A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
Christine performs a diagnostic on the man while wondering about his obvious assailant, which just pulled a "Hershey Exit." She also wonders about its suckers, and takes multiple blood and contact area samples, which she labels along with the orchid sample as well. If she feels it beneficial, she administers a Nanoheal shot. She also collects the candy wrapper with her third arm and places it in a sample container.
Man, my multitasking seems really "on" today.
"Officer Penderchuck... Herman," he says, slapping him on the back, "thanks bro. From what the 'good doctor' tells me, you took that creep's head clean off... that's one I owe you, man."
He observes Christine performing medical procedures on Zhaxier, then approaches the other newcomer. "Officer Jenner, I want to thank you for coming to my rescue." I know I've seen this woman before. "Doctor Walken informs me that you executed quite a feat of prowess. I don't know if it's destiny that we met like this, but you have my sincere gratitude." He looks up into her eyes and offers his hand.
"Have we met before?"
Hershey accepts Biff's hand. "My pleasure," she says, returning his gaze and smiling. "From what I've seen over the last few days, we'll all get a chance to return the favor."
She releases his hand and squeezes his shoulder. She has a spark of recognition---something in the way he smiles. "Please call me Hershey. I'm not sure where or when, but I feel that we have met, Biff."
She thinks for a moment. "Doctor Walken and I met earlier today. We've both been alone in the jungle, and have come to the conclusion that we're part of the emergency 'clone protocols' for massive ship disaster."
She scans the jungle. "You wouldn't happen to be a scouting party from Command? We were heading to the elevators to find a way to Medical."
She has a flash of memory: a man with that smile, that stance... but where?
"Clones indeed. We're on the same page there. As for Command, we've yet to see evidence that there is any structure other than us. Zhaxier has a 'survival of the fittest' theory about the emergency protocols: something like 'clones are born without bracelets to deter theft.'" He pauses.
"Herman and I met up earlier today, down the street from a laser-happy 'bot." He pulls out his data pad and loads the City's enviroschemata. "Right about... here." He points to the Double Helix building. "Is this where you were headed?"
"Mmfff," he mumbles into the dirt as he regains consciousness. The dream has left him gravely unsettled, but that's a misstatement: the dream hasn't left at all. Instinctively, he squeezes his eyes shut as he reaches for his face with one hand. His invaluable shades are missing again. Frak. His anger at the Universe seethes with more intensity than the poisoned cuts on his left arm, with more fury than he previously thought he could harbor.
Still face down and blind in the dirt, he feels around the jungle floor with his hands. The two "presences" approach fast, accompanied by familiar sounds: forced displacement of vegetation, swish of clothing, clink of metal, slosh of canteen contents. Zhaxier is too dazed to try to hide, but he struggles to gain control.
"Gotcha, you bastards," he mutters triumphantly, thankful once more that his shades have survived his latest "episode," and he places them on his head with his good arm. Two pairs of arms roll him over and his eyes open upon Enki at his side. His heart leaps, but the vision fades. It's just Lynn.
"You wouldn't believe how good the dirt tastes here. 'Only the finest for Warden,'" he quotes the much-maligned publicity slogan.
Mental aftershocks of his dream rap at the fringes of his awareness.
Lynn sniffs and smiles, clearly relieved. "Damn allergies," she says, wiping her eyes.
Zhaxier suspects a lie and takes it as a good sign, but it's an even better distraction. Concentrate on Lynn. Concentrate....
One of the "presences" is at his other side and starts administering to his arm. "Uh, thanks, ow, ow, ow." Why does he sense her without sensing her?
"I'm OK. Got some scrapes on the way down this time. Biff?"
The images keep assaulting his consciousness, but he welcomes the pain. Pain is good. Pain distracts. There's Herman, there's Biff, conversing with the other "presence": a towering Amazon warrioress who momentarily mesmerizes him.
"He'll live. He's lucky Doctor Walken and Officer Jenner showed up. It was a mutant orchid the size of an anti-grav car. You were apparently---"
"Whoa! That chick's ripped!" he notes through a clenched smile, fidgeting with a pack strap. Lynn's statement confirms his second worst nightmare; he is already living his worst.
Lynn sighs, but is relieved. Same ol' Zhaxier, if a bit more shell-shocked than usual. "We should go."
Zhaxier grows irrationally nervous at Lynn's words. "Hold, on, there's no rush. I---I haven't even introduced myself. Hello Doc, I'm Zhaxier. I'm... I'm---"
Without warning, he stands up, wrenching his left arm away from the doctor's care, and stumbling a bit but finding his footing. He yells toward the ceiling that hides complacently a quarter mile beyond the dense jungle canopy. "I'M 100 PERCENT FRAKKED ZHAXIER! He bares his chest. "YOU SEE ME, S.F.? YOU WANNA PIECE OF ME? TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT, YOU BASTARD!!"
