You can read more about this session on Thrythlind, our GM’s, blog at: http://thrythlind.blogspot.com.au/2017/10/the-shiny-red-cand...
Chapter 7: Session 3 – Be Sure to Name All Redshirts
“Here’s your purse, miss,” Malcom grumbled as he handed over the expensive leather bag to a particularly cadaverous-looking forty-something woman.
“Why, thank you detective,” Ms. Bellard croaked between puffs on her cigarette, deliberately ignoring the no smoking sign behind her head. “It’s so good to find someone competent on this ship’s staff.”
“I’m not… You know what, never mind ma’am,” he sighed. “If you don’t mind me asking, why were you looking for your purse down in engineering?”
“Well, when it went missing I thought one of the ne’er-do-wells on the crew had taken it,” she whispered conspiratorially. “After all, why have ‘employees only’ sections cordoned off the ship unless they’re hiding things from us?”
“Maybe so that the professionals can get on with business without passengers getting in the way?” Malcom suggested.
“Well, that’s what they say,” she replied, snorting derisively. “Tell me, Mr. Reynolds, do you by any chance know where we are at the moment?”
A chill went down Malcom’s spine. “Not exactly right at this moment, ma’am. I’m sure the Captain will make an announcement when she’s good and ready.”
“Oh, her,” she scoffed. “I’m really not sure what the owners are thinking hiring a woman captain…”
Malcom thanked whoever was looking over him the moment his phone began chiming, “Ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring, ring-ring, Ashvhatta phone!” “Um, please excuse me, ma’am,” Malcom apologized before fleeing the room as he fumbled with his phone. Closing the door, he breathed a sigh of relief and looked to a nearby porter, ignoring his phone for a moment. “How do you stand them?” he asked the porter plaintively.
The porter looked behind him to make sure no-one was about before answering. “Whiskey,” he admitted.
Malcom smirked as he finally answered his phone. “Reynolds, PO’d PI.”
“Yes, Malcom,” Aislin’s voice came over the line, “we need you to scrounge up some more bodies and bigger guns. Let me know when you’re ready, I’ll pop up and bring you down.”
“Oh, you know, wildlife,” Aislin mumbled distractedly, like she was listening to another conversation in the background. “Displacer wargs, cockatrice... Oh, Mr. Holt is also requesting, to quote, ‘a great big fucking gun’. He suggests asking one of his men to let you into his personal armoury.”
“Gimme twenty minutes,” Malcom told her before hanging up.
Five minutes and a brief explanation later, Malcom, Captain Frye and two of Rudyard’s guards were looking into a room that would have been the envy of any American SWAT team. Two fifty calibre heavy machine guns rested on a table in the middle of the room, freshly cleaned and ready. Racks of assault rifles, shotguns and military pistols adorned the walls, all locked away and unloaded. There were even a few grenade launchers and assault shotguns.
Malcom quickly found cupboards full of tactical gear and started putting together a field kit while Rudyard’s men selected their own carbines and a Cultural Republic of Chinese and Mongolian Peoples, or CRCMP for short, QBB-95 Light Support Weapon for Rudyard. A bullpup light machine gun, the QBB-95 featured a drum magazine between the hand grip and the stock.
“What the hell was that man expecting to face on a cruise?” Captain Frye protested, eyes bugging out at the sight of the small arsenal aboard her ship.
“Current immortal civilization,” Lydia explained to the mortals as Aislin arrived with Malcom and their reinforcements onto the shard. “Lilith and Vishnu took power in Yomi and Nirvana, our homeland shards, around forty-five thousand BC. That was the start of our current civilization, though we’ve only been at lasting peace since the Compact was made two thousand years ago. Technically immortal civilization stretches back millions of years. There aren’t many left who are that old, though. I know some of the symbols but they’re not arranged in any order I’m familiar with.”
“But still, neither of you can read this,” Rudyard said, mostly to himself as he was taking the information in. “So what does that mean? Aliens?”
