Science Fiction The Oracle
#11
Ooh, very nice. Gotta love duct tape. Wink I wonder if anyone will find out something irregular happened when they see Ardelle's broken suit...
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#12
I think Jack Campbell mentions duct tape at least once in each of his books so I had to give it a plug as well. Smile
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#13
Episode 8: Paradise (Notes)

We'll do Ardelle's XP awards. She completed her mission. OneDice has a basic leveling up system. At xp 200 points you get a skill increase, at 400 xp you get a health increase, at 800 xp you get an ability increase and then the XP demands get higher from there. But I'm going to use their improvement point-buy system instead, since the point-buy system feels less rigid. Point-buy It's this: For skills, it costs 5 points to get a new skill at lvl 1 and then it's 2 x next level to increase it. For abilities, it's 5 x the next level.

I'll award her 10 Improvement pts for reaching a main plot point.
I'll award her another 1d10 for overcoming hazards. (Rolled a 2) So, she gets 12 points total. She's going to spends some time in an EVA suit learning how to move better zero-G. I'm going to buy two point of Zero-G. That'll cost 7 points.
She'll increase Analyze by 1 for 2 points.
She'll increase Research by 1 for 2 points.
That leaves her with 1 unspent improvement point.

And now... back to the game...er...story...thing. So her updated char sheet is:

Ardelle Leath

Improvement Points: 1

Abilities:

Strong 2
Quick 2
Clever 2

Derived Stats:

Health 6/6 (some broken ribs and cut in head)
Defense 6
Move  20

Skills:

Science 1
Research 2
Lore 1
Shooting 1
Sneak 1
Analyze 2
Zero-G 2
Stunt Points: 6

---

Two weeks had dragged by since they had their 'official' debriefing with the senior officers on board The Oracle. The false data planted aboard the shuttle and the debriefing that Captain Alestranda's had held for the benefit of the rest of the senior staff had removed many of the rumors. Shortly thereafter, Captain Alestranda arranged a secret mission for two of her trusted techs to watch and study the anomaly, while the rest of the crew on the The Oracle set out to run some orbits around the lush green orb of Spenalk 3 to gather more data on the system. The cover story for the techs' mission was to perform an in-depth analysis at a possible mining site. The Egg Crate with her pilots had transported the tech crew and had returned prior to The Oracle's maneuver burn to Spenalk 3.

That was two weeks ago. Ardelle's fractured ribs had healed after a night in the medical bay. She decided that stimulated bone regrowth really was a medical miracle. Ever since then, she had spent the bulk of free time in simulators and out on EVA, trying to learn how to move around in zero-G. She didn't want to be caught unprepared again in low or zero-G environments. Each night, she came back to her bunk sore and bruised, testaments that she was dedicated, and--as the number of bruises lessened each day--that she was learning.

On the bridge of The Oracle, Aredelle watched the blue green orb of Spenalk 3 slowly rotate on her view screen, and her mind kept drifting back to the anomaly on Spenalk 2. What was it? What would the techs studying it learn? And why had Captain Alestranda told her about the secret mission?

The Oracle continued a polar orbit around Spenalk 3 it's scanners continuing to send in more and more data. A week ago they had sent down five 'Bullet Drones' to get more information about the planet. These were fire-and-forget military drones that the engineers had outfitted for scientific use. They were aptly named since they were literally fired from the ship's cannons from low orbit. With their bullet-like profiles, the drones' entry packages had armor casing to protect the already durable robots inside. Built to get through an atmosphere and onto the ground quickly to supplement a ship's sensors or a squad's military patrol or attack, their military applications were obvious. They could drive through the upper and lower atmospheres at incredible speeds and then would plow into the ground in an impressive shower of dirt and rock. Later, the drones would emerge and begin their data collection mission.

Ardelle looked at her screen and smiled. Data from the drones and ships sensors revealed a lush planet about half the size of earth. It had a massive continent that sprawled from pole to pole, bounded on the eastern and western hemispheres with oceans of water. While not as water-rich as earth, it was still an impressive find. The center of the continent rose up in elevation that terminated in a range of massive mountains and Himalaya-like snow-encrusted peaks. In the lower elevations, there were massive swaths of greenery, coniferous forests in the temperate zones, and lower in elevation in the tropical regions, were jungles with massive frond-like trees that grew to incredible heights in the planet's lower gravity. The planet was home to all manner of plant and animal life. It was a biologist's dream playground, and nearly everyone onboard The Oracle wanted some shore leave.

---

Does Cpt Alestranda decide to send a manned mission to Spenalk 3?

(Somewhat Likely | 7[d10]) Yes

Is Ardelle part of that mission?

(50/50 | 8[d10]) Yes

Is Lt Morgan?

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

Lazily / Hard

Wow... she really wants some shore leave hoping for some R and R and must've lobbied hard to go.

Same team as before?

(Likely | 5[d10]) No, but...

No, but some are the same. The fireteam of marines that goes down with them aren't the same. But Crewman Elliot Walker goes down with her.

Does Jackston go?

(50/50 | 2[d10]) No

I guess they need him minding the sensors on the ship. He won't be happy.

Do they send the Egg Crate?

(50/50 | 2[d10]) No

---

But not everyone was as lucky as Ensign Ardelle Leath. Or as unlucky...

"Lt. Morgan, you and Ensign Leath will be going down to Spenalk 3 for three days," Captain Alestranda had told them the day before on the bridge before passing a data pad the lieutenant "You'll take he Seraphim from hangar bay 1." That was the rather pretentious name the other shuttle bore aboard The Oracle. Alestranda continued, "You'll be accompanied with a fire team of four marines and Crewman Elliot Walker from the engineering section. Your mission is to get some initial and valuable human perspective and additional science data from the planet. Take what gear you need. Lt. Morgan, good luck with your preparations. Ensign Leath, stay behind for a moment." After a solute Lt. Morgan departed.

"Ma'am?" Ardelle asked once Lt. Morgan had left. 

Alestranda leaned towards her and spoke softly. "Your mission has an extra layer: to look for any signs of alien life."

"Life? I assume you're not talking about your average alien insect or fungoid growth?"

"I think you know the kind I mean. Look for signs of anyone or anything who could have built that...thing on Spenalk 2."

"You think there's a connection on Spenalk 3?" 

"I don't know. It's probably a long shot. Had any civilizations been visible, our drones likely would have detected the signs by now. But..."

Ardelle nodded and now understood.

----

Lt. Morgan was apparently so pleased at being chosen to go to the blue and green paradise that she forgot to be concerned about "babysitting" Ardelle. In fact, she rather pointedly forgot about Ardelle during the lead-up preparations, which suited Ardelle just fine. Ardelle made her own preparations, in fact visiting the armory... A new planet was bound to have it's own ecosystem of plants and animals, some of which might be dangerous. She wasn't trained in powered combat armor, but she did elect to wear some ultra light-weight non-powered armor and carry a sidearm. The ablative armor consisted of a helmet, chest protection, greaves for arms and legs, and knee pads. She'd move a little more slowly from the weight, but that was worth a little extra protection.

The Seraphim was the same shuttle type as The Egg Create. After it rotated out of Hangar Bay 1, it spread its proverbial angel wings and jetted into the black heavens, bedecked with stars, the blue flames from the engines flaring halos. 

The scientists, engineer, marines, and the equipment were crowded knee-to-knee into the back of the shuttle. Ardelle was somewhat disappointed that Karissa wasn't with them. But there were four marines bore the same no-nonsense look about them. They didn't have powered armor this time. In fact it was the same type of armor she was wearing, but they did have powerful looking rifles, sidearms, and knives. They sized her up and nodded in mute acceptance when they saw her own armor and sidearm. Then they closed their eyes lazily as the shuttle began to hit Spenalk 3's upper atmosphere. 

The entry through the upper atmosphere was a jolting ride of terror until the heavier atmosphere slowed their descent, and they proceeded above cotton-candy clouds colored pink from the sun to a rumored paradisaical strip of blue and green that slowly grew in their view screen. Cutting through the clouds the view changed from a clear blue sky to gray rain. 

It was mid morning when they arrived at their landing zone near the western edge of the continent in the tropical zone on the coast. 

Anything of interest happen on day 1?


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

I'll check the MAG.

Wee... what'd I get? 
rain drops in a cup, flying ant, volcano, dragon snake like thing, twisty spiky swirl, a fractured stone tablet, some quill pens, and a wolf howling against the moon. Ah hah. Cool!

--- 

The air was rich and clean and thick, dense with moisture when the shuttle hatch opened with a hiss and the stale recycled air was replaced with the warm wet air vibrant with life. That was the first thing Ardelle noticed. The next was that the gray gloomy sky was thick with dark rain clouds the color of an anvil. She sucked in the heavy air and grinned. No mask. No recycled air. It felt like stepping out of an airport into a warm Florida rainstorm, rich with the smell of green grass, trees, and mudslides and minus the city smells that clung to everything on earth. The final things she noticed were the bugs and the rain. There were bugs...everywhere: on the grass, in the mud, and, she decided, they must be riding the huge rain drops, because despite the massive downpour of moisture, or maybe because of it, they buzzed about the group in fantastic clouds of frantic life.

Some smaller insects, a member of which looked something like a wasp who had mated with a red and gold caterpillar, clung to the long green stems of grasses thick with water droplet. They buzzed and darted around their boots in angry curious circles.

Ardelle pointed at another species of bug. These appeared to be a mix like a dragon-fly and a mosquito, but much larger, some of them were the size of human fists. They buzzed about the little group, seeking with maddening curiosity for a taste of extra-terrestrial blood. Apparently, annoying humans was a dominant trait in the evolution of all bugs, regardless of planet of origin.

"I hate bugs," Lt. Morgan grunted as she swatted at the vibrant red and green insects that sought to invade the interior of the shuttle. She took a step out onto the ramp and squinted up cautiously past the roof into the watery sky.

Ardelle decided that swimming in bugs and mud probably wasn't Lt. Morgan's idea of a tropical paradise. The rain didn't look like it was going to let up anytime soon either.

"Who forgot to bring the sun, the coconuts, and the piña coladas?" A large marine asked. CHUBB was on his armor. He scanned the area then with a sigh, and let his gun hang on it's sling.

"And the margaritas," added another, addressing the large man. "Right Chubbs?"

"I certainly could use a stiff drink," the large one said.

"At least we got the senoritas," a more wiry Marine, Pvt McCoy, whispered with a sidelong smile in Ardelle's direction.

Ardelle ignored him, pushing past the soldiers and past Lt. Morgan. She wanted to skip down the ramp, but restrained herself to quickened strides. She was the first to put boots on the new planet. The soil and mud was rich and anxious to have guests; for it sucked at her heavy boots with each step. She took off her helmet and let the rain wash her face and soak her hair. Staring up at the sky and seeing the streaking drops of rain, she laughed like a little girl. She used to love playing in the rain when she was really small. Later, as a teenager, rain only annoyed her because even if it didn't touch her hair, the moisture alone would make her hair curl. 

