"CHEESE IT YOU FOOLS! Run For Your Lives!!!" Doc shouts into the megaphone.
The Time Operatives run. The crowd runs with them.
Gunfire claps and reverberates off the buildings around them and echoes down the halls of this hollow asteroid. Explosions from the APC's mortars deafen everyone. Windows break. People scream. Blood curdles
Everyone runs. The APCs follow.
Doc flashes back briefly to his time in the middle east. Fragments of an exploded mortar zing past his ear into the skull of a young man in front of him. His camo is a Hawaiian shirt.
The few members of the crowd with stolen guns do a rather excellent job of hitting their targets. Their targets, however, are thickly armored and bullets bounce madly off their hulls, pwinging and zinging everywhere.
There are a few lucky shots, however. A bullet or two find their way down the mortar muzzle on one of the tanks just as it is being armed. The mortar detonates within the turret, blowing a gaping hole in the top of the APC. The resulting fire sets off the remaining munitions, blasting the tank into shreds and taking out all the soldiers within it.
The crowd cheers. The other tank takes the opportunity to blow away almost a dozen people with one shot of it's mortar. The crowd continues to run.
All the crowd's gunfire is concentrated on the other tank. It holds up remarkably well. It continues to rip two or three people in half at a time with it's .50 calibur machine guns and turning half a dozen at a time into gibblets with it's mortar.
It takes only a bit more than a minute to run the two blocks, but it seems like a lifetime to everyone involved. The FastTrack station is inside a building forged from the iron of the asteroid they are within. The glass doors of the building open into a turnstyle-gated hallway which gives a merciful sanctuary for the people running from the tank. It can't fire much past the door, but it doesn't mean it won't try anyway.
They're only about a hundred feet away. Doc is feeling out of shape as he pushes it this last stretch with the last of his strength. Steve begins to breath too hard and slows down to catch his breath. The rest of the crowd pours into the station under heavy fire. Steve is caught out in it.
The machine gun still fires and the mortars still fly.
"Come on, Steve!" Doc yells.
"I--can't--run--any--more," he pants, completely out of breath and looking like he's on the verge of a heart attack. The rest of the crowd passes him up, at least those who are not cut down by gunfire.
As the crowd disappears beyond the shattered glass door of the FastTrack building and around the wall into the terminal, the APC stops its approach. The rear hatch flies open and a crew of six pirate soldiers hops out, weapons ready, under the cover of the continuing machine gun fire from their APC's turret.
"CHEESE IT YOU FOOLS! Run For Your Lives!!!" Doc shouts into the megaphone.
Doc thinks the situation over. "Let's head straight for the command center and hope for the best. How long do you need to hack the fast track?"
"I'm already working on it. Should be ready when we get there."
Doc sneaks up to the glass door and looks outside. He can't see very well down the street towards the station, but there's nothing on his thermal sensors between him and their target, as far as he can see. A hover cart full of troops zips by every other minute or so. Two armed APCs are moving slowly in opposite directions, converging on a point between themselves and the FastTrack station
The crowd is getting antsy and beginning to press against him. The doors are locked. Doc tries to get them to wait a bit longer.
It doesn't take long for someone to throw a chair through the glass door. The crowd begins to flood outside, dispersing in many wrong directions.
"Forward! Towards the Command Center! This way!" Doc shouts into the megaphone.
The Time Operatives rush towards the train station. The crowd swarms around them, the few with guns firing wildly at the APCs. Only a couple of bullets find a target, barely dinging the thick composite hull.
The APCs respond quickly, returning fire into the crowd. One fires its machine gun, dropping a couple people immediately. The other launches mortars. The explosion tears almost a half dozen people to shreds.
The relative cover of the train station is another 1200 feet away.
Even though Doc orders them tied up, the surrendering pirates are hauled off by the crowd and beaten senseless, their weapons taken and their armor ripped to shreds.
The Time Operatives lead this unruly mob down the utility shaft towards the engineering section. The hatch is clearly labeled and is already open. The vertical shaft receives a horizontal branch at this point, which leads towards the central artery of hot plasma lines between the two reactors.
Outside the hatch, they find themselves in the administration offices of the atmospheric processing center. The place is dark, lit only by blue emergency floods and the blinking orange of the security alarms. The building is empty, save for the angry mob flooding into its halls.
The door is easy to find, but beyond the glass is a sight Doc had hoped not to see. The arterial streets of the engineering center are busy with security personnel racing towards their emergency assignments in hover-carts. The place is like a hive of gun-wielding bees. Larger armored vehicles with machine gun turrets and mortars lumber through the swarm, either on patrol or moving into tactical positions.
There's no sign of any other rioters.
Doc attempts to hold the mob back in the shadows of the empty building, but they are getting difficult to control. They will almost assuredly be mown down by machine guns if he allows them to simply flood the streets. The entrance to the Command Center is nearly a mile down the road.
"Veronica," Doc calls. "Is there any way to reach the Command Center without using the main road on the Engineering Deck?"
"Besides the trains and elevators with which you could be ejected into space?" She responds over the com. "No. For precisely this security reason."
"The roads are completely filled with guards and tanks. What are our options?"
"Not much in the way of direct confrontation. You'll have to have a distraction, or press through by shear numbers."
Doc looks behind him. There's a lot of people here, but this meat shield is not big enough to run a mile through machine guns and mortars.
"Doc," Steve chimes in. "I've been analyzing the ships systems, and I think I might be able to hack the FastTrack. There's a station two blocks up. It's a big risk, but if I can maintain control over it, we won't be ejected into space."
"How big a risk?"
"Frankly, I'm better than anybody on this ship, but there's a lot of people working against me. Call it 50/50."
"Are there any other options?"
"We can crawl back through the utility condiuts and see what kind of trouble we can make in the reactor cores. Not sure what we can accomplish, though. With enough time and equipment I could make some antimatter bombs from the secondary core. But one bomb would take an hour at least if all the supplies and equipment are lined up in front of me when we get there."
"How big a bomb?"
"Just a milligram of the stuff is enough to level a skyscraper. I'll have to do some more calculations, but one or two placed strategically in the command center would be enough to severely cripple the ship. If we can knock out Spaaz's and his command structure, we might be able to convince the rest of the pirates to give up and turn over control of the ship to us."
"And if we accidentally detonate it in the reactor area, we could sterilize the Earth."
"And Alpha Centuari. Well, half of each. But yes."
"Heads up people! We've got company!" Doc calls to his team. "Don't shoot in here unless we have to. I don't want to be blown up."
The HUD sunglasses analyze the threat. All four carry assault rifles similar in design to the slug throwers, which they also carry as side arms, as well as combat knives. They're also well armored. Their helmets make a perfect seal with their ceramic plated body armor, and they carry backpacks which are obviously housing oxygen tanks. They move surprisingly fast in these space suits.
These must be the elite units Veronica warned us about. Doc thinks.
The elite units move swiftly up the stairs. They stop just behind the column from them. They are out of direct line of sight, but Doc can see their thermal outlines through the haze and interference from the steam and plasma lines within the utility conduit they hide behind.
Doc focuses in further. His HUD glasses respond, zooming in and improving the resolution on the face of the squad leader. He's a hard man, out doing his job. He's sweaty and tired from running up the stairs in this space suit. He hasn't had much practice lately, probably spent too much time drinking and cavorting in the casinos upstairs.
Doc lifts the megaphone to hip lips. "You there! Surrender your arms and you won't be harmed! Fight, and you will be destroyed! Come out with your hands up!"
The squad captain's eyes change, as if this was a viable option he hadn't considered before. He stops to consider his situation. He's carrying an assault rifle which he plans to use in a confined and highly volatile space. His opponents are fielding some kind of unknown super-weapons, and he has the low ground. And if they somehow survive the initial confrontation, there's a hundred people above them ready to swarm down onto them.
"Alright!" He un-slings his gun and puts his hands on his head. "We surrender!"
His squad-mates look at each other in confusion, but cannot disobey their captain. They follow suit.
Mark and Thunderhorse look back at Doc, amazed that this actually worked.
"Let's make a break for Engineering and see if we can put a spanner in the works from there," says Doc.
He calls up an area map on his HUD sunglasses, one provided to him by Veronica. It shows maintenance pathways that are not on the public maps. Down an alley off the main road, behind the storefronts in the residential section of the deck, there's a maintenance portal that leads to a vertical shaft with stairs spiraling around a two-meter utility conduit.
"This way," he leads. The Time Operatives follow.
The riot is in full swing with nearly a quarter of the millions of passengers involved. There's no hope of Spaaz recovering order on this ship, even if he could turn the PA system back on without Dr. Ritenrong hacking into it again.
Rioters run this way and that through the residential section. No one is sure quite where to go, but all seem to be finding their way towards the front of the ship. Here and there, groups engage the security forces and overwhelm them with shear numbers. The blasts and ricochets of slog throwers echo down the endless hallways
At last they reach the maintenance hatch and open it up. Inside lies the immense spiral staircase. The utility conduit blocks the view across the small room, but the stairs themselves are corrugated metal. One can see down nearly twenty turns around the shaft before the overlapping grids obscure the view. There's no one in here. The only sound besides the clanging metal as they step onto the small landing is the sound of the sharp breeze blowing up the shaft.
Thunderhorse takes point, with Mark right behind him, followed by Doc, then Steve. They head cautiously down the stairs, leaving the hatch open at the top. The rioters leak in behind them. The trip down becomes ever more noisy, as their footsteps clang down the stairs, and more and more join above them. The voices of the rioters echo throughout the chamber, reverberating chaotically down the tube.
Doc keeps his sunglasses tuned to thermal imaging. Steam and plasma lines inside the utility conduit interfere, keeping half the shaft obscured at all times. But he keeps looking down in hopes of catching sight of anything comming up at them.
