A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
[The camera opens into a long forgotten private living space somewhere in Warden. Zoom onto gratuitous calendar nudity: a naked woman on a beach smiling. The 4th is circled on the calendar. The room is dust covered. Camera pulls back while fading to blackness.]
[Switch scenes to Warden's empty command bridge. The camera turns to peer out the viewscreen into open vast emptiness of space.]
The bridge is vacant. Two space helmets rest on chairs. Electrical hum. Lights on the helmets begin to signal one another. Moments of silence. A yellow light goes on. Electronic hum. A green light goes on in front of one helmet. Electronic pulsing sounds. A red light goes on in front of the other helmet. An electronic conversation ensues, reaches a crescendo. Then silence. Another flashing yellow light. A legend underneath reads, "COMMAND PRIORITY ACCESS ONLY." The lights go off, save the yellow.
[Voice-over (Murphy): "Viewing space from Warden really puts things in perspective. I mean, from on board Warden, an entire world can seem utterly insignificant."]
Something splats onto the viewscreen like a fly onto a car windshield. A robotic hull maintenance bot on the outside of Warden comes by the viewscreen and cleans it off with something that resembles a windshield wiper and then moves on out of view.
It seems like only yesterday when I was watching them on Level 13. My logs show my hesitancy to spend dwindling resources on the long shot they embodied.
[Swich scenes: a series of rapid-fire close-up shots of Lynn, Herman, Biff, Christine, Hershey. All show horrified reactions to the mutant orchid.]
"Hmm, he seems pretty angry at that plant. Yeah, but I guess I'd be angry too. I don't know, I don't know. It's not an easy decision. If only I had two or three minutes to think about it. Maybe I ought to do something nice for him."
[Wide angle on robot. For the first time we see a humanoid robot standing in the darkness of Murphy's room. It wears a simple quasi-military uniform: tunic, trousers and weird square metal boots. It begins to address Murphy.]
"I am fully operational Sir. I can walk like robots, talk like robots and if necessary solve complex differential equations like robots. I can sort of dance like a robot. Will that help? Uh yup! Just a robot out roboting it up!"
[Close on Murphy's slight frown. Cut to robot, who dismisses itself, sort of dancing like a robot as it leaves the room.]
Why would anyone think that I am insane? I wouldn't say that I've lost my mind simply because I've spent all these years alone and seen the godless mutations created under my watch. If anything, I think more clearly now than ever before. Now listen closely, because there isn't much time. Listen and believe, because it's all true.
This much is probable: the men who sent us on this journey have long since been mouldering in forgotten graves. They were a different breed than most and spent way too much time programming robots. Hopefully, the future will bring better, less humorous robots. I try to laugh but blood appears between my lips. My mouth opens in pain, but no sound comes forth. Even as Ghost of Warden, I am but a man in life and spirit.
[Dissolve to command bridge camera: we see a computer screen plotting a theoretical path to a strange and distant planet. At first the globe occupies but a small area of the screen; but with each new view along the projected path it comes closer and looms larger, finally as if observed from a spaceship in orbit.]
Players should not always assume their actions will have the desired effect. That is my job as GM to decide. Players should expect many more surprises, even more so than in other RPGs, since their characters are "strangers in a strange land," to use Heinlein's words. As GM, I will always be open to appeals based on rules or consistency, but if it's to whine about unfairness, then that won't work with me. And you thought I was just a simple hollow skin-tube, devoid of human life! <grins> OK, my friends, get ready for the most delicious post you've ever tasted. On with the show.
Once Lynn releases his arm and races to find Biff, the anxiety of the moment builds exponentially inside Zhaxier until Biff's screams overwhelm him, striking him squarely as if he ran right into a duralloy bulkhead. His body seizes up and he falls with a thud, face down into the undergrowth like a leafless tree.