“It’s not impossible,” Aislin answered. “There could be civilizations out here that have never had contact with Earth. However, considering the presence of the displacer warg, a species that we know about, and at least a familiarity with this alphabet, it’s more probable that this is some kind of civilization that we’ve just never encountered. Maybe an off-shoot of one of the mortal races that fled to the shards sometime in prehistory.”
While the adults were talking, Amaya was busy looking down the hallway. The ceilings and floor were made out of the same metal but the metal walls gave way to some kind of transparent material similar to glass. Beyond the glass were small rooms with door-shaped indentations in the back walls that reminded her of automatic doors from Star Trek. Without power, they were going to be a bitch to get open. Luckily, all the rooms were empty. She could see the end of the hallway up ahead, branching into a T-intersection. “These look like cages,” she said, feeling the texture of the transparent material and knocking on it. The dull thud of the knock was nothing like the sound of glass. “This feels stronger than glass, though, probably some sort of mineral-based material. This place is looking more and more like a zoo.”
“Oh yes,” Aislin said, “both demons and gods have plenty of menageries just like this one. Well, except in good working order with better security, dedicated staff and animals that are not on the loose and eating each other.”
“You guys haven’t seen Jurassic Park have you?”
Lydia rolled her eyes. “We zoologists are not incompetent bunglers, thank you. Our menageries don’t have break-outs and this place is ancient and obviously abandoned.”
Amaya held up her hands in surrender. “Ok, ok.”
“Leonard, Hoffman, good to see you,” Rudyard said to the two new security guards that Malcom and Aislin had arrived with. “Brought you a party favour, boss,” Hoffman said, handing Rudyard the light machine gun. Rudyard grinned, resting the butt on his hip so that he could check the chamber while slinging his carbine over his shoulder. “More dakka, that’s what I’m talking about. I want you two to group up with Darring and keep an eye on our backs. If possible, keep the other eye on Aeryn here.”
Aeryn waved and smiled at them from behind her camera.
“Malcom,” Rudyard continued, “you’re taking point with me.”
Malcom nodded, keeping his carbine pointed downward professionally with the stock tight to his shoulder as he passed Rudyard a torch attachment for the barrel of his gun. Snapping it in place, the security chief nodded to everyone, “Let’s go.”
The branch to the right ended in one of the strange doorways that Amaya had seen in the cages. Next to it was a sign with more of the strange writing on it, this time in red with sharper angles and points. It only took a few moments consideration before everyone looked at each other and said “warning sign” simultaneously before turning around to head the other way.
Like the previous hallway, this one ended in another of the doors but the door was stuck slightly ajar and there weren’t any signs nearby. Peeking through, Amaya gasped. “I can see a feint pale green glow emanating from some circles inscribed in the walls and floor,” she said for everyone else’s benefit, “similar to the ones we built to help Aislin teleport us down here. In the middle of the circles are weird pedestals with buttons on them. Some kind of control room maybe?” Slipping her arm through the crack experimentally, she tried to assess whether she could squeeze through. “I don’t think I can get through, Akiko could though.”
Ha! Akiko snickered. It’s those big old milk-bags of yours, isn’t it!
Jealousy is unbecoming of you, Amaya shot back. If I let you out will you promise not to do anything too stupid?
Hey! I’m not stupid!
I didn’t say you were stupid, Amaya replied placatingly. But we’re in a dangerous situation and you’re too impetuous for our own good.
Akiko huffed. I promise to be careful.
All right then. Amaya looked to Rudyard regretfully. “I’m sorry, please keep an eye on her. She won’t have to be out for long.”
“All right,” Rudyard said, giving in.