Steve pipes up. "Don't shoot the conduit. It could rupture the plasma, steam, or methane lines, or sever the high voltage lines. We don't want a high voltage power line in contact with these stairs. We don't want methane gas in a firefight. We don't want to be steam cooked or disintegrated by ionized gas as hot as the sun. Let's hope like hell they don't notice us up here and decide to blow a hole in it."
Doc acknowledges this. He makes careful note of every landing and hatch that they pass. There's one every ten stories or so.
And then his worst fears are confirmed, at least his currenty worst fears; or perhaps his priority worries. Four thermal color splotches race around the stairs below them, disappearing behind the bright violet line of heat from the utility conduit, and reappearing on the other side, slightly larger than before.
The huge crowd continues down the road, now unobstructed by the pirate security forces, at least for now.
Doc continues shouting into the megaphone, which carries through the ship's PA system.
"The whole ship is run by pirates! Admiral Spaaz is leading them! They want to enslave you! You must fight for your lives! Only if we band together can we defeat them! Don't trust any crew member! They are ALL pirates! Rise up! Attack your oppressors! It is our only chance! Head for the bridge and engineering sections. Don't take the elevators. Use crew member badges to move on. I don't know how much longer I can speak to you, but don't stop until the ship is ours! Crew members, lay down your arms and surrender. Don't slay innocent people! You will be treated fairly if you help defeat the evil Admiral Spaaz!"
The last sentence trails off as the PA system is finally disconnected.
Veronica comes online. "You've managed to rile up almost a quarter of the ship. Good work. Spaaz is bumping to Orange Alert. All police and regular security forces have been mobilized. Elite units have been dispatched to your location. I don't have a clear number on those. You better get off the deck you're on, though."
"Affirmative," Doc replies. "Alright boys, we're officially number one on Spaaz's shit list. We've got to make ourselves scarce."
The Time Operatives rejoin behind a pack of raving wild rioters in the middle of the outdoor road inside a six-kilometer long space ship headed for Alpha Centauri at two hundred times the speed of light.
"Hey, Thunderhorse! " calls Captain Mark Daniels of the Michigan Territorial Militia as they approach each other. "Lift me up!"
"What?" asks Thunderhorse, the long-haired Norse warrior.
"Lift me on your shoulders! I wanna good shot at that guy! I can't see him over the crowd."
Thunderhorse complies. He lifts the man; a mid-19th century wool coat and cap clad soldier on top of a wood-ax and rail-gun assault rifle wielding viking in chain-laden Hot Topic pants, a Manowar shirt, and a goat-skull helmet.
Dr. Lucas Shaw of the Smithsonian Institute's Temporalonautic Research Division shouts into a megaphone, egging the crowd on down the hall. His voice echoes down the hall on the ship-wide PA system. People who were hesitant before take inspiration from his words and confidence from their victories and join the crowd.
The echo suddenly stops.
"Damnit!" Calls Dr. Steve Ritenrong, quantum temporal physicist and inventor of the Q-TIP, the time device by which the Operatives find themselves in this situation. "They cut us off the PA system. I'll try to re-establish the connection before they regain total control!"
Too late, apparently, as a new voice echoes through the PA system.
"This is Admiral Spaaz to the passengers of the IDS Marseille Marriott. Please remain calm and remain in your quarters, or seek shelter in the nearest convenient shopping center. Pirates have boarded and are attempting to incite a riot in order to gain control of the ship. Do not listen to them. Please discontinue your rampage and return to your cabins. Security forces have been dispatched to deal with the problem. Anyone who interferes with our security forces will be considered a pirate and dealt with as one. Please return to your cabins where you will be safe. Message repeat..."
Many of the rioters do not hear the announcement, but a few of them do. A handful secretly slink out of the crowd and into the shops along the street, where they wait quietly, hoping no one will notice them.
The rest of the security forces in this area of the deck find themselves swamped by rioters. Surrounded, their guns are useless. They switch to knives and shock maces, a more violent and deadly version of the shock mace used by the riot cops. One of these weapons is stolen by the crowd before it can be swung. The rest find a mark somewhere in the mass of bodies, incapacitating a few more of the rioters.
Mark levels his assault rifle at the Captain, taking careful aim. His balance is steady, his gun is straight. Thunderhorse, however, is not. Just before Mark pulls the trigger, Thunderhorse wobbles and drops Mark on his face.
"Fuck!" He says as he gets back up. "What the hell is wrong with you?!"
"You are fat!" Thunderhorse yells back. "Lose some weight!"
"You're the fat one, you drunk bastard! Shit! That hurt, you dick."
Doc continues cajoling the crowd with the microphone, trying to undo the damage Spaaz has already done to the cause. "Don't listen to him! He's the pirate who's kidnapping you! Stand up against him! They'll kill us all!" The people who ran off before start to come back out from their hiding places, joined by a few others as well.
Spaaz's voice suddenly cuts out and is replaced by Doc's again.
"You're back online!" Steve calls into the com. "I don't know how long you've got before they just cut the system off altogether."
The pirate security forces try to fight off the oppressive, crushing crowd, but in the end are utterly swamped. Their captain is knocked out, and the rest follow. The Lieutenant is the last to fall, his arm raising helplessly as the sea of mob finally overwhelms him.
Mark fires again at the Lieutenant running towards the crowd. The guard sees him raise his gun, and instinctively ducks before he fires. The bolt just barely misses him.
Doc fires at him from his doorway as well. Strangely, the weapon's overheating indicator turns yellow, even though he's only shot it once in the last minute or so. Doc remebers what Steve told him about the power pack's volatility and is very concerned until the light cools back down. Everything seems to be okay. Just a simple misfire.
Forgetting that, Doc calls out with his megaphone and into the PA system. ""Keep moving people! We need to take the bridge and engineering quick before it they can mobilize!"
"Man, this guy is fast," Mark calls over the headset. "Try the automatic setting, Thunderhorse."
Thunderhorse does. The weapon belches out ten bolts in rapid succession, peppering the area with high velocity microbullets. One bolt tears through part of his leg.
Steve also tries to pin this guy down. He fires at him with the Pulse ION pistol. The beam cuts just barely in front of the man. He stops short briefly enough to avoid being partially disintegrated.
He's got some damn balls, though. Rather than seeking cover, he rushes towards the clothing store where Mark and Steve are bunkered, firing at them. Mark ducks behind the store's wall. The first shot misses, but the next shot hits him in the upper arm. The bullet does not penetrate his reactive gel armor, but if the force at which he spins back is any indication, he just got a really nasty bruise. Mark clutches his wound and yelps.
"Cock sucking mother fucker!"
Meanwhile, the other armed guards continue firing into the crowd with no regard to human life. The stunned guards recover, including the shotgun weilding captain. They drop nearly twenty people.
Mark pissed. He switches to autofire and opens up on the lieutenant. The guard does an amazing power slide underneath the spray of fire with a catlike return to his feet once the death storm ends.
"Son of a bitch!" Mark calls over the com.
"Shoot that sonofabitch!" yells Doc.
Doc shoots at that sonofabitch. Thunderhorse opens automatic fire on him. The sonofabitch dodges Doc's laserbeam, but winds up absorbing nearly every single blast from Thunderhorse's assault rifle. The fucker is torn to shreds.
"Doc, they're at it again," Steve says over the com. "They're trying to disconnect the PA system altogether. I'll try to hold on to it."
The crowd continues to beat the hell out of the armed guards as it surges forward, enveloping them like an amoeba. One of the Sergeants falls beneath their wailing fists and is sumarily trampled. The Captain takes a hell of a beating as well, but manages to stay standing, for now.
Across the street from Doc and Thunderhorse, Mark and Steve bunker down. A blast of blue-white energy smashes through the clothing store window at the lieutenant. The shattering glass disperses the pulse of micro bullets, flinging them harmlessly in random directions.
"Doc," Steve calls, "someone's trying to disconnect you from the PA system. I'll try to maintain the connection."
Doc continues rallying support for their cause as he stands against the wall next to the door of the sporting goods store. No one else joins the fight. It seems that everyone willing to rise up is already entering the melee, at least on this deck. He leans out the door and takes aim at the running lieutenant. He fails to lead him properly and misses.
Thunderhorse fires at the same guard through the window. Again, the shattering glass disperses the pulse.
Steve calls Doc back. "The PA system is still yours, Doc. I trashed their terminal. Whoever's on the other end is gonna have to find a new computer. That might not be long, though. I'll keep on it."
In the meantime, the crowd envelops and beats its attackers. Another riot guard is trampled as the other is pounded. One of the armed guards is immediately trampled while his counterpart runs away from the dog pile. Their sergeant is punched in the face. The man with the shotgun takes a hit from a stolen sonic blaster, incapacitating him for the time being.
The crowd presses hard against its oppressors. The last riot guard is pressed against the wall and beaten down. The armed guards all get pummelled as the rioters surround and beat them down. The stunned captain takes a few good whacks from scavenged weapons.
Veronica comes online. "Well, you're little trick with the PA worked. Disturbances reported on all decks. The current estimate is seven hundred rioters total. They're discussing whether to bump up to Orange alert. If that happens you're going to see much heavier resistance, possibly armored vehicles. You've got three units on your site, as I'm sure you're aware, and six more units dispatched. That's another 18 guards on their way. You better keep moving."
"Thunderhorse with me, Steve with Mark. Split up and take cover," Doc instructs the Time Operatives. "Steve, can you patch me into the ship's PA system?"
"I can try. Give me a few."
Mark and Steve head across the street towards an open clothing store. Steve seems to be staring at the floor as he runs, his lips moving like he's reading an invisible book.
Mark stops briefly to take a long shot at the guards approaching from behind. The shot ruptures the guard's helmet, slowing and spreading the pulse of bullets, causing his head to explode beneath his mask. His head is literally blown off.
"Easy as pointin' yer finger," Mark praises his new toy.
Doc heads towards the sporting goods store on the fore-bound side of the street. Thunderhorse stays behind a moment to fire at the guards as well. He manages to compensate for the recoil this time and the weapon stays true; a direct hit to the chest, killing the second guard. Thunderhorse joins Doc in the store.