"Is she okay?" she heard one of the men ask as she twirled in a small circle grinning like a little girl in a candy store.

"This is...amazing," she laughed and pushed back her wet hair with a hand. 

Elliot remained up with the others, a concerned look on his face.

"Come on in," she smiled up at the others. "The water's fine."

"I don't like getting wet," Elliot said. "Maybe I'll wait till it stops."

Does it keep raining like crazy?

(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes

The whole day?

(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes

And the next day?

(50/50 | 9[d10]) Yes

Big Grin Bring on the rain!

"You might be waiting a while," Corporal Whately said matter-of-factly. "This looks like it might come down for a while."

"Everyone out," Lt. Morgan finally decided her mouth drawn in a straight line and curving down slightly at the edges. She stepped out into the rain herself. She had slipped into into a dark green poncho and started giving orders to get a camp and equipment set up and then she started moving crates herself.

The sky was a dull leaden thing thick with the outpouring of water that dove from the sky.

Rain pelted about them in huge drops that drummed off the shuttle's armored hull in dull plunking sounds that oddly reminded Ardelle of a live fire exercise during Basic Training where live rounds propelled by old fashioned gun powder had shot over head, and artillery shells thudded in the distance. The lightning that flashed just then somewhere in the gray and surroundings that brightened momentarily, and the thunder that vibrated against her, also reminded her of an artillery shell during that same exercise in Basic that had landed too close to her and had deafened her for two days. 

They stood on a grassy knoll perhaps a hundred yards from the the shuttle's landing spot in a shallow meadow that dropped slightly in elevation behind them to the east. The engines slowly turned off, and the shuttle shuddered to a stillness that only accentuated the constant buzzing and splashing around them. Ardelle turned in a slow circle and took in the scene of the alien planet. 

To the east, the shuttle lay in the meadow and the pilots were draping it in camo netting. Beyond the meadow, perhaps a half mile away to the east, a wall of vines and trees announced the beginning of a massive jungle that continued in that direction as far as they eye could see. Of course, in this weather, the distance she could see wasn't all that far. To the north, south, and east, all she could make out through the gray expanse was the dim and ragged-looking stretching line of the coast. The meadow they were on met up with the coast by means of a low ridge that bordered the sand and pebbles. Against the din of falling rain, she could make out the roar of the waves on the coast and could see the waves crashing into the coast. Spenalk 2 was having it's usual play with Spenalk 3, creating some fantastic tides and waves.

The pilots finished their camo netting and started making their way towards them, jogging through the rain. 

"Shoulda' brought the full suit," Pvt Harrold Chubb grumbled and smashed a thick fly against his broad face with a meaty hand, while holding a crate of equipment in the other. McCoy struggled under the weight of a smaller crate with the use of both his arms. Pvt Chubb flicked the bug off into the grasses and wiped his hand on an armored thigh. "Would like to see their pincers try to get through three inches of dura-steel alloy."

Ardelle wondered at what his childhood must've been like with a last name of "Chubb". 

Private McCoy's response gave a ready answer.

"You know why you don't get to use the full suits, Chubbie" Pvt. McCoy said with a knowing smile. He was much leaner than Chubb and his face had a pinched hungry look. A sly grin stole across his face as he nudged another marine next to him. "All that fat on you requires four power packs for every one of ours. That kind of drain on the military budget isn't something the brass can continue to write off."

"Hah... Hah...," Chubb said with heavy sarcasm, but with an edge of real humor in his eyes. "And, you know it ain't fat, McCoy, and if you want, I can give you another demonstration if you're interested."

Pvt Claxston next to Pvt McCoy appeared nervous, and stepped away from McCoy. McCoy put his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes.

"The last time I gave as good as I got," Pvt McCoy said with a touch of petulance.

"The last time you were in the sick bay for three days," Corporal Whately interjected, joining the group, nudging past McCoy. "Remember that." He looked Pvt McCoy up and down and tapped McCoy's armored chest with a finger. "McCoy, you and Claxton go do a perimeter sweep and set up the sensors. Chubb, you help me set up the shelters."

Grumbling, they set about their respective tasks.

---

In an hour, the pre-fab shelters were up and equipment was being loaded within. They had set up a perimeter of sensors that would give alarm if anything larger than a rabbit crossed the invisible perimeter that formed their campsite. Lt. Morgan tasked Ardelle and Elliot with setting up all the equipment while she set about collecting biological samples. After two hours, they had setup one of the shelters as a "science lab" with all the gear, including screens that could control and monitor drone feeds. The three shelters were light-weight temporary structures, basically large and very durable tents. Each shelter had enough room to sleep four people and their gear, in dry if somewhat cramped and crowded quarters.

Lt. Morgan stepped inside, frowning at the Ardelle and Elliot as rain dripped from her poncho and formed a small puddle on the inside the shelter. "I see you have it all set up. Good.  Since you're standing idle, I'll have some work for you to do while I run run some tests on these," she set down a tall stack of Petri dishes containing mud, soil, insects, and a variety of other biological samples. An additional variety of samples was tracked in on muddy boots and the small cloud of bugs that settled on her poncho. "They call this a paradise planet," she muttered under her breath to herself, taking off the poncho, flicking off the rain, killing the bugs with a universal bug-be-gone spray and then hanging up the poncho to dry. "It's like living in a swamp."

The noise from the downpour made normal conversation somewhat difficult from the incessant hammering.

Lt. Morgan turned and addressed Ardelle. "Ensign Leath, you seem to enjoy this swamp-world of mud, bugs, and...water. Go and take the soldiers out for a walk... a long walk if you please. See if there's anything...interesting you can find that might make our trip here worth our while." Lt. Morgan jabbed a button on a computer and a three-dimensional model of a bug's wing flickered into view, the portion of the bug under microscopic observation. Then she started brewing herself a cup of coffee from a small disposable pot.

"Yes, Lieutenant," Ardelle stood and put her armor back on. "All the soldiers? Do you want any of them to stay? For...uh...protection?"

"Protection? All I've seen are large bugs and large raindrops. Besides, the pilots are armed. I'll be fine. You have your orders." The veined structure of the bug's wing hung visible in minute detail. Lt. Moragan tapped the display with a pen and began writing notes in the air that were converted into a text box that floated next to the model.

Ardelle and Elliot left, shut the door behind them. Rain and insects hung about her as she took sucking steps to the soldiers' shelter to spread the word. This little mission shouldn't be a bother. In fact, it would be a paradise if she didn't have to spend time in the company of Lt. Morgan.
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#14
Episode 9: Discovery (Notes)

Okay... so give me a setting...

Yieldingly / Young

A young planet geologically speaking that makes sense already with what we've done. So there will be growing pains. We'll throw in the volcano from the MAG.
They go on patrol, Ardelle will lead them first by the coast. Anything there?

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

Playfully / Fresh

There's some dophin-like creatures that are playfully fresh. See, not EVERYTHING in the universe is trying to kill you!

---

Grumbling about having to wear armor in the soaking wet, the soldiers set out in a ragged single file line, Coprporal Richard Whately taking point. Ardelle trudged sandwiched between marines, following behind the corporal and PVt Harrold Chubb while the Elliot and the remaining two marines trailed behind her. Water and mud sucked at their feet as they walked, and the constant squelching and patter of drizzling ran began to wear on everyone's nerves, Ardelle's included. The novelty of a new planet began to fade when all you could see was gray drizzle.  Ardelle checked her chronometer. Local time was about noon when they set out, but Spenalk 3 revealed little visible difference between morning and noon, save for a slight lightening in the sky from the system's yellow sun.

After about a half hour of walking, they descended in elevation the slight ridge of earth and hit the wet sand of the beach. Drift wood lay scattered about the beach. She turned south and they walked for two more hours before encountering the first large life form. 

The rain broke momentarily and in the brief lull, the clouds parted and far to the west they could see a huge island, maybe even a small continent spewing a tremendous amount of lava in red rivulets that hissed and bubbled when they came in contact with the sea. It belched out a billowing ash cloud, dark as night, smearing the pristine blue and orange of the artist's sky sky. 

The welcoming afternoon sun glinted on the water. And something rose out of the water. It was the back of something large and black against the gray blue of of the water. Corporal Whately saw it first and and held up a fist. He took a knee and sighted in on his weapon. The others did the same, spreading out into a practiced firing line. Pvt Chubbs thrust out a hand in a protective gesture, motioning her to kneel and positioning himself in front of her. 

"What is it?" Elliot asked also kneeling behind her. She could hear the nervous tremor in his voice. Understandable, she thought. He didn't have a weapon. She pulled out her own side arm out and felt the comforting feel of the pistol grip. It wouldn't have the range or the punch of a combat rifle, but... it could still drop an unarmored soldier easily enough especially up close. With distance, it would lose velocity of course. But up close, even armored face plates of power combat armor could be breached. Besides, with the other gear she was carrying, she didn't have a lot of hands to also juggle a rifle.

"There in the water," she pointed to the shape that had just disappeared beneath the waves. She thought she had seen two or three others.
 
"I don't see anything," Elliot whispered.

"Some sort of creature," she said.

Just then, not one, but three of the creatures, in tandem, leaped above the waves in a graceful parabolic arc, their bodies were mottled blue gray in color. They twisted and fell with a splash.

"They're dolphins," Pvt Chubb said in amazement. "Out here... dolphins." 

"Chubbs," Pvt McCoy said. "Open your eyes. You think dolphins got skulls like doughnuts?"

"But they look like dophins,"  Chubb said. "Except for the doughnut skulls, and they were larger. Yum... doughnuts. Too bad our rations don't have some of those."

"I think everything is larger on this planet," Pvt Matthew Claxton said. "Those must be twice the size of dophins back on earth."

"They ain't dolphins and this ain't Kansas," McCoy said.

"Uh McCoy, there aren't dolphins in Kansas," Claxton said confusion spreading across his brow.

"I know that! Idiots... all of you." He shook his head sadly. "It's an expression, didn't you ever see The Wizard of Oz."

"The what?"

"You know... Oz? Kansas? Dorothy?"

"Doro-what?" Claxton asked.

"Oh, that ancient earth film?" Chubbs scratched at his eyebrow and his wide face took on a far-away look. "I think they showed something about it in school once. Back on earth. Didn't it have monkey warriors in powered combat armor with green laser lances?"

McCoy gave a sigh and shook his head in mock despair. "No one reads anymore."

Ardelle smiled at the banter. She continued to record the large dolphin-like creatures from a shoulder mounted camera. They had crested two more times as if giving their extra-terrestrial guests a front row glimpse Sea World back on earth. And somehow they communicated the joy they felt at freely swimming, diving, and leaping in these virgin waters, unmarred by human touch. Then the rain returned. It was a closing curtain on a magnificent performance. It  veiled both volcano and mammals from view. 

"Crewman Walker," she said digging into her pack and tossing him her data pad. "See if you can set a drone to following them."

