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Murphy's Law

A Metamorphosis Alpha® play-by-post adventure run by ghost_of_warden

Chapter 18: Demons and Demigods



While relieved that the man-gods were off to bathe (really, they probably ought to do so more often; the life of an adventurous deity obviously exacts its toll somehow), Christmas, not one for running water herself, figures that she will decline the offer and wait for the party to return. In the meantime, she will entertain herself with Zilon if it will have her, or else poke around on her own.

She squints and blinks at Lynn and Zhaxier as they head off to the showers. They seem friendly enough, though not quite as awe-inspiring as she hoped they might be. They obviously have more of a connection to the men below in the forest than what she wants to believe. Well, illusions, as she well knows, are meant to be dispelled after a time anyway, so it is better to take positive impressions from this. At least they don't want to eat her, and that's saying something.

She winds her way around Zilon's legs and rubs up against it, hoping to make friends and to get something to eat.



Consciousness snaps back in place like a dislocated shoulder. "Not again," he moans, stirring from the floor. Remnants of interrupted thoughts hang at the periphery of his awareness in tattered shreds. They reveal little of the mental tapestry he was weaving before his seizure, but he has the vague impression that it was something important. Something about warning Lynn, about talking cats, pralines, suspicions of treachery, and something else---a frightening revelation of sorts....

He reaches for Lynn's offered hand on instinct, but Axa grabs him under the left armpit and hauls him up with surprising efficiency. Lynn's leather-clad bodyguard then strides purposefully toward the man on the couch. "Thanks. I'm... OK... really," Zhaxier says to her back as he stares dazedly at her rump muscles rippling with captivating symmetry.

Snapping to attention, he turns to Lynn. "So where were we?" He spies the robot butler nearby, the cat at his feet, and Marcus and Herman walking toward a hallway across from the escalators. He overhears Axa threatening the man on the couch---McClain---over some "procedure."


"First we need a shower, then food and some sleep."


"Lynn, need I remind you what happened the last time we trusted... someone?"


"I understand. Please, try to stay calm."

Zhaxier's thoughts slowly re-weave themselves into something that increasingly exhibits coherence. At the arch, the man scanned as (a clone of) Darien McClain, XO---likely a pre-Cloud XO, since otherwise Lynn, as last Captain, would have recognized him. But Axa thinks he's a (clone of a) mutineer. Both claims cannot be correct, and Zhaxier knows McClain is the liar, even if he can't explain his intuition. Lynn is waiting for McClain to betray his intentions before he acts. Her caution has its risks, but they might be doubled or trebled if his hunch is true: Zhaxier's "second sight" locates McClain and the talking cat, but not Pure Strain Lynn. He suspects, despite a pathetic paucity of data, that the apparent discrepancy is correlated with the presence or absence of certain genetic aberrations, and as he has learned on Level 13, these can take potentially lethal form.

As Lynn heads for the showers, Zhaxier follows. He fishes in his pack for his data pad and checks the status of the wireless central link: odds are he'd have to query the core database for the XO's public record, as he would likely not have it cached. McClain---or whoever he is---presents a slippery enigma, a challenge not unlike Kaminsky's puzzle cube, and one he cannot resist tackling. Examining Darien McClain's public record will just be the first step.

After ascertaining the existence (or not) of the signal, he replaces his data pad. He notes that Axa and McClain are opting out of the showers. That's good. Somebody's gotta keep an eye on him. The cat also stays behind, and Zhaxier marvels again on recalling that it told him it would. And their illusory Egyptian reflections---did it create them? What was that all about? More enigmas! He makes a mental note to inquire about this, after he asks for its name. Frak, I don't even know which pronoun to use.

Something in Lynn's suggestive smile sends an unusual fear up his spine, and he shivers noticeably. The sounds of high pressure water and, inexplicably, lyrics from the I Pagliacci aria Vesti la giubba emanate from the corridor beyond the check-in kiosk for the showers.


"Whoa, is that Herman? Damn, he's good. Who'd've thought?"


He shakes his head. "Huh?"


