Science Fiction The Oracle
#41
Episode 22- Preparations
The hologram recording died, but the image of the insectoid alien lay scorched into her mind--its black carapace, the dark eyes, the razor sharp teeth and limbs, the keen intelligence that operated their movements...the blood splashed on the walls in cool hologram clinic-ism.


Is the gate under-water bringing through baddies right now?


(50/50 | 3[d10]) No


Well, that’s good news.


“It was active!” Ardelle said to herself, barely audible. She shook her head. “It is active,” she corrected herself. “What if--?”


She wavered and took a faltering step backward. “Stars above!”


“What is it?” Elliot asked steadying her with a hand on her back. His face showed concern.


She reeled under her earlier thought. It was too impossible to consider. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe the horror of it all was all too real...


Ardelle exhaled a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Lt. Morgan looked over at her and in two strides joined her.

“Ensign, are you well?” But Lt. Morgan’s face was also pale.


“The Oracle,” She faced them, her face pale, her breath almost ragged. She trembled and steadied herself. “We’ve got to get to the Oracle!”


Lt. Morgan’s nodded immediately, the lines on her face seeming more pronounced. “Yes. Immediately. I agree. But...” her voice trailed off in a frown.


Is the oracle in a good position for intercept?


(Unlikely | 2[d10]) No +Event: Kill / Jealously


“But what?” Ardelle asked.


“Our window just closed.”


Ardelle swore and raked a hand through her hair.


“What’s going on? What’s the rush?” Elliot asked. “Captain Alestranda is coming here, isn’t she? In just a few hours.”


“Don’t you see?” Ardelle hopped down, and a brisk walk took them towards the others. “The alien ringed device... it was some sort of...gateway. It brought those...things here. It is active. That means...”


“It means,” Lt. Morgan finished a sour expression on her face. “That that insect race could show up at any moment and finish what they started.”


Elliot swore and sat down hard on a nearby bench.  “You mean...?”



Ardelle, the Lt. and the others walked past him for a few steps. He jumped up and ran up to them and his eyes darted to look into every shadowy alcove as if he expected a segmented body with wicked blades to come at him. “Yes, you’re right! Absolutely right. So we leave soon then?”


“Not exactly,” Lt Morgan said, her long strides moving past Ardelle. She gave a clipped hand gesture and the well-trained marines fell into step behind them.


“What does not exactly mean... exactly?” Elliot asked.


“It means we have to wait until Oracle comes around again in her orbit,” Ardelle said. She looked at the faces of the marines. They weren’t joking any more. They were all business. Their gloved hands gripped their weapons tighter than before. None of them spoke. Their eyes scanned the shadows.


“That’s not good,” Elliot said in a whisper. “Not good at all.”


“It’s possible that this insect race died off. The hologram recording was from a very long time ago.”


“I just keep thinking of roaches,” Chubbs said. “How long have humans been trying to exterminate those buggers?”


“Longer than you can count,” Claxton said trying to interject some humor but it felt taught.


“Shut up.” He turned back to the women. “How long?”


“Millions of years, Private Chubbs,” Lt. Morgan said. “They are a very old species.”


“That’s what I thought,” Chubbs said. He turned his rifle on the side and checked the number of rounds in his mag. He swore and spat into the dirt. He looked up at the setting sun. “...That’s what I thought.”


The mood grew more somber.



How are the chameleons reacting to the hologram?


Starting / Rumour


Is Drix phased by it?


(Likely | 9[d10]) Yes



The chameleons around them chatted in their strange clicking popping tongue, their expressions were a mix of fear, excitement, worry, determination. The low susurrations sounded like an urgent water fall to Ardelle. She looked and saw Drix nearby. The male warrior had sat down on the ground and looked at the spear in his hand. His face mirrored the sadness of some of the other contemplative ones.


Ardelle wondered what he was thinking about. Perhaps he was coming to realize that these gods of theirs, like the divine Chubbs, who come down in metal chariots on pillars of blue fire and carried fearsome weapons may not be a match for an army of giant roaches, and if they weren’t, then what good would his primitive little weapons do.


“Ensign Leath,” Lt. Morgan’s voice cut through her thoughts. “When you were by the alien device, did you set up sensors of any kind?”


“No ma’am," Ardelle said. “There was that one submersible drone there was destroyed, and then--”


“Corporal,” Lt. Morgan turned away and faced the marine. Her face tugged downwards further. “I need you to insert a sensor drone in low-power stealth mode down by that alien device. I want us to know when something is coming out of that gate.”


How many sensor drones did they bring down with them (at least two...)


6 = 6[d8]


Six drones. Are they all in use at the moment?


(50/50 | 3[d10]) No


“Yes Ma’am,” Corporal Whately said. “Four drones are out already, continuing to bring in data from our surroundings. We have two others in packaging still. We can break one of them out and send into those ruins. We  can do that remotely from here.”

“Good, get both of them up." She pursed her lips, "And re-route the other drones to act them as a mobile sensor net around the area. I want an around-the-clock data stream coming back to us before nightfall.”

“Yes Ma’am.” Whately gave a terse nod and motioned to his marines, and they ran back to The Searphim.


“What do you want me to do?” Ensign Ardelle asked.


“You got that hologram recorded didn’t you.”


“Yes ma’am. I have the whole thing here,” she tapped her shoulder mounted camera.


“Good. Analyze the feed. Especially about this new insect race. We need to figure out what exactly in the nine black hells we’re dealing with.”


“It appears we’re dealing with bugs,” Ardelle said. “Very large...bugs,” she amended.


“Make it sound a bit more professional than that, Ensign. Cpt. Alestranda will be reviewing it the moment she lands, and we need to get her up to speed as quickly as possible.”


“Yes, ma’am,” Ardelle said, and she too jogged off to the shuttle to review the video feed.

She looked back and saw Lt. Morgan's arms crossed across her breast her hands massaging opposite arms as she stared up at the obelisk. The older woman paced back and forth for a long time. Finally, she shook her head and ducked inside the ruined wreck of the colony ship.
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#42
Episode 23 - Droplets

Cpt. Alestranda leaned forward and steepled her hands under her chin and lower lip, lost in thought.



Captain Alestranda is with them now. What's the weather like? 1D20 - Higher is wetter or worse.


15 = 15[d20]





Aredelle watched Cpt. Alestranda study a copy of the projected hologram they had seen earlier.


Torches burned and hissed in sconces, compliments of their hosts’ hospitality. The rest of 3rd Squad, 1st Platoon stood guard out in the hallway and around the shuttles: Egg Crate and Seraphim.


Ardelle recognized Winters, Dummond, and Krissa who had been with her on Spenalk 2. They were squad mates with Whately, Claxton, and Chubbs.


The newcomer marines all watched the Chameleons suspiciously and uneasily. 

Wait until they see the holovid with the bugs, Ardelle thought wryly.

Captain Alestranda tapped the device once more, rewinding the projected display to watch the butchery of the Chameleons...again...for the fourth time. Ardelle felt sick. Cpt. Alestranda had also read the report Ardelle had compiled on this strange new species and on the death of Private McCoy.


Thunder rumbled overhead, and outside streaks of lightning flashed amidst the rain, brightening the dark hallways outside the room they had setup in with lurid shadows.Small gusts of wind caused the torches to waver.


“Shut the door and wait outside, Private Krissa,” Alestranda said to the Elliot’s sister who was on guard duty. The red-headed marine gave a smart salute, held Elliot’s eyes for a moment, and then shut the primitive wooden door with dull scraping sound.


“You’ve done well, Lt. Morgan, Ensign Ardelle,” She smiled at them. “Though this report is somewhat...troubling,” Alestranda’s smile collapsed to a frown. She stood and paced back glancing at the data pad which she held in one hand. “This ‘chameleon’ race as you call them is an amazing find. And then to add on top of that evidence of the past existence of yet another species is remarkable to the point of unbelievability. You are to be commended.”


She tossed the pad onto a primitive table. “You say this device... this ‘gate’ is active?”


“Yes,” Lt. Morgan said.


“And do you know what activated it?”


“No ma’am. But something...or someone activated both the gate here and the one back on Spenalk 2.”


“How long ago?”


“We don’t know. But the one on Spenalk 2 was active when we came in system. We don’t even know who made these devices. We only know that they exist and that they somehow use gravity as an energy source, and that they’re active.”


Elliot was in the room as well. He worried a fingernail and cast sidelong glances through a rusted hole in the deck plating to the drumming rain and lightning outside. Whenever the lightning flashed, he winced slightly, involuntarily.


“And your professional opinion on whether this species still exists?”


“I think it’s probable, Captain...” Lt. Morgan responded. “Likely, even.”


“Indeed? Likely? After so many years?”


“Cockroaches,” Elliot said absently.


“Excuse me?” Alestranda turned on him, an eyebrow climbing her face.


“It’s something Private Chubbs asked about,” Lt. Morgan said. She quickly recounted the conversation with Chubbs.


“Fascinating. Millions of years you say?” Captain Alestranda gave a bemused look. And then, “And how long is your estimate for elapsed time since their attack on the original Chameleon colony city until now?”


Ardelle shrugged, and Lt. Morgan said, “We think perhaps three millenia. Judging from the corrosion levels on the ship’s hull when compared against the hull in the data tapes from the obelisk.”


“Three millennia?” Alestranda said. “Who’s to say that this gate hasn’t been turning on and off of its own accord for hundreds if not thousands of years and have we found any evidence of this new species around?”


“No one ma’am, but I would urge...caution.” Lt. Morgan said.


“Ma’am,” Elliot suddenly blurted out. “Shouldn’t we be getting back to The Oracle? With those things out there?”




What are Alestranda's ambitions after knowing that gates can provide energy?


Bestow / Business




“What things, Crewman Walker?” Alestranda held his gaze.


“Well, ma’am, the...uh...bugs?”


“Can we not come up with a better name for this new species?” Captain Alestranda asked.
Elliot turned away, color flushed up the side of his face, one hand drumming on the table. His eyes once again went to the rain outside and the color dropped away, replaced with white.


“We have not had the fortuitous event to study the creatures up close, Captain,” Lt. Morgan said a wry grimace across her face. “It seems that anything that gets close them ends up...dead.”


“I’m sure our ancient ancestors said the same thing about the saber-tooth tiger,” Alestranda said folding her arms. “And those were wiped out.”


“But the roaches weren’t,” Elliot muttered so low that only Ardelle could hear.


“Think of that his means!” Alestranda said turning around, her ams expansive. “There’s a new energy source within our grasp here! One that could change the future of earth and all of her sister worlds and far-flung colonies. This could open a glorious new era of science of exploration! Not to mention...profit,” she smiled at them.


Ardelle swallowed and looked at her hands then to Lt. Morgan and then back up at the captain. “Ma’am, I feel that Crewman Walker is correct. This world may no longer be safe.”


“Based on what evidence? You yourself said that sensors were placed in your report. That there have not been arny readings.”


“That’s true ma’am. And while there haven’t been any readings...yet, well, that doesn’t mean--”


“It doesn’t mean we should be jumping at shadows of the ancient past either,” Captain Alestranda stated, leaning forward, her hands flat on the rickety table. “If there hasn’t been any evidence that this species has been to this planet in over three-thousand years, then I suggest there is no need to fear. We can study the chameleons at our leisure as we study the underwater find.”


“You may be right, Captain, but I suggest that if we do get sensor contact, we leave immediately.”


“Naturally, Lieutenant,” Alestranda stated. “Now, where does one sleep in this place?” She glanced around the sparse accommodations. “Or will I have to make up a bunk in one of the shuttles?”


“Private Chubbs can secure rooms for you, ma’am. He has some...sway with the locals.”


“Very well, I will turn in then.” She pulled the door open and the marine in unpowered light armor saluted. A nearby chameleon materialized away from the grayness of the interior metal wall.


It was Drix. His eyes darted from face to face, and he peered into the room. His head bobbed and he clicked off a phrase. And he stepped back, the gray silver sheen of the metal seeming to fold into his skin, so compelling was the optical illusion. Even the rust that corroded parts of it, speckled his skin.


“Fascinating creatures...” Alestranda sighed. “We’ll talk more in the morning. For now, get some rest. You’ve all deserved it.”


-----

As if underwater, Ardelle heard running footsteps. A muted knock pounded dully on the bulkhead by the door. Voices.


She groggily came to, noticing the early gray of another rainy morning filtering through the darkened interior.


The knock came again. Not a knock, a pounding on the door.


“Ma’am? Ensign?”


She felt momentarily confused and thought she was aboard the Oracle in a low-power low-lighting drill. But the cry of birds and the patter of rain drumming on something metallic brought her back to reality.


She sat up and yawned, “What is it?”


She recognized the voice. Claxton.


“Ma’am! Sensor contacts! Corporal says come quick!”





Do the marines get sensor contact?


(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yes, and...


Yes, it’s pinging a lot of contacts.


Is it the insectoids?


(Likely | 6[d10]) Yes


They're coming out of the underwater gate, swimming to the surface. Apparently their carapaces can withstand the pressure.


Was it close to morning when they got sensor contact?


(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yes, and...


Right before dawn.


Is it still raining?


(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes


Of course... it always rains on this planet.




Adrenaline immediately kicked into her system. It felt like a lead ball in her gut, but it brought her instantly awake. She flew out of bed, struggling into her clothes, hopping on one foot to zip up the uniform. She bumped into a rickety side table and steadied herself as she finished dressing.