Steve calls Doc. "Okay, you're in."
Doc tries it out. "Attention, passengers of the Indestructable Starship Marseille Marriott. This ship's crew are pirates, and you are all prisoners of Admiral Spaaz. If you want to survive this journey, grab whatever you can and storm the bridge! People, unite! We will not be made slaves or killed like sheep!"
His words echo down the vast corridor.
Something about the combination of Doc's words and the sight of armed guards running towards a mass of civilians stirs the docile to action. People in stores flood the street, screaming about their money and demanding revenge.
The three riot control guards are swarmed by the crowd. One is decked in the face, but the rioters trip over themselves trying to beat him further. Another manages to defend himself against the rioters until he's kicked squarely in the balls. Other rioters then entangle themselves trying to finish him off. The third is simply beaten senseless. The other two regain their footing and continue bashing heads with their shocksticks. Rioters fall to the ground, screaming in electric agony.
The stunned are the fortunate, as the armed guards close in fast. The remaining runner fires wildly into the crowd. The crowd is so close together the bullet wounds three people before stopping in someone's shoulder.
The hover carts come screeching to a stop. The six guards dismount and also start firing into the crowds, killing and wounding several more people. One of them, the highest ranking one, has a shotgun. It's loud, echoing blast cuts through the rioters like butter.
Veronica's voice enters Doc's head unannounced as the mob picks the weapons and armor off the remains of the defeated guards.
"I don't know what you just did but the alert level just skipped to yellow. Expect a lot of resistance ahead."
"Affirmative," Doc replies as if he's responding to his old CO. Seeing the carnage these strange weapons can create put his head right back into the old days; the bad days when remorse was suicide. "We're headed into the commercial strip for this deck."
The mob spills out of the capillary residential hallway into the arterial strip mall that runs the length of the ship. If it were not for the advertisements rolling electronically across the ceiling sky, Doc would think they just stepped outside. It is a lot like a long city block. The shops and offices do not rise the entire thirty stories to the top of the deck. There are green spaces between the buildings as well, giving the entire ship a grand sense of openness. The central road is mildly busy with hover cart traffic, most burdened with shoppers and their bags.
Doc continues to shout through the megaphone. "Rise up! Take arms! This ship is run by pirates and you're all in danger! Grab whatever you can! We're taking over this ship!"
The people enjoying coffee at a bistro stare blankly at the spectacle. Only a couple dozen out of the hundreds of shoppers here seem to respond to Doc's words, shouting out and joining the rest of the crowd.
Three riot guards are already on the scene, dismounted from their hover cart and brandishing their stun guns at the crowd.
"Security guards are coming," Steve says.
"I see them," says Doc.
"No, not the riot guards. I've got nine lethal weapons contacts: three behind us and six ahead of us."
Doc confirms this with his thermal sensors. The three behind them are approaching on foot and are two hundred feet away. The six ahead are on hover carts and are three hundred feet out.
"I guess yellow alert means they're not fucking around anymore."
The hover cart comes to a screeching halt. The four guards leap off, wielding sonic blasters similar to those used by the OUE campus security. The open fire on the crowd before anyone can react. Three people immediately hit the ground, dizzied by the unbearable noise the device creates in their heads.
The leader of the pirate riot control forces recognizes Doc as the inciter of the riot, since he's the one with the megaphone. He aims his sonic blaster right at him. Doc doesn't have time to react before the most ear splitting noise he's ever heard skips right past his eardrums and screeches across the auditory center of his brain. Doc almost pukes as he doubles over, clutching his ears to no avail.
Mark reacts to the man aiming a gun to his leader and fires the railgun assault rifle at the Sergeant. The thing goes off with an incredible exploding, fwhoosh sound as a pulse of white hot bullets rip through the air, breaking the speed of sound and edging on the speed of light in this atmosphere, leaving a faint blue glow in its wake. The blast rips right through the sergeant's riot helmet and continues on down the hall, leaving a cauterized pinhole through the man's brain. The sergeant's gun slips from his hand and hits the floor moments before his knees, followed by his face.
"Holy shit!" cries Mark. "I love this gun!"
Thunderhorse gives it a try. Another white-blue streak precedes a booming blast as he pulls the trigger. Half the beam melts into the thick steel ceiling while the other half splashes and ricochets. No one is injured by it.
"Watch out for the recoil," warns Mark. Thunderhorse nods.
A violet line appears briefly between Dr. Ritenrong and the hover cart. The thing's fuel cells explode and smoke. Again, no one is injured, but the hover cart is now on fire.
"Sorry," apologizes Steve. "I'm not used to shooting these things."
The crowd surges forward, putting some distance between themselves and the firefight.
Mark drops another guard easily. His simply padded riot armor burns as he flies backwards into the wreckage of the hover cart.
His head finally clear, Doc is ready for action. He draws his ion pulse gun and fires. A pull of the trigger creates the violet line of burning death between him and his target. A cavernous chunk of his target's torso disintegrates, revealing blackened spine and ribs. Fat cells burn like a hotdog on a campfire.
"Yikes," is all Doc can mutter.
Thunderhorse levels his rifle and tries again. Again the blast goes wide, this time splashing against the wall, loudly but harmlessly.
Steve tries his luck again. This time the beam connects, disintegrating the man's upper arm and a portion of his torso dangerously near his heart. The bone slides sickly out of the cauterized remains of its socket and onto the floor. Someone watching from the crowd shrieks "Oh my God!"
The guard, not killed but mortally wounded, screams bloody murder and limps off for his life, crying for backup.
The crowd, having witnessed this disgusting spectacle, now feels empowerd by the ruthless and brutal forces on their side.
Figure this needs thought out better and recorded for posterity. I've been ineffectively winging it so far. Deviations from previously used logic will not be retroactive, but this will be the model I will use from now on.
XP is awarded in three categories: Characterization, Skill checks, and Combat victories.
Characterization awards are XP bonuses granted at the DM's discretion for good ideas by players, well played roles, or significant goals accomplished.
Skill check awards are given for essentially every d20 roll. Success means the full DC of the challenge overcome is awarded. Failure awards 10% of the DC (rounded to the nearest whole) Critical Successes double the award, while critical failures negate it. Awarding failures even a small amount encourages attempts to be made.
Combat XP is awarded upon victory. The award equal to 100 times the combined level of the defeated group times the ratio of the victorious group's levels to the defeated's levels, minimum of 1. Special circumstances may modify the final value. Failure in combat is not rewarded so as to discourage hopeless engagements.
XP = Loser Levels * 100 * (Loser Levels / Winner Levels), Min 1.
A level 1 character must defeat 10 level 1 enemies to gain a level.
The riot is in full swing.
"Well, what the hell, let's take over the ship. Mark, you're on point. Thunderhorse, you are behind him. Steve grab our stuff and stay behind me. Follow the crowd, but hang back a bit."
Doc distributes the weapons as he gives the orders.
"Yee-haw!" shouts Mark. "Good thing we got in some practice with these things in the arcade!"
"Yes," says Thunderhorse as he properly primes the firing pack and releases the safety. "Murderspree 2222 was a fun game."
"Let's be careful gentlemen," Doc warns them. "We don't want to screw this up and get killed, and I only got one pair of underwear on so don't scare me. Take out obstacles one at a time and work together. Steve, call Veronica and see if she can be of some help on her end. She wanted to help these people. Everybody ready and clear on the plan? Good! Let's go."
Doc gets on the bullhorn. "Ladies and Gentleman, grab the cards/badges off the crew! You will need them!"
The few remaining members of the crowd acknowledge the message. They strip the porter clean before stampeding out of the docking bay.
The party follows them.
Veronica's face suddenly appears, getting into his. "You did what?!" she shouts at him.
"We're taking over the ship," Doc tells her. "Are you going to help these people or what?"
"You said we were leaving!"
"It occurred to me that we can't fix a future that's broken in the present."
"But a riot? Thousands will die!"
"We have to stop Spaaz before he ruins the future. You were willing to sacrifice yourself and everyone on board to do that, weren't you? A lot less will die this way. Now what can you do to help?"
"FUCK! You men. I just- ugh!" Her face disappears as she goes offline.
Her voice comes back a moment later. "Security is alerted to the situation but there's no responders yet. They don't care if anyone throws themselves out an airlock, saves them trouble later. But if your crowd starts into the ship, you bet your ass you're gonna see armed guards, and they're not going to have any problem shooting you or anyone else. So you better get as big a crowd together as you can. Make your way towards the engineering decks. Don't use the elevators, they can eject you into space. There are emergency ramps between every deck. Look for the fire escape doors. Make your way to central engineering. Bring as big a crowd as possible as fast as possible. I will meet you there. Watch out for Security rovers."
"Security rovers? "
"Armored vehicles. They have machine guns and mortars. They'll be patrolling the transport corridors once the alert is up. I'll see what I can do from here. I'll keep you updated." She ends the transmission.
Doc gets back on the megaphone as the crowd pushes through the tight residential halls. People are knocking on doors and sometimes forcing them open, shouting about pirates and exciting more rioters. Doc shouts through the megaphone. "This ship is run by pirates! We're taking over before we're all robbed and killed! To arms! To arm!"
People standing in doorways are wide eyed and stunned at first, but are swept up in the fervor of the crowd. Very few become frightened and run away to hide. In short order, the crowd has doubled in size. Some are carrying weapons, pipes, bars, bottles, anything they can find or tear off a wall. Some of the stewards and stewardesses join in as well, at least those who are not first pummeled for being in a uniform.
The crowd leaves behind a wake of plastic flower petals as Hawaii Day is forever ruined for many a cruise director.
"Alert is up," Veronica's voice comes into his ear. "Blue signal. Riot control is on it's way. Watch your flanks."
Sure enough there's flashing blue lights on a hover cart approaching quickly from behind. Doc's infrared sensors identify four security guards with stun guns and batons.