"It's called opera, idiot. That's Canio spilling out his anguish at being cuckolded even while he must play the part of a clown in a street pageant. The irony just tears your soul right out of its socket."


This is all Zhaxier needs to remember his little epiphany, catalyzed by Marcus' leading question to Lynn back near the Pekul Arch. Faced with another man's designs on her, he caught a glimpse of his own feelings, well suppressed. The walls of his own private Jericho continue to crumble. "Ironic indeed," he mutters, smarting with the pain in his left arm.


She is a bit flustered by Zhaxier's unexpected tone. "Er, Jessica had quite the holo collection," she explains, waving her ring over the kiosk, but it denies her entrance. Frowning, she submits to the retinal scan. <beep>


"I uh, think the robot mentioned we'd need a retinal scan. Looks like crisis protocol has been applied a bit too liberally."


"What kind of protocol denies a.... at a.... Oh, forget it." She makes a few selections on the kiosk display, gets her stall number and turns to Zhaxier. Herman's tenor strains temporarily reach a sustained climax, then stop abruptly. Faint echoes of Marcus' "Bravo!" reach her ears. She grins, seeming to revel in the uniqueness of the moment.


He smiles back wanly, still lost in his thoughts, and stoops for the retinal scan. Smack! "Frak!" His shades stop his descent at the eye reader.


She chuckles.


Squeezing his eyelids shut, he removes his glasses and feels for the reader. Cupping the soft rubber fitting to his face, he wills himself to open his eyes. To his surprise, it is painless. With no iris to get in the way, the automated lens calibration, infrared scan and pattern recognition are near instantaneous. He replaces his shades, opts for a generic uniform (rather than the propulsion engineering duds he preferred in a former life), and notes his stall number. Lynn awaits him at the entrance to the showers.

The corridor leading to the showers is lined with pointillist aquatic artwork, if you can call it that: it was painted by a SynthCorp android and has a stilted, programmed feel to it. The main hall branches off several times. Watery echoes point to Herman and Marcus on either side, but by the gold-leaf numbering on the tiles, Zhaxier's shower is further down the corridor. So too, apparently, is Lynn's.

They both take the same branch. Zhaxier thinks he catches a coy look as he rounds the corner with her. She stops outside an open stall that has been prepared, evidently to her exact preferences. Zhaxier hesitates at the door, as she steps inside the elaborately tiled antechamber, beyond which he spies a mood-lit hot tub already steaming with a just-drawn bubbly bath. A sleek, sleeveless uniform for a female officer hangs on one wall in the antechamber beside a full-length mirror. The other wall sports shelving that has been efficiently stocked with her favorite bath amenities.

Zhaxier starts to move onward, but as she moves the privacy door from wide open to merely ajar and begins to undress, her smirk is unmistakable this time. It's definitely coy, but maybe it has a tinge of snideness or superiority; at the least it's somewhere between that and demure.

He is asking himself why he is still standing there analyzing her smirk when a dark, bracelet-clad arm shoots out from behind the door, grabs him by the edge of his lab coat and whisks him inside. The first thing he notices is her jeans on the floor, sans undergarments---she was "going commando." As she strokes his chest, he notes how her skin glows, like it is lit with fire from within. It's smooth too, like... like a laser-cut gimbal bearing. And it tastes sweet.... When she jumps in his arms, he catches her, but stumbles backward into the shelving; pain stabs through his left arm. As she peels off his tattered lab coat, he notes her pectoral firmness; they're barely enough to hold on to in the moment of truth, but pressed against him, they are undeniable. With her feet, she pushes down his lab pants and boxers. "What's the matter?" she insists as he kisses her neck. "Z?" Confused, he stops, then follows her gaze south. What he expects is utterly not there. In fact it's different, alien, defective, bifurcated. He panics.


"What's the matter?" she repeats, her head and bare shoulder poking through the gap in the privacy door. Her voice betrays a hint of concern that sneaks through a mask of irritation. Zhaxier looks horrified, distant.