Aware that Aeryn had the camera trained on her, Amaya closed her eyes to focus, relinquishing control. She felt herself slide into the back of their mind as their body shifted, hair shifting from black and blue to white and red as her body slimmed. Akiko grinned as she opened her amber eyes, hopping excitedly in place and stretching. “Thanks, old man Holt! Lemme see here…”
Slipping her arm through, Akiko sucked in her stomach as she shuffled gently through the gap, wiggling to inch through. Your butt is too big too. Nothing to do with squeezing through here, just saying, she commented wryly to her sister, who blew her a mental raspberry in response. Slithering through, she scanned the room more thoroughly. “Nothing living on this side,” she whispered over her shoulder, “and no other doors. Definitely some kind of control room for something, though.”
Akiko jumped when Aislin appeared next to her with an audible ‘pop’. Kneeling to run her hands over the circle on the floor, the demon pursed her lips. “Pale viridian,” she commented, “I haven’t seen life-force this colour before.”
Lydia grunted behind them as she tried to squeeze through, but she was far too big. “Oh bother!” she exclaimed, giving up. “Maybe we can force it open?”
“Yeah, take a step back,” Rudyard ordered. “Malcom, I reckon we’ve got this.”
While the boys put their backs into opening the door, Aislin finished examining the circles. “Definitely controls for this shard’s void engines.”
Akiko listened to Amaya for a moment before asking her sister’s question for her. “Amaya wants to know if she can transfer the engines to our ship?”
“Probably,” Aislin answered, stroking her chin as she looked off into space. “Heck, I can give her the designs to build one from scratch if we want. I’m more inclined to tether the airship to this shard and pilot the shard around. If we can clear away or corral the local fauna. Try not to alarm the other mortals with this information but it could take a long time for us to get back to Earth…”
Akiko’s mind wandered as Aislin kept talking. She wasn’t worried about missing anything, Amaya was paying attention to Sempai, she could give her the cliff notes if it was important. After a moment’s hesitation before crossing one of the circles, pushing back bad memories of their sealing, she found herself looking at the buttons atop one of the pedestals. WAIT! STOP! AKIKO! Amaya shouted, pulling her attention away from Aislin’s lecture moments before Akiko idly pressed a few of the buttons.
The circles around them flared to life and the facility shook as the momentum of the entire shard shifted. Aislin was on Akiko in moments, grabbing the kitsune by the front of her blouse. “WHAT DID YOU DO?” the demon demanded, eyes flaring red. “Which buttons did you push?”
Akiko squeaked. “I… Um… That one,” she said, pointing, “and maybe that one. No, wait, it was that one, yes.”
Akiko felt the strange sense of teleportation vertigo for a moment before finding herself deposited in the middle of the circle room back on the Sol Suna. Captain Frye jumped at their sudden appearance.
“Captain,” Aislin cut in before anyone else could say anything, “the shard has changed course. You need to order your pilot to correct for its new trajectory.”
Pressing her face to the glass of the forward observatory window, Akiko’s eyes widened. The shard hadn’t changed course so much that it was now rolling over along its axis, like a great, big, ponderously slow fly swatter heading straight towards them. “Um, ma’am,” Akiko called out, “you better look at this!”
The Captain took one look at the rolling landmass and started barking orders through her radio. All three of them jumped when several small explosions rocked the shard, erupting into forest fires. “I didn’t do that!” Akiko said firmly. “That wasn’t my fault!”
At the same time, Aislin began staring off into space as the annoying jingle ringtone of Malcom’s phone began playing in her head. “Aislin,” she mumbled like she was answering a phone call.
“Aislin?” Rudyard’s voice came through to her telepathically. “What the hell happened and where are you?”
“I teleported back to the Sol Suna, I’m not sure what exactly happened…” Trailing off, she looked to Akiko in askance.
The fox-girl listened to her sister for a moment before answering. “Amaya says I accidently set off something called a ‘retro thruster’, apparently those need to be in balance or something to keep the shard stable.”