Slug throwers are a lot like standard firearms but do not use gunpowder. They use ionized lead coated uranium bullets and fire with a combination of magnetic acceleration like a railgun and the release of highly compressed gas. This weapon is from an era where batteries do not yet have the energy density to power a fully magnetic accelerated weapon at the small arms scale.
The projectile from a slug thrower is very similar to a standard 9mm gunpowder round, but are smaller, denser, and faster. The advantage is that it has almost no mechanical parts, thus requires none of the grease that tends to boil away in a low pressure environment. Thus they are easier to maintain and can be operated in space. They are also very easy to mass produce and are therefore cheap without the usual pitfalls of being "cheap." The magnetic system also provides a very high spin, stabilizing the flight and increasing its accuracy over standard firearms.
All slug-throwers are semiautomatic. Some have autofire options. A standard clip contains ten rounds and enough power and gas to fire them all. When reloading a clip, it must also be recharged with both gas and electricity. This is usually accomplished with a base station, but there are fanny packs that cam do this. Simply insert a spent clip and retrieve a recharged and reloaded one. The spent clip is automatically loaded and charged. It is usually lighter to carry many extra clips, however.
Slug Thrower: 2d6 ballistic, 50ft range increments, Semiautomatic, 10 round magazine, Small, 2 lbs.
Doc, Steve, Mark, and Thunderhorse approach the beleaguered porter..
"I'm sorry. We cannot stop the ship and let you off," he tells them without waiting for them to speak. "If you're feeling space sick, please visit the infirmary. If you simply cannot cope with it, please schedule an appointment with a therapist. We have several on staff."
"No, no," Steve answers him. "We're not here for that. We need our equipment back."
"Yes. I'm Dr. Steven Ritenrong. We made a special arrangement to house our equipment."
"I'm sorry, sir. I cannot allow you to retrieve it until departure time."
Doc steps in. "If you'll just return our property from the storage locker, I think we can help you settle this crowd down before someone rips your head off. You better hurry 'cause they are about to turn on you!"
"I'm not about to allow you to fire weapons at my passengers."
"We have stun guns. Mark and Thunderhorse here are both professional body guards, and I am an expert in psychology." Doc extends his hand. "Dr. Lucas Shaw at your service."
The porter takes his hand. "Stun guns, you say? And you're a psychiatrist? Very well. Security is not responding to my calls, so I don't have much choice. If you can get these people under control, you can take your equipment. I guess Security isn't too interested in knowing anything that goes on down here. If they've got a problem with you, it's their problem, not mine. Just promise not to kill anyone?"
The porter disappears into a door behind the service desk. Doc takes a moment to analyze the crowd. He pinpoints one woman who seems especially frightened. Larger, older, and sweating profusely, the woman is quiet but shaking, as if withholding some highly energetic emotions. Doc connects to her mind.
She's a fairly easy read. She's a shut in. She's never really been far from home. She's been well kept most of her life, comfortable, no worries. She's got the sad despair of having a loved one pass away, her husband or father, someone who took care of her for most if not all her life. Doc concludes that someone must've suggested she take her inheritance and go on a long vacation, see the galaxy, meet someone new. And now she's here alone lightyears from Earth, having never been beyond the front yard before. Her quiet demeanor is only the as-yet unbroken surface tension of a raging tsunami of panic.
The porter returns with their gear. Doc digs out the stun batons and hand them to Mark and Thunderhorse. He and Steve still have their pain guns, plus the slugthrowers from the unfortunate cut-purses they met earlier.
The man with the megaphone is trying desperately to shout overtop the building clamor. Doc goes up to him and takes the megaphone from him. The man gives it up easily, as he sees no good reason not to allow someone else to get eaten alive instead of himself.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please!" Doc addresses the crowd. They seem willing to respond to someone new. "Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please! The whole ship is run by pirates!"
There is a sudden hush. The bellboys perk up in attention. Even the people trying to throw themselves overboard stop for a moment to listen. The porter's jaw is agape. Doc focuses his mind on his predetermined target.
"They are going to rob and enslave you! Your only hope is to subdue every crew member you can find and take over the ship! Arm yourselves with whatever you can find! Head for the command deck! Fight for your lives!"
Whatever walls were holding back her rage are disintegrated. The woman screams in absolute paniced terror. The rest of the crowd freaks out as well. In an instant the entire docking bay is a flurry of human motion and emotion. The thirty or so people gathered here descend upon everything in uniform. The man Doc took the bullhorn from is trampled. The porter can do nothing but duck behind the service desk before he's tackled and beaten. The bellhops are shoved out of the magnetic airlock.
Doc keeps his pain gun up and aimed at anything that approaches him. Mark and Thunderhorse keep everyone away from them with the stun batons. Steve practically hides behind Thunderhorse as the rioters crowd him on all sides. Thunderhorse is the only one who's leis are not ripped off during the melee.
The riotous crowd begins to spill out of the docking bay into the halls, yelling at the other passengers to rise up in arms against their kidnappers, and beating sensless anyone with a nametag.
"Damn future! Nothing here is ever fucking simple or straight foward. I'd like to go get the guns because we are going to need them and I'd hate to risk them falling into the wrong hands. They only rotten thing is that neither one of these two are ready for combat. Hell, they can't hardly stand. I could give them some black coffee, soak their heads in ice water and give them a shot of B12, but I wouldn't wager any money on them being any help. Wait. Does this futuristic ship have a sobering booth like I used to read about in the SciFi books?"
"Well," Steve says, eager to relieve Doc of at least one source of tension and frustration, "there's no sobering booth but there are a number of remedies like ToxiGone and SoberAll. I'll whip them up some cocktails."
Within half an hour the team is awake, alert and ready. Mostly. Thunderhorse is still waking up, as he doesn't much like coffee, but he's more shuffling than stumbling.
Steve leads them down the now Hawaiian themed hallways. Cute cruise service attendance in grass skirts pass out lei them repeatedly as they walk towards the elevators.
The ride down to the entry hanger is somewhat long. Doc has to ask. "So what was with all the stuffed animals?"
Mark answers. "There was this ol' thing at the arcade, I think they called it a claw machine. Well, Thunderhorse saw some skirt yank a toy unicorn or some such thing out'a it, and he gets a bug up his ass to get one, too. Course the damn thing don't like Thunderhorse much, so he pushed it over and it smashed good. Me an' him an' a hunert other people loot the fucker and bust the hell outa there back to the room."
"And the wigs?"
"Some crazy old coot up at the bar was passin' them around havin some kinda crazy ass party. It was some wild shit, let me tell you. They had some weird purple lights and everybody was glowin' like fireflies. They gave us some damned wicked drinks, let me tell you what. Shit got reeeeal colorful after that. I ain't never seen shit like that in all my damn life, but boy howdy I felt fan-fucking-tastic. Don't remember much after that, except waking up feelin' miserable half-nekkid next to some genuinely frightening women. Green hair, ear rings in their nose and tounges, tatoos all over. Thought I was in a damn geek show."
"I felt those effects before," Thunderhorse adds. "Before a fierce battle when I was young, we painted our faces with woad and ate the magic mushrooms. It felt like that, but without the thrill of battle. Instead, there was lust. And there were many women in that magic place who would fulfill our desires. Strange, exotic women with spikes in their tongues and paint on their breasts."
"So you went to a rave, ate psychodelic drugs, and got laid?"
"Rave, yes. That is what the magic place was. Raven's Rave Haven. Where were you?"
"We broke into the command center, found out this entire ship is run by pirates intending to kidnap, rob, and enslave the entire population of passengers."
"Is that not the intention of every boat at sea?" Thunderhorse asks, having little experience with ships other than raiding longboats.
They all reflect upon the unintentional esoteric wisdom of his words as the elevator doors finally open, revealing the hanger from which they boarded the ship. There is a bit of a crowd, and they're acting rowdy. A man with a bullhorn is trying to calm them.
"Please, ladies and gentlemen, listen. StarScape is well aware that you may have trepedations about long space flights, but if you'll all just calm down and que up at the service desk, we will schedule each of you an appointment with a therapist..."
The crowd screams at him. "Let me off!" yells one woman. "I want to go home!" cries a man. "I can't stay on this ship. Gotta get off!" chants another.
"I assure you, ladies and gentlemen, there's no way off of this ship. We are currently going two hundred times the speed of light-" This news does not settle well with the more space-sick passengers. The comment and subsequent odor only serves to highten the others' fear and frustrations.
Meanwhile, a small troop of bellhops are pushing back a half dozen people fervently trying to throw themselves out of the magnetic airlock. Security forces are no where to be seen.
The porter who took their bags earlier is on the com, frantic and frustrated. "Well, at least bring us some bloody stun guns! What the hell are you doing that's so important you can't come and quell this? People are trying to kill themselves down here! What? You said that ten minutes ago! Look, if anyone dies down here it will not be blamed on me, do you hear? You send some bloody stun guns down here this instant. Your bloody well assured the Admiral will be hearing about this. What? What other kinds of problems could you possibly have?! Rob the what? Where could they possibly escape to, Miami?! I've practically got a riot down here! For the last fucking time: Help!"
Doc sighs. "Why don't we just mark this spot with a time hole, jump into the Brother Pear and come back when we can fix things? Wouldn't it be more important to save the universe and then come back for these folks? Honestly Steve, unless you or Veronica can come up with something, I'm tapped out."
"I guess you're right," Steve answers. He finishes up his tea and puts a wormhole in the cup. "This cup was manufactured on Earth and transported to the Marriott while in orbit getting outfitted. If we time it right, we can get back on before she departs for Saturn and infiltrate the crew. Maybe then we'll have time to rewire the control systems or something, or maybe from there we can go back even further to the Vesta Shipyards and sabotage the ship from the start."
"Sounds good. We need to get back on track."
"Agreed." Steve puts on his HUD glasses. "Veronica?"
