A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden
[Establishing shot: Warden from space. Cut to Murphy's room. Fade in to the mysterious face of Murphy. His eyes are deep and dark, thoughtful, and his skin is a haunting translucent white. His voice echoes almost mechanically as if it were in an immense cavern. The picture blurs with static and then corrects itself.]
Warden is the true secret of the Universe. Humanity is the greatest treasure in the Universe....
[Silence. Then a powerful low organ note resounding in the cavernous space. In the background, stormtrooper-like footsteps grow louder, then they stop. The camera is still focused on Murphy's face, which doesn't attempt to look at the newcomer, as if already aware of her. He winces at her voice.]
"The group has failed miserably in the expected joining, Murphy. Perhaps we should focus on a more mentally stable selection of members next time?"
"Return to the few we still have and continue their path as directed."
[The footsteps can be heard leaving. A door slides closed. A distant elevator hums. Switch to wide angle of Murhpy's room: a robot lowers from the ceiling and begins to rotate, going through several complicated movements, fixing and adjusting Murphy's hoses before returning into the ceiling out of sight. Close in on Murphy. Cut to replay of video archive.]
The door to the cafeteria of the Double Helix Depository Building in the City slides open silently to admit her. Walking over to the sleeping Lynn, she removes her ring and replaces it with another ring of exact matching design.
With a casual glance over to the observant robot, Axa realizes that something will have to be done to the robot to erase its knowledge. The dampening field from the field generator should do the trick.
Axa takes a few silent steps back, exits the cafeteria, waits a few moments then, clicking her heels on the floor loudly, she re-enters.
The door to the cafeteria of the Double Helix Depository Building in the City Level of Warden slides open automatically and a heavily armed woman enters with a slight swagger to her walk. She scans the space coolly, her hands resting on her weapons. She notices Exarch, who returns her gaze, and then the sleeping Zhaxier; she gives him a harsh look.
Exarch can see that she isn't Pure Strain by her ears. His own scans reveal other surprising features about her, but he keeps those silent.
Zhaxier's head pops up at the sound of her stormtrooper-like boots.
[Video feed fast forwards, then plays another segment.]
Absentmindedly, he reaches in his pocket for the ID card that would gain him admittance to his friend's room. Of course it isn't there; it is lying back in the Double Helix Depository Building in the drawer underneath a borrowed cloning tube with his name on it. "Frak! Lynn?!"
"What?" she chirps, as she unlocks the door with her command ring. "Saved by the Captain again," she mockingly echoes his earlier mumble.
A camera in a far corner of the hall watches the pair closely, secretly conveying to its silent viewer the precise moment at which a genuine command ring would have unlocked the door.
[The video segment cuts off suddenly.]
I miss the world I once knew, but a person needs new experiences. They open something deep inside, allowing us to grow. Without that change, something sleeps inside us, then shrivels and dies, and seldom awakens again. I know this better than anyone, for I am the Ghost of Warden.
[Fade to a distant image of a brilliant pinprick seen in the darkness of a nearby computer screen.]
Metamorphosis Alpha® is not a game solely focused on gadgets, or who has the most mental powers. It's about real people placed in a perilous futuristic setting. In reality, people are not able to do all or be all at everything. The goal in this game is to develop a rich character background based on trial and error, where failure and success go hand in hand. Metamorphosis Alpha® is a complex and dangerous world where everyone plays a small part. In my opinion, the depth of the character you play and the thought you bring into it are the most important.
[The camera pans from within the jungle canopy down to the multiple figures standing below.]
"It's a tricky proposition from what I see, but Lynn is a Captain. No disrespect intended to any of you. That in itself makes her important." Herman attempts to mediate the standoff, but he is still slightly puzzled and has no idea why Lynn kept her secret in the first place.
Everyone stands quietly for a moment. Herman doesn't hide his respect for Lynn, even if he dislikes the way her Captaincy came out or the way the others are handling it. Hershey and Christine still seem to doubt Lynn's claim. Biff, being a former member of a failed fringe neo-Marxist group doesn't have a side, and would rather use both sides to his own advantage. His calculations only figure the best side with which to align himself.
"Obviously I do not agree with your actions." Her tone is mild, helping to alleviate fears of conflict escalation.
Herman nods appreciatively but keeps his rifle ready as Hershey gives back Lynn's items.
"Well, I wasn't going to keep her stuff. But just out of curiosity, how can you be sure I wasn't?"