Aislin relayed the information. “Good news is the shard’s gravitational field should remain constant relative to the orientation of the shard,” she added, “so nothing’s going to fall into the void. Bad news is that something else just started some fires on the surface. The Captain’s getting us on course already, I can see the shard slowing down now. We should be back with you in…”
Aislin was interrupted by the loud roar of twisting metal that made her wish she could just pull the phone away from her ear. “Rudyard, what was that?” she asked moments before the line cut out. “Oh shit.”
Chapter 8 – Too Hot to Handle
Pale green sparks of lightning flew across the room as Lydia worked on the controls, several of the circles around them burning out. “Sorry!” the goddess apologized as the ground lurched underfoot. A trickle of blood was running from her nose, blood vessels bursting from the strain of controlling the system’s life-force. “This control system is antiquated and I’ve never dealt with energy like this before! But I think I’ve got the thrust problem sorted out.”
“That’s what he said,” Aeryn snickered, busily scanning the room with her camera.
“Please just tell me those weren’t vital systems,” Malcom begged, pointing at the burned-out circles.
Lydia winced. “Um, semi-vital? I mean, nothing bad happened so they’re probably not a major issue,” she said, not knowing about the fires overhead. “The pale viridian life force in this room, however, indicates that the species that built this was some sort of evolutionary link between humans and Sidhe. The facilities have held up remarkably well but who knows what could go wrong with maintenance delayed in the order of millions of years?”
A loud crunch of something big hitting metal echoed down the hall through the open door to the control room, sending vibrations through the floor into their feet. “Sir,” Leonard called back to his boss who was on Malcom’s phone, “something’s trying to break through the door down there!”
Rudyard cut the call and handed the phone back to Malcom, who stashed it in his back pocket. Shining his gun-light down the hall, he saw the doorway bulging in, more blows rocking the door as it was pummelled by whatever was on the other side. “Right, take a few steps back gentlemen and set up. Whatever comes through the door; shoot to kill. Lydia, stand up against the wall. If it gets through the door, stab it in the back.”
“I mean, if it’s an animal, we shouldn’t kill it,” Lydia mumbled, dithering.
“I respect your convictions,” Rudyard said, “but I’m also responsible for all our lives here. That takes precedence.”
Nodding, Lydia took position. Aeryn didn’t have to be told what to do, quickly scurrying behind cover.
Several more dents appeared in the metal door at the other end of the hallway before it gave way, bouncing around the corner of the T-intersection. The scaled beast battered the doorframe aside with the large, rhino-like, horn on its snout. Thick plates and scales rippled over corded tendons as it tore its way through. “Light it up!” Rudyard ordered, opening fire. Fully automatic fire pattered off its hide like hailstones, merely scratching the enamel.
A peaceful, feminine, voice said something unintelligible from one of the consoles. Rudyard blinked when a small turret popped out of the hallway ceiling, span its barrel towards the escaped beast and fired a net of pulsing pale green energy at it. Flashes of lightning sparked from the walls as the beast roared, bucking wildly to shake the net off. Flinging the stinging projectile aside, it arched it back, impaling the turret with its horn and shredding it.
Malcom saw his chance, taking careful aim and scoring several hits on its exposed underbelly, drawing blood. “See that? Go for the… What the…?”
The gunners paused their fire as they watched whatever sort of rhino-lizard thing this was shrink itself down to the size of a house cat. Letting off a tiny ‘roar’, it bounded forward.
“Don’t let up!” Rudyard ordered, snapping off some more fire. “If it can shrink, it can grow back to full size!”
Akiko and Aislin suddenly appeared in the chamber with an audible pop of displaced air. “We’re back, she’s safe and… Why are you firing at a kitty?” she asked before her eyes narrowed. “Wait, that’s not a kitty! DIE!” Gesturing with her right hand as her snake-like gun slithered into her left hand, a sudden violent breeze whipped through the room as the demon sucked the air out of the corridor. The rhino-lizard began to wheeze as it grew back to its original enormity, bounding forward in desperation and rage.