Sensor contacts! Those things were coming through the gate? Now?

Private Claxton nodded to her as she opened her door and saluted. “Ma’am, Corporal says--”


“I heard you. Run and get the Lt. and Captain Alestranda on the double!”


“Yes ma’am!” Pvt Claxton darted down the hallway, and Ardelle turned and raced the opposite direction for the exterior to where the shuttles were.


Both shuttles sat dripping from constant gray drizzling rain. Spenalk’s sun rose above the horizon, but between the leaden wet sky and the thick forest canopy overhead, the jungle floor remained in a green-gray wet shroud.


Private Krissa was on guard duty outside the shuttle and gave a smart salute as Ardelle dashed up to it. She returned the salute and palmed the side entrance. The door slid tight behind her, sealing out the rain and the curious glance of Pvt Kirssa.


Inside, it smelled of wet metal, solvents, oil and electronics. She stuck her head into the cockpit, and saw Corporal Whately next to Chubbs and Elliot, they barely glanced at her as they stared at the sensor results that fed into the screens.


“What do we have?” Ardelle asked, panting out the question.


“Underwater contacts are spiking like crazy!” Elliot said. He tapped some buttons to enlarge the display.


Private Chubbs swore as the red dots grew, “There’s a freakin’ lot of them out there, Corporal!”


“Don’t I know it.” Corporal Whately said rubbing his chin.


“Get Sergeant Ramey on the line,” Ardelle said. Sergeant Ramey was over 3rd Squad.


Corporal Whately nodded and pressed a series of buttons on the dash tapping through the command layer of the comms software: 2nd platoon, 3rd squad, and then onto Sargent Ramey’s picture file.


“Ramey here.” Sergeant Ramey’s hard face, from a picture on file, floated overlayed on top of the hologram showing the rapidly growing sensor contacts. His face was hard, like he ate nails for breakfast, close shorn hair, on a wide head that looked like it could also pound nails. She wondered if all Sergeants looked like that. Probably a job requirement.


“Sergeant Ramey, Ensign Ardelle here. We have company. What has Captain told you?”


“She said there were some xenos. Insect type...” she heard him spit.


"Does the rest of your squad know?"


"Not yet, except for Whately, Chubbs, and Claxton. Captain said to not tell them unless a threat was imminent. Something about not causing undue alarm."


"You might want to practice your speech skills."

"Ma'am?"

"Sensor contacts are spiking."

“Any coming this way?”




Are they coming inland yet?


(50/50 | 1[d10]) No, and...



She looked at Elliot.


Elliot shook his head, “I don’t get it. What are they doing? It looks like they’re just swimming in circles.”


“I don’t think so," Ardelle said. "Notice how the ring of creatures is thickening. They could be consolidating their forces."


They watched in silence as the red icons multiplied. Into a ball-like mass that slowly started to expand.


She returned to the comms unit. "Sergeant, for now, they’re just spreading out around the gate and onto the surrounding shore. But we don’t know what they’re going to do next.”


“Roger. What are you orders?”


“Wait one,” She put a hand on Elliot’s shoulder. “Patch me through to the Oracle.”


Elliot nodded and he punched some buttons. The comms channel with Sarge muted. He tapped through the communications layer of the command software.


Then Elliot swore and slammed his fist onto the dash causing an old styrofoam cup of cold coffee to spill onto the floor.





Can they make contact with the Oracle?


(Somewhat Unlikely | 1[d10]) No, and...





“What is it?”


“We can’t hail the Oracle, Ensign. Some kind of... interference,” Elliot said. He tightened a slightly trembling hand into a fist and pounded his leg lightly.


“Are our comms systems down?” Ardelle asked.


Elliot tapped some buttons and then slowly shook his head. “No. Everything outgoing is fine. But something is giving off a lot of interference or....”


“Or?”


“...Or something is actively jamming us.”


Ardelle frowned. “Fantastic. Get me Sergeant Ramey again.”


Sarge’s picture flared to life once more.


“Ensign?”


“Sergeant, I want you to get your squad mustered and geared up for anything. Get defenses set up around the shuttles. I’m sending Corporal Whately and Private Chubbs back to you.”


“Yes, Ma’am. We’re on it.” Sargent Whately’s picture winked out.


Whately and Chubbs stared silently at the expanding ball of red.


“Whately. Chubbs,” She said quietly.


“Yes, ma’am,” Corporal Whately sighed. “Come on Private.” He and Chubbs grabbed their gear and jogged off into the wet gray morning.


A few seconds after they left, Captain Alestranda and Lt. Morgan stepped into the shuttle.


“Report!” Cpt. Alestranda said somewhat out of breath.


“Contacts ma’am. They’re...coming through the gate,” Ardelle nodded to the display, and her eyes flicked over to Lt. Morgan’s face.


“I can see that,” Cpt. Alestranda said in bland tones.


Ardelle took a deep breath and filled in Captain Alestranda on everything she’d found out so far. Captain Alestranda said nothing. She stared at the sensor display as Ardelle talked. The ball of dots reminded Ardelle of cells reproducing rapidly under time lapse photography.


“Can we get visual?” She asked Elliot.

“I... think so ma’am. One moment,” Elliot said.


Alestranda drummed her fingers on the back of his chair, as rain drizzled down onto the cockpit. She studied the growing ball of red as Elliot navigated through some menus.


“Here we go.” Elliot said. The holograph image was shunted to the top left, and another screen opened, hanging in the air. It was a live video feed showing the green tint of the undersea gate. The same brilliant brightness they had seen was now partially obscured by a twisting mass of lean insect-like creatures that streamed through its center and added to a boiling mass growing around it.


“By all the hells,” Captain Alestranda breathed and one hand sought out the interior bulkhead for support.


Ardelle gave a silent nod in mute agreement and she felt her own knees grow weak. So many...





Do sensors pick other xenotypes coming through? If yes, I’ll say it’s a bipedal alien.


(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes +Event: Block / Riches




“What in suns is that?” Captain Alestranda asked. Something large had stepped in front of the camera feed coming from the drone in low-power mode. It was a leg of something large. From something bipedal it looked like. For a moment, all they could see was this leg. It then moved away, slowly. It was large, nearly half again as tall as a six foot human. It loomed over the creatures around it who moved away from it.


Ardelle shook her head. “We never saw that alien sub-type in the data dump contained in the pendant.”




Does the leg look armored?


(Likely | 10[d10]) Yes, and...





“Could be armored,” Lt. Morgan said. “It’s bulky and moving ponderously. Heavy too, I think, the way it sinks into the silt like that.”





Do the creatures detect the science drone that’s in low-power mode studying them?


(Somewhat Unlikely | 1[d10]) No, and... +Event: Inspect / The innocent


For now we can study them innocently... 


Are those on shore sending out any scouts this way?


(Likely | 8[d10]) Yes





“Ma’am,” Lt. Morgan pointed to the sensor display in the top left corner where a few red dots separated from the pack and began moving inland.


“They coming this way?”


Elliot expanded the view and shrugged, “For now.”


Lt. Morgan sat next to him and fine-tuned the display, studying their movements.




Are they moving quickly?


(50/50 | 3[d10]) No


They're being cautious it seems.





“This small group is moving slowly inland, at least for now.” Lt. Morgan said.


“ETA of arrival at our current position?” Captain Alestranda asked.


Lt. Morgan ran some calculations over the 3D terrain that the drones had mapped, and she leaned back. “Hard to say, Captain. We’re a good distance inland. But assuming they maintain their current pace, and that they don’t deviate from their current vector, I calculate about 48 hours.”


“And we can’t hail or detect the Oracle?”


“No Captain,” Ardelle said. “Elliot said that something is blocking the signal. It might have something to do with that underwater device or something to do with this weather.”


“Comms signals should be able to cut through a simple drizzle like this,” Captain Alestranda frowned. “Even down here on the jungle floor. She drummed her fingers on the chair again as perhaps a dozen red dots inched forward. “I don’t like this.”


“Me neither,” Elliot said.


Ardelle watched the dots and a feeling gnawed inside of her. Something... She gave a small gasp. “Stars above...! The other gate...” She looked over at Lt. Morgan.


Lt. Morgan’s face was ashen. “Oh stars...no...”


“What of it?” Captain Alestranda asked. She tore her gaze from the sensor display where the red dots, like angry ordered marching ants, came steady towards them. She looked into the faces of the other two women.


“Ma’am, the other gate. The one on Spenalk 2! We have a team there, remember?” Lt. Morgan said.


“Exactly,” Ardelle pursed her lips. “And if these things are coming through here... then maybe...”
She left the rest unsaid.


Captain Alestranda swore and swung on Elliot. “Crewman Walker, get our pilots back here as well. The marines should be here shortly. We need everyone together here on the double! And keep trying to reach the Oracle. We have to get through to them!”


“Yes ma’am! I’ll do what I can, but that interference has downed all telemetry with the ship. She’s not even on our scopes and--”


“You’re an engineer right?” Alestranda said.


“Yes, but I'm no comms specialist and--”


“Today you're both. Engineer me up a solution! I need comms with my ship!”


“I’ll do what I can, Ma’am,” he said.


“Good. We can stay ahead of these things if they move slowly and don’t have air assets, but I’d rather not give away our position until we finally have contact with the Oracle...unless absolutely necessary.”


“Yes Ma’am!” Elliot said. He sat up straighter in his char, and began moving through the comms software, making the necessary calls and trying -again- to reach the Oracle.


The red dots on the holo-display inched closer and closer. Ardelle thought they looked like small droplets of crimson blood. The drops would become a stream, the stream a smear, and the smear an ocean of red. Private McCoy would be but one of many who died if they stayed.


Captain Alestranda was right. They had to get out of here...


“Crewman Walker. I want twenty-four hour surveillance on those things. Let me know if their pace increases one iota,” Alestranda added


“Aye Ma’am,” he said.


“Lt. Morgan. Ensign. With me,” Cpt. Alestranda said, and the side door hissed open.

The three women stepped out into the gray drizzle of a weeping sky.
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#43
Episode 24 - Formation
 
Alestranda had led them inside the confines of the The Egg Crate for a private conference between herself, Lt. Morgan, Ardelle, and Sargeant Remy while Elliot continued to monitor the alien incursion from Seraphim

The cockpit was cramped, but it was more secure from outside listeners than one of the many half rusted rooms inside the ruined colony ship.

Rain continued to drizzle out of the leaden sky; rivulets of water collected in wide leaves above them and splashed down regularly onto the cockpit’s canopy. Lights from the many buttons and displays winked in and out.

“Sergeant Remy, report,” Alestranda said.

Sgt. Remy scratched the side of his rock-like face and nodded, “Well ma’am most of the squad are currently building defenses, booby traps and the like, in case those things come this way per the orders of Ensign Leathe. Two of them have set up a lookout from the upper levels of the colony ship. Of course it would be good to let my boys know what they’re up against...” He let the suggestion hang between them and folded his massive arms. A tattoo of a scantily clad woman rippled across one bulging bicep.

Captain Alestranda frowned but gave a curt nod. “Very well. Show them the copy of the holovids and get them all oriented. But as soon as Crewman Walker can get us comms with the Oracle, we’re moving out.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Put the pilots to work, Sgt. They’re honorary grunts under your command for the moment. If I need them back for flight duty, I’ll let you know.”

“My pleasure,” A grin split his face. “It’d be good to bring those fly-boys of your down a peg or two.”

“Don’t rough them up too much, or they won’t be worth much,” Alestranda said.

“Put a rifle in the hands of one of those namby pamby joystick lovers? I don’t think so...ma’am. A shovel maybe, but not a rifle. They ain't worth spit,” he said.

Captain Alestranda rolled her eyes, “Just see what you can do with them. Dismissed.”

“Yes ma’am,” Sgr. Remy saluted and palmed the door to the gray outside.

Once the door shut, Lt. Morgan asked, “Captain, what is your plan for the Chameleons?”

“Nothing. We tell them absolutely...nothing. We’ll be leaving here as soon as we can anyway.”

“Captain, I disagree,” Ardelle said. “You saw their historical holo-vid, what the insects did to their race. They deserve to know what’s coming.”

Alestranda shook her head, “That’s precisely why they shouldn’t know. If we tell them, what do you think they’ll do? There will be mass panic. That kind of thing would spread to our own people. Our marines are already edgy. They're not stupid. They know that something is up. No, it’s better that they don’t know anything.”

“So, you’ll leave the Chameleons here?” Lt. Morgan asked. One of her eye-brows inched up higher. Ardelle, who was used to reading her expressions, saw the flicker of surprise shooting across the Lt’s usually dour face.

“Lt. Morgan, what would you have me do?” Alestranda asked. “We only have two shuttles. You know the specs to those. At most, we can carry what? Two full squads of marines with combat gear to and from Oracle? That’s only twenty-four people."

“But...when the bugs get here, they’ll...be torn to shreds,” Ardelle whispered. She couldn’t mask the horror in her own voice.

Captain Alestranda gave a heavy sigh. “That can’t be helped, Ensign. I took an oath to protect our own citizens from threats. That includes our crew, our people, our cities and planets. I’d like to help them. But we’re not the guardians of their species. I am a guardian of ours.”