"Yes ma'am," Elliot replied. He tapped a few buttons on the data pad. He then tapped on the symbols for the creatures that an overhead satellite with infrared and thermals had assigned. Then he drew a path. In a matter of minutes, one of the science drones they had installed at camp shot overhead, slowed, circled above their group, slowed some more and then receiving their electronic directions, followed in pursuit of the mammal-like sea creatures. This science done was far bulkier and less durable than a standard Bullet Drone. This one didn't have any armor. But it made up for that in it's significant science array, a collection of gadgets with an integrated science bench. It was the perfect assistant for the curious mind.

And Ensign Ardelle Leath had a most curious mind.

---

"They're gone," Elliot said tapping the tablet with little avail. 

"What do you mean gone?" Ardelle asked looking over his shoulder.

He wiped at the rain drops in vain, smearing the water across its surface and pointed. 

It was still raining, and they had walked parallel to the coast. The strange dolphin-like mammals, dubbed "doughnuphins" by Pvt Chubb, had disappeared. Ardelle groaned at the name feeling about for something more scientific and latin sounding. But she too settled on it out of ease of conversing with the others. She understood the human tendency to associate shapes with the known world and she had to admit, the torus-like shape of the skull--with two eyes on the edges facing outwards so as to more easily to see predators--did look very doughnut like. The fact that there were predators big enough to attack and eat one of those things made Ardelle feel even more grateful for the cadre of marines that miserably wiped rain water from their faces and settled in to rest nearby. 

"What am I looking at?" Ardelle asked Elliot. She looked at the dimming light in the west. It had been another two hours and it would be dusk soon. If they didn't turn back soon, they'd have to walk back in the dark. 

"See this here?" Elliot tapped at a section of the coast and zoomed in on it. On the display, she saw the cliffs of an island. It was somewhere out there to the south and west, but was lost in obscurity. The islands had been mapped out by sensors from the ship earlier in the week. But drones hadn't been able to do any close up investigating yet.

"The island there?"

"The island, yeah." Elliot said. "But what's it called when it's a ring of land on the outside with water in the middle..." he tapped a button to tilt the angle on the 3-dimensional map. "You know, a doughnut island?"

"A doughnut island? That's the best you could come up with? What's up with the doughnut references today?"

"I couldn't remember the name," he gave a chagrined shrug. "Geology was a long time ago. Before high school even."

"An atoll," she said. "Formed from a coral reef over hundreds of thousands if not millions of years." Her knowledge was more recent. She had taken a marine biology course in college.

"Right... an atoll. They were heading for the atoll and... well, it's been an hour, and they never surfaced."

"Never surfaced?" She frowned. "Well, their physiology could be vastly different from dolphins on earth. Maybe they can hold their breath that long." 

"Maybe," Elliot shrugged but she could tell he wasn't convinced any more than she was.

She took the display from him and zoomed in on the atoll. The display showed a covering of sea weed and other marine life in a vast field of greenery over the top of the atoll. Yet, around it, there was little marine growth. Why was there so much greenery there in the atoll? Was there some break in the ocean floor where magma heated the atoll providing conditions for more vibrant growth? That was possible. Of course they hadn't mapped the sea floor. That alone take an army of drones months to get completely mapped.

"Ma'am," Corporal Whately called to her. "It's starting to get late. We should think about heading back."

"Give me a few more minutes, Corporal."

She turned to Elliot. "Configure the drone for submersion, and send it in."

Elliot nodded and tapped some more screens and buttons on the display. A 3D representation of the drone on the tablet showed a transformation taking place. Instruments retracting, plating moving into position to cover openings. Then Elliot drew a line into the ocean. The drone dove in response following the electronic signal. Just before hitting the water it flipped, slowed, settled gently on the dark green almost black waves. It then tilted, and with a churn of rotors, descended into the water. 

The display changed to to now show an underwater view in the main display of the tablet. Overlayed on top of the camera flowed a stream of data that revealed the drone's depth, power readings, salinity, water temperature, and about a hundred other scientific readings all ready to be utilized.

The drone swam under water. Elliot drew a circle path around the coral reef and the drone moved in response following the arc. Strange looking aquatic creatures darted away from this invader of its depths. Ardelle studied what the drone recorded with keen interest. 

Perhaps a hundred feet down, on one side of the atoll, there was a dark cavity large enough for a drop ship to pass through, like some gigantic gaping mouth.

"You think that's where the doughnuphins went?" Elliot asked.

"Seems likely. Take the drone through it."

Elliot nodded and the camera showed the walls of the cavity drawing nearer. The opening was rough and naturally-made from water currents that had eroded the stone and coral. It took a couple of minutes to pass through to the sea inside the atoll above the drone lay the thick blanket of green marine growth. 

"Temperature readings are higher here on the inside," Elliot said. "But I don't see anything. I'll check deeper."

Sea creatures swam around the drone in colorful packs. Most of the animal life beneath the seas, however, appeared quite earth-like.  At times she even had to remind herself she was on an alien planet.

Then something happened that changed all of that. 

She'll drop a drone beneath the surface -- a drone submersible. Anything there?

(50/50 | 10[d10]) Yesand...

And... that's when she see's it... 

"Whoah, stop! Stop! Back it up!" she shouted grabbing his arm. 

Elliot jammed his finger onto the display in response, killing the drone's forward momentum. "What?" Her shout drew had also drawn looks of alarm from the marines who edged closer uneasily and even turned about, weapons raised, looking for some sign of danger.

"Back it up. Slowly," she said. "Okay good. Now rotate it to the right. No, more. About 90 degrees more... Okay...There. Stop! Zoom the camera." she leaned over the display, her nose almost touching its wet surface, not feeling the rain beating upon her neck and shoulders. Her heart pounded in her chest. 

"What are you looking for?"

"There." She tapped something on the display. "What is that?"

"Looks like some sort of stone pillar. Just a moss-covered pillar. What's so unusual about it? It looks like a natural--" 

"Look past the plant growth and moss," Ardelle said, excitement causing her to get jittery. She tapped the display smearing rain water across it. "Notice that horizontal line there in the stone. That is a very straight line, wouldn't you say?" 

"Are you saying...?"

"I'm saying it's too straight for nature. You get straight lines in crystals, but that's no crystal. Get closer to it."

Elliot complied and the drone whirred deeper and closer to the squarish pillars. 

"There see. They look built from hewn stones to me," she said "Notice how they're joined there. See?"

"I don't know...Are you sure?"

The video feed kept getting some sort of interference, and Ardelle ground her teeth at seeing the display go from clear to grainy, to flickering, to semi-clear. 

"I don't know what's causing the interference," Elliot grunted. "This thing is easily rated for clear video transmission at this depth."

"There there! Go back on the video feed three seconds and pause."

He did so and the data pad trembled in Elliot's hands.

"Quite sure," she whispered, pointing, and they stared at the display dumbfounded. 

There was no mistaking it. A complete and perfect circle was etched into one of the large pillars. It was covered with plant matter, but it was there. Other angular shapes away in the murky depths around it also took on form. Domes, pyramids and boxy prismatic shapes in that looked like buildings.

"Pinch me," Elliot said in awe. "Are we really seeing this?"

"We need to get this information to Captain Alestranda," she whispered, so not wanting to take her eyes of the pillar. "Set the drone to auto-mapping and recording with periodic and secure data bursts to The Oracle. Captain's eyes only. Then let's head back to camp."

Elliot pursed his lips and nodded, and tapped the needed commands into the data pad, folded it up and handed it back to Ardelle giving her a knowing look.

"We're done here," she announced to Corporal Whately. "Let's head back."

From the MAG, there was a tablet and a pen... so I'll say there's some sort of writing in stone. And it looks like part of a sunken coastal city lies below the depths. Who knew Atlantis was on Spenalk 3? Smile
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#15
Oooh, this was a great episode! I loved the discovery at the end, and the banter made me laugh!
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#16
Thanks Lana. I appreciate your comments. I have fun writing it. I just wish I could spill out my ideas faster than typing somehow. I need a Thought to Text app or something. Wink
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#17
Episode 10: Softening (Notes)

Spenalk 3 was just rotating into darkness by the time the weary group returned to camp. The dull gray of afternoon had changed to the semi dark of evening. The incessant rain had continued to pour down on them all the way back, and the entire group were soaked to the bone; they were weary, and eager to get into the shelters. The marines, after ensuring the perimeter sensors were in place, finally stepped into their own shelter.

Elliot had gone to the other shelter where Ardelle, Lt. Morgan, and Elliot would be sleeping. Ardelle entered the science shelter, hoping Lt. Morgan wasn't around. She took off her helmet and armor pieces with a tired sigh, hanging them on small utility hooks. She wanted to investigate the underwater structures in the morning in person, and for that they'd need the shuttle and any on-board underwater equipment.

She frowned when she saw that Lt. Morgan was still there making notations on the display of a planet that rotated above her and was studiously ignoring her, typing in her notations into different sections of the planet that showed drone routes. Ardelle didn't like this older woman, but she wondered about her history. Why was she such a grumpy sourpuss, especially towards Ardelle? Ardelle hadn't done anything to the older woman, other than grow up a spoiled brat who was waited to hand and foot and who had been blessed uncanny beauty. She wasn't stupid to know that any one of those facts would cause jealousy in most people. Why would Lt. Morgan be any different? 

As she powered on the communications equipment, she studied Lt. Morgan. The other woman's face was stern and lined. Her mouth was pressed down in a perpetual frown as if she were determined to communicate all the injustices life had given her by the weight of that frown. Ardelle sighed inwardly. Could she blame the other woman? She understood it; for it had been her own self loathing when she had come face to face with herself the first week in Basic and saw the real Ardelle Leath, a petty, self-centered, spoiled brat. She had been so self-absorbed before that that she couldn't see herself clearly. Since then she had endeavored to change who she had been. She had rejected gifts, cut herself off voluntarily from her father's significant monthly stipend. Her father hadn't forgiven her for joining the mil. Hadn't understood. No one from her old life did. But She had changed. She would never go back to that place, to that useless shallow life. But...changing others' perceptions was another matter.

Is The Oracle above them in comms range?

(Likely | 4[d10]) No

Ardelle tapped a few buttons searching for The Oracle and frowned. Their ship was not in range. She wanted to tell Lt. Morgan what was really going on, to get permission to use the shuttle. But Captain Alestranda had not yet given her permission and she had been hoping to ask the captain. How long would the captain be able to keep it secret that there were signs of an alien civilization, not only from the structure at Spenalk 2, but now from Spenalk 3? She wondered if the marines noticed what she and Elliot had discovered. She didn't think so. They had been talking about food and the latest ways to kill someone from the other end of a rifle.

The lieutenant finally decided to recognize her presence. She looked through the translucent 3D display at Ardelle, hard dark eyes locking onto her own. "So, did you have a nice little outing?" There was a small tight smile from the other woman, but no warmth in the eyes.

Ardelle met the hard gaze. The question wasn't meant to be an invitation to talk she knew. It was too filled with an undertone of scorn. Ardelle shrugged and gave a small pleasant smile; that was her SOP when negativity hit her like a hammer from Lt. Morgan. 