Its shoulders hit the doorframe to the chamber, buckling the wall. With its head through the door, it took a gasp like a swimmer coming up for air. Lydia screamed a war cry as she brought her manablade down across its cheek, cutting deep. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” she apologized profusely.
Akiko grinned, summoning up her chakra. The floor in front of the beast exploded into intensely hot amber flames, only a harmless illusion but the beast couldn’t know that. Eyes widening, it screeched, pulling back into the vacuum as it tried to flee, escaping through the caved-in ceiling beyond the T-intersection. Dismissing the vacuum, Aislin shook her head, “I almost feel bad for it now. But it did have the temerity to impersonate a kitty.”
“Akiko,” Rudyard addressed the kitsune, “can you ask Amaya if she can strip this room for parts? I don’t want to be down here any longer than we have to.”
“Hold that thought, Akiko,” Aislin interrupted. “Actually, I was considering the merits of repairing this shard, tethering the skyship to it and piloting this around instead.”
“With things like that out there!” Darring scoffed.
“Actually, it might not be as insane as it sounds,” Aeryn said. “This place has clean air, water and game we can hunt. The Sol Suna’s stores can’t last forever.”
“Precisely,” Aislin beamed. “We’d have to secure the animals and get the facilities up and running. Oh, and put out the forest fires…”
“Forest fires!” Lydia screeched, turning to Akiko. “This is all your fault! You just had to go fiddling with the controls!”
That’s not fair! Amaya protested where nobody could hear her. WE didn’t blow out the circles!
Akiko glared at her, pointing at the darkened circles on the walls and floor. “I didn’t do that,” she accused. “Look, let me just put out this fire…”
She was interrupted when the soft, feminine, voice chimed in again in its foreign language. “Beeta dau. Weedub pu chini!”
Akiko blinked as several spray nozzles emerged from the ceiling and sprayed her with flame retardant foam. Wiping foam out of her eyes while everyone snickered at her, she sighed as the fire illusion died out. Shaking the rest of the foam away, she mumbled “Well, I hope you’re all happy now. Amaya, you fix this.” Slipping back into their subconscious, Amaya emerged, hair darkening to black with blue tips. “Ugh,” Amaya groaned, looking up at Rudyard with nuclear-grade doe eyes. “I’m sorry, I should have paid more attention to what she was doing.”
Rudyard and Malcom’s flat stares told her they weren’t buying it but in the end the security chief sighed, hoisting his gun over his shoulder. “Lesson learned, then. If you can get this place fixed up, you’ll have earned my forgiveness.”
“What? No, no, no, no, no,” Lydia protested. “Why’d you bring chaos incarnate down here anyway?”
“To be fair, I brought the engineer down here.”
“You can’t get one without the other and you have to punish them both to punish one of them anyway!”
“All Akiko did was activate some of this facility’s automated defence systems and accidently set of a retro thruster,” Amaya said as calmly as possible. “Your fiddling around trying to fix it caused the forest fires. Which, by the way, we have to deal with as soon as possible. So how about you get out of my face and let me work?”
Lydia spluttered. “You… You…”
Akiko could feel the goddess gathering mana and directing it towards her. Screwing her eyes shut, she braced herself for what was to come. A sudden pop and fizzle sound told her that something had gone wrong as blue sparkles ricocheted across the room. Lydia’s body shuddered for a moment before it changed, her skin darkening, hips and breasts expanding until a vision of flawless beauty stood before them. Malcom was so distracted that he dropped his gun and fumbled trying to pick it up.
“Well that’s an obscure fetish,” Aislin murmured in amusement.
“What happened?” Aeryn whispered to the demon. “She looks like Katie Sackhoff’s Arabian porn double.”