She tapped a series of commands on the console, and a copy of what Elliot was seeing in the other shuttle rose up before them. The dozen or so bugs were still inching forward while the numbers around the beach continued to climb.

“...besides, we can’t even communicate with them,” she said, frowning up the red sensor contacts and folding her arms.

“And if you could? I could try to talk to them,” Ardelle offered.

Captain Alestranda turned. “Then what? We’d still have a space problem.”

“We could take multiple trips. Ferry them to the Oracle from a protected spot.”

“Even if we do find a protected spot for that, then what? Offload their entire population onto the Oracle? We already have a full crew complement. We don’t have enough room for that.”

“What about the cargo holds?” Ardelle suggested. “They could camp out there. We could take them back to friendly space and--”

“Oracle does have sufficient food stuffs for double our crew maybe even triple,” Lt. Morgan added. “While we haven’t studied their biology in any detail, the food they’ve hunted and brought back for us is not dissimilar to our own.”

“That may be, but food is only part of the problem,” Alestranda said. “Our life support systems cannot handle a triple-load increase. We cannot bring them with us.” 

Ardelle felt deflated. Their first apparently friendly--worshipful even--alien race, and they were going to be decimated by another alien race apparently set on destruction and conquest.

“However,” Captain Alestranda said pulling up a 3D model of the shuttle’s interior and studying the amount of available space. “I do believe we could take some. A very small percentage. An even dozen...assuming they even want to come.”

Lt. Morgan’s eyes lit up. “Excellent. We could learn their language. Their history...”

“Yes, and if we can convince our own government to lend aid, we could come back and pick up any survivors,” Alestranda said. 

Ardelle knew how many days that journey would take. She wondered how many of the Chameleons would be left.

Cpt. Alestranda continued. “Very well, Ardelle, do what you can to convince twelve--and no more than twelve--to come with us. Take Private Chubbs with you. His... ‘divinity’,” she quirked a smile, “may prove useful. But whatever happens, I want you and Lt. Morgan to help Crewman Walker re-establish comms with the Oracle. Do what you can. We have to get out of here.”

Ardelle nodded and stepped outside into the rain that seemed to drip like liquid lead from a sky laden with tears.

~~~

Ardelle spent much of the  morning trying to communicate with the Chameleons. Too much. Their whistles and popping sounds were just as confusing the first day she had heard them. 

Ardelle also wasn’t sure bringing Private Chubbs was the best thing. Too many of the Chameleons began scraping and bowing and murmuring in what sounded like awe-inspired payers to her whenever he looked at one of them. In fact, a small pile of offerings, crude jewelry, food, weapons, leather goods, began to collect at Private Chubbs’s feet. He at least had the decency to look embarrassed by it all. But the entire process proved to be an immense distraction. But, she admitted to herself, she probably needed him there too. Given the apparently rigid patriarchal society the Chameleons operated within, she didn’t think they would have given her the time of day, status of godly consort or no.

Does Ardelle convince any of the chameleons to go with them. She'll use her tablet and draw pictures to show what they want.

TN for them to understand her is TN 6
Clever 2, 1 using tablet with pictures etc.

6 = 6[d6]

6 + 3 = 9 Sounds like they got it.

But do they want to come?

I'll say likely given Chubbs divinity.
(50/50 | 9[d10]) Yes

Ardelle used her tablet to good effect, though, importing pictures of the shuttle overlayed with pictures to communicate her desire for twelve chameleons to come with them. 

It was mid-afternoon when the twelve stood before her. Drix was foremost among them, tall and obviously proud to have been picked. There were four females in the group as well. They were wide-eyed and subdued. But she had insisted on females as well. It had taken another two hours to do that and to convince them that they weren’t leaving just yet, but that she’d let them know when “they would fly to the stars” as her pictographs hoped to communicate. 

Not being able to communicate naturally with them was proving an immense difficulty and a slow one.

~~~

Late afternoon stole over the jungle by the time Ardelle left the colony ship and entered The Seraphim. Parts, plans, panels, wires, screws, bolts, not to mention copious amounts of duct tape lay all about Elliot. Parts of the wall had been disassembled, and wiring snaked up and down walls and ceiling. The interior smelled of electronics, warm metal, and stale sweat.

“Where did you get all this?”

Elliot didn’t answer, a dark pair of goggles masked his eyes, and whatever he was doing held his attention captive. Flashes of bright blue hot light and orange sparks jumped about him as he welded parts together, the flame of the welder turning metal into ribbons of melted slag.

“Crewman Walker knows his trade,” Lt. Morgan said as she stepped over an odd-looking contraption that took shape out of a small mountain of parts. The thing looked to Ardelle like a miniature Eiffel Tower but with a LOT more wires.

Lt. Morgan joined Ardelle and waved a hand at the mess. “Some of this he ripped out of walls and the rest are from one of the comms units of The Egg Crate

“What will it do?”

Elliot stood and wiped his brow. He raised his goggles and set them atop his sweat-plastered forehead, strands of red hair matted and wet underneath. “It’s a simple signal booster... I think.” He allowed himself a frown and scratched at the beginning of a patchy red beard forming on his jaw line. “If I followed my own plans right, it should boost our comms signal enough to punch through whatever is jamming us. Hopefully it’ll be enough to get us through to Oracle.”

“Is it done?” 

He looked at the remaining parts and shrugged. “One way to find out.”

Elliot attempts to construct a device that boosts the comms signal from one of the shuttles.
Does he do it? TN to break through is 7.
Engineering 2 + Clever 2, + 1 Toolkit

5 = 5[d6]

He got a 10.

Any side effects?

(50/50 | 9[d10]) Yes

Violently / Juvenile

Sounds like it won't last long under violent motion. It's a duct tape invention. Got it! Smile

“We need to connect this,” he pointed to the contraption, “to the communications array on top of The Seraphim.” 

Ten minutes later he slid down from the roof of the shuttle onto the wet spongy earth and wiped water from his eyes and flapped his jacket arms sodden with rain. “I hate the rain. But it’s connected. Let’s do this.”

What are the Alien insects doing?

Perfectly / Dark

Ooo.... That sounds ominous.

Are they creating the darkness?

(50/50 | 5[d10]) No, but...

Lt. Morgan, Elliot, Ardelle, and Captain Alestranda all gathered inside of the cockpit of The Seraphim. Elliot was about to flip on the comms when an alarm blared.

Elliot cussed and flew to the console tapping buttons. He swore again as the holo display showing the sensor net flared into view. All looked as before except for the large patch of red dots they expected to see underwater had gone dark.

“What is it?” Captain Alestranda asked.


Does this mean they've knocked out the sensors, leaving the humans "in the dark"?

(Somewhat Likely | 9[d10]) Yes

All of the sensor drones?

(50/50 | 3[d10]) No

Just the ones in the water then.

Not good It sounds like they know what to look for.
And knocking out a drone means they also likely know there is something controlling those drones in or around Spenalk 3.

Now that they know what to look for, it sounds like they're hunting for the drones to knock them out.


“I just lost a drone!” he swore again as another patch of dots winked into darkness. “And another! They’re targeting them!” He flipped to a recorded video display. Up until now it had showed a continuous video feed underwater. He backed it up to a few seconds before it went dark, and they saw one of the bugs swim right in front of the camera, bulbous eyes suddenly slitted and narrowed. Then a claw or appendage slashed out and the camera feed fizzed and went black.

Silence filled the room. 

“They know we’re here,” Elliot whispered.

“The know our sensor drones were,” Cpt. Alestranda said, attempting to edge confidence into the mood. “They don’t know where we are...yet. Their scouts will have to reach here first and then comb miles of jungle to find us. We still have time.” 

Except we are sitting by the largest man-made structure on the planet, Ardelle added to herself silently.

“What other drones do we have?” Cpt. Alestranda asked.

“Just the drones on the surface now. They have flight capability so as long as they bugs don’t sprout wings, we should be fine,” Elliot said.

“Try to keep them hidden anyway, we don’t want to give them any ideas,” Lt. Morgan said.


Elliot will try to camouflage the remaining sci drones. We'll use his Clever of 2.

2 = +1 +0 +0 +1 0

I'll say the Aliens have a clever of 2 as well.

Elliot rolls

1 = 1[d6]

They roll

1 = 1[d6]

A tie... for now, I'll say that the drones are being hunted and Elliot knows and he has to constantly hide them to keep the aliens at bay.

“I’ll do what I can.” He pursed his lips, and his fingers blurred across the console. Blue icons representing the location of the sensor drones popped into view on the holo display. Other blue icons representing the marine squad and the two shuttles also glowed inland many miles distant. The blue icons closest to the growing swarm of bugs on the shore leapfrogged backwards, retreating into more difficult terrain, some taking up residence in trees behind cover, others in small hallows of rock.

“That’s good for now, but I don’t know how long they’ll remain hidden. I’ve given these commands to retreat if any life forms bigger than a...bug... a big bug,” he amended, “draw near.”

“Fine. Do your best to keep them alive. Those are our eyes and ears,” Cpt. Alestranda said. “What are the rest of the aliens doing?”

“Clustering...Uh grouping together.”

“Those groupings do seem awfully organized,” Ardelle said.

“I’ve seen a fleet do that,” Lt. Morgan said. 

Captain Alestrdanda nodded, her frown matching Lt. Morgan’s. “If I had to guess, I’d say they’re preparing for an advance...a major advance.”

Did the aliens speed up their advance?

(50/50 | 5[d10]) No, but...

But they have aerial units?

(50/50 | 3[d10]) No

But...?

Enthusiastically / Military

I'll say different ground-based units are coming through...

And they're getting organized.

For a major advance inland.


“They’re waiting for something,” Ardelle said.

“Good eye, Ensign. Yes, they are. That,” Cpt. Alestranda pointed to a larger blip that began to move slowly across the shore behind the alien units. “Give me visual.”

Elliot nodded. The holo view was replaced with an video image that floated in the air. The thing in the video was easily as large as The Seraphim

“Enlarge the view.”

The image zoomed in and showed a vehicle. It hovered above the ground. It was black, smooth, with ominous looking bulbous protrusions that suggested covered weapons ports.

Lt. Morgan cursed. “An armored ground asset. Hover capability. I don’t think these bugs are working alone.”
Reply
#44
Episode 25: Stormfront

“Another alien race?” Elliot’s face paled. “One that’s allied with the bug race?”


“Or one that’s controlling them,” Ardelle said tapping her lip, she leaned forward to get a better look at the vehicle. It’s metallic hull was of a dull black metal.


“You’re just full of pleasant thoughts aren’t you?” Elliot said.


“Just thinking outside the box,” she said.


“I liked my box.”


“Crewman Walker, give me some good news, tell me that contraption you built will work,” Captain Alestranda interrupted them.


“I’ll try, ma’am,” he nodded and leaned forward in his chair, tapping open the command software in The Seraphim. “Attempting to contact The Oracle, on normal settings.” 


The screen only showed static as it had in his previous attempts. “That was expected. Still no change from before in whatever is blocking our transmissions.” He hunched over the console and tapped some more commands. “Well, here goes nothing,” He reached down and plugged in the cord he had snaked from outside into the front of the cockpit console near the floor where a mess of wires spilled like a disemboweled beast onto the floor. A humming sound reverberated through the cockpit as power coursed through the wires and activated the device atop the shuttle.


The screen flickered showing horizontal lines, then a mess of pixelated jagged images that after a brief struggle eventually became clear. 


“There you are, you beautiful baby!” Elliot said. “I’ve got her position, ma’am.” A blue blip bearing the label “Oracle” orbited somewhere above Spenalk 3.


“Did you just call my ship a baby?” Captain Alestranda asked with a slight smile. 


“It’s a term of endearment,” Elliot said. The audio crackled and fizzed and then cleared.


Captain Alestranda put one hand on his shoulder. “Well done, Crewman Walker.”


After a brief struggle with static, the face of Ensign Jackston Ross, the bridge’s sensor specialist, appeared on the screen. “We’re finally reading you Seraphim,” he said. “You disappeared from our scopes several hours ago and--” The cockpit’s internal camera must be showing their faces to Ensign Ross now because he swallowed. “Ma’am.... What’s wrong?”


Captain Alestranda ignored his question. “What’s the status of Oracle?”


“Several hours after you made planetside, our sensors went haywire. Something seems to be messing with our sensors Captain.”


“I want a complete data dump to the Seraphim of whatever is causing the interference as soon as you can. Perform a full spectrum scan and attach the diagnostics report.”


“Aye, ma’am,” he pursed his lips and tapped some buttons moving through the sensor software suite. “It should be coming across...now.”


“I’m getting it,” Captain Marsa Alestranda said as data flowed across the screen. “This might let us know who or what is jamming us.”


“Who? We’re all alone out here, ma’am.”


“You’d be surprised,” she muttered under her breath. Then more loudly so he could hear, she asked, “When the sensor interference started, did anything new appear in senor range?”


“You mean some kind of object or ship? No ma’am, nothing new.”


“Anything now?”


“No, ma’am, but like I said, our sensors still can’t see much right now due to whatever is causing this anomaly.”


“Move the ship to yellow alert. Get me Ensign Drav.” 


“Yellow alert, but what---?”


“Do it!”


“Yes ma’am,” He flipped a button, and they could see the lighting on the interior of the bridge changed to a dull yellow hue. His picture winked out to be replaced by that of the startled face of the Oracle’s helm officer.