[Long panning jungle shot, moving with the group. Little sunlight penetrates this dense vegetation. These shots are intercut with fleeting forms as yet unidentified: trembling foliage, brown shadows against a green backdrop. Switch to view of small clearing, favoring the humanoids (Lynn, Herman, Hershey, Christine) who appear at the same time, some charging into view, all startled by seeing a humanoid (Biff) being attacked by a monstrous plant. Close on their horrified expressions.]
"Plants can be killed." She says with determined force, looking at the newcomers, and then turning to look straight ahead.
"Yeah, I figured that." Her face wears a fearful grimace.
Christine's telekinetic arm lashes out and reaches some fifteen yards away to grab one of the mutant orchid's fronds and to rip it cleanly off its body. Then she closes her eyes and sends a mental blast at the plant. In her mind, she feels a door slamming shut.
Charging into action, Hershey throws a leaping Han Karon gladiator-style kick, giving her the highest devastating damage potential to a vital area. The kick is timed perfectly with Christine's telekinetic arm. Having no chance to dodge the kick, the mutant orchid absorbs the damage with a sickening crunch, and in the process releases Biff as it tries to retain its balance.
Her hand on her weapon, Lynn stands her ground. Looking around, she sees Herman beside her but Zhaxier is absent.
Herman sees an opening and fires a single shot from his laser rifle. The top of the plant explodes like a head of cabbage being hit with a baseball bat. The impact causes the plant to fall over backwards and remain motionless on the forest floor.
"You're a special ops. Why do you always pretend to smell like roses?" he mumbles to himself.
On his hands and knees, and not realizing the extent of his own damage, Biff gathers up all of his scattered equipment. Among the items, he finds a pistol of some sort.
"Yada, yada, blah, blah. Why am I here for this?" He shakes the muck off his ELA, which seems to be intact, then looks up at Lynn, Herman and the two newcomers, all gathered around him. Then looking down at his ELA, he says, "Sweetie, you're not broken?"
[Dissolve to jungle.]
Nestled in the dark forest undergrowth, the camera from high above detects the tiny figure of a plant creature pop into view. The instant before, it was not visible. It looks like a demon, a creature never meant for the world of the living. Its tentacles slide across Zhaxier's body prone body.
[Superimpose demonic face of the creature with black eyes.]
What do you do?
From the cargo carrier cockpit, Bud and Willem watch as the gray suits circle the area like storm troopers. Deidre breathes hard from fear, but Nicolaglee and Bud seem more relaxed. Nicolaglee moves to the door, frozen halfway closed by Bud's short circuit and forces it closed until it makes a clicking noise. She wonders if it will be as easy to open again.
In slow motion, a gray suit emerges from the crowd of soldiers encircling the cargo carrier and aims a weapon into the cockpit windshield directly at Bud's head. Bud busily continues attempting to bypass/defeat the security system, not quite sure if he is getting it right. The helmet in the chair beside him blinks. From close range it is clear that the gray suited soldiers are actually identical androids.
"Come on! You don't really think that will work do you?" he says sarcastically, glancing up at the android as it raises the weapon in earnest and points it more accurately.
Without warning, the cargo carrier's ion thrusters fire a solid burst, knocking the android off its feet. The carrier lifts off and speeds away, making mere distant dots out of the androids in seconds.
"Hey," she says, gladly walking up behind Willem and hugging him, whispering, "Buddy!"
"Well done, Clyde."
"That's why I'm here. A bit of a rough adjustment... but we made it!" he explains, wondering how he ever got the carrier off the ground, and why the door trick didn't work.
Bud looks out the window and watches the ground pass by beneath them far below. He turns in his seat and smiles a greeting to everyone as the cargo carrier speeds away from the City toward a park. Deidre gets a very serious look on her face.
What do you do?
Taking a second to survey the scene, Christine looks at Hershey, Biff, Herman and Lynn, and at the fallen plant. Exchanging another glance with Hershey, she moves toward Biff and crouches beside him.