The release of so much bottled-up anger leaves him spent, and he collapses to his muddy hands and knees. He stares into the dirt that shouldn't exist and rocks back and forth as would an autistic child. His head clears a bit, but the dream still lingers like a bad date.
She moves to put a tentative hand on his back. "Let it go, Z. Move past it."
"You---don't understand, Lynn. I see her. She's calling me," he says, muted.
Lynn pauses. "The busty blonde of your dreams," she says flatly.
"She's out there, Lynn," he says darkly. "I know it in my blood. I've gotta find her. She's calling. Can't you hear---"
Lynn tries to meet Zhaxier's filtered gaze. "She's dead, Z. You found out yourself that her clones aren't viable. Snap out of it!" She cannot escape the feeling of déjà vu; only this time, she's the gung-ho hatchling and Zhaxier, the stubborn turnip picker. "And what about Warden? You're the only one---"
"To hell with Warden!" he gets to his feet and pushes back her hand. His features are livid again, and his hands flutter wildly, almost spasmodically. "You're the frakkin' Captain! You figure it out!"
Zhaxier whirls to find an opening, but Lynn catches and holds his left arm, which smarts with a sudden burst of pain. He lashes out with previously unknown force. The mental blast catches Lynn completely off guard and she crumples with a yelp.
"Frak!" For a split second, he is standing seemingly beside himself with horror, but the next he is rushing madly into the jungle toward the voice that inexorably draws him.
After tending to Zhaxier and listening to Biff and Hershey, Christine gathers her gear and stands to look at Biff's data pad display. "That's exactly where we were headed."
Christine drifts for a second back to the Amazon: images, sounds and smells, rhytmic drums, nude bodies, exotic birds, entrails and wailing voices, voodoon rituals....
She is shaken back to reality by Zhaxier's outburst and Lynn's yelp. "What the fuck was that!? This is turning into a really shitty day."
Christine takes a second to absorb what has just transpired, does a visual scan of their surroundings, then rushes to Lynn and begins diagnostics, speaking generally, "I thought that guy was a friend of yours."
Equally taken aback by the turn of events, Hershey looks to Biff and Herman to see if they're preparing to attack. Assuming they do not seem menacing, she does a quick scan with her SHU to get a fix on Zhaxier.
"She sure implied it."
She kneels down beside Lynn and motions for Christine to hold off while she searches Lynn. She lays out what she finds, except for Lynn's weapons, which she tucks into her belt and pockets. She finds a ring. "Looks like Lynn has some nifty toys. No wonder Zhaxier called her 'Captain.'" She looks toward her companions while motioning for Christine to resume her exam.
"What did she mean by 'You're the only one....'?"
Surprised by Zhaxier and concerned for Lynn, Biff takes a second to appraise the situation. Herman hasn't started shooting: good. Christine seems willing to help out, despite what just happened: good. Zhaxier just flipped out and attacked Lynn, leaving her in the dirt: bad. Hershey seems like she could kick everyone's ass without breaking a sweat, and she doesn't look happy: bad. Hmm.
"Looks like a Captain's ring," he says to Hershey. Then another thought clicks: Hershey Jenner! Holy shit!! She's only a Decathawar Hall-of-Famer!
He slowly moves toward Lynn to see if she is breathing.
"So yeah, I'll hit the highlights. Herman and I met earlier in front of the Double Helix Depository, followed an anti-grav car to command personnel housing, where we met Lynn and Zhax, who informed us that the ship is 500 years past target and out of control, that we've got a month to stop the ship or we're fucked, and Zhaxier knows how to operate the engines. We were heading to Command on the elevator and it stopped here."
He moves very slowly and in plain sight. "I'm gonna check this," he gestures with his ELA, "and see if I can get a fix on Zhax. I don't know why he's acting this way or why Lynn neglected to mention the ring."
Christine watches while Hershey pockets grenades, explosives, and a pistol. I have to be more careful in patient selection. She listens to Biff while keeping her third arm nearby.
"So Biff, how were you going to get into Command?" she says, continuing her exam, "And were you able to get into the Depository?"
She diagnoses neurotrauma. She didn't see Zhaxier strike her, but is reminded of her own new abilities and those of Hershey. "I think Zhaxier is dangerous. What else do you know about him and Lynn? Do you think we should go after him?"
