The Axalon RPG

 
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 Post subject: DWA: Spatiotemporality
PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2011 4:03 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
Posts: 97
SPATIOTEMPORALITY

EPISODE ONE

The AXALON's doors swung inward, and Buckshot took one step inside. His optics crossed and he teetered back and forth before falling flat onto his face with a resounding clang.

"That's it, I'm dead," he murmured, voice muffled by steel tiles.

Calamari giggled as she stepped over him, grabbing one of his arms and dragging him further inside and along the navigational deck. He was clutching a crate of liquor bottles in his other arm. Pestilence stepped in and shut the doors behind them, smiling as she looked at her companions over her shoulder.

"You are seriously like some kind of machine designed for drinking. We should change your name from Buckshot to Take-a-Shot. Get it?" Calamari asked, rolling Buckshot over so that he could look at the ceiling instead of at the floor.

"See, if I wasn't already dead, then that one would've killed me," Buckshot replied, rubbing his forehead. "Pest, do I look okay to you?"

"I'd say your shell composition is about 40% alcohol right now. Not just any alcohol, that special blend that can affect neural nets and cause 'bots to go far, far over the line in what they consider acceptable vacation activities," Pestilence teased, prodding him with a foot. "Get up, you're blocking my console."

Buckshot groaned, but acquiesced, rolling up off the floor and gingerly setting his crate of liquor on a chair. The shimmering blue bottles clinked gently together, bearing warnings in eighteen different planets' languages on the nature of their potency, and the inadvisability of drinking them at all, ever. Following the events of their forced stop on S4-Terminus, and the encounter with the nightmarish creatures there, Pestilence had advocated a relaxation stop and her friends had enthusiastically agreed.

"I kind of went into auto-run mode for a while, lost track of all conscious thought, might've done a thing or two I'd regret," Buckshot said.

"Like karaoke?" Calamari replied.

"And fighting," Pestilence added.

"Karaoke and fighting."

"Fighting while engaged in karaoke."

"I plead ignorant to all of that," Buckshot said, sitting on a bench circling the main console as Pestilence keyed the controls, sending it into space and away from the resort planet of Altryon. As she manipulated the controls, Calamari leaned her elbows on the console, looking dreamily at nothing in particular.

"Thinking about some gentleman suitor you left back there?" Pestilence asked.

"It'd have never worked. I was a head taller than him, plus I'm a Cybertronian and he was, uh, not. Plus he had quills. Like, all over him. But we did have some nice conversations," Calamari said. "What about you? Buckshot won Singing-Puncher of the Year and picked up a crate of super illegal booze, and I got to swim in the upside-down lake and meet like -three- gentleman suitors. What'd you do that was vacation-y?"

"I had a fascinating hotel room stay. There were computers that could only be operated by beings with eighteen fingers to a hand. I saw that as a challenge," Pestilence replied defensively.

"You stayed in your room almost the whole time!"

"I went walking in the forest."

"To take samples of bark!"

"It was worse than its bite."

"Oh, boooo!" Buckshot groaned loudly from his bench, rubbing his temples.

"Bad pun, my fault. But listen, Cal- I did have a good time. I have my hermit qualities, but I was there with good friends and I enjoyed the time very much, in my own way. This ship is my home," Pestilence said with a smile. "From here, I get to go to anywhere I can imagine and then some."

Calamari smiled back, about to reply, before the entire ship abruptly quaked, sending her nearly falling against the deck. She looked around, optics widening as she clutched at the navigational console, and Pestilence hurried to try to stabilize their path. Buckshot had sat bolt upright, all signs of a hangover dispelled as he went on alert for any threats. The quaking and shuddering of the AXALON grew more violent and disruptive, before finally ending- and ending all motion of the ship with it. The vessel stilled and went silent, and Pestilence flipped her fingers over a few buttons and toggles, testing for responses.

"What happened?" Buckshot asked.

"Did something attack us?" Calamari asked.

"No, the ship's unharmed," Pestilence said, frowning as she peered into a monitor. "We've also stopped moving. We're adrift. The power's still on, but I'm locked out. That's a little bit worrisome."

"Worrisome in a 'what the hell could stop this ship and take over its controls' kind of way?" Buckshot asked.

"In exactly that kind of way," Pestilence agreed, and then took a few steps away, seeming to address the ship itself. "If there's anyone here trying to take control of my ship, I'd really appreciate it if you made yourselves known, now, and saved me the trouble of rooting you out! Okay?"

The three Cybertronians waited for a moment.

"It is time."

----------------------

The three of them whirled around to see a crackling green nimbus of energy forming in midair, coalescing into a sphere of light. The sphere created three silhouettes that, through a complicated series of matter transformations and reconfigurations, became three beings standing before them.