He soon realizes he's still outside Lynn's stall. With unavoidable déjà vu, he peers slowly downward; she follows suit. There's the familiar bulge in his pants. She clears her throat. Embarrassed (but thankfully un-bare-assed) he fumbles for words: "I, uh... I'll see your backside---uh, see you back outside." Then he scurries down the hallway like a spooked gecko.


Lynn shuts the door and locks it audibly. "May wanna lower your water temp, a bit, dear," she calls after him playfully.


Zhaxier finally finds his humble stall. He steps inside, demons and all, and shuts the door. Sliding down a wall of the antechamber to the floor, he places his palms above his temples and drapes his long fingers over his bald pate. All he can do for an entire minute is stare at his new uniform hanging plaintively on a solitary peg in the opposite wall.


Many thanks to ghost_of_warden, who contributed to this post.



My narration may seem to be the voice of the storyteller, spinning for you the tale of the lost generation ship Warden, but it is far more than just that. No matter what personal suffering I have endured, no matter the scale of my moral compromise, future generations will rise from Warden like flowers from the catastrophe of life, and their splendor, however circumscribed, will possess a fragile redemptive quality. I will have been redeemed. So you see, I record not only history, but my own redemption. It's like you are reading my mind as you read these words. Uncanny... you're making my heart leap; this is fantastic!

All throughout my struggles, I have sensed that there must be a better, more natural way. I feel almost as if I am working against Nature, which makes choices much more, well, naturally. These conflicts, rationalizations and guilty feelings are all too familiar. I have never resolved them in all my years, even now, in the end game. I still wish to learn how to resolve them. Perhaps it will give me a second wind in life? But I deceive myself.

My motives may have been foggy, but I never gave up pursuing a dream to save Warden. This dream has caused my bionic heart to glow within me with the hope that the people that I guided should find the way. But who in all this wide duralloy ship could ever have imagined the incredible deed it was going to take, or the strange steps by which I was led to the doing of it?

Behold me, now, both stronger and weaker as I was then. Behold the integrated being I have become! And still, I was the most insignificant part of the quest. Was it insensitivity, was it selfishness, that drove me to lead them to risk their lives for me, for their own glorification? I still cannot answer these questions. I only hope they can forgive me. But I may never know.

All rationalizations aside, I know my time has come and gone; my best days are behind me. I have gone from wunderkind, to near-omniscient shell person to a decrepit object of sympathy, a man (!) struggling not to be forgotten like a beacon amid the wrecks. It's time for someone else's turn now. One night I'll wake up and find death's teeth upon my throat. I confess that I look forward to that dark hour.

At the same time I look back. Now that I think of it, the day I introduced the Professor to my charges was a turning point. I still remember the screwed up face he gave me when I called him from his work. Perhaps it is good that I will never meet him, like I will never meet the others, for nobody sees the Ghost of Warden.

OOC: Cast List

Herman: Command Level, SynthCorp Building

"Is this the sort of m-m-mission had you in mind, Marcus? Mind? What's going on in there?" Herman asks of Marcus and himself, his words drifting over the partition that separates the private showers. Herman continues lathering his hair into punkish spikes with shampoo.


"Whaddaya mean what's going on? I'm taking a shower!" he says, irritated. "Anyway, if your mission involves adventure and danger, I'm in. The more difficult it is, the better it suits me. I'll do my best to help."


"You seem very an-anxious to lose your life," he offers, his slight stutter creeping back into his voice after his virtuoso performance. Gotta relax all is fine calm down.


"To justify my life," Marcus corrects.


"Uh-huh," he replies doubtfully. "Whatever your motive, I'm g-g-glad you're on our side, Marcus. I dare s-say we may have trouble among us with that McClain ch-character. Saving Warden isn't going to be easy. Zhaxier said he and L-Lynn are going to stop the sh-sh-ship from overshooting the galaxy's rim. He also said something about sucking recycled plant f-farts." The din of falling water prevents anyone else from hearing Herman's revelation.


"Really?" he replies tentatively.


"I g-guess you had to be there. At least Biff th-thought it was funny." Normally stolid, Herman smiles in spite of himself, but as his voice trails off, his lips mouth the questions, Officer Jenner, Dr. Walken? Thieves? Lovers?