"I cannot." He pats his rifle, but is mildly surprised at her admittance.
Lynn takes her stuff back including her ring, which she slides onto her finger. She remains strangely silent.
"You must know it seemed like a threat to us to withhold information?" she states, irritated.
"I agree. Unfortunately, I don't agree with your methods, Officer Jenner. What harm came to you by my secrecy? I figure actions speak louder than words, and your actions are telling. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to go find Zhaxier and kick his ass," she states dryly.
Hershey bristles at the barb, but with a glance to Herman's laser rifle and his unwavering self-confidence, she lets it drop without retort. A few tense moments of silence pass.
"Now if we could just find Zhaxier," she grumbles, walking away from the others in the direction Zhaxier fled.
Herman follows close behind Lynn but Biff, Hershey and Christine remain behind. The trio doesn't realize the error of their judgment.
Lynn and Herman spend some time searching in the thick vegetation, through which beautiful verdure flows the dimness of the fading afternoon light, but to no avail. The jungle is hopelessly disorienting. The pair trudges back toward the elevator.
To their surprise, Zhaxier appears, holding his data pad as he walks.
"Elevator's that way, dudes," he chimes pleasantly.
"Curupuri, 'Spirit of the Woods': it's a name for a kind of devil that haunts a jungle."
Lynn doesn't know whether to laugh at Herman's comment or to ignore it, but she does know what to do with Zhaxier. She kicks his feet out from under him and then whacks him to the ground, then leaps on him and pins him down. Her knee bears down on the back of his neck and she twists his right arm up behind him. The entire attack takes no more than a split second.
"Madre de frakkin Dios!!!" he barks.
"What's wrong with you people?" he mumbles.
"Poor innocent Zhaxier! I can you imagine what you feel like. You are suddenly in a strange part of the ship that is under attack by loads of strange things. Your mind is whooshing around all over the place, and so you lash out at the one who l---cares for you the most?" She gets angry at herself.
"God dammit, Zhaxier, so help me if you ever do something like that again, I'm going to kick your ass into next week," she states angrily. She twists Zhaxier's arm a little more to emphasize her point and then gets up off him.
Zhaxier grimaces and then spits out a leaf stuck to his lips. "Look, I... can't be your kind of hero, Lynn. I'm just a frakkin' engineer!" Zhaxier gets up slowly, flexing his shoulder.
"Fine. Stick with 'engineer' for now. Leave the hero stuff for Herman. Besides, each person gets a chance to be his own kind of hero. Your time'll come, and when it does, watch out. Chances are it'll be the last thing you---or I---ever expected." Lynn seems very frustrated.
"I come back for this?" He looks out into the jungle. "There's life out here, Lynn. Weird, amazing... psychotic life. And, uh... in Technicolor. Boy, was Spielberg ever wrong. Close Encounters, my ass."
The camera observes in multiple wavelengths from its position high above, far from sight. It pierces the jungle canopy effortlessly to scry the three humans, but hardly understands the more laborious stage of their journey to come.
Nicolaglee, Willem and Bud follow Deidre out of the cockpit of the cargo carrier and down the exit ramp.
She sings softly, à la the 21st century Terran pop singer Britney Spears:
I never promised you a happy ending.
You never said you wouldn't make me cry.
Bud notices the disabled door lock as he passes. Punching it, he causes it to spark in imaginary protest. He remembers his failure in Door Bypass 101, for which his former counter-insurgency commander had likely demoted him to fifth class. At least he isn't stuck on some lifeboat going nowhere, as he has been in a recurring nightmare.
Willem follows Bud with animal-like obedience. Deidre, on the other hand, races off like a wild woman (or at least a changed woman) to help the man in the apple tree.
"You ever fix 'em ball bearings, Clyde?" She looks over Bud's poorly faked copy of a CC215-B requisition form, then gestures slightly at Bud's wig, which seems to be slipping.
"No. Whoa! Why?" Bud re-adjusts his wig as sweat noticeably appears on his brow.
Nicolaglee looks at him with a sly grin.
[Exterior shot from camera high above. Sound fades to silence as it slowly pulls back and sweeps across the landscape, moving like an endless tapestry. The bird's eye view of the forest and then the grasslands fills the screen. Finally the camera view fades out to blurred lines and static.]
[Decimation and demotion report (NPCs in italics):
[Zhaxier (the player) puts the venerable Scar-lock in his place in this installment of the "What's Up" series. --ed.]
