out how to cross it and 'poof'." She takes a second to scan the jungle.
"I know this must sound completely nuts, but it's true."
Christine listens to Hershey, avoiding roots and vines, and scanning their surroundings.
"Actually, that does sound fairly nuts. Furthermore, I'd be highly inclined to disbelieve you except for three things: first, I'm a geneticist. Second, where we are," she gestures broadly, "and third, I know exactly what you mean."
Christine grows very still, as if the memories will leap from words to reality. "A couple Plantcreepies ran me down and got me in their... grip? All I could think of was getting them off. A couple seconds later they dropped over. I don't know if they were dead, but I wished they were. I was still too winded to do anything about it, but an unlikely event occurred: a floating arm appeared, and I wished it would finish them off. The more I thought about it the more it thrashed them...."
She seems distant for a second, then perks up. "I have tissue samples if you'd like to see."
Hershey stops and looks at Christine. She's not sure how much stranger this can get, but sensing how much of Christine's memory is scrambled, she begins to wonder about her own.
"Yeah... er, no... maybe later...." Hershey tries to remember the last thing before the jungle. There was something in Christine's words....
... Clean, pastel room... men and women wearing khaki uniforms... rehearsed demeanors... "You won't feel a thing, just a little tissue sample for the gene-banks."
Hershey tries not to show the creeping horror on her face. "Christine. I have another crazy thought...."
Twenty-nine years with skeleton crew of naturally immune survivors. How many? Course set 448 years ago during a mutiny. No corrections during intervening voyage---impressive, unlikely. Correction and return from system overshoot? Thirty days 'til overshoot. Conservative estimate (liberal estimate?)....
No corrections during intervening voyage---impressive, unlikely.
A natural conclusion. Here's a quote from p.3 of the Metamorphosis Alpha (1st edition) rulebook:
The vessel traveled on past its assigned planet with its safety systems preventing the ship's destruction by crashing into a planet or burning up in [a] sun.
Zhaxier is of course aware of this (being a propulsion engineer), and took knowledge of this for granted in his recounting of events on Warden to Biff and Herman.
Correction and return from system overshoot?
A natural question. Zhaxier is operating on the assumption that it is much easier and more expedient to slow an ancient ship than it would be to pull a maneuver similar to what Lynn did with the anti-grav car. That said, there is another reason hinted at in previous posts why this won't be possible.
Kudos on the logic!
Christine pulls a twig from her hair, loosens a button and zones for a second.
This jungle creeping over crates and machines... plantmen... my own changed body.... It's surreal. Maybe all that "Brainblur" from freshman year wasn't such a waste of time.
Sensing that Deidre's smile may be fleeting, Lemmi quickly powers down the flight systems and removes his harmonica from its case. Blowing an exploratory note or two, he bespeaks to Deidre, *Wit der permission of der kind vrau, a littel tune by der perrenial bluesman, Jan Lee Hoeker.*
<wah-wah wah-wuhn... wah-wah wah-wuhn...>
*I'm a Man.... I spell em---aa---enn....* While playing and sending, Lemmi incorporates percussive beats with his free limbs.
After a (hopefully) morale-enhancing moment, *Vell, I suppose we should take care of zome bizness now. Why don't I find out vat we're haulingk, den maybe try dis black cart in der lokkers?*
Lemmi will attempt to disengage the auto pilot, perform another manifest search and open the cargo entryway (assuming it's not labeled Rabid Hyenas, Neuron Cacti, Airborn Deathmint, etc.). He'll also try to bring up some City grids and plot ground and air routes to Android Production.
"You're just like the rest of them: scared animals! You can't even save yourselves!"
While perfoming this search, Lemmi ponders Deidre's words. Save themselves from what? And, are they "animals" like himself, men who have been changed into something animal-like?
Once he's taken care of what he can, he stuffs the extra vest into his pack, opens the door and begins using the black card on the lockers and the cargo door (assuming he can't open it from the flight console).
Casting friendly vibes, he sends, *Zo, I'm glat you're not wit dos nasty 'village-peeple' any moor. I tink ve make a goot teem.* He gives a "proud chimp" pose, takes her hand and heads for the lockers. *Bezides, I often dream that I can dezine androids; maybe ve shuld be finden a computer for you?" He continues with empathy, *I've often found sanctuary in my werk.*
If Willem can (e.g., using his Heightened Intelligence to understand ship tech) he'd prefer to fly to Android Land, or close by. They both seem to have had some bad experiences lately and so he'd want to limit ground-contact, especially the kind that precipitates running in terror.
Kudos on the logic!
Thanks man, I was just adding some insight into Biff's character in the form of questions that occur to him, or building blocks that he would use to expand options for the group. Glad it sparked a response.
I appreciate the comments!
Hershey stares at Christine's khaki uniform, with its "GenServ" emblem. "Christine, snap out of it," she manages, queasy with the realization. "We're clones...." She pauses to let the words sink in.
"I don't know what's gone wrong, but we're part of the 'Emergency Interim Crew Protocol." She scans the vines. "I---my 'other self'---trained Countermeasure Personel for operations in all shipboard sectors."
She thinks about her crate and the devices she's seen. "I think we're in a robot center, one of the larger ones." She tightens a grippy-glove and checks her SHU. "We must be adjacent to an envirobay, or seed storage."
How long has the situation been out of control? How many other personnel are active? We have to establish contact with the rest of the crew. Are we the only ones alive? How tall is the ceiling? That would narrow it down....
"Is this clicking with you, Doc?"
Christine's mind wanders for a frame of reference.
...her days among the Hacienda Movement... treating the victims of Kirkland Development... negligent BioGen Projects... the Basin Autonomous Zone... the reason she joined their rivals at Shang Francisco, a division of the United Western Starship Cartel that built Warden....
Pulling herself together, she stares at her "Warden GenServ" patch.
"We have to get to a MedLab." She thinks about Jenner-giant, and then her own transformation. "Preferably a clone bank."
"Clone bank, yea."
In the event of emergency, medical facilities would jump to Indigo Status, coordinated with other services. She touches up her face paint. And if we're clones with "quirks," we should probably know more about that too. She looks skyward.
"I think there are seven decks with ceilings this high," she says, trying to conjure her knowledge of the vessel. "We've got a jungle here." I guess I didn't need to say that. "And a robot storage area," I'd say we're either in the mothballed factories or just above the City."
She downs some water, and tongues a piece of dried papaya lodged in a molar.
"Which facility should we head for?"
Zhaxier pauses to look down at his energy sensor... and Biff checks his ELA and finds no life signs in the region. Both men look at each other, realizing they had the same idea and thinking "jinx" at the same time.
Biff looks Zhaxier in the eye and smiles broadly. "Looks like we have more in common by the minute."
He stows his ELA and straightens his cap.
"Which facility should we head for?"
Christine is trying to puzzle out an intelligent reply. Damn this sketchy memory! I need a cigarette... maybe something stronger, since I quit smoking years ago....
"Honestly Hershey, I'm not sure." <think, think, think> "Computer!!"
She is happy, even with the knowlege that this should have been an easy answer. "We need access to a computer; it should be able to give us an idea which facilities are operational."
She bites her lip as she has a quick mental image of a man dancing in a loincloth with body paint.
"Did you mention something about having a 'plant-thing' back at your place?"
Willem forgot to find out where they landed. Also, if the card is ineffective on the lockers or the cargo door, he will use the sonic torch, shy of reaching "decontamination required" stage.
Welcome to all the new additions to the crew; lots of strength coming in and fun reading to boot! ;-)
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:26 2006
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