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


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


(50/50 | 3[d10]) No


Well, that’s good news.


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


Is the oracle in a good position for intercept?


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


“But what?” Ardelle asked.


“Our window just closed.”


Ardelle swore and raked a hand through her hair.


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The mood grew more somber.



How are the chameleons reacting to the hologram?


Starting / Rumour


Is Drix phased by it?


(Likely | 9[d10]) Yes



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


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


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


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


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


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


6 = 6[d8]


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


(50/50 | 3[d10]) No


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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



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


15 = 15[d20]





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


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


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


The newcomer marines all watched the Chameleons suspiciously and uneasily. 

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

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


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


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


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


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


“Yes,” Lt. Morgan said.


“And do you know what activated it?”


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


“How long ago?”


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


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


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


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


“Indeed? Likely? After so many years?”


“Cockroaches,” Elliot said absently.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


Bestow / Business




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


“Well, ma’am, the...uh...bugs?”


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


-----

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


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


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


“Ma’am? Ensign?”


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


She sat up and yawned, “What is it?”


She recognized the voice. Claxton.


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





Do the marines get sensor contact?


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


Yes, it’s pinging a lot of contacts.


Is it the insectoids?


(Likely | 6[d10]) Yes


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


Was it close to morning when they got sensor contact?


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


Right before dawn.


Is it still raining?


(50/50 | 7[d10]) Yes


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




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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


"Does the rest of your squad know?"


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


"You might want to practice your speech skills."

"Ma'am?"

"Sensor contacts are spiking."

“Any coming this way?”




Are they coming inland yet?


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



She looked at Elliot.


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


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


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


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


“Roger. What are you orders?”


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


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


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





Can they make contact with the Oracle?


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





“What is it?”


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


“Are our comms systems down?” Ardelle asked.


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


“Or?”


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


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


Sarge’s picture flared to life once more.


“Ensign?”


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


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


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


“Whately. Chubbs,” She said quietly.


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


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


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


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


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


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


“Can we get visual?” She asked Elliot.

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


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


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


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


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





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


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




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


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




Does the leg look armored?


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





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





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


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


For now we can study them innocently... 


Are those on shore sending out any scouts this way?


(Likely | 8[d10]) Yes





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


“They coming this way?”


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


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




Are they moving quickly?


(50/50 | 3[d10]) No


They're being cautious it seems.





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


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


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


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


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


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


“Me neither,” Elliot said.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


“I’ll do what I can, Ma’am,” he said.


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


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


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


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


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


“Aye Ma’am,” he said.


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

The three women stepped out into the gray drizzle of a weeping sky.
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