Zhaxier heard Lynn and Herman searching for him just before they stumbled upon him. He felt relieved for a moment, but then Lynn kicked his ass.
He doesn't resist (not that he could have). He feels dreadfully sorry for hurting Lynn---at least he is convinced that he hurt her on purpose, for he does remember wanting to, for some unfathomable reason. The entire episode seems to have taken place without him really being present, yet he remembers it.
Face down on the jungle floor again, his survival instincts demand that he try to get an apology in edgewise, that he attempt to shunt the blame with an "I was taken over by aliens" line of crap (to him at least, anything would be ultimately more believable than his attacking her), that he tell the presumptuous bitch that he did not mean her any harm.... But he takes the pain, and eats dirt like a man. After his episode of desertion, clouded in mystery but nevertheless for which he ultimately holds himself responsible, it seems a fitting penance.
"Your mind is whooshing around all over the place, and so you lash out at the one who l---cares for you the most?"
A fateful slip. So her anger is rooted more deeply than he thought. But has he not suspected this? Or is he just deluding himself like the first Zhaxier was wont to do? Be careful, Z. You don't want to hurt her. Surprisingly, it is Enki's voice in his head. His left arm sends more needles toward his spine, even as Lynn wrenches his right.
Finally Lynn releases him, and he gets up stiffly from the spongy jungle floor. He resettles his shades and swipes chunks of muck off his once-white lab coat and pants. "Frak, just look at these threads." Lynn doesn't laugh.
"Look, I... can't be your kind of hero, Lynn. I'm just a frakkin' engineer!"
"Fine. Stick with 'engineer' for now. Leave the hero stuff for Herman."
Another telling remark. He looks at Herman, whose face is resolute, as if having recently made a terrible decision. "We should get back to the others. I'm so frakkin' dazed, Lynn. I don't know what came over me. I'm sorry." For a moment, he debates telling Lynn about the corridor he found, but that memory too bears the hallmarks of a mirage, an echo, and he decides against it.
"Biff thought that th-th-the creature might have affected your mind," he says, a tick creeping into his speech.
"What? What creature?" Zhaxier asks, whirling back toward Lynn and noticing the ring on her finger. So, you've played your hand.
"Something---we didn't see it---sucked on your arm while you were down back there. Even after Dr. Walken patched it up, you had the jitters, and you went ballistic, yelling at the sky, knocking me down, running off, etc. Quite a command performance. If I didn't know you better, I'd've thought you were in league with the others."
Zhaxier looks at Lynn's ring again, then at Herman the Hero and draws his own conclusions. "I take it... Biff and the fems aren't out looking for me. Are they?"
"Took an elevator. Something about going back to the City."
Zhaxier is stunned at the implications and at his own naivete. Not being able to trust the farce of reality aboard Warden is hard enough without having to choose which of your fellow humans you can trust. He has been too trusting, and it dawns on him how precious is the trust that Herman and Lynn have placed in him.
"I guess they found one that works."
Zhaxier senses more "presences" in the vicinity; he can only assume they are hostile. The way to the elevator remains clear, but he cannot be sure for how long. His characteristic sense of urgency kicks in. "We should go. I'm no enviro-engineer, but if I'm not mistaken, the light's getting dim, like someone at the controls is compensating on behalf of the invading jungle. I don't wanna see what crawls out at night here."
Zhaxier gets Lynn's and Herman's nod, and leads the way back to the central column. To be sure, his data pad doesn't help one bit; the jungle has overgrown the lesser landmarks on his map and he holds his data pad more out of (inherited) habit than utility. Rather, he goes by his engineer's sense of orientation in 3-space, and it slowly dawns on him that the "presences" out there are acting en masse to funnel the three of them toward the elevator.
When the column becomes visible through gaps in the jungle canopy, Zhaxier quickens his pace. He pulls out his energy sensor and locates a working elevator shaft in the column behind the first closed door he inspects. He replaces the ESHU as he turns to the others. "We got a live one here." He flashes his bracelet across the detector and starts a car on its way down.
As fate would have it, he doesn't notice the last-second blip on his sensor screen as it powered down, indicating an unclassified energy source approaching from above. And he is too giddy with the resumption of his quest to register the "presence" he unconsciously intuits in the same car.