"Hi, my name's Christine. I'm a doctor." She glances between his face and his wounds. "Do you mind if I have a look at your wounds?" she says, already pulling out her medical gear.
Biff suddenly becomes aware of his wounds and experiences a strange flash of memories. Many bloody moments swirl through his mind.
He looks down at his own blood. "That's a helluva thing." He manages as much of a smile as he can in accepting Christine's offer. While she tends to his wounds, he notices the dirt and blood smeared on his copy of The Communist Manifesto. He thinks to himself, "Chicks dig scars."
Quickly surveying the scene, Hershey takes note of Lynn with her pistol, and Herman with his rifle and Warden commando outfit. "I'm Officer Jenner. this is Doctor Walken." She checks her SHU. "I don't think we're safe here. We were heading towards the elevators. Are there only three of you?"
Christine finishes sterilizing the man's wounds and administering a Nanoheal dose. "I think we're good here," she says, noticing the book next to the pistol. "Time to roll."
With the blood cleaned from his face, there's something familiar about this guy.
Reflecting on their escape, Nicolaglee begins performing a song from the proto-space age:
A humanoid escaping
An android on the run...
As she watches the ground far below, she thinks about the gray suits.... Are those my "brothers"?
Biff gathers the last of his gear and carefully secures the unknown firearm in his belt. He also casually checks to make sure his stunbaton is on.
"Thanks Christine---er, Doctor Walken." His smile coming back, he takes in the 7'3" woman whose jungle paint matches the physician's. "I'm Biff, and this is Lynn, Officer Penderchuck and---" He quickly scans the nearby jungle, notices the smouldering plant beast. His mind races. "Where the hell is Zhax!?"
Bud listens to Nicolaglee and looks at the controls. "Hey, this looks a little different than the rig I drove on Triton." He turns back toward his new companions. "Anyone wanna take over?" he says, moving out of the flight chair.
He brushes against Nicolaglee. "That was fast thinking... the door I mean." He smiles.
Willem bespeaks to Deidre. *I am tinking dat we cahn trust dis man.* He emoticasts his elation at their escape and more warm feelings to Deidre.
Then he looks into Clyde's eyes and bespeaks him. *Ja dat wuld be me. I can fly dis craft.* He gives Clyde a high-five while moving into the control seat and donning the helmet.
He sends to both Deidre and Clyde, *It may be hart to beleeve, but I can speek insiden yur minden, Clyde. I'll be flyun us to der med faseelitees unless you had annoder destination.*
Willem quickly reorients the craft toward the med/android facilities, keeping an eye out for movement and/or trouble.
Those androids in the hanger seemed in good repair, and apparently were unburdened by safety protocols. Someone has operational production facilities... and design knowledge. He wonders more about Nicolaglee. If he could gain access to some labs and gear, he might be able to turn up some answers. Maybe I should do a recon flyby over the area before landing.
Christine takes a moment to look at the fallen horror, and thinks about the creature strapped to her belt.
"Where the hell is Zhax!?"
"I haven't seen anyone else."
She unholsters and readies her dart gun, forms her third arm and dispatches it to rip off another piece of the plant for her biosamples collection.
"See anything with that gizmo?" she asks Hershey as she does a broad visual sweep (including IR/UV).
Taking a cue, Biff consults his ELA. He thinks about his experience and hopes Zhaxier is not having a similar moment. "We came from over there," he gestures with his stunbaton. "Our friend shouldn't be far away. Before I was attacked, this was showing multiple lifesigns." He pauses. "I don't hear any screams, but that could change any second."
He watches with amazement as a phantom arm floats over with a small clump of plant beast and drops it into Christine's specimen container. "That's something I'll want to ask you about... but for the time being, I second your motion to roll." Why do these two seem so familiar?
Biff begins to backtrack, heading for the signal that seems to be Zhaxier. For a second, he's sure there is---was---something else there, but maybe it's just a phantom image.
"So, I'm not sure exactly what happened back there," he says in a low voice, "but I have a feeling I owe some thanks."