“Drav here,” Jayme Drav said the connection cutting in and out. “Wha...need...Capt...?”


The screen flickered, and the lights on the shuttle dimmed momentarily. Captain Alestranda darted a glance at Elliot. He shrugged.


“Ensign Drav, arrange a rendezvous with both Seraphim and Egg Crate at the soonest opportunity.” The display flickered and then went dark. “Is he still hearing me?” she turned to Elliot. 


“I don’t know ma’am.” Elliot said stabbing buttons. “The power output... it’s fluctuating.” 


“Well, stabilize it.”


“Yeah. I’m...uh..trying, ma’am,” Elliot said. He knelt down by the floor and tinkered with his tools around the wired connection to the panel. “There. It should be working...I think.”


“Drav, if you’re hearing this, plot a course. Bring Oracle into a low-orbital rendezvous bearing on this position, all possible speed. Combat footing. Something is down here. Repeat, something is down here.”


Silence greeted them then a loud crackling noise and his face re-appeared on the screen.


“Ma’am... We lost you. Do you read? You said rendezvous. Copy that. I need to know where you--”


“Ensign Drav, you need to let us know when you’re coming in overhead, and--”


There was a loud popping sound, and strands of blue energy flared up and around console frying plastics and rubber and then down the cord and out the door.


Elliot swore and jumped away as the energy coursed around them. Alestranda removed her hands from the console.
 
Does his device work right away?
 
(Somewhat Unlikely | 3[d10]) No
 
Do they a garbled message out or in?
 
(Likely | 10[d10]) Yes, and...
 
And...?
 
Release / Energy
 
Ahhh... it’s clear at first but then they get too MUCH power. Fizzz! Snap! Crackle! Pop! and a smell of ozone after that. It worked, but the power output was a little too high. Time to regulate it. He can do that, but it'll take time.



“Well, it was working,” Elliot said as the red emergency lighting flickered on and electrical smoke wafted through the air.


“You better not have broken my shuttle,” Captain Alestranda said wrinkling her nose. 


Sounds of shouting came from outside, and Private Krissa poked her head in. “Ma’am somethin’s up with the natives! Thought you should know.”


“Get it fixed! On the double.”


Elliot nodded as they stepped outside the ship. 


---


Ardelle and the other women stood in the gray rain as perhaps half a dozen or so Chameleons came into the clearing, making anxious noises in their chittering tongue of whistles and pops. Several were bloodied, clothing torn, some had weapons broken. One was limping badly with a cut leg. Another was carried over the shoulders of a third unconscious, blood dripping down its arms.


What about the chameleons? Do they know what's going on with the aliens?


(Somewhat Unlikely | 10[d10]) Yes, and...


I guess they have their own scouts that were patrolling or fishing by the sea and some were mauled by the insects and others injured. They're very much aware. And after seeing the holovid, they are frantic.


Chameleons streamed out of the colony ship at the commotion, and soon a crowd of the anxious natives began to form. Some ran and tended to the hurt and wounded, wrapping bandages. Others hooted in what seemed like despair and sadness.


“I don’t like this,” Lt. Morgan stated.


Sergeant Remy barked an order, and the marines stopped their defensive preparations, dropping tools and shovels and explosives and grabbed weapons to form a protective semi-circle of flesh and steel in front of the shuttles and the command staff. Private Krissa was nearest to Captain Alestranda and she took a few steps forward, her own weapon raised.


“Ma’am, they’re getting restless!” Private Karissa said as chameleon bodies surged towards the semi-circle of marines. “I recommend you get back into the shuttle.” She flipped a switch and her rifle whined to full power.


Captain Alestranda swore and called “Seargent Ramey, get your marines to stand down!” she shoved Karissa’s rifle point down. “Keep them away from the shuttles but do not use lethal force, unless you are attacked, do you understand? We are not shooting up our only friends here! And get me Chubbs here on the double!”


“Yes, ma’am!” Sgt. Ramey responded and then he shouted orders, as anxious marines thumbed off the power on their weapons but kept them ready and called an order to Chubbs.


“Ensign Leath, Lt. Morgan. With me. Let’s see if we can convince their leaders to talk with us. We need to diffuse this before it busts wide open.”


The three human officers stood immediately right behind the protective barrier of the marines. Captain Alestranda spread her hands in what Ardelle supposed might be considered the universal gesture of peace and goodwill. 


Do the chameleons quiet down?


(50/50 | 9[d10]) Yes


The crowd quieted some, but there was still a low buzz of low whistles and pops as if ongoing discussions were muttered about in whispers. Ardelle was impressed at the captain’s ability at crowd control, but then she saw that in reality it was Chubbs who commanded their attention.


He strode out from under the colony ship, bedecked with a red cape over his armor, like some ancient Roman God of war. The chameleons went prone, a vast wave of bodies flowing down and then kneeling prostrate arms outstretched in worship.


“I really hope that doesn’t go to his head,” Lt. Morgan frowned. “Marines are already an insufferably proud lot. Work your magic Ensign, while they’re quiet.”


Ardelle nodded and whispered to Private Chubbs. He nodded and motioned the crowd to listen to her.


She tried communicating with them. 


Is she successful? TN is probably 8 I’ll say because they’re distracted and distraught.


Clever 2 + 1 for tablet she rolls...


3 = 3[d6]


3 + 3 = 6. Not good enough.


An hour ticked by, but nothing seemed to work. Their whistles and clicks grew louder, and seemed to grow more frustrated. She could sense their anger at their wounded and possibly dead. 


Is Khus, their chieftain angry?


(Likely | 10[d10]) Yes, and...


And he calls for the people to arm themselves, to go on a crusade of retribution.


Do the Chameleons heed him?


(Likely | 8[d10]) Yes


Their aged chieftain, Khus, suddenly stood and barked a hooted order waving a cane above his head in a wide whirring circle, he then gesticulated wildly and shook the cane to east. A wave of sound washed over them as the chameleons responded with a hooted roar and soon they ran every which way grabbing weapons of all sorts, some strapping on armor. Drix joined them hefting a spear and shield and strapping on a wide bladed axe to his back


Fear and anger seemed to emanate from the chameleon warriors in equal measures. Smaller chameleon children, as well as the females, for the most part not, were not part of the gathering group.


“What are they doing?” Captain Alestranda said.


“I... I don’t know,” Ardelle admitted, puzzled by their behavior.


Khus shouted a command and stepped into the colony ship and hundreds of warriors flowed after him.


“I think they’re preparing for battle,” Lt. Morgan said.


“Ensign Leath, you and Lt. Morgan go help Crewman walker and get that device working. Private Chubbs and I will try to figure out what they’re planning.”


“Be careful,” Lt. Morgan said. “It’s hard to tell, but they seem scared or angry or both. It’s a dangerous combination.”


“Just get the shuttle and that comms device working again.” Alestranda said, and she and Private Chubbs followed after the diminishing stream of chameleons.


---


Ardelle, Elliot, and Lt. Morgan had worked steadily in the claustrophobic confines of the shuttle for hours trying to fix the damaged comms unit and running tests that the shuttle was in at least flight condition. The shuttle had received Oracle’s data burst on what might be jamming their comms, but she hadn’t had the time to investigate it yet.


She felt perspiration damp on her spine and wiped away limp hair from her face. She sniffed. She needed a shower. A real shower. But after a moment’s reflexion that such a thing was probably weeks if not months in the future, she decided she’d settle for a shower aboard Oracle, even if the water did come from recycled waste.


Outside, the preparations amongst the chameleons went on for the rest of the day. The marines had also been busy, creating fox-holes, booby traps, ambush sites, and fall-back positions. Word had spread and outlying villages had also come in as entire tribes.


“What’s next?”


“We just need to run through the pre-flight checklist,” Elliot said. “To make sure that surge didn’t fry anything else important.”


Did any systems get messed up?


(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yes, and...


“Right,” Ardelle nodded and tossed a hand tool into a toolbox and settled with a sigh into the pilot’s chair grateful to get out of the stopped position she had been in. She flipped switches and ran diagnostics through the software as Lt. Morgan read from the shuttle’s on-board manual and Elliot crouched over his communications device, making last-minute fixes.


“Hover control?”

“Check.”


“Stabilization?”


“Check.”


“Weapons?”


“Check.”


On and on the list went until finally near the end. Everything was nominal until...


“Environmental?”


Hmmm. Fun. Which ones?


Partially / Healthy


Environmental controls and atmo scrubbers.


Anything else?


(50/50 | 6[d10]) Yes, but... +Event: Malice / Vehicle


Something else but we don’t know what it is yet. It might not even make itself manifest. Or it might. But if it does, it’ll cause malice and effect the vehicle.


“Negative. Carbon dioxide scrubbers are offline” A red light winked in and out ominously and a bar on the dash showed Co2 levels climbing inside the sealed interior.


Elliot sighed and Lt. Morgan palmed opened the side door. “I suddenly feel the need for some air.”


The oxygen-rich environment cleared the interior and the red bar soon dropped. 


“Check,” Ardelle said bemused pointing at the bar. 


“Thanks. I feel so much better. What wire do you think is doing it?” he pointed to a mass of spaghetti-twisted chords that churned in multi-colored disarray out of one of the walls.


She sighed and shook her head and then stood. “Dunno. But I do know I need to stretch. Is your comms device finished now?”


“Should work better now... I hope.”


A long wail of a horn arrested their attention. Chameleons of all sizes began to pour out of the colony ship and surrounding trees. Most were dressed in leather hide or wooden armor and most carried weapons. 


Does it stop raining?


(50/50 | 1[d10]) No, and...


The rain had continued to drizzle and the already dismal sky grew steadily darker as the sun began to set. In addition, from the west a black storm front roiled and raced like spilled ink dashing eastward on feet of stabbing bolts of lighting.


“Storm’s coming,” Elliot said. “This just gets better doesn’t it?”


“We are in a rain-forest,” Ardelle said.


Chameleons had once more flowed out into the clearing, but now they were armed with weapons. Among them were many of the stooped warriors, also armed, despite their disease. It seemed that they too were eager and anxious to help fight this new foe.


Some chameleons climbed trees to see better.


Khus stepped out atop the sloped side of the colony ship. He stood above the crowd. Wind and rain whipped about him, setting his cloak flapping. Two guards flanked him a few paces behind him. Also atop the ship, Private Chubbs and Captain Alestranda stepped into view a few feet behind Khus.


The marines had once more gathered protectively about the ship, but were for now, ignored by the chameleons.


“What are they doing up there?” Elliot asked shielding his eyes and squinting into the rain.


“He’s not stupid. Maybe their leader is showing that the gods are with them in this endeavor,” Lt. Morgan said.


“Well, they’re gonna need all the morale boost they can get,” Elliot said putting a fist to the small of his back.


Khus raised his arms above his head and held a spear horizontal to his erect form. Lightning stabbed in the distance, illuminating him and the others atop the roof, eliciting murmurs from some.


Khus began to speak, his high pitched whistles rose above the wind of the approaching storm.


Khus had just barely started his speech when a new commotion erupted from the rear of their ranks. The sea of chameleon bodies parted stepping back in alarm as two large chameleon warriors dragged some something dark, lean, and angular into the clearing and thrust it down into the mud and tall grass. It was perhaps the size of a large dog or a small horse. Blade-like limbs stabbed the sky. 


It looked lean and fast and agile.


“It’s one of them,” Ardelle breathed. “They killed one. Or something did.”


The marines started muttering at the sight of the alien corpse and its vicious-looking limbs. They had been briefed now, but seeing one of the things large and up close must be rattling some nerves, Ardelle surmised.


Elliot took a step backward into the shuttle, the red emergency lighting seemed to do little to keep the encroaching darkness of the jungle at bay. “I thought she said they wouldn’t be able to find us.”


One of the warriors who had brought the corpse was Drix. He pulled out a spear and thrust it down into the corpse’s side. He shouted something up to Khus and pointed to his spear.


Khus nodded his wizened head, rain dripping from his face. He pointed his spear down to Drix. He seemed about to reply when pandemonium exploded around them.



Some GM rolls I'm hiding for now. I'll reveal when appropriate.
Reply
#45
Okay, but don't keep us in suspense too long.

Enjoying this tale. Interested in seeing how it all gets resolved.
Reply
#46
(08-09-2019, 12:41 AM)Teviko604 Wrote: Okay, but don't keep us in suspense too long.

Enjoying this tale. Interested in seeing how it all gets resolved.

Agree.
Reply
#47
(Ask and ye shall receive...)

Episode 26 - Gravity
The wind blew rain into her face. Ardelle heard multiple things at once as she wiped hair and rain from her face. 

A loud beeping sound. Elliot swearing. Then surprised shouts and cries of alarm erupted around her as something dark and thin slashed past her face and clattered into the side of the shuttle.

The Stooped Ones are attacking! I'll explain why later once Ardelle or someone figures it out. 

Are any stooped ones attacking the shuttle that they're on?

(Somewhat Likely | 5[d10]) Yes, but...

Sounds like the marines shut them down... cool. I don't want to roll out every single attack etc so, yes, Ardelle is targeted as well, but the marines quickly respond.

Can the marines tell that it is just the stooped ones attacking them? (-1 darkness, -1 aliens, +1 khus is attacked... who knows what they really think). So, SU:

(Somewhat Unlikely | 10[d10]) Yes, and... +Event: Gratify / Realities

Well that's handy. So they don't indiscriminately open fire into all the Chameleons. They see what's happening and pick their targets.