My external view, through the virtual portal of my cabin, is a static one of stars, far away in different galaxies and solar systems. My internal view spreads out before me like an assemblage of small yet important events, each playing themselves out like tiny chess pieces. The feeling of abandonment preys on me, the feeling that those whom I help are not aware of me. I am lost within this empty room. My life depends on this machine.
The way to Rho-1 Cancri is a long one; we are at best a year out if all goes as I hope. Even when everything has not really gone according to my plan, I have held on to one thing: hope. Why would I want to go to Rho-1 Cancri? What would I want to do there? But the issue of "me" is as irrelevant as the grains of spacedust impinging on Warden's tired hull.
My eyes see throughout this great spaceship, almost as if my hands can touch or grip the very things I see. The people who built Warden are dead now; all the hands who formed this object are dead, except mine. My eyes see through unobserved cameras mounted in the very skeleton of this ship. There hasn't been a single order from Command since the Mutiny extinguished the last Captain, and in all that time I've been locked up inside my steel cage---a cage which I have no chance to leave. I'm but a little crumb of life on its way to a new hope, where I will die soon enough.
My father once said I was one of God's own prototypes, although now I think I'm closer to some kind of high-powered mutant never considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.
My father also told me a reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. There I go again, spouting gobbledegook, adding more noise to my fading signal.
The saying goes, "If you wish not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth the reading, or do things worth the writing." I know this all too well, for I am the Ghost of Warden.
Despite the setback on Level 13, I continued guiding the remnants of my hope.
The elevator coming down from above comes to a stop, it's only announcement the slight hum a second before the doors open. To Zhaxier's and Lynn's astonishment, the doors open to reveal Axa and a man in a brown jump suit. Herman, having only seen Axa when he was several blocks' distant from the Double Helix Depository Building, doesn't recognize her.
The man lets out a long sigh as if to express his relief on surviving the ride in one piece. He appears to be in his mid-twenties, average-looking, with a somewhat lost expression, and not exactly happy to be on a elevator.
"Going up?" she says almost mockingly, using her thumb to point upward.
Zhaxier, Lynn and Herman enter without much comment, but their faces show surprise at the man. The man looks back at them with just as much curiosity. Then he peers outside into the jungle with widening eyes, and decides that getting off here wouldn't be the right choice.
Once its clear no one is getting off, Zhaxier waves his bracelet on his wrist near the elevator control. Several buttons light up; he presses the one for Engineering on Level 10.
"Small ship. Fancy meeting you again," he says to Axa, whom he last saw in the City. He turns to the man. "You don't like riding, do you?"
The man looks back at Zhaxier. As if caught by Zhaxier's gaze, he tenses, holding onto the rail along the inside of the elevator in exaggerated fear. "No, no, where'd you get that idea?" he says, trying to play it off as nothing. He smiles reassuringly.
"Is he with you?"
"Nope, just a passenger. He came on after I did on a different level." Her hand rests comfortably on her gun.
McClain scrutinizes the nether-regions of both women whlie they talk about him as if he weren't there. He gives a hesitant smile, with just enough of a sigh to reveal that he's as wistful about things-that-might-be as they are curious about things-that-are.
"You work for the S-Sak-Sakatumi Corporation?" he stutters at the new guy, then gestures toward the same red words embroidered on his brown jump suit.
"Do I?" He stops and looks on his suit. "I'm sorry. I don't remember where I got this," he answers apologetically with a shrug.
Zhaxier's brain suddenly snaps to attention, taking the initiative, as he somehow realizes the words from the new guy are an outright lie. This thought and how he can possibly know it with so much innate certainty sends his head spinning for a moment. No one seems to notice.
McClain tries to get comfortable in the elevator, and scowls a little as the elevator hums.
"At least I get the pleasure of riding with lovely ladies."
Lynn suddenly, genuinely smiles. It is a rare glimpse of her true self that usually remains hidden under her tough exterior.
She elbows Zhaxier. "Why can't you be sweet like that?"
"Should we get into this now?" he whispers. Zhaxier turns his head slightly and mutters under his breath. "How'm I gonna get outta this?"
Lynn doesn't respond, for once, letting it drop.
Instead of picking up on the man's "sweetness," Zhaxier senses another lie. Zhaxier bites his sarcastic tongue before it can lambaste the man.
What do you do?
[Here is ghost_of_warden's second installment (third overall) in the "What's Up" series. --ed.]
This page updated: Mon Jan 09 14:22:26 2006
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