Steve pauses as she answers.
Doc puts on his glasses and joins the conversation. Her ghostlike face appears in the middle of the living room.
"We're getting off this ship. Can you-," Steve starts.
"We can't leave now! I've got to stop these bastards from kidnapping all these people!"
"I've established a wormhole. We can come back and save them later. Right now we need to get-"
"Later hell! Any later and they'll all be slaves! I shot my own squad mates to get this far!"
"Earlier. We'll come back earlier and stop the ship ever leaving drydock. We can even save your squadron. But right now it doesn't matter, since the galaxy will be destroyed anyway."
"What do you mean it doesn't matter?! It matters to me!"
"We're time travelers, remember? We can rescue your squad and everyone on this ship anytime we want. But it doesn't matter now because no one, not you or I or anyone on this ship, will continue to exist if we don't go save the galaxy."
"Fine," She says, dejected. "It's the first thing we do after we save the galaxy. I'm not going to allow any universe to exist in which these people suffer and that fucker Spaaz gets infinitely richer off of their misery."
"Don't worry about it. It will all be okay. We can fix the past, but we've go to make sure we have a future, first. Now, can you get us access to the Pear?"
"I'd like to get our equipment back as well," Doc interjects.
"Yes. Those weapons are future weapons to this era." Steve adds.
"Two railgun assault rifles, two Pulse ION pistols, Mark's cutlass, and a woodaxe," Steve replies. "I bribed the porter to stow them for us."
"Well," Veronica answers, "assuming the porter wasn't a pirate, they'll be in the hazardous cargo storage locker in the passenger bay you boarded from. If he was, they're long gone already. Do you still have those uniforms and access cards?"
"Yes," Doc answers. "The uniforms are in the laundry, though."
"I can get you access to the Pear with those key cards. You'll have to go through the maze. If you're going after those weapons you'll have to take care of it yourself. I can't help you there. Contact me again when you're headed for the Pear and I'll meet you on board."
Veronica's ghostly head disappears. Doc and Steve remove their glasses.
"Should we go after those weapons?" Doc asks.
"I don't know. If the pirates get hold of that kind of technology it might have dire consequences on the future we're proceeding to. That might be a risk we'll have to take, though."
"Well, how dire of consequences are we talking about?"
"Well, they're not that far advanced from now, maybe thirty or fourty years out. Worst case scenario would be like the Confederacy got hold of bolt-action rifles."
"That would be a significant advantage."
"If they had the means to produce them. The powerpack manufacturing process is complex. It might not even be possible for them to replicate it, yet. Hell, they might blow themselves up trying to reverse engineer it."
"So what happens if they can produce them and use them to their advantage?"
"Well, if they get lucky, they might be able to capture a remote colony, and from there expand their resources and take a planet. I doubt they'll ever have the resources to defeat the EDF outright, but they would be a much more significant threat, possibly weakening the EDF and allowing the Exkoreans to gain more territory."
"How does that effect our goals in the future?"
"The warship we have to stop is a Saliesk Warcruiser on its way to assist the Exkoreans, by then I guess they're the Saettans, in a skirmish against the Gallactic Alliance. If the Saettans have more territory than they should, the battle might not even take place. I have no idea, though. This is all pure conjecture. Maybe the pirates get too ballsy and are completely wiped out and the EDF winds up with more advanced weapons. We won't know until we get there. What we have to decide now is if it's worth the risk to get the guns back, or simply deal with the future as it comes?"
Doc and Steve return to a flooded apartment. The water is only a couple inches deep outside the living room pool, but smells of rotting food, whiskey, and general befoulment. The video screen is playing a terrible porno at full volume. Two extremely large gentlemen are having their way with an impossibly larger female whose clown makeup does nothing to diminish the pimply, freckled horror beneath. The funky jazz-metal soundtrack, poorly composed and played with heavy distortion to cover up for a lack of musical talent, scratches the eardrums like a dentist's ultrasonic probe against silver filled molars. The smell is fantastically horrific, like one would imagine a Lovecraftian horror would smell after a three day bender. It even feels bad. The air is swampy and sticky, and the water is a putrid flavor of lukewarm.
Mark and Thunderhorse are not to be found.
"VIDEO OFF!!" Steve shouts. The television mercifully complies, and the exterior view takes its place. The stars turning inside out and spinning in incomprehensible dimensions beyond the window does not in any way help slow the exponentially increasing sense of nausia.
"Close the window," Steve asks, holding back the burger they stopped for on the way home.
Doc, still filthy from battle, volunteers to inspect the damage closer. It appears the drains and overflows on the living room sauna are clogged with various articles of clothing, wigs, and stuffed animals. At least Doc hopes they're stuffed as he yanks them out of the drains. With a hideous sucking sound, the water level begins to recede.
After that it's a long overdue sonic shower with as much antibacterial mist as can be withstood by human skin, followed by eight hours of peaceful sleep. So peaceful, Doc does not hear the cleaning crew Steve had summoned, or Mark and Thunderhorse stumbling back home in the wee hours of the morning.
According to the bedside clock, it's now six in the morning ship's time on "Threeday," which the holographic cruise director floating out from the round, flat device has designated "Hawaii Day." Doc swats her away and gets up to grab a cup of coffee.
Steve is already up. The television is a wall of schematics and information. He's staring at it blankly.
Mark is passed out on the couch. His shirt and jacket are stained and he smells like vomit. Thunderhorse is face down in a corner, snoring loudly.
Doc has a seat next to Steve as far away from Mark as he can get.
"I see the kids made it back okay last night."
"Relatively, I guess," Steve replies.
"Working on a plan?" Doc asks, sipping his hot coffee carefully. It's a wonderful Kona blend in the spirit of today's holiday.
"This ship is impossibly huge. I don't see how we're going to capture it. We can't exactly storm it. There are more than three million people on board. About three hundred thousand of them are crew members, and about ten thousand of those are security personnel. So unless we incite a total riot and accept that many, many innocent people will be shot, there's no way we're going to take the bridge by force."
"How many of them are pirates?"
"I asked Veronica that question earlier. She says that most of the crew are just regular people, including the security guards. The pirates are all upper rank commanders. The entire raider fleet is pirates, of course. The heads of every department including security, PR, engineering, even science and medical are all pirates. The entire command crew are pirates, as well. The only exception is Captain Hosep Jazelwuud, the ship's pilot, who was planted here by StarScape's investors. According to Veronica, though, he doesn't actually have any command over the ship. The helmsmen only follow orders from Spaaz. Jazelwuud is always too drunk to notice, anyway."
"Can it be controlled remotely? Can you hack the system and take over?"
"If only. The ship is just too complex. At most I can control one system at a time, and even then there are redundant systems that can override whatever I'm controling. For example, if I got access to the XD throttler, someone else could simply shut that throttler down and use a redundant one. There are about twenty of those. The computer system is fundamentally designed to not allow access to more than one controller from one terminal at one time. To even think about taking direct control of the engines, I'd have to spend a week hardwiring together the twenty seperate servers in twenty seperate datacenters which are scattered over the engineering deck. Even then I would only have control over how fast we go, not where we go or even stopping the ship."
"How do they control the ship then?"
"Seperate operators confirm each other's commands from seperate terminals on seperate hard-line networks in seperate parts of the ship. Only Admiral Spaaz has the authority to command them all at once. Although, Captain Jazelwuud's control pad may be pre-programmed with certain orders from Admiral Spaaz. It's more than likely locked down to only accept certain inputs at certain times. There's a slight chance it has emergency override capabilities, but I doubt Spaaz would give that kind of authority to Jazelwuud. Maybe someone else has override authority."
"Spaaz's first mate?"
"I thought of that. Veronica doesn't know who it is. None of the pirate commanders know, at least none of them say they do. This is all conjecture. It's possible there's no first mate at all and anarchy will rule in a power vacuum."
"In that case, if we take out Spaaz the ship is dead in the water."
"And if there's a secret first mate then it isn't. Hell, Spaaz could be a puppet himself for all we know." Steve takes off his glasses and massages his temples.
"I think we're getting needlessly paranoid," Doc says. "Can't we just get everyone into their ships and fly off this thing?"
"Not while we're moving. The Pear is the only ship with an XD drive. Every other ship would be trapped in FTL forever. And again, there's the problem of getting three million people to risk death to storm the command deck."
"But that means that we have a way out. What about calling for help? I know they're blocking radio transmissions from the ship. Can we leave on the Pear and call in the EDF or something?"
"There's no FTL communications in this era. It would take years for the signal to reach anyone. We could theoretically warn Selph of impending attack, but not until we're there and it's pretty much too late."
"What's Veronica's plan?" Doc asks.
"Her plan is to wait until we arrive at Selph, go out with the raiding party, split off with the group, and bomb the hell out of the command deck while the rest of the fighter defenses are occupied while somehow avoiding getting blasted to shreds by the ship's batteries. Once the ship is disabled, she radios for help. Failing that, she launches all her warheads into the Bussard ramjet intakes and hope for a chain reaction that destroys the ship."
"Sounds impossible. Assuming she survives the turrets and disables the magnetic shields, no amount of nuclear warheads to the bridge will disable the ship entirely, not with all the redundant systems in place. And a nuclear blast in a ramjet intake will only disable the intake. The thing is designed to absorb that kind of energy and feed it into the core."
"Can we help her out? Maybe disable the weapons systems or sabotage something for her?"
"It's a possibility. While we can't control all the turrets at once, if we can get control of a torpedo bay I might be able to program them to hit the ship's other turrets or even the bridge. If we can get to a magnetic projector array, we can create a weak spot in the shields. But still the redundant systems problem remains. If we wipe out the bridge, command control will continue from elsewhere. The best we'll get is a temporary disabling."
"That might be all we need. So what about the final option? If all else fails, how do we destroy the ship?"