"Eh, right, ergh, nobody important... anymore. Anyway, listen, M-Marcus, I see big blank s-s-spaces in the map---spaces that need filling in, and there's no r-room for error anywhere." Herman's face skews somewhat with his facial tic. There's no room for error, but whom can he really trust? He can't even be sure of himself these days. Don't be ridiculous need more neurocalm. But who among them, if any, is the modern Munchausen? And who would expose such fraud? Eh mon, it'll be fine his inner self reassures him as the drug takes hold.


"One must wait 'til it comes," Marcus says, trying to overlook the fact their male bonding is taking place in the shower.


These are the sort of men that could be the greater, not the less, honored by all as the inspirers of noble deeds. Connecting with Marcus fills Herman momentarily with enthusiasm that makes him speechless and exacerbates his facial tics. Playing with the soap in the shower, he continues his argument with the voices inside his head.

Zhaxier: Elsewhere in the SynthCorp Showers

The echoes of pelting and sloshing water lull Zhaxier into a sort of introspective trance as he sits on the floor of his shower stall. What does he really feel? What does he really need? Frak, what is real? More than ever, he feels distanced from his genes. The real Zhaxier would've known what to do, would've known what to say, how to react. But the imposter Z? No matter. The feelings---whatever they are---can wait. They always have, always had. But to what end? He lived his former life dodging them; he knew it then, and so did Enki. And time ran out on them. His left arm aches as he rubs his temples. He tries not to think of what might have been, but this very process of self-denial spawns a meta-thought which concludes rhetorically, Am I really that much different now?

"Yes. I've got a ship to save, dammit," he answers, half in the attempt to dispel his doubt by sheer force of conviction, as if he could squelch his demons by mere Vulcan discipline. The effect is ephemeral: it is enough to free his thoughts for the moment. He pulls out his data pad and reconfirms the signal strength of the central link. He types in his query: "McClain, Darien M." Instantly, he gets an answer:

28 Mar 2780 21:01:39> File data: CLASSIFIED
28 Mar 2780 21:01:39> Call trans command ops for details
28 Mar 2780 21:01:39> Name: Darien M. McClain
28 Mar 2780 21:01:39> Title: Executive Officer
28 Mar 2780 21:01:39> Residence: R-Tower #R0872, City

Lynn: Several Stalls Away

Lynn finishes her luxury bath, feeling slightly guilty for the diversion from their mission, but enjoying it nevertheless. The past three days have been perhaps the most stressful yet in her current life. At least they are the most confusing. The bubbles clear her mind. She is grateful.

She returns to the antechamber, her sleek chocolate skin shedding water and bubbles onto the tile floor. Looking at herself in the full-length mirror of the antechamber, she strikes a few poses, modeling au natural. She stifles an egotistic thought. He'd faint, no doubt. She smiles, but it fades with the weight of the responsibility she bears. She is Captain after all. But at least she isn't alone.

She slips into her sleek new uniform, leaving her old clothes on the floor. She then preens for a while, and finally steps out, looking immediately down the hall. Not hearing anything, she starts for the exit, but balks. She doubles back down the hall to stand outside Zhaxier's stall. Timidly, she knocks. "Z?"

She hears stirring inside, on the floor. "You OK?" she asks, somewhat worried.


"Right as rain," he says weakly through a pained grin. With a wave of his hand across a sensor from his sitting position the water comes on.


She hesitates. "Everything's going to be OK."


"If you say so," he says, glad that she seems to be oblivious to his torment.


"I'll see you in the cafeteria." Her thoughts urge her to say more, but she bites her lip and resists for the moment. Sometimes less is more. She walks away.

Zilon: SynthCorp Food Court

Zilon looks down at Christmas circling its legs and rubbing up against them. "Oooh, going for the tough vocabulary, are we? Normally I wouldn't use such words, but perhaps the situation calls for it." Zilon pauses for a moment, then delivers a perfect deadpan. "You're a cat!"