"It was alright ma'am," she said. "There was a lot of rain and a lot of walking, but you already knew that. There was an active volcano. We found some new wildlife. Dolphin-like mammals. But how was your day? Did you enjoy staying dry?" she couldn't quite keep the edge out of her own voice.

"Dry..." the woman almost sneered. "For your information, I went out five times, and got soaked each time, collecting samples from the trees," she waved in the rough direction of the green jungle, "I even climbed up one. I captured six species of the local fowl and have collected samples of twenty different species of local flora and fauna.... and typed up reports and notes on each." She stood and put her fist in the small of her back. The woman was slender, and Ardelle the twisted lines of scorn on her face each told some story she didn't know. Who was this other woman, Ardelle wondered. She really didn't know anything about her. Lt. Morgan never talked about herself. What had she been like as a teenager? That didn't really compute. She couldn't see this other woman cruising Main Street with a car full of raucous boys.

"Well, that was probably better than walking all day with the marines," Ardelle gave a tired and genuine yawn. "They're not the most interesting thing to study."

Lt. Morgan leaned forward over her desk, her hands flat, staring at Ardelle. "They're men Ensign Leath. It seems you were quite interested in studying that species before you joined up." Lt. Morgan jabbed. "I remember seeing the news vids about you. Four boyfriends at once and a life filled with endless parties. Poor girl. Such a hard life."

Ardelle was suddenly fed up with it all. She decided that honesty was the best approach. And at thinking back her face automatically pulled down in a frown. "There were five boyfriends, ma'am. And you are right, I was a poor girl."

"Poor?" Lt. Morgan scoffed and tutted. "Ensign, perhaps my poor word choice and my sarcasm were lost on you. You were given everything."

"Everything...?" she shook her head. "I was poor in all the things that mattered," Ardelle said simply. "Life. Reality. Self development....my Family."

"Family. You had a family. A mother and father who gave you everything."

No one really understood. No one really new what is was like. An absent father who thought he could buy love with money and gifts. An equally absent mother who was more concerned about her own looks and her daughter's own looks than her daughter. Ardelle felt like a doll. Something to be dressed and made up. Yes she did have everything. Everything and nothing at once. The anger mounted.

"And those parties... my oh my those lavish parties. A poor girl? No. You were--"

Ardelle shook her head and suddenly stood. She slapped her hand down on the prefab desk, rocking the communications display. "You're right! I did have everything! And by doing that, they gave me nothing of what really mattered. Money and parties became a substitute for real love. Position and status were held in higher esteem than simple concern. Fame and fortune and selfishness and self absorption were worshiped. But there was no self esteem, no self confidence. It is a very empty and lonely life."

She realized she was standing now, breathing a little hard, and her clenched fists were trembling.

Lt. Morgan still leaned over her desk, her palms down, looking at her through the rotating hologram of the blue green world rotating between them. Her gaze still held a certain hardness, a rigidity, but there was something else there too. A curiosity? A softening?  

Ardelle pressed on. Never had she spoken so freely about her past, to anyone... and it alarmed her that she was doing so with... with this woman of all people. She had never wanted to bring up her past life. She hated to look back on those wasted years, at what she had turned into. But... but sometimes it was helpful to remember. She shuddered slightly, and stared at her hands. 

The words fell from her mouth, barely louder than the rain. "You may hate me for who I was, Lieutenant, but no less than I hated myself. But remember," and she latched her eyes onto Lt. Morgan's again. "I'm not the same person anymore. This..." she waved herself around at the shelter, at the way of life she now had. "This changed me. Basic Training changed me. It broke me and reformed me. I found I couldn't do things by myself anymore. I had to work with others. That and Officer Training shaped me in more ways than you'll ever know."

Does Lt. Morgan believe her that she's changed?

(Somewhat Unlikely | 6[d10]) No, but...

But she doesn't disbelieve her either. In fact, she's uncertain what to think and begins to doubt her own preconceptions.

Lt. Morgan paused for a long moment, and it looked to Ardelle that the other woman didn't quite know what to say. The silence between them stretched into what seemed a light year. It grew almost as uncomfortable as jump space. 

"Sorry," Ardelle said in conclusion, turning away and sinking into a chair. "I don't often talk about it."

"No," Lt Morgan said. The archness that had been in her voice had drained out and was replaced with some nameless weariness. Lt. Morgan turned and looked out at the darkness and the rain pattering against the plastic prefab window, her hands clasped behind her back. "No, I suppose you don't..."

Ardelle stared blankly at her own display, not seeing it, her mind had been drawn unbidden back to an event in Officers Training. They had been doing a section on boarding operations, and for an entire week they had studied the tactics of it, but for the final two days, they each had to command boarding operations and had to participate in multiple boarding operations. The latter involved actually suiting up in armor, and storming through dark narrow ship corridors, trading shots with an OPFOR comprised of other navy units and marine. 

Some in earth's upper echelons of the military questioned whether it was necessary for navy officers to participate in grunt training, but Ardelle agreed with the argument that officers who better understand what ground forces had go through to take objectives would better understand the cost to lives. There were acceptable and unacceptable levels of casualties. But... there were always casualties. 

She closed her eyes and remembered. 

The simulated ship environment involved a lot of staged pyrotechnics to add to the reality: sheared electrical wires spouting sparks, casting weird shadows; fires in corridors; collapsing corridors. On her final day of training the unthinkable happened. No one knew what caused the fire that flared up and stormed through the corridor. Some suspected a faulty gas leak. When the alarms started baring, and stopping the operation, all units were ordered to evacuate. Ardelle had tripped and sprained her ankle. Shane could have stayed where he was, safe behind the hatch. But he saw her fall, ran back, and helped her up. He half carried her, half threw her though the hatch just as the angry billowing surge of fire caught and consumed him.

She had learned more about sacrifice and honor in those few seconds than in all the patriotic speeches and promotional vids she'd seen put together.

His body had been burned beyond recognition. Flaking black skin, the lips and eyes boiling and melted. She wanted to wretch even now seeing his face again and she had to clutch at the desk to stop the trembling. The cries still echoed in her nightmares sometimes...

Has Lt. Morgan noticed that something is afoot with the faked data and mission debrief of Spenalk 2; maybe or did she possibly detect that a secure data packet was sent to Cpt. Alestranda causing suspicion?

(Somewhat Likely | 2[d10]) No

"Lieutenant," she stood and took some deep breaths. 

Lt. Morgan turned to face her. "Yes, Ensign?" Her voice had a contemplative feel to it.

"May I borrow the shuttle and pilots tomorrow for an underwater investigation of some of the local marine life."

"Where exactly, Ensign?"

"Uh, it's in an atoll by the coast. It's apparently a habitat of the dolphin-like creatures."

Does she allow Ardelle? (+1 some softening from the conversation today, +1 it'll keep Ardelle out of her hair)

(Likely | 6[d10]) Yes, but...

But...she wan'ts to come along.

She turned around and offered a tired smile. "What an excellent idea. I'll come along. I could use a little more wildlife beyond single-celled organisms, bugs, birds, and plants."

"Um, Lieutenant. you don't have to come, after all, I know you're busy with all of this," Ardelle nodded to the science equipment and the computer Lt. Morgan was using to record her reports. "I'd be happy to give you a full report on my return."

Ardelle will try to persuade the Lt. to stay. We'll use OneDice RPG to see if she's successful. This will be Ardelle's Negotiate (0) + Clever (2) roll vs . Lt. Morgan's Perception (1) + Clever (3). Highest wins.

Ardelle's roll: 7 = 5[d6]+2
Morgan's roll: 7 = 3[d6]+4

According to the OneDice rules, "Whoever gets the highest total wins.

If both the Player and the Gamekeeper get the same totals, it’s a draw (unless
that makes no sense, such as when trying to sneak up on someone, in
which case the Player wins)."

Given that ruling, it sounds like Ardelle wins.

"And it'll keep me from being underfoot as I've heard you say..." Ardelle added with a smile. She knew she was trying too hard.

Is the Lt. suspicious?

(Somewhat Likely | 3[d10]) No


"True," Lt. gave her a quizzical look then shook her head and actually gave an answering smile of her own. "Very true. Very well, Ensign. You may take the shuttle and the pilots... and two marines. I'll keep two marines here for base security. Now, if you excuse me, I need to finish my report for whenThe Oracle comes back into range."

"Yes, ma'am. I'll turn in then. Good night."

"Good night, Ensign." Lt. Morgan answered.

---

Elliot moaned and rolled over with a soft snore when Ardelle arrived in their shelter. She hung up the rain poncho, stepped passed his cot, and settled into her bunk after pulling on some dry socks. She lay staring up into the darkness of the ceiling, listening to the rain and pondering her conversation with Lt. Morgan. Sleep caressed her mind, beginning to lull her asleep. 

But one thought stood out to Ardelle before sleep claimed her: tonight marked the first time Lt. Morgan had ever said anything "good" to or about her. 

She smiled and slept.
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#18
Episode 11: Survey (Notes)

Ardelle, Elliot, the two pilots, along with Cpl Whately and Pvt McCoy had left after a late breakfast of barely-tolerable packaged MREs, packed with too much sodium and preservatives, and not enough flavor. They had arrived at the atoll after a short flight on The Seraphim to the west around mid-morning. Rain drummed off of the hull of the shuttle and the dull gray horizon showed only more rain. Ardelle had been initially so excited to be on an alien planet that the rain truly hadn't bothered her, but now the gray skies and equally gray water were beginning to wear on her. As a native of Florida she had grown up with more sun than anyone had a right to. And she had loved every minute of it. But when she thought about what they were doing today, the despondency was replaced with an excitement that began to bloom in her gut.

Above the atoll, the pilots took The Seraphim, the sleek manti's shaped shuttle, in a slow circuit, and then dropped it in altitude until it hovered a few feet above the surface of the water, the VTOL jets churning up a misty spray of salt water. The plumes of flame lessened and the shuttle settled onto the ocean surface. The multi-use shuttle shuttle expelled air and ballast tanks took in the water, sinking the ship beneath the surface. They watched their descent through the camera feed of the shuttle bay vid screen.


Did they bring any underwater equipment from The Oracle?

(50/50 | 6[d10]) Yesbut...

Fortunately / Cute

"What is this crap?" Pvt McCoy asked, holding up his wet suit that sported red and orange stripes on the sides of the legs.

"Just put it on marine," Corporal Whately muttered, but Ardelle noticed that Cpl Whately didn't look to pleased to have pastel purple racing design up his legs. "It's not going to kill you."

"I might die of embarrassment," McCoy said with a grimace as he strapped on the suit and adjusted the small oxygen tank.

"You'll get over it," Whately said.

Ardelle considered her own diving gear and the skin-tight wet suit with its blue diamonds and sparkly waves that ran up her long legs. She would have felt better with a hardened and pressurized suit. Being under water was akin to being underground. They could have used the engineering space suits under the water, but their mobility would have been severely hampered. The diving gear wasn't bad. It was functional, but it was older and of civilian make. But it wasn't as bulky and as old as some of the archaic diving gear used back on earth during the 22nd century. She had seen some old vids from a documentary back then. How they even went anywhere with those things blew her mind. 