The marines on the ground are less likely to be surprised. Are they? They're facing the attack (-1, they're edgy -1, its dark +1, they're combat trained -1.)

(Unlikely | 2[d10]) No +Event: Haggle / Vehicle

I'll use the Mooks/Minions rules for the stooped ones. They only have two skills Combat 2 and Everything Else 3. They have a defense of 6 normally, but these are weak, have weak defense, so only 3 out in the open. Those behind cover in Windows etc have a +2 to defense.

We'll do the attack on Ardelle first. Lets see if she's surprised. They have +3 in stealth plus their roll of:

5 = 5[d6]

She has a clever of 2 to spot them plus her roll of:

5 = 5[d6]

She was barely surprised so she can't get behind cover in the first attack.

They attack with +2 (+1 for extra attackers on their side) plus their roll of:

3 = 3[d6]

It doesn't beat her defense.

She ducked involuntarily and moved into a crouch even as another projectile slammed into the ramp near her feet and a third flew past her head and bounced off the interior bulkheads of the shuttle with bong. A rock from a sling maybe? She caught a glimpse of marines diving for cover behind the shuttle and raising weapons others spilled into fox holes they had dug to face the bugs. They now spun about and used them for cover as rocks, spears, and arrows stuck in the mud around them or bounced off their non-powered ablative armor.

Lightning speared the night and revealed dark lumbering humanoid shapes with primitive weapons rushing from darkened alcoves and slamming into Chubbs and the two women atop the colony ship’s slanted roof, a coordinated press shoving them near the edge. Others shot projectiles from window eyeless windows. 

Marines, down below, raised their rifles and opened fire and pulse fire slammed into multiple chameleons in the clearing.

Elliot grabbed her and pulled her backwards into the shuttle as more projectiles clattered around her. They stumbled over a pile of tools then scrambled into crouching positions behind a crate. Ardelle fumbled for her sidearm. Elliot’s face was white as he scrambled for some kind of weapon and came up with his welding torch.

Are the aliens advancing?

(Likely | 9[d10]) Yes +Event: Struggle / Joy

They're filled with the joy of the hunt. It's a struggle for them to resist the urge to rend, tear, kill, and feast.

“Ardelle...” he gasped. “They’re coming!”

“What?” she turned and saw his white face.

He pointed at the holographic display. “The bug army! They’re coming right for us! All of them!”

The holodisplay of the 3D tactical map glistened with red dots that surged forward like a stream of red. An alarm blared a loud warning beep and the room flashed red at regular intervals.

“Where are  their scouts?”

“They’re close... much closer...” Elliot's voice was breathless as he tapped a screen. The map showed perhaps ten or so dots moving at neck break speed toward the clearing. “They’ll be here in minutes!”

Have the scouts reached the colony ship?

You’ll find out why later, maybe, but I'll say if the stooped ones are attacking their own kind the alien scouts have to be close.

(Likely | 10[d10]) Yes, and...

Ardelle swore at the incessant beeping and red alarm. “Turn that thing off!”

Elliot complied and shut off the alarm.

“Sergeant Remy!” She tapped her comms and peered into the night. It was difficult to see due to the rain and darkness. “Do you copy? What’s happening?”

“We’re under attack ma’am! Not the bugs!” Sgt Remy said. Pulse fire ripped through the night in rapid bursts from the line of marines. “The Chameleons apparently decided their worship services were over. We’re in the holes we dug, so they can’t touch us... But it’s strange. Not all the chameleon warriors are attacking, only some of them!”

Ardelle peered through the darkness and could see that many chameleon warriors were not fighting but were crouching down in confusion as other chameleons, hunched shapes, attacked any leaders human or chameleon.

What in the blazes was going on?
 
She then saw a chameleon, large with an odd gait, leap atop a rock. He raised a bow and aimed in her direction. But she was faster. Her training kicked in, and without thinking, she sighted and squeezed the trigger.

1 = 1[d6]

Clever +2, Shooting +1 = 3 + die roll of 1 = 4 Ardelle drops one. (Defense is 3 for mooks)
 
His torso exploded in fragments and it fell off the rock.

Was that... a stooped one? It had to be. Were they behind this? Many other chameleons were keeping their heads down or were openly fleeing the conflict. She saw Drix lead dozens of normal warriors to intercept the stooped ones, cutting down a score of stooped chameleons in a matter of moments.

Are any stooped ones attacking the shuttle that they're on?

(Somewhat Likely | 5[d10]) Yes, but...

But the marines are shutting them down... cool. I don't want to roll out every single attack etc so, yes, Ardelle is targeted as well, but the marines quickly respond.

Can the marines tell that it is just the stooped ones attacking them? (-1 darkness, -1 aliens, +1 khus is attacked... who knows what they really think). So, SU:

(Somewhat Unlikely | 10[d10]) Yes, and... +Event: Gratify / Realities

Well that's handy. So they don't indiscriminately open fire into ALL the Chameleons. They see what's happening and pick their targets.

“We’re only shooting those who are targeting us. It’s those diseased ones, near as I can tell!” Sgt Remey spat out a muttered curse, and more pulse shots lit up the night.

“I think you’re right. Have you been able to reach Cpt. Alestranda?”

“Negative. No answer from her comms, and I can’t see her from my angle.”

Ardelle scrambled to the dash and slammed down the priority comms button for the command staff. It’d go directly to Alestranda and Lt. Morgan. 

Were Lt. Morgan and Alestranda surprised by the stooped ones attack? (+1 it's dark and stormy, +1 think they're among friends, +1 they think they're worshiped as gods, -1 stooped ones did attack Ardelle before briefly)

(Likely | 8[d10]) Yes

“Captain! Lt. Morgan! This is Ensign Leath, do you copy? Is everything alri--”

“--tain, just hang on!” It was Chubbs voice coming through Alestranda’s comms. His voice was a piano string tight. “I’ll try to get to you!”

“You can’t!” she heard Alestranda give a sharp intake of panicked breath. “And I can’t hold on... I took a cursed spear thrust to the gut... I’m slipping!”

“I’ll come to you! Reach out! Grab my hand!” Chubbs was desperate.

“Don’t be an idiot, Private! Stay where you are!” That was Lt. Morgan’s voice. Her voice also sounded pained and tired, a mixture of regret, sorrow, and quiet calm acceptance. “Don’t... put yourself... in danger. We’re too far from you.”

“Captain?” Ardelle dashed to the shuttle’s side and peered across the clearing through the darkness and rain. Another javelin of lightning revealed three humans clinging to a ledge on the roof high above the clearing were Khus had given his speech. Khus and his body-guards were nowhere in sight.

Now we'll see what happened to Captain Alestranda, Lt. Morgan, Chubb.

The three humans are on the roof, plus Khus and two of his honor guard.

There's a good score of attackers hitting them with a combination of missile and melee.

For this surprise round, I'll say 4 mooks vs each of them. From the Mook rules, for every two attackers vs someone, they get a +1 on their attack. So they get combat +3 (+2 for xtra numbers = +5). That's an automatic hit against defense of 6 with Lt. Morgan and Alestranda.

But Chubbs is in armor. His defense is higher. So we'll roll for them.

3 = 3[d6]

5 + 3 = 8.

His defense is 9 in standard battle armor.

Lt. Morgan and Alestranda are both wounded badly.

I'll say anyone atop the roof has to roll for a difficult challenge TN 7 to avoid falling.

Damage on failure will be 1d6 x 2.

We'll roll for Alestranda first.

Skill of 1... she needs a 6.

2 = 2[d6]

Nope...

Lt. Morgan next.

She has quickness of 2 she needs a 5 or higher.

4 = 4[d6]

Nope...

Now Chubbs.

He's not the most agile. Skill of 1. He'll need a 6.

2 = 2[d6]

We'll say Khus gets knocked off too...

Khus and his guards.

1 = 1[d6]

The entire group including the assailants go off the roof in a tumble.

They'll try to grab onto something anything ledge etc. Is there something to grab onto?

(Somewhat Likely | 5[d10]) Yes, but...

Yes but it's slippery. Makes sense you got rain + moss. Bad combo.

We'll say STR test of 7 as well.

Chubbs Str 5 +

5 = 5[d6]

He holds on.

Do the women hang on?

Morgan Str 1 needs a 6.

1 = 1[d6]

Alestranda Str 2 needs a 5.

3 = 3[d6]

They’re both going off over the edge! Is Chubbs close to one of them that he can grab them with one arm?

(50/50 | 1[d10]) No, and...

“Leath!” Alestranda sounded even more desperate now. “Get...back to...High Command! I’m giving you command authority, code delta niner foxtrot tango! They have to know about the alien threat. I... can’t hold on... I’m...fall--”

A scrabbling sound preceded the fall.

“No!” she heard Chubb’s impotent roar of frustration. 

Ardelle too felt her own impotence as in another lightning strike, she saw the captain of Oracle fall three stories like a piece of overripe fruit. Gravity showed no mercy to the good and honorable.

To her credit, Captain Alestranda didn’t scream. She just... fell but she didn’t see the impact the lightning having ravaged her night vision temporarily. But her comms were still connected when she hit. Ardelle thought she heard a sickening something reverberate through the shuttle’s interior. Maybe she just imagined it. She didn’t know. 

Damage for those who fell... 1d6 X 2

5 = 5[d6]

Owww. It is a long way down about 20 feet. So they both take 10 hits which is outright down to 0. Rules say if you can get to them in two rounds and you can perform emergency medical care, they’ll survive. We’ll find out if Ardelle can get to them in time.

Sorrow hit her gut like a hammer.

“Ensign Leath...” It was Lt. Morgan. Her voice strained from effort to hold on. “Marsa just fell! I’m next... Get Oracle home. I...believe in you.”

Then her strength also gave out, and Lt. Morgan followed after her captain. She tried to ignore the sound of Lt. Morgan’s comms at the moment of impact and she clutched at the side of the shuttle door frame, the cold metal unyielding.

Chubbs hung on the ledge his massive arms holding his weight. He slowly began pulling himself up. It looked like he would be okay, if he didn’t become a pincushion first.

She grabbed an emergency medical kit. 

“Where are you going?”

“You heard it. They fell. They need help!”

“I’ll come with you!”

She shook her head and pointed to the communications device. “No. Stay here, prep the shuttle, and get that thing working! I’ll be back.”

She dashed outside, hopping down into the spongy earth and knelt in the mud next to Private Krissa Walker, Elliot’s sister, who was crouched behind one of the large landing struts. Ardelle crouched behind the same cover as Krissa squeezed off a shot from her pulse rifle and took off the head of a large stooped one who was charging at them. His body came on a few more paces and then collapsed a few feet from them splattering mud on them.

Ardelle thought the stooped ones would eventually break off their attack and run or surrender, as what must be to them mystical weapons of the gods, erupted a scene of death and mayhem among them. But the ones attacking them and the other chameleons strangely fought on, careening heedless into danger, like mindless animals.

She shook her head. Sergeant Remey wasn’t around, he must’ve moved off to check on some of his unit in the fox holes. 

“Ensign... a pleasure.” Pfc Krissa Walker said.

She even sounded pleased. But it was probably just because there was a fight going on.

Ardelle ignored her and she keyed her comms. “Sergeant Remey. Ensign Leath here. Captain Alestranda and Lt. Morgan are hurt... they... they might be dead. They were attacked and I saw they were pushed to the edge. They...slipped, then...fell," she swallowed hard fighting back the burning sensation at the back of her throat. "I think Private Chubbs was okay though.”

A pause and then Sgt Remey uttered a whispered curse. 

“That makes you in charge then, right Ma’am?”

“For now at least,” she said.

"Your orders?"

Her mind whirled. What was she to do? Chameleons attacking them. A hungry ferocious breed of aliens coming fast behind them... They couldn't stay. She wanted to save some of the chameleons from the storm that was coming, but they had to pull out. And soon. She had a mission to perform, to get news back to High Command.

“Sergeant, wrap this fight up then ensure the pilots and your marines are close to the shuttles ready for immediate lift off. We’re leaving ASAP! I'm informed that a small group of scout bugs are inbound. Take defensive positions near the shuttle and pop any of those bug-like things you see. They'll be here in minutes. I’m taking Pfc Krissa with me to get the Captain and the L T.

Ardelle felt sorrow welling up in her. While she and Lt. Morgan hadn’t always seen eye to eye, the woman had changed considerably in her estimation these last few days, and an understanding had begun to form between them.

“Yes ma’am!” Sergeant Remey replied. “I’ll send a couple of marines to help you as soon as we wrap things up. Shouldn’t be long.”

The comms line went dead. Pfc Krissa Walker had heard Ardelle's side of the conversation and Krissa's jaw muscles twitched.

“Ready?” Ardelle asked Krissa. 

The other woman nodded, “Yes, ma’am.” She was all cool professionalism. As one, they surged up from behind the landing strut and darted across the clearing zig-zagging to avoid any missile fire from the chameleons’ primitive weapons. 

Kirssa’s pulse rifle opened up a few times behind her.

As they sprinted across the clearing, Ardelle kept wondering... maybe. Maybe the jungle floor would cushion the blow. Maybe... the Captain and the LT were only somewhat hurt. Maybe... 