A series of names and events spanning decades flashes through Biff's mind.
... Barry Shizzle, who infiltrated the corporate slaves of the Callisto plantations, asyphxiating the overseers... Ernesto Bjork, who unionized the gridtechs on Triton... Hans Grueber, who sabotaged the munitions factories of Io... Tristan Jalamanta, who helped forge the Ice Miners Guild of the Kuiper Belt... Biff Jenkins, Enviroengineer... DeVrees---he's saying something: a metaphor about dandelions... he holds something in his hand and smiles... his face morphs into another....
Biff looks around, at first thinking he must have been out of it, then catches Christine's words about Zhaxier. "I'm not sure... Christine. He hasn't attacked anyone else since I've known him." He takes a deep breath. "Do you think that creature could have affected his mind? How dangerous do you think he is?" He looks at Lynn. "Is she going to be alright?"
"Oh yeah, we didn't go into the Depository, but I got 30 non-movers to show on this." He gestures with ELA. "As for command, Zhax has an engineering bracelet. I don't remember his answer when I asked him the same question, but looking at that," he nods his head towards the command ring, "I have a pretty good idea."
He takes a moment to collect his thoughts. "Lynn and Zhax came out of the Depository, hopped into an anti-grav car. When they drove away, that security robot wasn't moving until another person, whom Herman and I think is an android, picked up some device from the ground and went inside. After that is when the robot began to move."
He pauses, looking to Herman and to Hershey. "Come to think of it, they were in an awful hurry to leave that apartment we found them in, and said nothing about the Depository."
[The camera pans to a small dark corner and halts close on Murphy, then slowly turns away to a small blue computer screen which reads, "With me there exists no separation between gods, men or machines; all blend softly into the other." The camera pans back to Murphy. His voice is heard, giving form to his thoughts. It has a slight mechanical quality. His eyes open.]
I have to believe in a world inside my own mind, a world other than my diminutive dark prison within Warden, and that my actions will indeed make a real difference. I have to believe that my actions still have real purpose, even if they don't always turn out as planned. I have to believe that when my eyes are closed, Warden is still there, as are the people---the humanity---I am working to save.
Do I believe Warden is still there? Still out in space moving with its own determination? Yeah. We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we really are. I'm no different.... Now where was I?
Warden has a shot at a second beginning, a time best used for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct. There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe. Our universe has a true symmetry, elegance and grace---the same qualities you find always in that which humanity captures or manipulates. You can find it in the turning of the seasons, in the urges we hold within us, in the natural way the sand trails along a ridge, in the branch clusters of the creosote bush, or the pattern of its leaves. We try to copy these patterns in our lives and our society, sometimes unknowingly, seeking the rhythms, the dances, the forms that comfort.
Yet with what I have been given, it is possible for me to see the true peril in finding the ultimate perfection. It is clear that the ultimate pattern contains its own fixity. In such perfection, all things move toward death. I know because I look Death straight in the face each day, for I am the Ghost of Warden.
[Close on Murphy's right eye, then zoom, accelerating into pupil, boring into his very thoughts. Cut to replay of video archive.]
"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."
"I was thinking about what you mentioned, Zhaxier. About you and Lynn stopping Warden, and something about commanding an irradiated ship.... Firstly, I agree with you. If we're not able to stop Warden, the whole shootin' match is over." He raises an eyebrow. "I think we should come to some consensus on the most expedient and practical way to achieve this." He takes off his hat and slides it into a hip pocket. "As for command, I'd offer a thought that if we could locate or revive command-level personnel, we'd be in a much better position to help...."
[Fade to Murphy's right eye, filling the view. His eye blinks and the camera zooms out and pans to Murphy's video feeds, tracking movement of special subjects on Levels 13 and 14. The screens momentarily flicker, then go blank. Dissolve to silence, blackness. Fade out.]
Since Herman Penderchuck, our resident trained soldier, hasn't posted for a few turns, his PC status will now move into the NPC category until he returns to take full control over his character (at any time he wishes). As requested, Nicolaglee, Willem, Bud, Hershey, Christine, and Biff will be written out of the current storyline with my next post. Like most epic science fiction dramas, the show must always go on.
[Establishing shot: high above the jungle]
The camera turns, peering into the shrouded jungle and picks up a chorus of voices. Zooming deeper, piercing the jungle canopy with infrared, the camera reveals a woman (in false color) staring at her accusers. The camera pans in a slow methodical manner to her accusers as if attempting to ascertain their true intentions.
In a tactical maneuver, Herman moves backwards near a large tree to lean against it. His rifle is up and ready, confident in the tactical advantage of cover provided by multiple large low tree limbs, that would counter any possible use of telekinetic arm or 7'3" warriors.