McCoy grimaced then looked up at Ardelle his face brightening visibly as he looked her up and down. "At least Ensign Leath looks good in it."

"That's a superior officer, Private," Corporal Whately said giving the private a 'look'. "Watch it."

"I am watching..." he smiled a sly surreptitious glance in Ardelle's direction.

"Cute..." she glowered at him, her voice rich in sarcasm. He predictably brightened further. "Not you, Private. Don't get your hopes up."

She turned to Corporal Whately and waved a hand at his own bright logo and design. "You'd think marines would have better diving gear. And less colorful...you know stealth ops and all that."

"Well, the last time marines actually did water ops was a long time ago." Cpl Whately said. "Historically, they did above-water operations, beach landings...stuff like that. We left most of the underwater ops to the wet navy," Corporal Whately said.

"This isn't military make though," she said holding up the flimsy material.

"Nope," Whately sighed, adjusting his own O2 canister. "I guess with military budget shortfalls, you get what you get. Surplus civy gear. How about hat? Usually it's the other way around, civies picking up surplus mil gear."

"What do you know," McCoy said. "A government that tries to stay within budget. That's a new one."

That earned a smile from Ardelle. Governments were historically prone to overspending, and the inability to pay back massive debts had led to more than one of human kind's wars in it's tired history. But maybe out here some of them were learning?

Elliot had remained silent, studying his data pad. He had already suited up and a frown had been slowly spreading across his demeanor.

"I don't get it. The feed from the drone stopped," Elliot ran a hand through his red hair and tapped buttons on his data bad. "Don't ask me why..."

"Why?" she asked. "You're the engineer."

"I don't know. It was working just a few minutes ago and then, it just stopped."

"Maybe the fuel cells are dead," Pvt McCoy offered with a curl of his lip. "You did recharge them, right?"

Elliot ignored McCoy and continued to study the display. "The last recording it sent was of this," he whispered and tilted the display for Ardelle to see. 

Ardelle looked at the device. The quality of the video wasn't the best. It had a slightly grainy/blurred quality, and then moments of clarity when the drone's camera settled and it could focus it's light on something. But these last few vid streams were taken at fast motion. 

"What is that?'' Elliot whispered, pointing at a stone face with more markings on it. Ardelle saw that Pvt McCoy and Cpl Whately were involved in a discussion about the best beer and she leaned closer to Elliot her voice low.

"Looks like writing... and more than just a few symbols. Look there. An actual mult-lined inscription."

All night the drone had mapped the outer buildings, it's optical and laser sensors creating a detailed 3D map of the ocean floor as well as meshes of the underwater structures... It was clear that they were ruins actually, of something that had once been on the land before the continent had ripped open and dropped the city three hundred feet under the water.

The shuttle continued to dive into the darkening waters.

"What's the drone's analysis of the structures' age?" Ardelle asked.

"Thousands of years old, ma'am," Elliot shook his head. "The materials analysis shows that whoever built this used weather resistant stone, but that probably didn't do much good once it fell into the ocean." 

Ardelle wondered what all the buildings were. It must've been some sort city. Toward the center was mostly a large blank area where the drone hadn't finished mapping. That's where the drone had been when its feed had stopped. 

"Hold up. Go back." Elliot complied. "There. What's that?" she asked, pointing to a frozen frame. It showed a shadowy shape that blotted out half the ambient light in the photo.

"I don't know. Something that was behind the drone when it was taking this vid feed, blocking out the sun it looks like."

"Another pillar or something?" Ardelle guessed.

"No," Elliot tilted the data pad and tapped the image, running through some image optimization software that showed a shadow that more sinuous and less blocky. "It's something else. A plant maybe... I don't know. But it was...moving whatever it was." He tapped a button and the video played showing a shadow that seem to suddenly come into existence behind the drone in a flash of movement.

Elliot nodded and looked at her, "What do you think that was?"

"Definitely not a pillar," she concurred, a frown tugging at her. "The feed ended right after this?"

Elliot nodded again.

Ardelle called over the comms to the pilots in the cockpit, "Move to this location I'm sending you." She tapped in the last position of the drone and sent it to the cockpit.

"Yes ma'am," The main pilot said. The shuttle shifted direction and then dove deeper into the dark waters before eventually leveling off. 

"You gonna tell them?" Elliot said nodding to the marines. "About the buildings, the aliens, everything?"

"We'll tell them what they need to know. They'll find out soon enough, anyway," she said.

It didn't take long. The external cameras showed the external lights reflecting off of the cave-like walls when they passed through the cylindrical opening into the center of the atoll. They continued near where the structures were. Fish and other sea-life swam out of the way. Soon the structures came into view, covered by long strands of deep green sea weed and purple vine-like plant-life. 

The pilots noticed them first. "Ensign Leath, we're picking ups something strange... They look like...structures...maybe..."

"Hey-- hey Corporal! Are you seein' this?" McCoy gestured to the screen and his gum fell from his open mouth.

"What--?" Cpl Whately said, he leaned closer to the display. "What are those?"

"Buildings," Ardelle said to the marines and the pilots, finishing to strap on her oxygen tank and then she attached a spare. You couldn't be too careful. "Those are buildings from a civilization that lived here thousands of years ago."

"Buildings? There are... 'aliens' here?" McCoy turned on her. "What's going on Ensign?"

"Not 'are here'," Elliot said. "''Were here'. They're long gone. There's nothing left but ruins."

"Says who? We don't know that," McCoy said. "And why didn't you tell us? You knew," he thrust a finger at Elliot accusingly.

"Cool it, Private." Whately said though he looked shaken too. 

McCoy sat back down and ran his hand through his hair.

"Elliot and I found out about these structures yesterday," Ardelle said. "For now, this information is classified. It was on a need to know basis. You now have a need to know. You're under orders to not even discuss this once we get back to camp, even among yourselves until Captain Alestranda reverses that order. As far as anyone knows, including Lt. Morgan, we're just on an underwater geological survey. Am I clear?"

"Morgan doesn't know?" McCoy said. "What is going on? Geological survey...my butt." whispered McCoy sitting back down heavily on the bench. But he was unable to mask the awe in his voice, both hands were in his hair, his mask at his feet and one leg was jumping up and down like an electrical current was running through it. "Aliens... son of a-- no one is going to believe this..."

Corporal Whately was handling it a little better, he just shook his head and his face took on a grim expression, but went back to double-checking his diving gear.

"Ma'am?" The pilot's voice was understandably a mixture of awe and excitement, and not a little trepidation. "Do we...continue?"

"Stay the course," Ardelle commanded. "We're here to gather information. But stay alert, something took out our drone."

"Oh, this just gets better and better," McCoy scowled and turned back to Elliot. "What do you mean, not 'were here'. Our drone is gone?"

"The buildings are clearly ruined," Elliot said. "Whoever lived here died thousands of years ago. There's no sign of remaining intelligent alien life."

"Except the very clear fact that our drone is dead." McCoy leaned forward, his eyes darting daggers.

"Hey, that's not my fault," Elliot said.

"Just admit something is out there."

"We don't know what caused it," Elliot said stubbornly

McCoy leaned back and let his head settle against the shuttle's wall. "We should just nuke the place," McCoy muttered.

"No one is nuking anything," Cpl Whately said. "Stow it, Marine, we have a job to do, and we'll do it. Check your gear. If there is something out there, we want to be ready for it."

Above them, light from the surface sometimes cut through through patches of darkness whenever the copious plant life on the surface moved out of the way. But it was a feeble light gray and green from rain-soaked skies.

Ardelle watched their progress on the shuttle's view port and soon they were in the area. Through the murk, they could make out a huge structure ahead. A gigantic domed structure, easily twenty times the size of The Oracle. The extents of it were lost in the darker waters.

"What is that?" McCoy asked.

"I'm picking up the drone's wreckage," the pilot called. "Marking it now." The 3D map on the view port in the shuttle's bay showed a blinking green dot. Soon, the lights from the belly of the shuttle picked up bits and pieces of the drone: composites, plastics, the dull crumpled metal shell. All strewn across the ocean floor. It looked as if it had been ripped in half.

"Move around that central building," Ardelle commanded. "Do a complete circuit." 

The Seraphim moved off of the ocean floor and up and around the dome. For the next half hour it did a slow cautious circle around the mammoth building, scanners and sensors listening for everything.

"Notice that?" Ardelle said. She pointed at a mass of foliage that was streaming out of a crack in the dome. 

"Different color, yeah," Elliot nodded. 

"Not only that. The stems are sturdier, the color more vibrant. Those plants aren't just surviving. They are positively thriving."

"On what?"

"Judging from the increased water temperature, from thermal pollution most likely."

"Thermal pollution? You know, the words 'pollution' and 'thrive' don't mix usually," Elliot said.

"Thermal pollution just means unnatural heat increase from an external source."

"Unnatural."

"Yes... and the hotter the temperature, the better the plants thrive. Increased metabolic rate. Such thermal pollution can affect the entire ecosystem in fact." She frowned. "Of course, it's probably just a thermal vent...but..."

"You don't seem sure."

"It's just odd that most of the temperature is so... localized around that central building."

When the shuttle finished it's circuit, it began moving across the top of the dome. "Ma'am," the pilot said over the crackling comm. "There's an opening in the domed stone structure. Looks man made... err...alien made, I mean. It's easily big enough for the shuttle though."

Eliot and Ardelle shared a look. He shrugged. "It's your call."

"Take us in," Ardelle commanded.

---
(I'll post the answers to my questions and such later when things come to light in future episodes. Don't want to give spoilers...)
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#19
Episode 12: Message

The Seraphim approached the large dark squarish opening in the mammoth dome. Schools of colorful fat fish swam past the shuttle, and the "donu-phins" making a second appearance. The large animals dove, twisted, and swirled playfully around the underwater shuttle as it neared the opening. But as it reached the dark opening, they broke off and swam away in a rapid swirl of rushing dark bubbles.

"Where'd they go?" Pvt McCoy asked frowning.

A dense barrier of plant growth hugged the inside surface of the dome ceiling and even crowded the dark opening. The sleek mantis shape of the shuttle broke through through the vines and seaweed with ease and proceeded into the waters beneath the immense dome roof. 

"I'm picking up something Ensign," The pilot said. "Energy readings, further down by the floor."

"A thermal vent?" Ardelle wondered outloud.

"I don't know. Marking it now." A red blip appeared in 3D space in relation to the white blip that represented their own vessel.

"Get us closer."

The Seraphim expelled more compressed air, bubbling up about the ship as it took in more water, decreasing its buoyancy. Darkness closed in around them as they sank toward the red blip. The squarish doorway above them cast a single diffused shaft of dull ambient greenish-gray light that penetrated only a few meters into the dark watery depths. Ever down they went, the sensors mapping the contours of the structure's interior and what was below it.

Temperature readings climbed as the shuttle dived, and soon, small stalks of plant life appeared at the edges of their vision. 

"It's getting lighter out there," Elliot said pointing to the data scrolling across the shuttles view screen and the increased visiblity. "Is that normal? What could be causing that?"