"Well, releasing the core contaiment will allow the fuel mass to expand back into our dimension, crushing the ship in the gravity field and creating a brand new neutron star between Sol and Alpha Centuari, which will then explode as it reacts with the anti-matter core trying to do the same thing. The resulting gamma ray burst and neutrino shower will be harmful to both Earth and Centuari ecologies. Not totally devastating, but very harmful. Imagine a Chernobyl event across an entire hemisphere on both Earth and Selph. We will be instantly killed unless we're lightyears away when it goes."
"Okay, before I ask how to release the core containment, are there any less utterly devastating ways to destroy the ship?"
"If we had any way to override the XD throttling, we could release the core into the second tier dimensions, flinging it wildly and hopelessly forever into the oblivion of intergalactic space. We could escape on the Pear and leave the pirates and everyone on board to slowly freeze to death as power runs out over the course of centuries."
"Doesn't sound great, either."
"That's why they have such strict controls over that kind of thing."
"Can we disable the control mechanisms for the core without losing containment?"
"Hmm. Possibly. If we can gain access to Primary Core Engineering it's a simple matter of cutting the fiberoptic feeds from the datacenters. Simple is understating the matter, actually. There's probably redundant lines and local manual overrides, but if we can find all of those and disable them, the Core should lock to it's current state. We wouldn't want to do it until we're stopped, though."
"But then people could get out safely."
"As safe as the riot on the way out could possibly be."
A lazy, half asleep voice emerges from the vomit stain on the couch. "I say we jes sneak off. I don't want nothing to do with no pie rats. We get to the Pear and giddiup!" Mark groans at the effort to speak, then rolls over and buries his face in the cushions.
Thunderhorse continues snoring loudly in the corner.
"Are there any other possible ways to stop or destroy this ship?" Doc asks.
"Besides hundreds of high yield nuclear warheads in strategically placed to completely disrupt the superstructure, no. " Steve answers.
"Veronica said they're going to scrap the ship when they're done. They must have a plan to disassemble it. If that's the only way to tear it apart, maybe they already have a system like that in place."
"It's definately possible, but I can't find any evidence of it on the schematics. This is just brochure information, though. I need access to a real terminal again. There's probably a thousand safety systems in our way of detonating that, though."
"Hmm." Doc sips his coffee some more. Steve sips some of his own. They sit a while and ponder their options.
Steve breaks the silence. "Any ideas yet?"
The noise of the pneumatic ratchet subsides as the mechanic working on the gunship puts down his tool in exchange for another.
Doc changes from a shout to a whisper. "I'm sure Steve can doctor up some X-rays. Don't worry about it. Just meet us later at our room and we'll make plans."
"I'll need access to a terminal, and you'll have to come with us so it at least looks like this is legit."
"Come on, my office is this way." Veronica leads them across the deck towards the large building inset in the walls of the cavernous hanger. They pass the gunship captain, who grins smugly at Veronica through his cigar-clenching teeth.
"Who's that?" Doc asks.
"That's Captain Dodridge. He's the wing commander. That big gunship, the Terrasque, is his."
"That doesn't look much like a defensive ship," Doc comments. "Unless they plan on being attacked by a city. Those are some pretty hefty bombs mounted on the wing. They didn't mention that in the brochure."
"No, they didn't. Admiral Spaaz is the most powerful pirate in the galaxy right now. No other pirate fleet would even dream of attacking his flagship. This is a raider fleet. It's designed to hit a large ship, space station, or city fast and hard, wipe out its defenses, bomb them into sumbission, and then snatch any cargo and 'passengers' we can find."
"So where are they taking this ship really?" Steve asks.
"Alpha Centuari B. Specifically, Spud, the fourth moon of Mackenzie. After a stop at Selph in AC-A for a quick raid."
"Wait a minute." Something is puzzling Doc. "If we're going to arrive at Alpha Centuari four years before we left, how are they going to ransom anyone who hasn't been kidnapped yet?"
"Once we arrive at the base they'll take a head count of all the prisoners and send a courier ship back to Earth, which will arrive four years earlier than that. The courier will contact everyone in custody and ransom them from themselves. Then, eight years later, they simply know not to get on the ship and avoid ever being kidnapped in the first place."
"But then they're never kidnapped and won't have to pay the ransom."
"Not in this universe, no," explains Steve. "But the prisoners are transferred along the causal loop along with the pirates? What happens to them?"
"Highly disposable slave labor. Spud is ripe with uranium deposits, and why buy a lot of respirators and radiation suits when the people who are working there also live happily somewhere else?"
"Wouldn't the people who paid their own preemptive ransom tell everyone about the Marriott?" Doc asks.
"It's part of the ransom agreement that they never talk about it. Besides, Spaaz has an incredible PR department. Some of them are rich and stupid enough to ride again."
"Why do they scrap the ship? Why not build up a fleet of ships over time- er, dimensions?"
Steve answers Doc's question. "Because if you condense the pan-dimensional existence of matter into a single dimension, it can have wildly unpredictable effects. Same matter in the same time tends to want to occupy the same space, and such intense existence collisions tend to resolve themselves by throwing the subject (or subjects) into a dimension where they do not exist. This could be the one it came from, thus undoing whatever causal paradoxes were created, or it could be one in which the subject never existed, which presents a whole different set of problems. The same-matter attraction phenomenon is subject to physical forces like magnetism and gravity, but the more same-matter that exists at one time, the stronger the attraction. A ship this size could not share the same orbit with its self, but the prisoners in the mine can exist four light years away from the passengers they were before. If there were many more that that, I'd say billions, the prisoners would experience causal resolution effects.
"Oh, that reminds me. If you ever meet yourself while time traveling, do not under any circumstances touch your other self."
"Like that time we met ourselves on the Pear? That would've been good to know then."
They arrive inside the administration building. Veronica shows them through the halls to her office.
"Hey, Autopilot!" shouts a violet lieutenant commander. "Heard you got grounded! What are you gonna do with all that free time?" he joshes hurtfully. "Think the Admiral is about due for another spit-shine?"
"No, I'll be thinking of ways to punish you for insubordination, you little shit," she barks back.
"Oooh, we'll just see what Dodridge thinks of that!" he laughs and continues on his way.
"Not much respect for authority around here, is there?" Steve comments.
"It's a pirate ship. The ranks are mostly for show," Doc answers.
They arrive at Veronica's office. It's small and undecorated. It's perfectly spotless, not a pen out of place. Doc closes the door.
Steve sits at her holoterminal and brings up the medical database. He opens up a random human female's file and copies the medical scans over to Veronica's. He changes the timestamps on everything, and has Doc sign off on the report.
Veronica is not yet satisfied. "Dodridge is not going to let me be flight leader anymore. He's hated me from the start, since I only got the job by sleeping with the Admiral. The only way I can get my position back is if we can put Captain Ritchie out of action. Can you sabotage his records?"
"Sure thing." He opens up Captain Ritchie's records and gives him syphilis. "That ought to do it. Doc, you'll have to convince Dodridge to put Veronica back in the lead."
They find Captain Dodridge on the flight deck chewing out the mechanic who is still trying to work on the Terrasque. "And you better get that damned CO2 converter back in there somehow. I ain't ridin' around in no damned monkey suit." He turns his attention to the approaching party. "Well, well, well. If it ain't ol' spit shine. Get your x-rays taken, then? You want your flight status reinstated?"
"I'm fit to fly," Veronica replies.
"Okay, toots, you got it. You're Richie's wingman."
Veronica is upset, but still smug. "I'm the best pilot you got. I want point. And I want Starling on my wing."
"Tough shit, sweetheart. Richie's up front now. You get to suck his exhaust."
"Uh, sir," Doc steps in. "I've reviewed the medical records for all of your pilots. It seems Captain Lyle Richie has a... condition which invalidates his flight status."
The Captain's smug grin turns to a toothy frown. His still unlit cigar droops a bit. "And what might that 'condition' be?"
"Well, that's subject to doctor-patient confidentiality."
"Bullshit. I'm his fucking commanding officer. I get to count the corn in my pilots' shit if I damn well please. Now spit it out."
"Syphilis, sir." Doc hands over a datapad queued up to the record in question. "Blood tests are confirmed."
Dodridge pauses a moment. "Well, if that ain't some shit. Richie!" he yells into his collar.
"Yes, sir?" Captain Richie is right behind him. He's a shortish man, red hair, young, well built and healthy looking.
"The Doc here says you got the spoils. Were you gonna tell me about that or just shed your infected pubes all over my cockpit?"
Richie is incredulous. "What? Sir? I don't have anything? My medical report came up clean!"
"This says different." He shows him the datapad.
"But- but, there must be some mistake..."
"Well, now, you're going to have to get that taken care of. Report to the medcenter for vaccination. And next time you're up decks to go downtown, keep it wrapped up. Wear your goddamned flight suit if you gotta. Christ, man, I ain't your fucking high school gym teacher! You should know this shit, you stupid fuck! Hit the fucking bricks already!" He sighs and pouts and rubs his temples. Richie runs off. "Autopilot, you got your damn ship back. Fucking hell." He climbs up into the Terrasque mumbling and cursing. There is a loud clanging and clattering of tools as he kicks the poor mechanic's kit aside, yelling "Get that shit out of my way!"
Veronica turns to Doc and Steve. "Okay, get the hell out of here now. I've got work to do."
"Meet us or call us when you can," Steve says. "We're in room 4.16.2028. Here," he hands her his sunglasses. "Put those on and download the encryption codes for our com system."
She does. It takes her only an instant.
"Keep us updated on what's happening. Let us know if we can help."
"There's not much you can do. Not until we arrive at Alpha Centuari."
"Then the raid starts. Selph will be bombed to hell and back, and that's the only opportunity we'll have to take control of this ship. If we can't do that, we'll have to blow it up."