[Hershey] kneels down beside Lynn and motions for Christine to hold off while she searches Lynn. She lays out what she finds, except for Lynn's weapons, which she tucks into her belt and pockets. She finds a ring. "Looks like Lynn has some nifty toys. No wonder Zhaxier called her 'Captain.'"
Lynn staggers to her feet, looking at everyone and shaking off the stunned feeling.
"What the fuck?" She turns to Biff. "You let her take my stuff?" She turns back to Hershey. "Give it back!"
"We have suspicions Lynn," he says calmly, giving Lynn an admonishing look.
"Yeah, suspicions," Herman repeats, mumbling, and reasserting his guarded stance.
"So I didn't tell you I was a Captain," she says, sighing and shaking her head. "Big fucking deal. We all hide things, Biff. Even you, I'm betting, but that doesn't mean you're a bad person, right? If anything, you should trust me more now. I thought some of you were my friends. We don't even know these women." She looks at Herman and Biff for support.
"I know, I know," he grumbles.
Biff blinks but keeps his composure. The words she pointed at him are more ironic than anyone, including himself, may ever know.
"But you didn't help Biff when he was attacked," she adds with a very indignant glare.
"No I didn't," she answers flatly, totally undaunted by the woman who towers over her.
"Why?" she demands, facing Lynn with more attention.
"Because Betsy doesn't have any juice. The power cell is dead. I think she has a short, but I'm not a techie, am I? Had you asked me before looting me, I would have told you. That's why, but I guess I could have thrown Betsy at the mutant plant." Lynn stands tall and faces all accusations, staring back with acute intensity.
Hershey looks at the confiscated weapon and verifies its energy level is at zero.
"Now give all my stuff back, dammit, and stop wasting my time! Besides you can't use any of it anyway; ask a grenade. Go ahead, ask it," Lynn explains with irritation.
"What?" she says, looking at the grenade on her belt.
The grenade responds instantly, "What you hold is an Onande AI grenade. I was created for command use and I only respond to the voice imprint of Captain Lynn Margulis."
"Damnnnnnnn," says Herman, stunned once by the revelation of a Captain's ring, and now again by the talking grenade. With a gulp, he says, "Makes sense to me, she seems like the officer type." He nods. "Yeah, makes sense now. Privileges for the privileged few. It's not like any of us would ever meet a real Captain, at least not until now." Herman mutters other unintelligible words.
"Let's stop wasting time and go find Zhaxier, or give me back my stuff and I will go find him by myself," she demands with annoyance, her eyes lit up with frustration. She glares at Hershey in mutual defiance.
"Give her stuff back, Officer Jenner. All of it." He motions to Hershey with his laser rifle, understanding the command hierarchy and the loyalty well deserved to one of Warden's four Captains, and possibly at this moment the only living Captain on board. It would take Herman a split second to pull the trigger, and he would never miss at this range, but he keeps his professional conduct above board. In the scheme of things, even Herman has to weigh what is best for himself and for the group. It is obvious to him that if this were a game of chess, then Lynn is the queen; but it's not so obvious who are the expendable pawns.
"Come on, play nice."
[Cut to fleeing Zhaxier]
The camera, nestled in the corner of a large warehouse, detects sudden movement and zeros in on the disturbance. It's a human(oid), running faster and faster, almost like an animal being pursued through the jungle.
Hooking his feet, Zhaxier tumbles and falls face down near a wall. A closed door is slightly visible. The camera catches the moment of sweat and anxiety on Zhaxier's face as he looks up and freezes.
He sees Enki Alba. She stands a meter away and points at the door as if to request something from him.
The camera sees something entirely different.
"Oh my God," he states with shock.
Standing, Zhaxier cautiously backs up to the door and uses his engineering bracelet to open it. With that Enki disappears and Zhaxier snaps back to reality. A long well-lit corridor opens up ahead of him and the dangerous jungle looms behind him, leaving two choices.
What do you do?
[Interior shot of cargo carrier cockpit, after it has landed in the forest. The crew looks up at the sound, and then at each other.]
Deidre, Willem, Nicolaglee, and Bud are irritated at having not yet decided as a group what should be the most important to them.
"Let's do something. If it's Wolfoids you fear, they won't be found in the forest. They only like the grasslands."
Deidre's statement falls on deaf ears. Willem pipes in, apologizing telepathically, and explains that the screams most likely are coming from a guy hanging upside down in an apple tree, no doubt startled by the cargo carrier's landing. Everyone seems surprised at how Willem could possibly have come to that astute conclusion.