“Who? No, nevermind,” Aislin dismissed the question as soon as she asked it. “The goddess of desire here tried to become Amaya’s vision of beauty to manipulate her but she misdirected the spell to Malcom by accident. It seems that Malcom has a thing for Urd, the goddess of fate. Though I’m not sure she’d appreciate some of the exaggerations.”
“I was just thinking Urd would be useful,” Malcom protested, “not that!”
Amaya laughed while Lydia and Malcom blushed in embarrassment. “Well, that’s not really my thing but thanks for trying, Lydia,” the kitsune chuckled. “You’re still pretty hot, though!”
“Beeta dau,” the feminine voice said again. “Weedub pu chini!”
The nozzles popped out of the ceiling and hosed Lydia down, covering her in a mound of foam.
“Wow,” Amaya noted, trying not to laugh. “These systems seem real buggy.”
The room beyond the door the rhino-lizard had battered through had several large tanks full of thick fluid that Lydia, freshly cleaned up and contrite, informed them was a cloning facility. Naturally, Rudyard immediately ordered Amaya to disable the system, so the kitsune was busy under the controls trying to decipher the maze of wires and devices attached to the tubes.
“It’s ok,” Amaya finally said, “I can shut this down.”
“Don’t screw up this time,” Lydia warned.
“Geeze, you’d think a goddess would have a little faith,” Amaya mumbled before snipping a wire.
The alarms sounded immediately as red lights began to flash. “Kilmana da! Kilmana da! Pasphor deebu acha!”
“Amaya! You screwed up again!” Lydia snapped.
“That should have disabled the cloning vats!” Amaya protested.
“It did,” Ailsin said with perfect calm, “but you seem to have triggered a failsafe. There’s a series of holographic symbols appearing over the console, looks like a timer.”
As Amaya shimmied out from under the console, she looked up to see the ‘timer’ disappear, replaced with a three-dimensional holographic map of the facility filling with gas. After a moment, the gas was ignited, cleansing the rooms and hallways in fire. Then the map disappeared and the timer continued.
Lydia stared at the timer intently. “It’s not a countdown, it’s counting up. I think it’s counting up to a certain density level for the gas. Once it gets to the right mixture of flammables and oxygen, boom, the facility is cleansed of any escaped life forms.”
“Shouldn’t we be getting the fuck out of here, then?” Rudyard growled.
“Calm thine pectorals,” Aislin said, looking around to check that everyone was in the room. “I think you’ll find the gas density will drop momentarily.”
When Lydia looked back to the symbols, she watched them rapidly plummet. “What did you do?”
“I created a vacuum in the rest of the facility,” she said smugly. “I can hold it for a few hours but we’re trapped in here until Amaya disables the system.”
Taking her cue, Amaya dived back under the console. It only took a minute for her to disable the failsafe, the holographic image flickered out as the alarms died. “There, see?” Amaya said, handing Lydia the offending circuitry. “No need to panic.”
“Hey, Rudyard,” Malcom called the security chief over to where he was sitting in the corner, scribbling on his notepad. Rudyard walked over and knelt next to him, “What’s up?”
Malcom tapped the symbols on his notebook. “Aislin’s idea might not be as crazy as it first sounds. I think with a bit of time and some help from either her or Lydia, I can decipher this language.”
“I didn’t know you were a linguist.”
He smiled. “Languages and cryptography, it’s all puzzle solving. I’m a private detective, it’s in my job description.”
“We’ll still have to secure the wildlife,” Rudyard pointed out. “But Aeryn’s right about the stores, we’ve got about two months of food without rationing. If things get too tight, we’re looking at mutiny, which won’t help anyone.”
“While I’m not adverse to putting a bullet in a few one percenters, I’d rather avoid it,” Malcom said. “What’s the next move?”
Standing up, Rudyard coughed to get everyone’s attention. “Ok, listen up everyone. We’re going back to base to give our report to the Captain. Based on our recommendations, she’ll make her decision but on the whole, I’m for taking this zoo over. Get your arguments together, this might be a hard sell.”
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