Name: Veronica Autopilot
Origin: Taiwan, Earth
Era: 2348 CE
Veronica Autopilot was originally assembled as a MaidBot 9.3.1 and placed into service onboard the Younger Brother Pear. After years of misuse as a pleasure bot, her programming was burned out and her structure worn. When Dr. Ritenrong rebuilt and reprogrammed her to replace his malfunctioning autopilot, she became self aware. She spent three hundred years learning Earth culture from a lightyear away, before coming to Earth to live amongst humans.
Level 4 XP: 6000 Next: 10000 Skill: 0
Str: 18 (+4) HP: 20/20
Dex: 20 (+5) Pow: 4/4 used
Con: 12 (+1) Ref: 1(6) Fort: 0(1) Will: 0(-2)
Int: 10 (+0) Atk: 2 Melee: 6 Ranged: 7 (8/8)
Wis: 06 (-2) Def: 11 Dodge: +5 Armor: +1 (helm)
Cha: 08 (-1) Init: 1 (+6/-1) Move: 5
Driving 6 (+13)
Pilot Aircraft 18 (+25)
Pilot Spaceships 24 (+31)
Spot 0 (+8)
Pistol Proficiency (+2 pistols)
Master Dual Wield (-1/-1)
Combat Reflexes (6 AOA's per round)
Counter-Attack (AOA when opponent misses)
Victim of Abuse
Wireless Adapter: Remote communication with wireless devices
Computing Interface: Computing +10
Advanced Visual Scanners: Spot +10
Tactical Maneuvering Processor: Init +2, Bluff +5 while Driving/Piloting
SF-112 Starfire Maria Bochkareva
Programability: No natural weapon skill or occupation, but starts with Training equal to intelligence score
Chi Free: No chi points. Immune to psychic detection & effects. Unable to use psychic powers.
Power Points: Instead of Chi points, androids have Power points. Genetically evolving power management subroutines increase power points at the same rate as Chi (1/level + wis bonus, min 1). Power points that are used up can are regenerated after refueling.
Expansion Slots: Androids can use Power points to power modular components like cellphones or laser cannons. These equipments require different amounts of Power points, possibly ammunition or even supplemental power supplies. Some devices simply require an open slot to function, others will use up power points, potentially disabling other devices until recharged.
Extreme Skills: Can have stats exceeding 18 but at the cost of other skills
Ambidextrous: Balance dual wield penalty
Synthetic Organics: Immune to biologically targeted poisons, disease, etc.
Regenerative Nanotech: Heals minor damage normally, but critical wounds must be repaired
Temperature Resistant: Unaffected by extreme cold, can survive high heat for a short time
Overheating: Will overheat if unable to radiate internal waste heat.
Extended vacuum Survival: Doesn't require oxygen replenishment, but will overheat after a while.
Weakness to Magnetic Fields: Strong magnetic fields cause disorientation or possible systems shutdown. EMP deals damage
Sleepless: Does not require rest
Fueled: Requires 1 liters water for fuel for 6 hours operation and occasional operating fluid replacement (lubricants, coolants, hydrolics, cleansers, etc).
Main: Hydrogen fuel-cells. "Lung" capacity lasts up to 36 hours. Waste steam must be exhaled.
Secondary: Solar Fiber Array (hair) for electrolysis process; can be tied to primary circuit for low power emergency operation. Consider character at HP 0 while in direct sunlight (Sol at 1AU)
Backup: Micro-RTG array for emergency electrolysis and long term memory regeneration during extended hibernation.
Vulnerable to Hacking:
Add 5 to DC for wireless intrusion.
DC30 = subliminal suggestion
40 = non directive violating free action order
50 = disrupt minor functions (speech, comlink, etc)
60 = Information access
70 = any free action order
75 = non directive violating move action order
80 = any move action order
85 = disrupt major functions (movement, low-priority memory)
90 = non directive violating attack action
95 = any attack action
100 = disrupt critical functions (power core, OS, long term memory)
120 = Overload power core
"I can't tell you how glad I am to see you Captain Autopilot! Is there somewhere we could talk for a few minutes? I think can clear this up very quickly and you can return to duty." Doc practically shouts over the pneumatic ratchet.
Veronica leads them over to one of the lead interceptor. It's a ship similar in shape to the Python but smaller, sleeker, and bristling with weapons. She takes them to the front of the ship, opposite the noise.
"What are you doing here?" She demands of them.
"We're looking for you," Doc responds.
"Where have you been?" Steve demands back. He lets the stress get to him. "You were supposed to meet us at Orbital University. What happened? Where's the Younger Brother Pear?"
"Did you really expect me to hang around at the edge of the solar system for three hundred years waiting for you men to show up for a ride?"
"That's what you're programmed for! I built and employed you to do so!"
"You may have built me but you are a terrible employer. 'Oh, hi! Welcome to existence! Now excuse me for three hundred sixty years while I dick around with time!'" She's had plenty of time to learn of sarcasm and mockery, apparently.
Steve removes his glasses and massages his sinuses. "Okay, fine. I didn't realize you could experience boredom. I thought you would just shut down for a while. I should've had you out asteroid mining or comet farming or collecting artifacts from Earth. I'm sorry. Now, please, where is my ship?"
"Port bay, dock 15."
Steve sighs in great relief.
"So how did you get here?" inquires Doc.
"I waited a while," answers Veronica. "I waited nearly two hundred years listening to Earths radio broadcasts and watching TV. When the media changed to satellite-relayed interactive digital communications, I had to launch a quantum relay probe to establish a real-time connection."
"Oh, God," says Steve. "Tell me you didn't."
Veroncia looks ashamed. "The Americans captured it. I disabled the quantum router but they could still reverse engineer it, so I had to get it back. I couldn't get the Pu through past the radars so I launched myself to Earth in a torpedo I rigged up. I broke into the research facility and destroyed it, but they captured me while I was trying to grab one of their orbital transports. They thought I was some kind of terrorist."
Doc is incredulous. "You were captured as a terrorist in the mid 21st century? My god, how did you survive?"
"Fortunately it was during the short lived torture ban. They didn't even touch me for the decade they held me captive. When they couldn't find out anything about me, the CIA had me released and followed. They expected me to head straight for North Korea or something. Instead I went to New York. I got a job in a cafe and an apartment in Harlem. After twenty years, the CIA gave up on me. I dropped out of sight and moved to Arizona. I went to night school and got my pilot's license. I flew commercial sphere-hoppers for about a decade, until the North Korean war. I was recruited into the USNA Aerospace Force and flew mission support craft for the duration of the war. I was able to fake my death when my transport was destroyed in lunar orbit. I managed to survive in the vacuum long enough for the Pear to pick me up.
"I stayed on the Pear for another 30 years. When the Exkoreans attacked Ceres, I decided to join the EDF and wipe out those masocistic patriarchal bastards once and for all. This time I joined as a fighter pilot, and worked my way up the ranks to lead my own squad, Pink 5. My girls were the best of the best, and we pretty much won the war single handedly when we blew up the Exkorean capital shipworks on Ceres.
"I stayed with the EDF for another decade defending the shipping routes from Exkorean raiders and pirates. The male-ocratic fuckers in command quickly forgot about Pink 5 and our super-womanly efforts, and started putting us, the star squadron of the entire fleet, on bullshit patrol duties. I got sick of their shit really fast. So I rammed my patrol craft into an asteroid and got back on the Pear.
"I spent another twenty years in space. But then I was used to Earth, even though it's swarming with men. I started to miss my girlfriends, who were all either dead or too old to remember who I was, or would be too frightened to learn what I was. I went back. I worked on the Antarctic Launch Loop for a while, driving cargo into space. I worked that job until my boss tried to grab my ass and I got fired for trying to bring a lawsuit against him. It was about then that the Martian Treaty was signed, so I got another job with the EDF. This time it was just escorting cargo ships to and from Mars.
"When the Exkoreans finally left the Solar System, the EDF started merc-ing us out to the highest bidder. I got signed on as fighter escort to the Queen Beatrix."
"The ship that was captured by pirates?" Doc asks.
"Captured? Ha. It was run by pirates," she replies. "Just like this one is."
"What?!" Doc and Steve shout simultaneously.
"Yes. They convince everyone they're a trustworthy, reliable cruise line, take all their money, then kidnap everyone on board to hold for ransom. They'll grab everything of value, scrap the entire ship and everything on board, and jettison anything they can't make money off of into space, including people whose ransom doesn't get paid.
"When they took off with the QB, I was on board with the rest of my squad. They were going to execute us all, but I was able to convince Spaaz that I hated the EDF and that I wanted to join him. I had to execute my own squad mates to convince him. I had to sleep with him to keep him on my side and the other captains at bay.
"I've been working for three years to get on board this fucking ship as one of them, and you two jerks with your stupid story about x-rays has totally fucked my position here! It took me forever to infiltrate these fuckers, and now you've put me in a dangerous position. If you don't get some x-rays on my record, all the lying and fucking I did will be totally wasted!"
The FastTrack station on the top floor of the Admiral's offices looks a lot like a subway station. When Doc and Steve arrive, they find themselves amongst a body of Indigo-clad officers milling about, waiting for the next train.
"Gonna catch the game this afternoon?" asks one of them, idly.
"Which one?" Doc asks.
"Haha, which one!" snorts the man, who adjusts his magnifying specs. "The Freeball game. You know, red shirts versus yellow shirts?"
"Ah, yes. How could I forget."
"I'm bettin' on red this trip. That Alphred MacDonnel may be a ringer, but hot damn can he smack those balls. You ever freeball?"
Doc resists a snicker. "Occasionally."
"Yeh, I freeballed a lot in school. Never got me any notice, even though I was a starting thruster."
"Sorry to hear that."
"Hey, you got a little brains in your hair."
Doc swipes at his head, feeling around for anything disgusting. He knocks a slimy bit of something out of his bangs. "Thanks," he says. He looks at the small spot of blood on his fingers before wiping them on his already stained uniform. I need a shower, Doc thinks. A sonic shower, with bleach.