Christine scans the jungle throughout the entire portion of the spectrum available to her. Her other brain directs her telekinetic arm to weed-whack ahead.
"Well, Hershey and I heard sounds of struggle," she says softly, taking a breath and trying a more measured approach, "and came upon you and 'orchid Biff-trap.' We've both had some unpleasant horticultural experiences lately, so I had 'El Rippo'," she gestures towards her astral arm, "say hello to 'El Leggo.'" She smiles.
"Meanwhile, Officer Jenner displayed some---" She pauses for another measured breath. "---truly impressive aerial combat skills, and hit hard enough that it released you." She looks to Hershey's imposing form. "The third element was your friend, Officer Penderchuck." She looks over to him and notices his rifle and garb again. "He took it's head off with a satisfying 'capper' shot."
Christine continues her attempt to regulate her breathing in an attempt to stave off fatigue.
Bud, noticing that he feels no pull while Lemmi banks the craft, tells him, "Hey Lemmi, you ever play one of those cheap sim games? The ones that don't have g-force in turns?" He looks out the window as Lemmi continues the turn. "I think this is one of those 'no option' varieties, where you can only go where it wants you to. I think it might be a good idea to get ready for the inevitable attack or crash. Maybe the three of you should get strapped in."
Nicolaglee ponders Clyde's words, and slaps his ass while wiggling her way to Lemmi. "Mind if I borrow this?" she asks him. Nicolaglee unbuttons the pocket in Lemmi's vest that contains his sonic torch (assuming he doesn't mind). She heads back to the lockers. "This might be odd timing on my part, but does anyone question the validity of God?"
She reviews some lyrics stored in her synthetic memory, using her growing self-awareness.
Willem gives an (opposable) thumbs-up to Nicolaglee when she pulls the sonic torch free. So distracted is he by Clyde's observation that the usual mental warning flags regarding an android utilizing sonics never surface.
He bespeaks to Clyde and Deidre, *Ja, I tink you are korrekt.* He fastens the crash webbing and continues to attempt manual control of flight, using his Heightened Intelligence in combination with the vehicular operational experience gained during his youth.
Nicolaglee, about to warm up the sonic torch, stops abruptly. "Wait a minute. Last time I used one of these," she says to the torch, "I had heavy duty earplugs." She wiggles back upto Lemmi and replaces his torch. If a seat is available, she straps herself in. She begins to listen to comm bands on her headset while looking out the window.
Hershey sees a second image appear on her SHU next to the target they're approaching. "Game face on," she says in a low voice. "Looks like your friend has company." She stows the SHU and unsheathes her combat knife. "I'll flank left."
On seeing the second image, Biff too stows his ELA, then pops a Superstim. "Good call. I'll take the right."
Seeing the two forms with her broad-spectrum eyes, Doc mentally prepares, pushing images of "deathgoo" and "toxifish" in the Amazon from her thoughts.
"Sounds good. I'm gonna catch my breath, then move in center. I'll follow your lead." She gestures with her dart gun and third arm.
While catching her breath, she looks to Penderchuck and Lynn. Penderchuck seems like the kind ready for action. She wonders about Lynn though: was she looking for other dangers during the attack on Biff, or was she holding out?
"Officer Penderchuck, Lynn," she whispers, "I think your friend is this way," she gestures with her telekinetic arm. "Another lifeform is close by. Officer Jenner has gone left and Biff has gone right. When I see them go into action, I'll be heading straight in." She looks back to see their progress. "Your friend isn't moving and may need immediate help. I'm not sure where you'd like to be in all this, but I'd decide quickly."
[Cut to overhead shot of the City. The camera makes a slow scenic flyby over the empty streets. The camera changes aperture, letting less light in. Audio fades out and in, time passes. The camera zooms in until it looks like it's almost against the pane of a window of an empty apartment. Some family photos can been seen inside on a table beside an origami dragon. The camera looks at the photos almost longingly.]