It reaches down, picks up Christmas and heads to the food court area. A corridor leads to a large open mall where dozens of small automated eateries are located, each individualized with their own small area circled with tables and chairs.

"Okay," it says, approaching a Mexican food booth. "I've got nothing better to do anyway." It places Christmas on the counter top. Taking several small dishes of food from the warming oven, Zilon sets them out for Christmas to sample.

Hoping to add some life to the moment, Zilon asks, "What were the two Mexican firefighter brothers' names?" Pausing for a moment, Zilon looks at Christmas. Christmas blinks but says nothing. "You're good. Yes! José and Hose B." Zilon thinks it detects Christmas' amusement at its elasticity of character.

McClain: SynthCorp Foyer, Second Floor

"You would naturally not think so flat a rogue could cozen you. But have a care! Some idiots have a sort of cunning, as the skunk has its stench," he says flippantly, not really looking at Axa, but knowing she is practically standing over him.


She grabs McClain and tosses him twenty feet away to the floor, then walks over to him and puts her foot roughly on his neck. "If you are playing games with us or do anything stupid, I wont hesitate to do what is needed. Do you understand any of these words, 'McClain'?" she says with solemnity.


He catches his breath, grimaces in pain at being thrown so easily, and feels the boot on his neck. "Yeah, I watched all kinds of Star Trek, so I understand you, but those recruitment holochips never said anything about this kind of mistreatment."


"If had the most irrefragable evidence of the absolute truth that you were harmless, then you would not have to worry about any mistreatment." She removes her boot off McClain's neck, helps him up and even straightens his shirt, exactly coinciding with Lynn's exit from the showers. She exchanges a few words with Lynn, then heads to the food court with her. McClain follows at a safe distance, limping a little.


Herman and Marcus arrive in the food court a few minutes before Axa, Lynn and McClain. Of course, Christmas and Zilon have already been there for a while. Zhaxier arrives ten minutes later.

What do you do?

GM: Command Level, Gynex Research Building

Enter Professor Clark Asimov. Called simply "Professor" by those who knew him in his previous existence (as now), he is a crabbed, old, gray-headed applied mathematician whose passion is celestial mechanics. Too set in his ways to care whether anyone likes him, he works solo within the Gynex research building, and answers to no one. It is exactly how his predecessor would've wanted it, this second life, free from restrictions. He now works in the very rarified atmosphere of Olympian heights (metaphorically and literally, given his Level 10 location) into which nothing ever intrudes, save the occasional reconstituted assistant.

He knows of the problem Warden faces, and has made it his (second) life's work to solve it.

To anyone who might encounter him by chance in his milieu, Asimov might appear as a ghost, slowly perambulating through a lonely majestic corridor within the Gynex inner research sanctum, with his eyes staring vaguely as his mind hovers over a multitude of equalities and inequalities. Indeed, many who have met him have thought him above and beyond them, but this is not true; it is rather his lack of categorizable mannerisms, a consequence of his cloistered work. Alexandra Kain knows this, realizes even in his second life he is old and stubborn.

Professor Asimov nods to her as he enters the research chamber, whose curved walls are lined with supercomputers juxtaposed between those timelessly humble tools of the mathematician's trade: slate chalkboards. As anachronistic as his glasses, he picks up a piece of chalk and wipes his slightly balding forehead with the back of his hand.

Professor Clark Asimov

"Well, Miss Kain, have you forgotten? You seem to be doing very well except for your lack of attention to obtain my needed cup of coffee," he says in his kindly Russian accent, at which point her eyes finally meet his, with alarm.

"What is it?"

Alexandra Kain

"You should look at the computer, sir."

Professor Asimov

His eyes refocus on the computer screen as he approaches it. His mind faintly dwells upon the fact that his coffee isn't waiting for him as it always has been upon his arrival. The computer reveals another major crisis. A warning reads:

All your base are belong to us.
Proceed to SynthCorp for further information.

Angrily typing in some commands, Professor Asimov finds to his horror that he is locked out of his simulations, the invaluable feedback necessary for him to proceed in his research.

"I'll take that coffee to go, Alexandra," he orders acidly.

[A new group takes form:


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