Do they hit anything spongy that can lessen the damage. It is a jungle after all.

(Somewhat Likely | 2[d10]) No

Well okay.... they are either unconscious or dead. Dang... that's dangerous.

But she knew the truth. The area around the colony ship was littered with piles of rusted jagged metal plating. Piles of the stuff, sometimes thigh high that had flaked off the hull.

Is Ardelle in time to save them?

(Somewhat Unlikely | 1[d10]) No, and...

And they’re quite dead.

The truth was confirmed when she saw the two bodies. 

Shapes resolved to clarity as they neared where the women had fallen. She slowed and then stopped. She wanted to look away but her gaze was fixed on the macabre scene. Both women were speared and obviously lifeless atop a rusted heap. Sheets of rusted metal with guillotine-like edges, like the teeth of some metallic monstrosity had cut ferociously into both women. Blood mixed with the rain as it ran down the metal adding yet more iron to the floor.

She fell to her knees and felt bile rise in her throat. She gagged, then wretched into the grass. Tears ran from her eyes from emptying her stomach, and her vision swam. 

“Ma’am,” it was Krissa, her gentle pressure on her back brought her head up.

Ardelle wiped the sour taste from her lips and spat and coughed into the grass. 

"Ma'am," Kirssa said again.

Ardelle looked up. The other woman pointed at something dangling in Captain Alestranda’s hand. It was the pendant with the embedded data cylinder from the chameleons. As far as she knew, it was useless with any human computer interfaces. But you never knew. It was nonetheless a subtle reminder that Captain Marsa Alestranda’s last action was to remind Ardelle of her last order. 

Ardelle gently removed it from her hand and gripped the pendent tightly. The metal was cold, heavy, unyielding, like lead. The gravity of her responsibility pulled at her. She shook her head in angry determination. She would not fail, she vowed. She shoved the pendent deep in her pocket and her resolve deep into her soul.

“Help me with their bodies,” she said.
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#48
Episode 27 - Decision


Ardelle dragged Lt. Morgan’s body through the thick wet grass as lightning snaked in the distance and a slanting wind drove rain into her face. Pfc Krissa Walker did the same for Captain Alestranda, though with greater ease.

So the advance squad of alien xenos have arrived at the Chameleon enclave at the rusted out colony ship.

Do they attack immediately?

(Likely | 9[d10]) Yes

They heard footsteps running and pulled up short as Private Chubbs rounded the corner. 

“You found them! Are they...” he saw the fallen navy officers his face grew cloudy.

“They’re dead,” Ardelle said. She’d have time for her own grief later. But not right now.

“Dead?" Chubbs asked. For several long heartbeats he seemed at a loss for words. "I... I tried to help them, but...” his voice trailed off. “I wanted to...” He looked uncomfortable, his large hands clenching and unclenching into fists. “The roof was slippery and they came at us and...” He seemed anxious to be doing something 

“I know. No time for that now Private,” she said. “Take Lt. Morgan’s body.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he nodded and easily lifted the other woman. Together they moved through the clearing back towards the shuttles. But the going was slow. 

They made better progress and were halfway back to the shuttle Two more marines met them, their weapons at the ready. One knelt behind a boulder, and squeezed off a burst that took down a charging stooped one that was rounding the corner of the colony sip.

“Sarge said you needed help with the bodies,” The marine said. He saluted. She saw the name tag on his breastplate and on the back of his helmet. It was Private Dummond. He had been with her and Pfc Krissa when they had found the underground alien base on Spenalk 2. The other marine was a short blond female Ardelle didn’t know as well. Pvt Odell Boon. Pvt Boon also saluted but quickly went to a knee and scanned the area behind them while Dummond did the same in front of them. Both marines swallowed too much and Dummond’s usual banter with Pfc Krissa was noticeably absent.

Ardelle was about to respond when panicked shouts from marines and strange hooting screams from the chameleons caused her to bring her weapon up.

Do any other marines arrive to help them with the bodies?

(Likely | 5[d10]) Yes, but...

But when they arrive the aliens are attacking. 

Krissa and Chubbs had dropped the bodies and had pulled their weapons up. She scanned the night her heart thrummed in her throat. 

A high pitched screech bit through the night ragged and fierce, oddly birdlike, but with a gutteral scraping sound like claws against steel. A marine screamed in pain and pulse shots went wildly up into the air blasting into palm-like trees. To her left around the entrance to the colony ship, she saw several chameleons fighting with one of the new alien creatures.

Did Srg Remy manage to deal with the "stooped ones" threat in time to get his forces in position to meet charging xenos?

(50/50 | 1[d10]) No, and...

“Sargeant!” she called over her comms. “Sargeant Remy!” she called again.

Through her comms, she heard a string of loud curses and even louder pulse shots combined with Remy’s roar of anger and pain.

Yikes... and a group of marines got hit from behind and mauled.

Is there any one that Ardelle knows in that group?

(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yes, and...

Remy?

(Somewhat Unlikely | 8[d10]) Yes

Is he dead?

(50/50 | 2[d10]) No

Wounded?

(Likely | 6[d10]) Yes

Unconscious?

(50/50 | 1[d10]) No, and...

In the distance she could see the external lights on the shuttles flare up backlighting one of the alien attackers between her and the shuttle. The maw bit down and worried whatever was under it until several pulse shots took in its flank and head, causing it to collapse.

“Remy!” She tried again.

“Yeah I’m here, Ensign,” the voice was tight with pain, anger, and a good deal of annoyance thrown into the mix.

“You hurt?”

“Just a scratch. Nothing I can’t handle.” 

“Good. What’s the situation? We’re trying to get to the shuttle but we don’t know what’s between us.”

The shuttles were powering up. She could hear the wine of their engines and the external flood lights cast the terrain into garish relief.

“Pilots are on board. I stationed some marines on the door guns. Also, some of those new aliens hit us from behind! Vicious little SOBs,” he spat and she heard him load in another power cell into his rifle. 

“We also have an unknown element of those chameleons operating against us somewhere out there. Sorry ma’am. I thought we’d shut them down, but more of them just keep coming, charging into our fire or lobbing spears or bowfire our direction. But I’d rather face their sticks and stones at us any day than the teeth and claws variety from these new xenos.

“And ma’am I don’t know what’s between you and the shuttles, but I’d urge caution.”

“Right. Let’s keep moving,” she said to Krissa and the other marines followed after her. 

Chubbs picked up both officers and slung their bodies over each shoulder and plodded along. Ardelle walked beside him, her pistol coving the darkness on the right. Private Dummonds and Krissa moved out ahead of them and Private Boon backpedaled on rear guard. Ardelle felt a little guilty about the protection she was getting from this fireteam, but she also knew she how vitally important it was to get the information of this alien threat back to human space.

Any of the new bug xenos between her and the shuttles?

(Somewhat Likely | 1[d10]) No, and...

That’s lucky. Most must be attacking the Chameleons.

They moved slowly toward the shuttles, four guns, including her sidearm either made them too threatening a target or the xeons with teeth and claws were either occupied elsewhere or...hopefully dead.

Are the marines still engaging the xenos?

(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes

She heard hooting screams from chameleons fighting and human shouts. Somewhere in the jungle, a rapid flurry pulse shots tore through the night from the marines. At intervals the door gun of Seraphim opened up as well.

Ardelle and her group moved cautiously and slowly the rest of the way across the wet grassy clearing and into the bright flood lights of the waiting Seraphim. She squinted through the light as the barrels of the door gun spun and whirred tracking them.

“It’s us!” she shouted. “Point that someplace else! We’re coming in.” The gun barrel jerked away almost guiltily, and she saw Private Winter’s head peer out above the gun. 

“Sorry ma’am, I saw movement and got antsy.”

She was about to argue when she nearly tripped over one of three large alien bodies that lay in the grass by the shuttle. Their scythe-like blades curled in towards themselves and teeth two hand spans long glinted in the shuttle’s light. A black substance oozed from their sides where they had been riddled by heavy pulse fire, presumably from Private Winters.

“This your handiwork, Private?” she nodded down at the creature.

“Yes ma’am,” He said with a nod and a tight smile. “Good old human tech isn’t something to mess with!”

“I certainly hope they think that,” she said as she helped the marines load the bodies of the two officers. She feared their human tech might not be enough against this new threat. “For all our sakes.”

She helped load the bodies of Lt. Morgan and Cpt. Alestranda into the shuttle. It felt good to have those few inches of steel between here and whatever was outside. The red lighting still lit up the interior in lurid fashion.

“Status?” she asked after a short jog into the cockpit.

Are the shuttles ready to go?

(Somewhat Likely | 6[d10]) Yes

The head pilot turned and gave her a thumbs up signal. “Both shuttles ready for lift off ma’am.”

She jogged back to the cargo bay, “Elliot you ready?”

He didn’t answer. His face was screwed up in concentration and around him were tools and parts spread in disarray. His red hair dripped beads of sweat. She nodded. They couldn’t wait any longer. She saw the onrushing tide of red dots coming closer and closer on the holo display.

“Sargeant Remy,” she keyed her comms. “We’re on board. Get the rest of your unit to the shuttles!”

Can Remy disengage and make it to the shuttle?

(50/50 | 2[d10]) No

“No can do, ma’am!” she heard multiple pulse shots punch through the comms. “We are still engaging!” More sounds of rapid fire and explosions from grenades rumbled in the distance. “And I have wounded!”

She swore and pulled up the onboard command and control software, using the code Captain Alestranda had given her. She studied the situation on the three-dimensional map that hovered in front of her:

Five blue dots, representing the rest of 3rd Squad Second Platoon were about a kilometer away,  a few red dots perhaps two or three darted in and out of trees, incredibly fast and attacking from multiple angles at the same time. The display reminded her of a pet cat a friend of hers had who had hunted, caught, and toyed with a mouse.

“Hold tight. We’ll come to you!” she said and closed the connection.

Alright... what about the chameleons. Bugs are amidst them? Are they in a panic and rushing the shuttles?
 
(Sure Thing | 10[d10]) Yes, and...

Just then Private Winters shouted from the door gun, “Ma’am! Incoming chameleons! A lot of them!”

She spun and took a few steps and reached the door. She swore. 

Streaming across the grass she saw hundreds of chameleons rushing for both the Seraphim and Egg Crate. They came not in attack, but in obvious panic. Behind them in a flash of lightning, she saw dozens of dead chameleon warriors around the colony ship. Bodies of dozens of stooped ones lay all around the clearing and slumped from darkened windows. 

Behind the group of fleeing chameleons, the fast-moving killer creatures slashed and killed with startling efficiency, hunting the slow, the old, the sickly, the weak. Culling the pack. She saw Drix one hand hung useless from his side running with the others toward the shuttles. On his back he carried two children. He held the haft of a broken spear in his hand, but his powerful legs moved him to the front of the pack.

The marines with her, Krissa, Chubbs, Winters, Dummond, all stared at the sea of onrushing chameleons.

“They’ll be slaughtered...” Kirssa breathed shouldering her weapon. The others followed suit.

“Ma’am?” It was Private Winters. “Your orders?”

“Give them coving fire! Hit the bugs in the rear!” Seeing how they moved, the term ‘bug’ was a misnomer open for debate. While at one level, the creatures resembled fast-moving hounds, sleek and vicious, bounding, leaping, hunting... At another level, the black beetle-like exoskeleton, and the scythe-like praying-mantis limbs that flashed, slashed, and killed, screamed something completely alien to her psyche.

Both door guns from both shuttles opened up, the Egg Crate first, as it was nearer to the onrushing crowd. But Seraphim joined her a few breaths later. Both guns shot out a massive fusillade of heavier rounds that slashed across the clearing churning up soil and rock into waist high showers as the shots punched into the night. Trees exploded where the explosive rounds downed some fast-moving shapes in the rear. She tried not to think of the chameleons who were unavoidably hit as well being too near the bugs.

“Ma’am! What do we do with the friendlies?” It was Private Krissa. She had finished draining a power cell and slammed in another one.

Frantically, Ardelle searched for the twelve chameleons she had painstakingly assigned to join them. But all was a mixture of fear, confusion, and disorder.

“There’s hundreds of them! We can’t fit all of them!” Private Dummond shouted. 

Pvt Dummand and Pfc Krissa both knelt and fired bursts of shots at some leaping xenos. While Pvt Winters on the larger gun exploded a bug who was feasting on a screaming chameleon woman with one of his larger rounds. And another of his rounds also finished the dying chameleon’s agony. Winter’s face muscles twitched and he mouthed an oath.

“Ma’am? We need your orders!” Krissa called again.

Ardelle felt the sickness rising within her and saw visions of Private McCoy torn in half but on a larger scale. She felt immobilized. How could she decide this? Either choice would result in death. 

Decisions. Delays. Yet she had to decide. This might be the end of a civilization! Could she prevent that somehow? But she couldn’t allow the shuttles to get overrun.

She ground her teeth and called on the comms to both shuttles. “This is Ensign Leath. Captain Alestranda is dead. I’m in command. Let some of the chameleons who are nearest get aboard then lift off. And try to get males and females...and children,” she amended. “Families... Try to... “ her voice trailed off at the ludicrous order.

“What?” a panicked marine asked aboard the Egg Crate his voice strained with consternation.

There’d be no way they’d be able to make sense of all that in this mess...