In our journey to a better place, a man must rediscover a deeper source of his own spiritual life. To do this, he is obligated to struggle with his own primitive nature, dealing head on with the different forms of himself, to confront his own shadow within himself, and to integrate those unlike himself. I did not forsee the caretaker role into which my position has evolved, but I now wear it as a personal badge of honor. Only sometimes do I realize it is part of the price I have paid for losing myself.
Voice or no voice, people can always be brought to the bidding of others. All you have to do is give them the choice of life or death, and as humans, we will always select the lesser of the two evils. Both alternatives are regrettable, but one is less so than the other. My choice was just that easy.
Let all children of Warden therefore act to seize and to maintain the life they seek, and let their methods always be judged honorable. It has been accurately said that no matter what your past has been, your future is spotless. These extraordinary individuals are the hands of fate in which our seed of humanity rests. Here in this encapsulated world and in this moment in time, they are the only ones who can map the future. I know, because I am one of them: the Ghost of Warden.
A radio signal is picked up by the dish above the camera. The message is coded, but easily unscrambled. Apprehensively the camera turns, focusing on the signal origin at the outskirts of the City. A voice is heard: "I still say the only good human is a dead human." Another responds: "Just the same, I want one to experiment on."
I don't often give up my GM secrets, but I would like to make everyone aware (in both groups) that there is more to this game than just what you see in the words of my post. Here is one example of the hidden clues I hide within my posts:
The helmet in the chair beside [Bud] blinks.
Had anyone asked about the blinking, I would have said it seemed to be more than just random blinking, and possibly Morse code. It's too late now, of course.
[Long panoramic shot of the dead mutant orchid in the late afternoon light. Camera pans into the group, and then beyond them into the cascade of startlingly lush vegetation around them. The thick foliage blocks any distance of more than thirty feet.]
The Nanoheal dose causes a slow change in Biff. As Christine cleans him, his veins momentarily turn blue around the damaged areas. The microscopic nanobots swim in his bloodstream like voracious predators, working their preprogrammed technological magic, stemming the flow of external blood, repairing the damaged tissue, then shutting off to be drawn away and dissolved like any dead blood cell.
In the second edition rule book, Accelera Dose heals 1d10 hits. I am thinking Nanoheal should be better, so I'm making it worth 2d10 hits---double the effectiveness, but not infinitely better (i.e., full heal) because nanobots don't reproduce. Two fives mean Biff is healed 10 points.
Everyone gets momentarily acquainted as they stand together, some (Lynn, Herman) more silent than others, but no one misses the implications of what has just happened. It is now painfully clear that there are other beings here, and that some of them don't seem overly friendly.
There is something indescribably nerve-shaking and menacing in the thought that there are plant mutants that have shaped themselves into semihuman abominations. Everyone knows that behind all the peace and soothing of the quiet jungle lies a dark curtain of vegetation, which now more than ever outwardly broadcasts, "We will kill you if we can." In the context of this incessant and mysterious menace, every moving leaf upon every tree, every shrub, every whisper of foliage is suspect.
Amid the smiles and jubilation surrounding the timely rescue of Biff, and the subsequent bandaging of his wounds by Christine, Lynn finds time for self-reflection, and is borne away in the vibrant human current that swirls around her. She remains half-stunned by the vast mission that has coalesced so suddenly and is growing frustrated at their delays in accomplishing it.
As she emerges from these thoughts, she is conscious for a moment of her new comrades, and wonders if they trust her? Yes, she hadn't helped in the attack. Not like she had much choice. Anyway, "might doesn't always mean right," as Jessica would say. But her actions may have been interpreted differently by the others.
At a touch on her elbow, Lynn turns to find herself looking into the distant, masterful eyes of Herman, the man of few and often strange words who volunteered to join in their quest.
"It doesn't add up," she says to everyone, and looks up at the sky wearily. Her tone is soft, still reflective of her silent reverie. "A humid jungle here. Someone must be toying with the environmental controls. I guess it proves life can start anywhere."