Ardelle shook her head, and watched the view screen. "It must be the energy source." 

The foliage became even thicker and larger the deeper they went. A strange diffused bluish green light shimmered up from down below. As the light and warmth increased, so did the plant and sea life. Great stalks of sea grass rose up from the ocean floor, like a waving forest of green. Normally, light and heat would have to penetrate through meters of water to grow anything on shallow coastal areas of the ocean floor. But here, the shuttle drifted over a strange alien underwater forest, and blue-green light flickered up through the lazily moving sea grass that swayed like trees in a breeze. Interspersed, among the sea grass rose great pillars of rock-like algae. And among it all great schools of fish of every imaginable color swam like a rainbow bursting apart underwater. 

"It's beautiful," Ardelle breathed as she surveyed the grandeur unfolding beneath them.

"Until whatever munched our drone shows up," McCoy muttered.

The shuttle lurched and jolted upwards and a loud scraping sound rumbled and reverberated about them. Ardelle and the others clutched at their arm rests or at hand holds in the shuttle's interior. The shuttle rose up a few meters and eventually coasted to a stop. 

"Sorry...," the pilot muttered over the comms. "Those uh pillar things are tough. Best to not go any deeper in the shuttle with those around."

"Those are probably algae. On earth, some types can get as hard as cement though their likely hollow inside," Ardelle said. She studied the strange landscape. Atop the pillars, other colorful algae grew, as did huge leafy fronds of red algae. These latter red algae undulated about as did the large sea grass stalks like huge leafs of red lettuce.

"Alright, here's where we go on foot...err...fin," Ardelle amended as she tugged on her diving fins. The others did the same. 

Rather than flood the entire shuttle bay with sea water, the shuttle had a small air-lock that allowed a single-person out of the vessel at a time. The door clanked and hissed open as Ardelle stepped into the small area and then it hissed shut. She wore her diving equipment, her pistol sidearm felt comfortable in her waist holster where she also had belted on some science gear. She tugged on her mask and verified that the oxygen was flowing. She was grateful for the full face mask with integrated comms, they'd at least be able to communicate verbally. No need for hand signals.

"I'm ready," she spoke to the cockpit. "Flood the airlock." 

There was a clanking sound and then water crept in, replacing the air. She felt a rising panic as the alien ocean rose up to her chin. She feared the clenching sensation in her chest from the onset of the crushing claustrophobia. With effort, she fought down the panic. It helped that the water was warm, it felt like she was snorkeling through the tropical Florida coast in the heat of July. The outer door in the hull opened with a dull thumping and muted under-water clanking sound, and blue-green light greeted her. Above her was an endless night of dark starless ocean. Below her... the beauty of it struck her again and the panic she had felt left with each exhalation. The blue light filtered up through the stalks, pillars, and fronds and streams of colored fish. It felt oddly like she was almost looking up into an upside down blue sky with colorful birds, and she felt a momentary feeling of vertigo.

One by one the others joined her. She grinned at them as they joined. 

"What now?" Elliot asked. "That's an amazing sight isn't it?"

Suddenly she jerked head downward trying to follow a flicker of dark motion faster than the waving fronts and gently swaying sea grass. 

"What was that?" She asked. "Did you see that?" Ardelle asked, without knowing it, she had yanked our her pistol. 

A long and alarmingly thick sinuous shape, quick as shadowy lightning, flitted through the forest of plant life beneath them. She had only caught a glimpse.

She noticed the two marines had their weapons out as well. Elliot floundered about twisting, trying to adjust to the watery depths and thick medium. Ardelle thankfully found that her zero-g training helped somewhat with her movements in the water. While there was certainly more friction from the water, the buoyancy and weightless feelings were nearly identical.

"What is it?" Elliot gasped. "I saw something too."

"Some snake thing," Ardelle said. "And huge. About half as wide as the shuttle."

"Stay sharp everyone!" Corporal Whately said, his rifle was raised to his shoulder. McCoy swam to his right.

"It's the drone killer," McCoy hissed his rifle was also pointed in the direction the creature had last been seen. "Told you so."

"Could be," Ardelle said, sighting among the stalks and fronds beneath her with her own pistol. They watched as tense seconds passed by. Then they saw the thing again, a flitting shadow, dark and dangerous looking, backlit by the light emanating beneath it. It stopped, drifted up, then in the time it took Ardelle to gasp, it propelled towards them at alarming speeds. 

McCoy shouted, and both he and Corporal fired a burst of pulse rifle shots at it. But the pulse blasts were rushed. They missed the thing by a few feet. Still, the blue bolts shot through one of the cement-hard underwater algae pillars and punched holes through coral. Just as quickly, the snake thing flipped around, and dove in a twisting motion back down, and it was soon lost among the watery vegetation.

For several long moments they just watched the watery depths. 

"Is it gone?" Elliot asked, looking at the Marines who didn't look back, but kept focused on the depths beneath.

"I'll check my scanner," Ardelle said. She holstered her weapon and yanked out a durable handheld waterproof device attached to a velcro patch on her belt. The device was tethered to her belt with a retractable cable, and it possessed a suite of integrated bio and other sensors. Those sensors weren't as refined as what the science drone's sensors would have been, but it was better than nothing. She scanned the multiple blips and watched the data that scrolled across her screen. She slowly shook her head, stifling a curse. "It's too difficult to know...I'm getting too many life readings," Ardelle said. "All that plant growth--the schools of fish... they're all interfering with the readings."

"Just great," McCoy said. "We got Mr. Snake Drone-Killer down there, and we don't even know where it is."

"We're going down there," Aredelle turned on him. "Do you have a problem with that soldier?"

"No, Ma'am," he glowered at her.

"Good. Because we need to know what's going on here, and I expect everyone to do his or her job. Like Corporal Whately said, we're going to stay sharp and be careful. Let's go..."

She flipped her legs, and they followed after her diving down among the thick forest of plant life. She stopped momentarily among the ocean floor. The light was now originating from somewhere in front of her, but no longer below her. The "floor", she saw, was made up partially of the stone floor of the building, interspersed with large mounds of rubble where it had buckled upwards from whatever it had crashed on top of in it's colossal collapse. The floor was at almost a forty-five degree angle in places, and silt covered the rubble forming a thick soil that sent up fine clouds of dust that erupted over anything that touched the floor's surface. The silt must have drifted down through ragged cracks in the dome. There was a lot of rubble, forming small silt-covered mounds as far as she could see, many of them were down in the inner edge where floor met wall. She brushed aside some of the silt to look at the closest rounded piece of rubble, while McCoy and Whately treaded water nearby, providing overwatch.

Her hand jerked back, and she gave an involuntary shout as a red fish with long sharp teeth jumped out of a skull's gaping mouth. In a flash it darted past her hand. She had reflexively kicked and swam upwards, and the marines covered the cloud of dust where she had been.

"What was it?" McCoy asked, his voice tense. 

"I saw a skull...there's a skull there," she pointed to the cloud of silt. "But I'm okay. It's okay." 

"A skull?"

"A human skull," she said. "I think."

McCory said a few choice words, and for once Ardelle was inclined to agree with him. Once her hammering heart settled, she swam back down to the dust cloud and slowly waited for the silt to settle. The two marines and Elliot now swam next to her their faces anxious and grim.

"How did humans get here?" Corporal Whately asked. They all stared at the skull that gradually took shape out of the silt cloud. 

"It...might not be human," she said. "But these are humanoid-like skeletons. I see two eyes, a nose, mouth, ears... the works. It's possible this planet likely had very similar environmental pressures as ours, or the 'aliens' arrived her some other way."

"But how could they get here... we--" Elliot said.

"Hold on," Ardelle said and swam over to another mound of rubble. "I think...", she began, as she brushed off some more silt, gently and slowly this time to not create such a huge cloud. There, another face with dark sockets stared back at her with timeless voids for sockets. "I...I think these are all skeletons. All...corpses."  She swept her hand in a wide gesture, taking in the dozens--no there were more than dozens--hundreds of small mounds that lay scattered haphazardly throughout the floor of the strange underwater building. 

Fish and plant life had certainly found a rich harvest among the corpses. About them, sometimes atop them, other larger shapes indicated actual rubble. These were more block-like, rough cube and rectangular squarish-shaped stones that had a rounded look for also being covered in inches of silt.

McCoy didn't cuss this time. He just stared in stony silence and then turned slowly to Ardelle. His rifle was at his chin and he panned the area around them, searching for any threat. "Ma'am, we need to get out of here...this doesn't feel right."

"Not yet," she said. "We have a job to do."

"Corporal, can't you talk some sense into her? Tell her to--"

"That's enough, Private!" Whately said, his face had settled into a grim line. "She's right. We have a job to do. Any more complaining out of you, and I'm putting you on latrine duty until that's the only thing you smell for two years. You got me?"

"Yessir," McCoy said. "Geez, lay off Corproal. It's not like your a sergeant or anything."

"You could use a good sergeant," Whately said turning away.

They pressed onward, skimming over the silt-covered mounds of rubble and bones until there, amidst a portion of the collapsed roof, lay a huge gleaming metallic device comprised of multiple circular arcs. It was gigantic. The heat and the blue-green light increased in intensity the closer they got. Nearby, right around it, nothing grew in fact. And a current of some kind of energy arced along the large metallic frame at intervals. Some of the graceful curves of the arcs were damaged and cracked. A light, like a mini-blue corona, emitted immense energy from among the entire device. The water hissed and bubbled around it. All around the ring lay a ragged assortment of jagged stone spikes at odd angles. Some of them of were smashed or broken. Most were covered in moss, seaweed and algae.

It hurt Ardelle's eyes to look at the blue light, and she had to blink away blue stars that seemed to be burned into the back of her skull. She took some readings with her equipment once her eyes adjusted to the bright light. "Lots of heat and energy coming from this."

McCoy's mouth was opened wide, a bright light reflected off his face plate. He squinted against it. Behind him, dark green sea grass swayed against the darkness as if caressed by an unknown wind.

"Wow! That... sure looks familiar," Elliot breathed in awe, the excitement increasing the tempo of his words. "This one is a lot larger than the one on Spenalk 2. Don't you think so Ensign?"

"Familiar?" Whately asked and then slowly turned to Ardelle. "What do you mean, familiar?"

Elliot suddenly stopped talking. 

"Beggin' your pardon, Ma'am, but have you've seen something like this before?" Corporal Whately asked.

"That's classified too," Ardelle said. "Isn't that right, Crewman Walker?" she addressed Elliot coolly and she knew the formality jabbed at him.

"Sorry, ma'am," he said, the excitement replaced with embarrassed dread. "I guess I thought--"

"You didn't think. You got careless," she interrupted him, holding his gaze with a hard one of her own. He looked away down at his finned feet. After a long moment, she sighed and shook her head. "It probably wouldn't have stayed a secret forever anyway. But it's wasn't not my call."

"So you did see another one then? Where?" McCoy asked.

"Forget you even heard anything about it Private," she said, yet as she said it, she knew it was like throwing gasoline on a fire.