She bit down another curse. “Look! Just grab some friendlies and lift off, you got that? But don’t put the shuttles in danger of being over-ran!” She swallowed and continued, “Use deadly force if you have to. Once filled up, lift off. We’ll sort out this mess later.”

“Understood,” came the young marine’s voice.

“Pfc Krissa,” she said. “Same thing goes for here, but we’re saving room for what’s left of 3rd Squad. Got that?”

“Yes. Ma’am.”

She found a larger rifle from a weapons cabinet and brought it to bear, adding her pulse shots to the hellish mixture of rain, mud, screams, blood, fire, and death.
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#49
Some Sci Fi sound tracks I used while writing. Now you can enjoy them for immersive reading... 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F7sdy2rZws

Episode 28 - Sacrifice

The crowd of chameleons rushed, hooting and piping, towards the shuttles, fear etched on their faces as shots from the shuttles’ bay door guns streaked over their heads exploding around the outer edges of the mad press where the bug-like xenos slashed and killed the fleeing chameleons.

Soon the mass of chameleons reached the side doors and were attempting to push and shove themselves inside, panic creating a scene of violent madness.

Ardelle screamed for order, tried to get only some on, but the panic-driven chameleons couldn’t understand her. A mix of women with children and a few men climbed aboard.

Do the marines in shuttles kill the bugs before they get close? (+1 using big explosive door gun weapons, +1 marines have ranged weapons) -1 shooting into the rain etc.

(Somewhat Likely | 9[d10]) Yes

“Krissa!” she shouted when the bay was nearly full. “We have more than enough! Push the others back! Seraphim, lift off now!”

Does Egg Crate get off and not get swarmed (likely)?

(Likely | 9[d10]) Yes

Does Seraphim?

(Likely | 7[d10]) Yes

Krissa and the other marines used the butts of their weapons to shove and hit others backward away from the shuttle as the pilot lifted off. 

Pain stabbed Ardelle’s heart at the hopeless faces staring back at her as the shuttle began to lift off. It rose into the air on pillars of blue flame that stabbed downwards on lances of superheated energy. The thrust hissed and steamed on the wet foliage and wet chameleons alike. Several of the friendly aliens fell back screaming and crying out as the engine thrust flaked their skin and boiled their blood.

Then the shuttles rose into the night.

She saw Egg Crate also lifting off, two chameleons clinging to the lip of the floor as the pilot flew the shuttle low over some nearby trees. One hit the upper branches and was brushed loose. He fell down thrashing into some lower branches. Another chameleon still clung to the floor, trying to get a leg up. A marine bashed him in the face with the butt of his gun, and the chameleon let go and fell, its hooting scream mixing with the cries of the others in the clearing below.

Ardelle gritted her teeth against the sight and once airborne, she keyed the comms.

“Attention, gunners of both shuttles! Engage any of the bugs down there! Leave none surviving.”

“But ma’am, we’ve got explosive rounds. If-- We can’t help but hit the chameleons too.”

“I know that!” she hissed. “But this group of bugs has to be killed to give the remaining chameleons a chance to flee. Obey your orders!”

The large pulse bursts from the bay guns exploded around any bugs in the clearing obliterating all of them in a series of automatic fire of explosive concussions and orange fiery death. Chameleons who were too close were also killed. But to those being eaten alive, screaming into the rain, Ardelle considered that a mercy. And maybe... just maybe... the killing of those bug scouts in the clearing would give the chameleon race a chance to get somewhere where they could hide. A place for them to survive as they once had. Maybe they would find a place to hide to out-wait the bugs. Maybe the humans would return in force to aide the chameleons. She didn’t think the chances of their new friends were good... But she clung to those maybes.

“Ma’am, it’s all clear no more bugs in that clearing,” Private Winters said. “Plenty of dead chameleons though.”

“That couldn’t be helped. It’ll give the rest of them a chance at life.” Could it have been helped? She asked herself. But she pulled away from that thought. She made a decision, and she would live with it. 

She saw the rest of the chameleons streaming away in fear, some fleeing into the jungle from the hammer of the gods above that had torn into their ranks, some fleeing deeper inside the ruined colony ship.

She’d have plenty of time for retrospection once they were back aboard Oracle. But for now... one more task.

“Head to these coordinates,” Ardelle tapped a few commands into the command and control software and fixed a point where transponders in the marin’es armor said Sgt. Remy and his men were located.  

In a matter of moments the shuttles were homing in on Sgt Remy’s position.

“Sgt. Remy, if you can hear me, we’re coming in low and hot,” Ardelle said. “We’ll be there in thirty seconds.”

Is his unit still alive?

(Likely | 10[d10]) Yes, and...

They're up and dragging wounded out of fox holes, running to the lowering shuttles.

“Understood!” Sgt. Remy shouted. “We’re on our way! Marines! Let’s go! Coroproal Whateley move out. I’ll cover! Now! Go! Go!” More shots echoed over her comms.

As the shuttles dropped over a tree line, Ardelle used the onboard sensors to zoom in on the area where marines from Remy’s fireteam were now running towards the approaching shuttles. 

Sergeant Remy provided covering fire as Corporal Whately started to help a third marine whose leg up to his knee looked like it had been through a factory metal chipper, a tourniquet about the limb. The young man was still conscious but his head was lolling back and forth. Remy then turned and joined them, helping Whately with one arm and firing backwards with his rifle in his left hand.

Remy’s own face had a large gash that ran down part of his skull stopping just short of his right eye, but blood dripped in a stream down his face.

“No one gets left behind” was one of the mottos of the marines of Earth’s space navy, and Sergeant Remy was making good on that promise.

Two other marines walked backwards in a crouch, shooting pulse shots into the night, giving those carrying the wounded even more time to make towards the shuttle.

Then one of the rear guards went down as a lunging hulking shape leaped at him, blindsiding him from a tree. It slammed into him and claws raked across the man’s armor, trailing sparks

“Go! Keep moving!” Sgt Remy urged Cpl Whately onward to the approaching shuttles. Then, raising his rifle, he sighted and shot, trotting back and pumping in round after round into the beast’s side until it collapsed into a punctured steamy mess.

The second marine on rearguard who hadn’t fallen covered to the east. 

A few paces away, Sgt Remy began reloading his magazine as another bug leapt at him from the shadows. The creature slammed into Remy tearing into him. Remy stood fast, not falling, despite slashes across his arms and torso. He shoved back and butted the beast in his face with his gun. The creature stepped back a step or two momentarily stunned. 

The other marine tried to get a clean shot in the twisting hand-to-hand battle, but he couldn’t.

“Go!” Sergeant screamed at the marine. “Get to the shuttle! Help Whately! Now!”

The marine hesitated, then nodded and ran to help Whately.

Remy managed to tear out his side arm and point it at the creature who hissed and screamed at him. “You want this?” He shouted and squeezed the trigger. Automatic ballistics tore into the beast as it leaped at the Sergeant. This time Sgt Remy went down, the beast atop him, blade-like limbs slashed down and down again, coming up wet and sticky.

Sgt Remy fought back, kicking and screaming in pain and anger. A knife slammed into the beast’s side and it fell back for a moment.

Ardelle shouted, “Winters! Take down that xeno now!”

“Can’t get an angle ma’am!”

“I’m on it,” the pilot said cooly. He jinxed the shuttle hard to the right and everyone slammed against each other and then rose in the air as the shuttle dropped, chameleon and human alike crashed into the floor. Then the bay door guns were brought up in an angle. 

Did any in Remy’s group die?

(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yes, and...

And... is it Remy?

(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yes, and...

Sgt Remy -- does a rear guard action, giving his life for his troopers when one of the men gets munched! Way to go Remy! You da man! Your heroic actions will not be forgotten!

But it was too late.

Sgt. Remy screamed as the creature reared back and two blade-like limbs impaled completely through his torso, lifting him up off the ground. He pulled and primed a grenade from his belt.

“Go to hades!” Sgt Remy coughed, spitting blood into the things face. Then the beast sank its teeth into his throat, and one of the bladed limbs slashed out of Remy’s body, sending a spray of blood.

The grenade fell from limp fingers as Sgt Remy slid to the ground. The alien screamed in triumph and leaned down to feast when the grenade’s orange explosion ripped the two of them to pieces.

Corproal Whately turned still holding the wounded marine and shouted, “Sarge!”

“Seraphim, go in for the pickup,” Ardelle said, her voice a montone ball of lead. “Egg Crate, you’re on overwatch.”

Seraphim settled onto the spongy earth. Egg Crate circled above, searching for other hostiles. The marines that came aboard had scratched and torn armor. Some collapsed from their run on hands and knees. The air in the cargo bay was heavy with the smell of blood, sweat, and damp grass.

The chameleons on board were hooting and piping softly to each other. They probably felt as dumbfounded as the humans did at what they were witnessing.

“Is that all of them?” Ardelle asked Coproral Whately when he pulled the wounded marine aboard.

“What?” He said. His voice sounded far away.

“Is that all of your unit?”

“All except Sarge,” he said. “But he-- There’s nothing left.”

Ardelle shook her head, squeezed his shoulder, “Get that man a med kit,” she told Cpl. Whately. He nodded and took the wounded marine towards the front of the bay.

“Everyone get buckled in. It’s gonna be a rough ride. She did her best to communicate to the chameleons to hold onto the cargo netting.

Then she buckled herself into her seat. “That’s it. Lift off Seraphim. Egg Crate, stay close to us,” Ardelle said over the comms. “We’re heading to orbit now.” She sat buckled in a seat near the front where she speak to pilots in the cockpit and the marines in the cargo bay. It was where the senior officer usually sat. Captain Alestranda should be here. Or at least Sergeant Remy... Across from her, the young marine with the shredded leg was strapped down to a stretcher, a field kit around his ruined leg. He had lost a lot of blood, and with that, consciousness. 

“Glady, ma’am,” came the reply from the pilot and the two shuttles rocketed upward in formation.

The marines were buckled in back into their usual seats facing each other across half the cargo aisle. She saw Corporal Whately looking after the few marines, asking after each of them. All of them seemed shell-shocked. For many, this had been their first combat.

She leaned back against the seat, feeling an ache start to settle in her upper back. They rose into the night and the jungle beneath fell away to a miniature landscape. She exhaled a long breath. Finally, they were free and if they could just link up with Oracle they might--

The main pilot on Egg Crate cursed over the comms. “Someone’s trying to laze us!”

Ardelle felt the ball of lead climb into her throat. She had thought they were in the clear. The bugs didn’t have that kind of tech. They were all teeth and claw and--Hells beneath! then she remembered--The armored ground unit with the sleek hull and weapon ports!

There's 1 piece of alien tech (the ground armored unit) that might be able to reach the fleeing shuttles with missile fire across many miles. 

Can it? They are pretty far away, but then again I don't know what alien tech this is. so 50/50.

(50/50 | 8[d10]) Yes +Event: Bestow / Home

Ah... a homing missile. Humans have that too. So perhaps comparable tech.

Can it target both?

(50/50 | 1[d10]) No, and...

It only has one shot with that long-range missile weapon, at least until it reloads, that means it probably has minimal air to air assets and is likely and primarily a ground to ground unit.

Which one does it target? 1-3 egg crate, 4-6 seraphim

2 = 2[d6]

Egg Crate is targeted.

“Going evasive!” The pilot shouted, and Egg Crate jinxed left down and then right.

Seraphim did the same, jinxing up and then down to the right just in case someone was trying to laze them as well. Ardelle felt her insides leap into her throat and then to the left.

In the back of the cargo bay, the chameleons didn’t have the luxury of any sort of harness belting them down. Some clung to the cargo netting. Others were torn free and flew against bulk-heads or against the marines. They floated momentarily in the air before falling to the shuttle floor. 

Ardelle’s teeth smacked together from the maneuvers and she wondered what the chameleons must be thinking to be riding within the chariot of the gods...

I’ll say that targeting the shuttle for a missle lock is a contest. 

The pilot on Egg Crate has Pilot 3 + Shuttle Quickness 6 = 9 + die roll of 5 = 14 for his evasive piloting.

The Egg Crate (Military Shuttle, S 3 Q 6 H 7 D 7 Mv 2 Ju - Ca 1 Cr 1-12 Sz small Lv Adv/FI/T Wp 2 rapid-fire pulse cannons Cost 10,000)

Hovertank, Large, S 10 Q 3 H 20 D 10 Mv 60 Cr 16 Cost 10 Million+

The gunner aboard the armored ground unit has Artillery 2 + Hovertank’s Quickness +3 +2 targeting computer. That’s a total of 7. Even with a max roll he wouldn’t have a chance of targeting the shuttle.

The pilot jinxed away! I should give him a name. All my shuttle pilots are nameless. If you survive you deserve a name, right?

Can the shuttle get away before the hovertank can target it again?

(50/50 | 9[d10]) Yes

Afterburners!

The shuttles punched through the clouds gaining altitude. 

Then Ardelle felt her spine press against the chair as the shuttle rocketed forward even faster as the shuttle’s afterburners kicked in, gaining both speed and distance on the potential missile threat. Her head bounced against the back of her chair and her brain pressed against the back of her skull. She grunted as the compressed gravitational forces pressed against her. 

Then the clouds and the bright glorious looking sun rotated white and puffy far beneath the cockpit’s viewport in a serenely beautiful blue sky, as the pilot rolled the craft and then came out of his evasive maneuvers.