Lynn looks around worried. "Dammit, Zhaxier."
"By the way, it was a rather inelegant business on my part to go off into the jungle without a little forethought," he says apologetically with a grin.
Hershey's SHU shows that the game is anything but over, and that the danger they face seems to prefer weeding out members of the group one by one. She isn't going to let them win. If anything, she is more determined than ever.
Meanwhile, thirty yards away in the undergrowth, the plant mutant continues to draw blood from Zhaxier via a long octopus-like tentacle with barbed suction points wrapped around his arm.
The other tentacle searches through Zhaxier's pack with an animalistic intelligence and finds a lone Milky Way candy bar, the only real item of interest that Zhaxier carries. The predator's black eyes pop wide open as it senses approaching danger.
Tearing off the wrapper, the mutant plant devours the candy bar quickly and discards the wrapper. It releases its hold on Zhaxier's arm and closes its eyes, then disappears, but it has established a link to its prey via blood. It will return for more when it gets the chance to separate it again from its herd.
Zhaxier takes 11 hits of damage. The creature has disappeared from ELA/SHU sensors.
The group rushes up and encircles Zhaxier, finding him alone, bleeding and stirring. Lynn rushes to his side and kneels down with Christine. Both roll him over. Lynn's reaction to the possibility of losing Zhaxier shows more than worry for a friend. Those are real tears in her eyes.
What do you do?
[Establishing shot: cargo carrier interior. Landscape rushes by outside.]
"You're all heroes to me." She is deeply moved at her being rescued twice in the same day.
"It was my pleasure." He smiles at her as he switches chairs with Willem.
Willem dons the command helmet quickly and reorients the craft toward the Medical Complex, but like Bud, he quickly realizes that the command helmet and the commands given to the cargo carrier through the helmet don't seem to match. The carrier is anything but standard issue; it has been fitted with ion thrusters for starters. Willem may be an android techie, but he isn't stupid. It is very clear that a hidden preprogrammed flight sequence is in effect. He wonders if they ever had control of the cargo carrier, or if its movements are being scripted by someone else.
Deidre keeps close to Willem and shows just how nervous she is the more distant they get from the City. As they approach the forest, she hesitates to suggest, "Maybe we should think about going somewhere else?" A cold chill runs up her spine. "I have been to the parks and I don't like them." With no one apparently listening to her, she sits back down in one of the chairs.
Removing the command helmet, Willem tries to access the navigation computer, but it is password protected and requires a specialized ID card. *Canna seem to log eento der seestem. I've tried a hundret deefferent passworts, but nutink works.* Willem glares at the inset monitor, then broadcasts, *Stupeet V-U-S!*
Deidre looks puzzled and squints at the screen from her seat. "What's V-U-S stand for, Lemmi?"
*Eet's und operateenk seestem maden by der leettle-known deevision of Vohaul Eenterprisen. Der full namen ees aktually Vohaul-U-S.* He turns around and grins a toothy chimp grin.
Deidre doesn't know if Willem is kidding her or not. But she doesn't have time to figure it out. The cargo carrier fires its ion thrusters again as it lands inside the tree line of the park. One by one, the instrument lights inside the cockpit begin shutting down until the entire cockpit is dark, save the dim illumination light overhead. Outside the cockpit window they see nothing but forest in all directions. It is late afternoon and will be dark in a few hours.
"We are hardy. We will survive." Confident, she hums a soothing tune that Deidre seems to like. "Might be helpful if we could get into those lockers before we disembark." Nicolaglee clearly indicates that any help, no matter how little, may be useful to them.
A voice somewhere outside the cargo carrier in the forest suddenly shouts distress. "Help!" Everyone looks up with alarm. "Help me, please!" The male voice repeats in a near scream.
"What is it?" She begins to shiver with fear.
What do you do?
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:26 2006
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