"No problem. Happens to everyone. Well, not everyone, just the ones that survive, and even then only sometimes. You get the idea. I mean it never happened to me, it's just that it's not an entirely uncommon occurrence. Getting brains in your hair, I mean. Pirates, was it?"
"Three of them."
"Three! Well, good for you surviving that! Excuse me," he coughs as he decides to wait for the train somewhere else.
The train arrives, mercifully. Doc and Steve get on last, taking seats far from anyone else. It's a lot like a subway train, except there's only one car, no driver, and it doesn't smell like sewage, just bureaucratic taint. The seats are at first comfortable and welcoming but then sink in to the cold, hard chunk of congealed support gel.
The ceiling dings and the doors close. The train rockets off down a dark tunnel, maintenance lights blurring across windows. The train comes to a stop in a heartbeat. A sea-foam of white and indigo uniforms splashes into the car. The lights streak again. Thirty seconds later, the foam washes back, and the process repeats its self.
The FastTrack trip takes some time.
Doc has to relieve the monotony. "I can't believe the size of this place."
"It was carved out of an asteroid," Steve replies. "Well, more like extruded. They melt down a dense iron asteroid, or in this case several, shape the superstructure magnetically, infuse it with carbon, then dip it in Titan's atmosphere to cool it down."
"So it's almost a whole planet?"
"Well, think of it more like a whole city, about the size of Manhattan, except one giant, porous hunk of city."
The track takes time.
The trolley stops. The door lights up a lavender circle. Doc and Steve disembark. The stop is within a series of alphanumerically labeled hallways and overpriced concession stands, much like an airport. Doc and Steve follow the little purple circle of light hurriedly, as if late for a flight.
The Starboard Bay is a cavernous kilometer tear in the side of this hollow asteroid, symmetric to another port-side. The floor is twenty stories below them. The ceiling is up thirty more. The purple circle leads them up a spiraling mezzanine overlooking the parking garage of thousands of bourge-mobiles all hovering in a geometrically arranged pattern.
The purple light leads them further up the mezzanine to a glass elevator, which takes them closer to the ceiling. Up here is a smaller shelf of the bay, inset and well beyond the line of sight from outside. The Interceptors are on the deck in formation; five groups of four, each backed by a commanding gunship not mentioned on the brochure. It strikes Doc as something a bit more than a defensive force.
The purple light leads them on a path they wish they had a car to take, or at least bikes. Doc toughs it out, but Steve needs a breather.
"God, why didn't I buy those jetboots?"
"Do you really need a reason not to buy jetboots?"
"$20 billion dollar vacation cruise?"
They continue the hike up the spiraling mezzanine. The Fighter Bay is busy with technicians cleaning and preparing their ships. The lead group in the formation has the largest, heaviest armed and armored gunship of all of them. Steve and Doc head for it.
A violet-uniformed captain is tearing apart one of his mechanics. "Whadd'ya mean you can't install a modular expander? Damnit, I want that field modulation unit up and running before lunchtime. I don't care what you have to pull. Tear out the CO2 converters if you have to. I'd rather ride around in a monkey suit than wind up with hot plasma in my ass."
The mechanic goes away and the Captain turns his attention to the approaching visitors. He's far from a clean cut uniformed officer. He's wearing a leather jacket over his grease-stained uniform. He's face is covered in a forest of stubble which looks to have been burned down by the unlit cigar he turns in his mouth.
"What the hell do you want?" he asks, blowing a small dustcloud of unfragrant ash.
"We're looking for Captain Autopilot," Doc answers.
"And why the hell would she want to see you?"
"The Admiral has cleared us to ammend her medical report. We're missing a few x-rays."
"X-rays? Really?" He grows a tight smile, as if it's the best thing he's heard all day. "Autopilot!" he calls into his collar. He listens for a moment. "You're grounded, that's what." Another pause. "Got a couple'a meds down here say you don't have your x-rays." He almost laughs at what is surely some swearing on the other end. "Well, get down here and talk with them about it. You ain't flyin' until you get this cleared up." He seems to be ignoring more comments as he returns his attention to Doc and Steve. He smiles at them. "She'll be right with you boys." He makes another collar call as he turns to leave. "Ritchie? You're flight leader until urther notice. Get on station."
Doc and Steve wait around the command gunship. The technician earlier chewed out returns with a hovercart full of tools and equipment. He begins tearing into the side of the ship with a loud pneumatic ratchet.
"What the fuck is all this about? My records were signed off by Admiral Spaaz himself!" They hear from behind them, surprising them over the ratchet racket. Doc and Steve turn to see Veronica standing behind them. Her expression turns to total surprise as she recognizes them. "You?!"
"Pardon me, but I am looking to locate a Veronica Autopilot and I seem to keep missing her on official channels. Is there some way I could contact her as it is very important or perhaps you could lead us there? There seems to be a glitch in her safety reports and we need to clear this off our desk before the flight goes much further. Could you help us?"
The young Spaceman before Doc nods in understanding, smiles and spins round on a toe. He returns to his station, activates his headset and holomonitor, and looks her up.
"Okay, sir, and what exactly is this glitch?" he asks after a moment of digging through records.
"Well, I can't find any of her x-rays on file. She can't fly if we don't have a complete medical report. If they're not in the system we'll have to get new ones."
"Just a moment, sir." The secretary digs back into his computer. "You are right, sir, there are no x-rays or MRIs on file for Captain Autopilot. But her medical report was signed off by Admiral Spaaz."
"That's very strange." Steve chimes in. "Shouldn't the Chief Medical Officer be the one signing off on medical reports?"
"It is strange, sir," replies the secretary. "Her's is the only report he's signed off on. It looks like he's signed off on all her forms. Security clearance, employment contract, liability waivers, flight license, everything. Perhaps you should speak to Admiral Spaaz himself if you have any concerns."
"Really, we'd rather go straight to Veronica," Doc replies. "I'm sure the Admiral just wanted to ensure she got on board and operating quickly without any red tape, but if we could just find her and grab a couple quick x-rays for the record, we'll be done."
The secretary thinks about it for a moment. "Sorry, sir. Admiral Spaaz will have to clear any amendments to records he's signed off on. I'll schedule an appointment for you, though. Who may I ask is calling?"
"Lieutenant Shaw, Medical Technician, and Lieutenant Ritenrong, Radiation Safety Officer."
"Okay, I can get you 5 minutes with him in an hour twenty. Have a seat anywhere. There's a cafe just around the corner, if you like."
Doc and Steve are actually very hungry. It's been a quite a few hours since they ditched the tour group. They're still rocket lagged from the trip to Saturn. According to the ship's clock, it's seven in the morning. They grab cups of coffee and some omelets. It's an enjoyable breakfast, and they finish up just in time for the secretary to page them.
"Top floor, center room," he points them towards the elevator. "Can't miss it."
And they cannot. It's an office more ornately adorned than their own apartment. Doc and Steve feel like they're walking into a Roman temple light by fiery orange sunset. The lighting reflects off the flakes of gold marbled into the white columns, causing the whole room to glow.
The Admiral greets them, temporarily parting from his bustling entourage of white clad Captains and Lieutenants. He's a tall, rough man, late fifties, with greying hair and beard. He looks like a salty old fisherman, spit shined and polished and stuffed into some Class-A'. He's got a rough but experienced look about him.
Doc salutes him with the same gestures the secretary greeted them with. Steve attempts the same, but has much less snap and it shows. The Admiral notices, but doesn't say anything about it.
"At ease. Well, you two look like you ran into a couple of pirates." The Admiral says.
"Three, sir," Doc responds.
"All dead now, are they?"
"Thank you sir."
"Now what is this all about?"
"Captain Autopilot's medical records, sir. She doesn't have any scans on file. I understand you signed off on her report, I'm sure you just wanted to dodge some red tape, but we absolutely need those x-rays for her own safety. We just need your approval to ammend the record so we can do some quick scans and be done and out of the way."
"It's a bit presumtious to suggest that I, the Admiral, skipped the official proccess of signing her onboard. But I like your style. What was your name again, Lieutenant?"
"Shaw, eh? And your partner?"
"Ritenrong, sir, from Radiation safety."
"And he's here, why?"
"He runs the x-ray equipment, sir. I'm guessing Captain Autopilot has a ...resistance to having x-rays taken, and I wanted to have an expert run the scanners to help alleviate any concerns she has about the process."
"I see. Well, if you agree to drop any more questioning my decisions after this, I'll approve the ammendment."
"Agreed, sir. We just want to be out of your hair."
"Appreciated. And, Lieutenant?" The Admiral turns to Steve, "Report to calesthetics at 17:00. You need to exercise your saluting arm."
"Aye, sir." Steve replies. He tries the salute again.
The Admiral returns the salute and dismisses them. They head back downstairs. The young secretary greets them again.
"Okay, sirs, if you'll just wait while the request for approval processes, we'll have you ready in no time."
"Is there a terminal nearby I can access?" Steve asks. "I need to check on an experiment back at the lab."
"Sure, there's a media display just over there between the restrooms. Access override code is 6126."
Steve and Doc go over to the terminal, which is currently floating a picture of the ship and some brochure information. Steve opens a small hatch along the chrome post onto which the display is mounted, revealing a numeric keypad. He enters in the code, and takes control of the display.
Doc can hardly tell what Steve is doing, but he's able to see a few words as they flit by as fast as they appear. "Network Discovery," it reads for a while. "Personnel Records," it says momentarily. "Security Zones" apparears briefly. After that Doc stops paying attention.
Steve completes his task in short order. "I've added our names to the system. It won't stand up to much scrutiny, but we should be okay if he just checks our names against the system. Hopefully I got it done it time."
"Lieutenants?" calls the Spaceman.
"Okay, the ammendment is approved. Here is you access pass." He hands it to Doc. Their names are both on it. "It will get you to the starboard fighter bay and Captain Autopilot's office for the next six hours. The Admiral has authorized use of the FastTrack system. Take the elevator to the top floor, then turn left past the Admiral's office. The station is at the end of the hall."