“We’re outside known missile range,” the pilot of Egg Crate said over her comms. The engine thrust of Seraphim also drained off. Egg Crate joined them their formation and together they climbed toward orbit.

She called over the comms to both shuttles, “Good work everyone! Remind me to take you all out for a drink once we get planetside where there’s a watering hole,” Ardelle said.

The marines and pilots seemed grateful for the praise and the offer. But inside, she knew what they were all feeling. How many more sacrifices would have to be made? She looked at the torn and bloodied bodies of Captain Alestranda and Lt. Morgan and closed her eyes. She saw Sergeant Remy’s final end. Surely these sacrifices weren't wasn’t going to be the last.

The blue sky turned to black as they reached the stratosphere. The thrusters still pushed them hard against their seats but they weren’t on after burner, and it was at least tolerable even if it pressed her firmly against her seat.

Then the engines cut, and she felt the weightlessness of space. The chameleons huddled in a group pressed against the cargo netting clinging to it as their bodies floated around, hooting in their odd tongue in consternation as one started to float about flailing its arms before being dragged to safety by a marine. Some chameleons were unconscious or worse. Some were bleeding.

“Ma’am we’ve reached low orbit,” Seraphim’s pilot said. “Nothing on our scanners.”

What a journey it had been to reach the heavens.

“Well done. Crewman Walker,” she addressed Elliot. “See if you can get that device of yours attached and working again.”

Below her, through a view port, she saw the paradise planet of Spenalk 3 rotating slowly on its axis, a marble of blue and green with pure white clouds. A jewel in the blackness of space, but a jewel with lurking dangers.

“Yes, ma’am,” Elliot said. He pulled on one of the bulky engineering suits and used the small side airlock to go for a spacewalk. While he floated to the outer hull and started work with his welder, she unbuckled herself and yielded to the weightlessness of space. She grabbed a med unit and pulled herself down toward the chameleons.

Are any chameleons on board seriously hurt?

(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yes, and...

She saw a small chameleon, a child, female, she thought. It had obvious bruising along its body. One arm was at an odd angle, and a deep gash in her head cause blood to float about in small red globules. If the child didn’t receive medical attention, it would bleed out. The mother stared at the floating blood with uncomprehending fearful eyes. She tried to pull the small body even closer to her as Ardelle approached. The mother’s skin changed color, blending in with the pattern and color of the cargo netting.

“It’s okay. I can try to help her,” Ardelle tried to speak gently and give a kind smile. She held out her arm and beckoned towards the girl with the gash in her head would still emitting globules of blood.

Ardelle felt suddenly anxious to help do something... anything other than destroying and killing. Something other than seeing her companions and friends dying and dead. She wanted to heal. To save life. To create and to build. After so much death, she ached to breathe life into this small child. 

“Please,” her voice quavered slightly. “Please let me help her.”

The mother must have seen something in her eyes, perhaps a mother’s intuition that went beyond even barriers in alien cultures and languages; for she reluctantly relinquished the child with a soft hoot. Ardelle smiled and placed the body nearby on a small fold-out stretcher. She attached a bandage to the child’s head as the mother watched with concern and interest. 

The bandage beeped a soft reassurance that it was functioning, and coagulation drugs began their work on the child’s head. She bent down adjusted the small form to a more comfortable position and belted it down so it wouldn’t float away. One hand paused and she brushed aside a shock of dark brown hair studying the alien face. “I wonder what will befall you, little one,” she murmured in its ear.

The child’s eyes remained close. The only sound was its soft breathing and the reassuring beep from the medical bandage. 

She floated to a standing position, her eyes locked those with the mother. Something passed between them. A communication at some basic, fundamental level. They both gave each other a small smile.

Ardelle sighed and started to work on other medical needs the chameleons had. “I wonder what will befall all of us,” she said to the mute and silent stars that floated seemingly heedless in the vast emptiness of space.
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#50
Sci Fi sound tracks for immersive reading...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F7sdy2rZws


Episode 29 -  Ancillary
Seraphim and Egg Crate drifted side by side in low planetary orbit as the jewel of a planet rotated beneath them in majestic green and blue.

The afterburners and the flight from the surface had put a dent in their fuel cells. They weren’t low exactly, but Ardelle was glad for the current peaceful glide through space. Her mounting concern was would they be able to locate and dock with Oracle before life support became a problem?

She keyed the comms and told both crews on both ships to get some shut-eye it'd be a few hours yet before they could get to Oracle. It'll also help with the Co2 levels.

“Elliot, you going to try that device of yours?”

“Sure thing. Doing it now...”

Does Elliot's communication device work again?

(Likely | 5[d10]) Yes, but...

Officially / Dark

Elliot flipped the switch and the entire shuttle went dark, even the emergency lighting. The only light came from the soft blues and greens from the consoles and holo displays still receiving power.

“Talk to me.”

“Sorry,” he said into the darkness. “I think I know what that one power cable was drawing power from now.”

“Any sign of Oracle,” she asked Elliot.

He shook his head, “No ma’am. Not yet. I have sensors doing a broad spectrum sweep but it’s not picking up anything. There’s still some kind of interference. It’s worse than down on the planet.”

“What about Egg Crate?”

“We still have comms. Voice only though and littered with artifacts.”

“Do we still have that data burst download from our last comms with Oracle?”

“Yes ma’am. Pulling it up now.”

“Good. Sync it to my console.” They hadn’t had a chance to look at it with everything going on, but maybe there was something that could help us.

She studied the sensor data that was sent to them from the last data dump from Oracle. As the Co2 levels slowly started to climb as the scrubbers tried to keep up with the increase in life support demands, she slowly began to make sense of the situation.

This is what I asked before down on planetside...

Do they know what is jamming the comms?

(50/50 | 4[d10]) No

Gm knowledge... Are the aliens actively jamming somehow?

(Likely | 4[d10]) No, but... +Event: Haggle / Hope

Something else must be causing the interference. What is it?

I'll use the MAG

Some kind of energy ray between bubbles or planets, a plant, huge fire, two crossed pistols, a security camera, poppies, a flow chart, building blocks, a boot with electricity emanating from it.

The building blocks and flow chart make me think it's a computer virus or software bug that has severely limited the ability to receive signals.

Is that what it is?

(50/50 | 1[d10]) No, and...

In that case... I'll go with my last item, there's a cosmic storm (energy ray) that's wrecking havoc with the computer signals in general, causing screens to go haywire etc. I think I'll go with that. I'll say land-based computers within an atmo are protected.

“There’s some system-wide interference with our scanners,” she squinted over her console. “Some kind of cosmic storm. It could be caused by the sun. Or... or it could be caused by the gates...” It was disturbing the amount of chaos the strange alien technology could cause. “See what you can do to strengthen the signal.”

“Doing it now.”

She communicated the situation to Egg Crate, saw to the wounded, and then sank back into her chair, a sudden weariness descending upon her, as the after effects of battle and adrenaline wore off.

Is there anything of bug alien tech hiding in space?

(Unlikely | 2[d10]) No

Do they establish comms with Oracle?

(Likely | 8[d10]) Yes

Can they rendezvous with Oracle them without difficulty?

(Likely | 3[d10]) No

What is the difficulty?

Quietly / Military

I'm not sure what that means but it sounds like Oracle is running silent for some reason using minimal power to avoid being detected.

“Ma’am,” she felt Elliot’s hand touch her shoulder. He crouched in front of her in the soft glow of blinking console lights. “Sorry to wake you.”

“What is it?” She thought she detected a note of concern in his voice.

“I established contact. But--”

“Excellent, patch them through to here.”

“I can’t. They’re not picking up. I think something is going on.”

“What do you mean?”

“They closed the connection right after we established it. I don’t get it.”

She felt hope drain away, as if sucked away into the event horizon of a black hole.

“So we don’t know where they are?”

No ma’am. Nothing. No data burst nothing. Just the usual residual data from the call.

“The residual data...?”

“You know, the time stamp, connection quality data for troubleshooting the Command Net software, that kind of thing.”

“Residual data...” Something tugged at her mind. “Show me.”

They moved over to his console and looked at it. He was right, it was just a long string of numbers, a time and date stamp when the call was made, other diagnostic info on the call itself.

“What are you hoping to find?” he asked looking up at her. She leaned over his shoulder and looked at the screen.

“A miracle.” She pointed to some numbers. “What’s this?”

“A time stamp one when the call started and the call ended. Pretty standard.”

“Why is the second one longer?”

“From what I know,” he yawned. “that’s usually where the diagnostics data resides so the software can run self checks on the call.”

“When was the last time you got some sleep?”

“I’m good. I just need--”

Go get some rest, I can take over.”

“I got it covered, I can--” His second yawn that threatened to pop his jaw joints proved him a poor liar.

“That’s an order, Crewman Walker,” she smiled pressing his shoulder.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said reluctantly but gave what looked like a grateful smile. “Thanks.”

"Take my seat. I’ll take over here.”

“Take over doing what?” he asked standing and covering a third yawn with the back of his hand. “Trust me, it’s just call data.”

She waved him away and looked at the data again. She pulled up the Command Net’s internal diagnostics software and loaded in the call data. The software analyzed it and gave call quality statistics, time of call, end time, duration, connection information, a bunch of analytics and statistics that code monkeys would probably enjoy. There was a small link under all the data entitled “Unhandled Ancillary”. Humans had made great strides in software development, but military software still tended towards opaqueness.

She shrugged, tapped the link, stifled another yawn, and saw a series of numbers scroll in front of her. They didn’t mean anything to her. There were multiple sets of series of meaningless numbers. Unhandled Ancillary indeed.

She studied them wishing for something until the numbers blurred. She closed her eyes, leaned back in the chair and let her mind drift. Wishing for something. A miracle? Did she even believe in those? Sergeant Remy could have used one of those. So could have Lieutenant Morgan and Captain Alestranda. She let her mind drift but it kept coming back to Unhandled Ancillary.

“Why in the stars above is there an 'Unhandled Ancillary' file?” she mused under her breath. Is that even usual? She searched the software, back-checking through all the stored calls in the system. Nothing...

So... was there something there then? Something she wasn’t seeing? She studied the numbers again. Six numbers in a set. And multiple sets of six numbers. Six numbers in set... her mind drifted back to OTS. She was being cross trained as a pilot. She remembered her instructor walking her through basic mathematics. Coordinate systems. Three numbers, XYZ, fixed a point in three-dimensional space. Three more numbers established the vector. Location and vector.

She sat up so suddenly her knee banged into the console. A sharp pain shot through her leg. Elliot murmured something in his sleep at the noise, then shifted his head against the wall and his breathing returned deep and peaceful. 

She ignored the throbbing pain and pulled up the Command Net’s tactical map. The Spenalk system spun up in front of her on the holo-display. She saw the tactical blip for their shuttle, The Seraphim, drifting through the dark sea. Next to it, Egg Crate also hurtled through the same deep blackness of space. 

The numbers of their trajectory weren’t visible, but she knew with every update of where they were on the holo-map that there were corresponding numbers stored somewhere, constantly updating according to changes in velocity, direction, and location.

She loaded the numbers from the "Unhandled Ancillary" stack into the tactical map, and a a blip slowly evolved into being, moving through space. She updated the data context adding in the time-stamp for when it was sent. The location shifted. If this was the Oracle, and the ship was merely drifting--if it were deliberately trying to not give away it’s position due to running silent in low-power mode--and if nothing changed, it would orbit along that vector... if nothing changed, they could get a rendezvous. Assuming it was the Oracle...

"Why all the mystery, Oracle?" She whispered to the silent dot on her display, brushing a wisp of hair away from her damp face. It was getting warmer in the shuttle. The environmental controls were doing their best she knew. But would it be enough? A more important question might be was Oracle not answering comms because something was out there? An alien ship? She chewed the inside of her cheek at the thought. If there were something out there looking for Oracle, would it not also be looking for them now? It might have heard their early broad spectrum sweeps.

If Oracle were indeed hiding from something, perhaps they ought to do the same.

She tapped a command to send the data to the cockpit then she keyed the comms to the pilots of both ships, “On my mark, plot a course to rendezvous with this target along this trajectory and begin transfer to target in low power mode. No active sensor sweeps. We're running silent. Egg Crate, stay close and follow our lead. Maintain ship to ship comms discipline and only use directional tight-beam transmissions.”

"Yes ma'am."

She leaned back and watched the virtual target blip her numbers had created phase in and out along the route projected by Unhandled Ancillary data. Oracle might be running silent. Or this could be nothing, a Red Herring. But she had to know. More than that, their lives depended on the Oracle being out there. She watched as the Co2 level slowly increased. While the Co2 levels were becoming a problem, it wasn't a serious one...yet. But if Oracle were lost or they couldn’t find her... They’d have to return to Spenalk 3, the one habitable planet, and try to make the best of it. Oracle was their only way out of the system. The shuttle didn’t have a jump drive. Even making a run for Spenalk 2 and the impromptu research station they had set up around the gate there would be suicide without downsizing their crew first.

She felt the engines lowly nudging them toward a rendezvous with what she hoped was Oracle. In low-power mode they couldn't just blast their engines full power to get there. That was too noticeable.

She leaned back in the chair and watched the distance to the target blip on the holo-map slowly diminish. 

She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. 
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