"Oh man, oh man...!" an eyebrow shot up. "You meant Spenalk 2, didn't you? Isn't that right? I bet that's right! Whaddya think, Whately? I think they were keepin' something on the hush hush with that bunk Spenalk 2 mining survey mission, and now this...? Hah! I bet they're gonna do the same here and--"

"Shut up, private," Corporal Whateley said. "You heard her. It's classified. Don't you watch any of the old movies, McCoy? If someone really wants to keep something quiet, think about the ultimate way to shut someone up."

That took a moment to sink in, and McCoy gradually shut his mouth, growing more somber and sullen, his mouth twisting into a dissatisfied frown. "Sorry Coproal Whately. I haven't see nuthin' here except underwater 'geology'," McCoy finally said.

"That's the spirit," Whately muttered as he turned to Arelle, shielding his eyes from the light. "Ma'am, what's this silvery device doing in this building? Some sort of...religious temple?"

"Maybe," Ardelle said trying to look at it indirectly without blinding herself. She had been filming everything from the camera built into her mast from the moment they had exited the shuttle. 

"I don't get why the metal in that large curved ring is all new lookin'? It's not even rusted." McCoy asked, and then turned. "But this certainly is..." he reached out to brush a large flake of rust from a metal device that had been among one of the corpses, and half of it disintegrated into brown dust.

"Is that weapon?" Elliot asked. "A spear maybe? A rifle?"

McCoy shrugged as Elliot poked around at it. But it was rusted beyond salvaging and broke even further at the slightest touch. Corpses were around a central figure who had also fallen into decay.

"Some kind of priest?" Whately asked, poking with his rifle at an ornate headdress near one of the skulls.

"I don't know," Ardelle said. "To me, it looks like the first race had built something out of this high tech metal that could withstands corrosion and erosion better than anything mankind can develop. And it looks like there's a second race here. The one that built the dome and the stone pillars... the stone city. They could have easily considered this device something of scientific or religious importance, which may explain building the massive dome around it."

"But the bodies," Whately asked. "Are they from the modern-tech race or the stone-tech race?"

"I'm guessing the stone-tech civilization," Ardelle said examining the mounds of corpses. "Some are holding those metal spear-like devices. If they had made this huge ring device, why aren't we seeing that same metal in any of the other devices or structures?"

"Maybe they ran out of the metal," Corporal Whately said.

"Could be. We don't know. Let's look around some more."

"Those spike shapes are sure odd," Whately said. "Ominous looking." He brushed silt and plant life off one of them. Around the silvery device that shone like a miniature sun, the jagged stone spikes jutted up and outward all at odd angles. Most were covered with moss and sea weed that made them look as if torn viscera hung in reeking vivid drapes from their jagged points.

"Yeah, I'd say that qualifies as creepy," McCoy joined in.

"Perhaps that's the whole point," Ardelle said. "Maybe they were trying to say something with the those odd spikes. What do ominous looking spikes convey in common symbology?"

"Uh... let's see. Pain. Danger. Death." McCoy shrugged. "Yeah, hey, guess what, I'm not getting positive butterfly vibes. But I've been sayin' that since we started this little dive into 'alien' waters."

"Check this out," Elliot said. "There's some kind of writing here!" He had been floating above the forest of spikes looking down past his feet. There beneath them, around the edge of the spike forest, was a perfect circle. Within the circle were large tablets of picture-based script that had been etched painstakingly into the stone. The writing wasn't as stylized as the other writing system they had seen earlier on the outer buildings.

It seemed to Ardelle that it told some kind picture story, something that could be understood at any time or by anyone. Given the proper time and an understanding of the culture that is. 

Ardelle studied it for several long minutes. If there was a message here, how would she even begin to decipher it. She was no linguist.

"What's it say?" McCoy asked.

Can Ardelle make out the warning signs... from the script? 


I'll say it's a Language skill. Base is challenging TN 6 to understand if it were clear. The aliens are not trying to be obtuse. But due to erosion etc, plus differences in cultures, I'll say it has a TN of 9. Even if she rolled a six she wouldn't get it. Perhaps if they could clear up the image somehow.

She has a Clever of 2, even with a 6 on her roll, it wouldn't be enough so no... Or rather not yet.. not until they clean it up.

"There's no way to know that in so little time," Ardelle said. "This would take days, maybe weeks to study. Back on old earth, some scholars are still debating what writings say on the insides of the pyramids. And those writings were well preserved. Here? Much as been worn with age and erosion. Your guess would be as good as mine, Private. Want to give it a stab? You've done some reading it sounds like."

"Some," McCoy mumbled and swam along the edge of the circular script. They followed along swimming under and over the large stone spikes that jutted outward like a massive stone porcupine that radiated danger and death. 

At times, he stopped and bonked his fist on his face mask as if to scratch his head or tug at his ear. "In this first set, there's a large circle with rays coming out of it. A sun maybe? And over here something comes out of the sun. More ray's? I dunno, the stone is flaked off there. I can't tell. Something some out of the sun, and then there's-- I don't know. That part is too worn away. I recommend digital optimization to clean some of that up. Then on this portion--well really on the whole portion--there's too much algae. We'd need to scrape that off. Ah, hah! Well, this last bit is promising," he said, and his tone brightened. "There's something that looks like a skull at the end. So, yeah, that probably means we're all going to die." McCoy finally concluded.

"That was...helpful, and cheery." Ardelle said archly.

"Hey, just tryin' to help," McCoy gave a wry twisted smile, but it slipped into a frown when he looked at the stone spikes. "I hate those things."

"Maybe, it's just a story of the purpose of life," Whately mused. "We're all born from the stars and die at he end. That kind of thing. The death part, including all the spikes, is prob just some part of their religious observance," Whately said. "Everyone is trying to find the meaning to life. Why would they be any different here? Maybe they just focus on the death aspect more than others. Some cultures would do that wouldn't they?"

"Sure," Ardelle said. "Cultures that dealt a lot with death certainly would." Ardelle frowned. The forest of large stone spikes did give her a negative vibe. 

"Gee, I wonder what happened here to this culture? Oh, I know," McCoy sniffed, waving his arm at the hundreds of corpses and the spikey stone forest. "Death..."

Ardelle looked at her oxygen and energy reserves. They still had plenty of time and the shuttle wasn't too far away. "Lets spend some time cleaning up this script. It could be the key to what all this means." 

She let the shuttle pilots know their plans, and then she and Elliot set to work. McCoy and Whately set up a watchful guard.

Above them, out of eyesight of the soft humans, in the shadowy depths, a dark shape lurked. It watched and waited in twisting curling anticipation of a kill.

-- GM RESULTS --
Now that that all that's been revealed...here are some play results from earlier...

Remember the MAG results from earlier? (Rain drops in a cup, flying ant, volcano, dragon snake like thing, twisty spiky swirl, fractured tablet, instruments of writing and a wolf howling). 

Well this is the dragon snake like thing...Is this snake like thing in the underdepths some sort of guardian?

(50/50 | 9[d10]) Yes

Ah, I see, he probably attacks the drone and leaves them with an appropriate amount of discomfort.

NPC positive

Failure

Inside

It eats the drone and spits it out... yeah, it prob doesn't taste that good.

Do they see the snake like thing when the drone gets munched? I'm guessing it's dark and gloomy and in the depths and is sneaky so (U)

(Unlikely | 2[d10]) No

Let's see how much damage the drone takes. 1d20 + 5 (since it's a big critter and it did attack and eat the drone)

(22 = 17[d20]+5) Destroyed.

Munch... okay.. not so NPC Positive after all. Oh well.

But they see bits and pieces float to the top, those pieces that are floatable.

Right before it died, it transmits an appropriate grainy picture of a tablet with something on it. Is that writing? Quite mysterious.

Is the under-realm decaying and mouldering?

(Likely | 2[d10]) No

Oh... interesting. Is it inside a protective hydro sphere / bubble thing?

(Likely | 3[d10]) No

Is it inhabited?

(Unlikely | 3[d10]) No

Is it made of some futuristic material that is non-corrosive, highly resistant to rust, and decay?

(Likely | 7[d10]) Yes

This sounds awfully like the same species that made the anomaly on Spenalk 2. Is it?

(Likely | 6[d10]) Yes, but...

But...what? Was it built on by a later diff Alien race?

(50/50 | 6[d10]) Yes, but...

Yes, but what? Were they killed off in some drastic climactic event?

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

Ambiguous event

Stop

Evil

And...they posted a warning -- some sort of galactic "Do Not Disturb" sign.

Oooo. Fun question...is there another device/anomaly below?

(50/50 | 9[d10]) Yes

Is there a big enough opening for the shuttle to enter the stone dome / temple thing that's around the device?

(Likely | 9[d10]) Yes

Natural opening for flying vehicles?

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

Transform / Legal matters

Loudly / Macabre

Is there a crashed vehicle?

(50/50 | 3[d10]) No

So there aren't any crashed vehicles from the stone structure race, but there was a man made door in the domed roof. Something has changed to show something macabre. Corpses?

(Likely | 9[d10]) Yes

Oooo. The first glimpse. Are these the corpses from the stone civilization?

(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes +Event: Fight / Status quo

They died trying to keep the status quo. Maybe to prevent the collapse? Maybe to prevent something else.

Did something try to come through the gate that caused the collapse?

(Likely | 3[d10]) No

I see. They tried to destroy the gate and that triggered a quake that brought their civ underwater. Interesting.

But did something come through the gate?

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

Ferociously / Masculine

Sounds like some soldiers were near the device? Is that right?

(50/50 | 5[d10]) No, but... +Event: Separate / A representative

Okay, so some body guards died trying to protect an important public emperor king dude in the dome building. Interesting... but my peeps in the story would never know that prob.

Are these aliens humanoid? I'll VL given that environmental pressures seem to be very similar on this planet.

(Very Likely | 7[d10]) Yes

When they enter the dome does the snake thing attack? It is a guardian so I'll say Likely...

(Likely | 5[d10]) No, but...

No, but they get a glimpse of it. [i]The snake thing might be a little bit nervous of this new creature (shuttle) in its waters. I don't blame him... pulse rifles, especially shuttle-mounted ones aren't to be messed with...[/i]
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#20
Episode 13: Coils

For the next hour, Ardelle and Elliot carefully worked their way around the huge circle, keeping their eyes averted from the bright energy flowing around the rupture in the energy source of the metallic device. Under the blue-green light and the gently swaying tree-like stalks of sea grass, they scraped away the worst of the stone tablets where the plant growth and algae had taken root. 

"Elliot, pass me another energy cell. Mine is spent." Ardelle stepped back and looked at the section she had just cleared. She panned over it with her camera satisfied with the cleared section of pictographs.

"Here you go," Elliot said, tossing one to her sluggishly through the water.

Ardelle reached out to catch the energy cell. It spun in the water and reflected the light from the device's leaking energy source. 

Her comms crackled as Whately shouted, "Look out! It's here!" 