Bud shows some straight-faced humor at seeing the man at which Willem is pointing through the cockpit window. He is indeed hanging from a rope tied to a branch and around his ankle. From a distance of about a hundred feet, it is obvious he is a man in his twenties. He is dressed in plain brown clothing.
"It appears he has a very limited knowledge of climbing, though not quite scandent in nature."
There is no break in the trees that they can see from within the carrier. That there would be a landing pad in the middle of the forest is a mystery waiting to be explored outside. From the cockpit they can see tall light-green trees and dark-green undergrowth, and there between the great cotton woods, a single apple tree, like a private gate into the unknown, and there is the man, a dangling entrée to be picked or unhooked as it were.
What do you do?
The turn of events is utterly incomprehensible to Zhaxier. For a second he feels aftershocks of memories that he doesn't deserve to remember, of a past life he has inherited only by genetic miracle---or curse. An odd metallic taste lingers in his mouth, and fades. Sequence is blurred in his recently hijacked mind, and as the misty illusion ebbs from his memory---it was an hallucination, right?---he takes cover inside the corridor entrance to regain focus and bearing. He whips out his data pad and tries to figure out where he is, but he hasn't the slightest idea of a bearing. He reels with dizziness, the discontinuity, the feeling of in medias res worse than the disconnect after one of his seizures.
His eyes blur on the data pad readout as he tries to sort the events. There was a battle---he'd fought to free Biff from a horrible predator.... But Lynn said it was just a "mutant orchid." Mutant orchid my ass! That sucker had fangs and hairy arms and.... But he doesn't recall thinking Lynn was pulling his leg. He shakes his head as if it were one of those souvenir globes of transparent Titan aluminum filled with glycerin-suspended glitter that's supposed to remind you of the colony's beautiful methane snows. But the snow in his head doesn't settle fast enough.
Before he realizes it, he has fished out his laser torch from his pack and hooked it onto his belt---an unconscious reaction to the unsettling feeling that he is not alone. On some familiar level, he is aware of four more "presences," three closing in from the jungle and one down the corridor. The sensation is not unlike his sensing that new woman back at the group before he could see her. No, there were two of them. One healed him. How was he hurt? In the battle? He fell. Dirt is still caked on his face. He wipes his mouth with his left arm and notices the formerly white sleeve is torn, muddy, bloody. The arm itself is tender, like it is bruised, but it isn't.
He remembers Lynn telling him that Enki is dead. Enki. His left arm flares with needle pricks. Why would she say that? Of course she's dead. The Cloud took care of her, just like it did his predecessor and most of Warden's crew. It even scrambled Enki's memogenetic clone culture beyond usefulness. But yet, Lynn's comment seemed natural at the time.
He remembers yelling. It was a good yell---"cathartic," as Biff would say. Yelling at whom? He was angry. Angry at... angry at someone whom he holds responsible---the Supreme Fascist? He laughs. He'd finally let the ol' S.F. have it. No lightning strikes yet: maybe there is no God after all? Then he remembers his Corollary; he just hasn't lived long enough. Sobering thought.
What better time for a Milky Way?
As he feels in his pack for candy, he remembers Lynn crashing to the jungle floor. He gets the devastating feeling that he was responsible. Yet he did not touch her! Or had he? He remembers being horrified, and running blindly. Running to escape the reality he dared not believe? But why would he leave her? What would draw him away from the safety of a group he trusts? It just doesn't compute. Yet the vision is seared into his mind. Had he killed her?
Frustrated at the implications that he refuses to accept, but more so at not finding his last candy bar, he kneels and searches his pack more earnestly. It's just not there. "Frak! What the... How the hell could... Just makes no..." he mumbles as he checks the pack again and again. He stops when he realizes he's starting to sound like Herman.
Standing up, he looks for some marking near the corridor entrance that would indicate his location. Short term memory comes back online in chunks. This should be the jungle of Level 12, but no, that's right---the elevator jammed at Level 13; the jungle has spread from above. I can't be that far from the elevator. He searches the engineering maps on his data pad for corridors near the central elevator on Level 13, and if he can orient himself, he hastens back toward the column, laser torch in hand and avoiding the "presences" as best he can.
I'm adding a new periodic segment entitled, "What's Up on Level XX". Some of these will be written by other people. The interludes are meant to be funny or show something going on inside Warden. Anyone wishing to write an interlude should submit it to me for consideration. Everyone needs a laugh sometimes. Some people take things way too seriously.
[Thus begins the first in a series of interludes. --ed.]
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:26 2006
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