Ardelle spun her head around, too slowly in the water, but in time to see a lithe shadow, half the size of the shuttle's width streaking down towards towards the two marines with terrible speed. The monstrous shape launched itself at McCoy. McCoy's had jolted at Whately's voice through the comms, and though started had started to raise his gun at the oncoming serpentine creature. But then it was on him. There was a churning blur of roiling water and McCoy gave a garbled scream combined with thrashing sounds come over the comms. Then there was a pool of blood. 

Ardelle with frantic fingers fumbled with her pistol, pulling it out of its holster. Her hands trembled.

----
While they work on the stone circle does that snake guardian thing work up the nerve to attack them?
(+2 these beings are in its territory so it's natural instinct is to attack. -1 But it's being trepidatious about the large strange metal fish (shuttle) in its home-- so SL)

(Somewhat Likely | 6[d10]) Yes

Ooo. Right on! Underwater monster fight! I'm using a modified Giant Eel's stats from the OneDiece Fantasy module, making it a little smaller:

Snake Guardian, Large S 6 18 Mv 40 Sk Bite 3 (Damage 5) 
We need to see if it surprises anyone. It's using it's quickness of 4 + 1 (for streaking out of darkness) = 6 + Die roll:
 2 = 2[d6] = 7 Total

It's a good thing it rolled low. We'll compare that against some basic Space Marine stats. I tweaked them a little.

Corporal Whately (USCN/EarthForce) S 3, C 2, Q 2, H 10, D 11, Mv 20, Sk Bludgeon
1, Shooting 3, Bruiser 2, Spacer 1, Command 1, Perception 1 X 70


Pvt McCoy (USCN/EarthForce) S 3, C 3, Q 2, H 10, D 11, Mv 20, Sk Bludgeon
1, Shooting 3, Bruiser 2, Spacer 1, Perception 1 X 70


McCoy's Perception 1 + Clever 3 = 4 + die roll:
1 = 1[d6] = 5 Total

Whately's Perception 1 + Clever 2 = 3 + die roll:
5 = 5[d6] = 8 Total (so he's aware)

Ardelle has a Perception of 0 + Clever of 2 + die roll:
3 = 3[d6] = 5 Total (so she's unaware)

Elliot has a Perception of 0 + Clever of 2 + die roll:
6 = 6[d6] = 8 Total (so he's aware)

I'll now roll init between everyone vs monster:
2 = 2[d6] + Whately's Quick of 2 = 4 Total 
4 = 4[d6] + Monster's Quick of 4 = 8 Total
6 = 6[d6] + Elliot's Quick of 1 = 7 Total
4 = 4[d6] + Ardelle's Quick of 2 = 6 Total
4 = 4[d6] + McCoy's Quick of 2 = 6 Total

Who does it go for between McCoy and Whately? (1-3 McCoy, 4-6 Whately)


3 = 3[d6]

Melee is monster's Str 6 + 3 bite = 9 + die roll

1 = 1[d6]

10 total vs McCoy's current Defense of 9 (He'd normally have a defense of 11 in his powered combat armor -- but alas, he's in a brightly colored wet suit that basically says "Munch On Me"). That leaves 1 + the snake's damage of 5 = 7 damage.
McCoy has ten health so he's still alive and conscious with 4 health left.

(Damage given in OneDice is the difference between attack and defense + the damage of the attack. He's actually lucky the snake only rolled a 1 on it's attack.)
 
-----

The shadowy creature hurled McCoy against one of the stone-like algae pillars where he hit with a shudder and fell down in a crumpled ruin. Red blood looked purplish black in the blue-green light. It seeped from his wet suit in a rising pool. 

Was he alive? Ardelle gasped wondering as she raising her own pistol and tried to line up on this creature who moved impossibly fast for its size. Her hands trembled and he fingers felt numbed even in the warm water. "Seraphim!" She shouted over the comms. "We need your help! It just took down Pvt. McCoy. Get over her now!"

"We're on our way, but there's a lot of those pillar things. I don't know if we'll have a clean shot."

"Come down right down on top of us. Nothing is growing immediately around this device. Of course there were the stone spikes jutting out at odd angles.

Corporal Whately, was already ready though and was just waiting for a clean shot. It came the moment the snake tossed Pvt McCoy aside.

He has a shooting skill of 3 + clever of 2 = 5 + die roll:

4 = 4[d6]

5 +4 is 9 so it ties the creature.
OnceDice says: "In most cases (other than Magic) if the total beats the target’s Defense, damage is done."

It tied the defense so his shots missed.

Emboldened, the twisting writhing mass next darted toward Corporal Whately. It twisted around the algae pillars and then across the metallic device with it's incredible output of energy toward. Whately yelled and fired a burst before the thing was on him, it's massive jaw and fangs biting at him.

The monster attacks Whately now:

6 (strong) + 3 (bite) = 9 + die roll. Not good. It automatically is going to hit. Even in powered combat armor this thing would be a huge threat.

1 = 1[d6]

Oh man! Another 1... my Marines are so lucky. Whately takes the same amount of damage as McCoy did.

6 damage. He has 4 left. 

Does it toss Whately aside?


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

Yes, and Whately will take extra damage unless he makes a Quickness check... TN 6.

6 = 6[d6]

Are there some stone spikes that are close enough together where the snake creature can't easily get at Ardelle an Elliot?


(Likely | 8[d10]) Yes

Elliot, yanks Ardelle's arm. "This way!" He pointed to a grouping of massive stone spikes that jutted outward they were coated with sea weed. Colorful fish darted amongst them. Beyond the spikes the water was too warm, too hot. Elliot and Ardelle half jumped, half sluggishly swam towards the spikes, all the while Ardelle wondered if the thing would snap her in two from behind. They were close to the spikes when the creature darted down towards them. 

"Faster!" Ardelle shouted. Adrenaline fueled their speed and she dove under the spikes as the giant snake-like creature darted downwards. It held Corporal Whately's struggling form in its jaws, then it hurled the Corporal down at the spikes. Corporal Whately flailed about, trying not to impale himself on the stone spike.

Whatley's roll + quickness of 2 to avoid the spike: TN of 6.

6 = 6[d6] = 8

Whatley twisted at the last moment, and the stone spike grazed his arm, scraping a furrow in the suit's fabric and scraping a layer of skin of his arm. Blood also oozed from puncture wounds in his thigh and gut where the beast had bit him. But he managed to hold onto his rifle. The creature slowed for just an instant, and they actually got a good look at it. It seemed a cross of a serpentine body with a snake like jaw but lined with massive razor-sharp teeth. Yellow slits glared at them as the beast twisted away from the spikes. 

Across from them, McCoy's limp form moved. He lifted his head. He fell onto hands and knees. One hand pressed against his chest where blood flowed out thick and red mixing with the silt-clouded water. His gun was about ten feet away half buried in the silt. Private McCoy pushed himself into a crouching position and pulled out his pistol. Taking aim, he fired at the creature, a moment later, Ardelle raised her own firearm and also fired pulse blasts from the opposite side.

Since they're shooting at it from different angles, I'm going to give it a temporary -2 to its defense.

Ardelle's shots, Shooting of 1, Clever of 2, = 3


2 = 2[d6]

That's not enough...Miss

McCoy's shots. Shooting of 3, Clever of 3 = 6

2 = 2[d6]

8 total, minus the creatures temporary modified defense of 7 means McCoy hits with his pistol.

1 + 4 = 5 damage total.

Ardelle's shots went wide, shooting under the creature as it rocketed upwards. McCoy's shot's however punctured portions of it's underside. It writhed and thrashed in pain, twisting around a pillar as brackish blood leaked from its wounds.

Does the shuttle arrive now?

(50/50 | 2[d10]) No

Does the creature run away (-2 for smelling the blood in the water so its frenzy is up, but it did take a hit, so +1) -- SU.

(Somewhat Unlikely | 3[d10]) No

Who will it try for?
1d12
1-2 Ardelle
3-4 Elliot
5-6 Whately
7-12 McCoy  (since he's all alone and doesn't get the spike cover)

7 = 7[d12]

Since McCoy's defense and the Snake's attack even out, it's just the die roll to see how badly, he gets mauled... Sad

1 = 1[d6]

That's a total of 1 + 5 damage = 6.
4 health - 6 = -2 health = death... Ouch time.

It dove down upon McCoy in a spiral of shadow, death, thrashing and grinding flesh. The private's screams became a watery gurgle, and when the blue-green water parted, it shimmered purple red as two halves of the former marine settled in a gory trailing mess onto the silt, food for the fishes.

Ardelle looked away, gagging and feeling sick. She fell to her knees, clutching at her helmet.

Whately shoots now... 2 clever + 3 shooting = 5 + die roll: 3 = 3[d6] = 8 (I'll say the snake still has the minus 2 defense since it turned its back on them to attack McCoy)

So that's a hit. 1 damage, plus pulse rifle damage of 7 = 8
13 - 8 = 5 HP left.

Corporal Whately, backlit by the energy emitted from the metallic device, rested his rifle on the spike, and gave a shout as he pulled the trigger. He emptied an entire magazine of pulse rounds into the thrashing shadowy cloud. Dozens of blue bolts of energy slammed into the creature, and it rocked under the onslaught of the rounds. It hissed in pain and defiance a dull thin underwater sound as it twisted and churned, trying for escape, but the rounds kept hammering into it. Finally it turned and twisted away into the shadowy depths, diving through some hole in the floor of the domed building out of sight.

Whately, slapped in another magazine and leaned heavily against the spike, focusing on the hole where the creature had escaped.

"Is it gone?" Elliot asked as he knelt beside Ardelle an arm around her shoulders.

Something moved over head then they heard the underwater thumping of engines. The Seraphim, a true angel of death, wreathed in watery blue-green glory, churned the water above them, it's twin auto cannons tracking for readings on the creature. But the shadowy creature was gone, slippery as an eel it had retreated to darker depths. The spot lights on the belly of The Seraphim centered on what was left of McCoy's body, and Elliot swallowed hard. 

Already, little sea creatures had settled onto it starting to feast. 

---

Ardelle sat numbly in the shuttle, slowly rocking back and forth her head in her hands as The Seraphim surfaced then twisted its VTOL engines and jetted upwards above the ocean and the atoll and then on a trajectory that would take them back to camp. They had collected McCoy's weapons and equipment, but Ardelle couldn't stomach picking up the gory remains of Pvt McCoy's body for burial. She ordered that they leave it for the sea to consume. Corporal Whately wasn't happy, but he acquiesced when Ardelle reasoned that the snake was still out there. 

Guilt ate at her and she noted dumbly that because of her Private James J. McCoy became the first human casualty on Spenalk 3. 

Where was the line between casual curiosity, carelessness, and following orders? Should she have done anything differently? Captain Alestranda had given her this mission. But how many more would die in the Spenalk system because of her choices and at the claws or teeth of alien creatures? What consequences would they inherit from the strange devices they had unearthed?

Lt. Morgan would demand answers, and how much could she tell her?

Questions hounded her and the dark mood of regret and dismay remained with her on the ride back. It clung to her long into the night, strangling her in coils of darkness and cruel doubt.
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