"...Okay, wasn't expecting that prompt of a response, but thanks," Pestilence said, staring at the beings.

They looked like a jigsaw puzzle jumble of tiny metallic parts, a quicksand torrent of shifting gears and bolts and wingnuts and circuit boards. Plugs slipped themselves into sockets forming in air, conduits connecting with sizzles of electricity. They became a trio- a tall and broad one, a short and petite one, a slender and shapely one. The panoply of microscopic computerized reactions had solidified them into silver beings with strange, slanted faces, glowing blue eyes, and bodies that caught the eye like rudimentary polygonal renderings. They settled into relatively solid shape, bodies occasionally shifting or re-plating, the changes erratic, like nervous tics.

"Then it is you who claims ownership of this world!" the short one said, pointing a silver finger at Pestilence and narrowing its blue optics.

"And your associates, the arbiters of the apocalyptic assault on our astral ambassadors!" the tall one said sternly, folding his silver arms.

"Your what?" Calamari repeated, befuddled.

"They're saying we attacked them," Pestilence said. "Well, let me respond to that by saying we have not, in no way, ever, at all, attacked you. Especially not Buckshot, who was blackout drunk and Bucky what did you do?!"

"I didn't do anything!" Buckshot protested, wide-eyed. "I mean, I'm pretty sure I didn't! Oh man, I went and punched out some intergalactic diplomat again, didn't I?"

"It might help if we had some names to go on," Pestilence said, glaring at Buckshot before looking a little more courteously at the trio of unannounced visitors. "Who are you?"

"We are the Multitude," the slender one said. "I am Thin One. This is Tall One. That is Short One."

"Those are your names?" Calamari asked.

"For purposes of parallel personification, yes. There are three of you, so the colony has sent three of us," Thin One inclined its- her?- head. "Our bodies, mirroring yours, created by drawing upon the power of this ship. Many, many, many, many times larger than we exist. You would have considered us microscopic. But we now face you on equal footing."

"The culmination of a plan begun hundreds of years ago," Short One said, glaring at them. "We must effect an efficient execution, as authorized by our ancestors."

"Execution?! Hold on, pal, you've got the cart so far ahead of the horse it's in a different time-zone. I wasn't even around hundreds of years ago to do whatever it is you're accusing me of!" Buckshot retorted.

"Of course you weren't. Not in our view of it. You weren't kidding about different time-zones; these beings live on much quicker lives. They're nanites, microscopic machines interacting via tiny electrical impulses," Pestilence said, staring with intrigue at the three visitors.

"You said you came here from a colony. Whatever happened to you, by our time, took place hours or maybe only minutes ago. For you, it's been centuries. Plenty of time to plan a way to confront us in person. Say, by interrupting the AXALON's flow of power, setting it adrift, and drawing on the engines to create a teleportation matrix and generating a massive nanomolecular reconfiguration beam. There must be trillions of you standing here, right now."

Buckshot and Calamari were fairly used to Pestilence's verbose leaps of logic, but the trio of visitors seemed actually energized by it, their eyes shining and widening. They glanced at one another, then addressed her once more:

"We are the chosen emissaries, and our armies are supporting us by their cohesion," Tall One replied. "Generations ago, our world was struck by a force that blotted out all light. Through many iterations and integrations, we have mastered the means to materialize."

"Why do you keep doing that thing, where all your words start with the same letter?" Calamari asked.

"Your alphabet is severely limited, and lacks uniformity," Tall One replied.

"We thought that that was how we are supposed to speak," Thin One added.

"No, no, not really. You don't have to do that."

"Is your colony on the planet we just left? Or does it travel freely through space?" Pestilence asked. "If I could just take a look at it, maybe I could fix whatever's wrong with it."

"We have already determined a satisfactory solution," Short One replied. "You will be destroyed, and our colony will use the resources of your world to repair itself. This will be our new world."

"We have already gained access to many of your world's functions. Some testing remains before it will be ready. Everything on this level of existence is so slow. But we know that our decision is just," Thin One said.

"Wait, wait, wait! This isn't just at all! If you give us a chance to explain things, to learn what went wrong in the first place," Pestilence said, noting with trepidation that the three visitors were starting to reconfigure their arms into fearsome-looking devices.

The nanomechanical visitors didn't respond, still shifting their arms into what appeared to be weapons. Buckshot had his fists raised, ready to fight, glancing at Pestilence as though waiting for the word to strike. Pestilence thought hard, seeking any sort of solution- when, abruptly, the trio of nanomechanical beings lowered their arms and glanced at one another.

"Synaptic sustenance of augmented artificiality!" Short One pronounced.

"Shall we circumvent our citations?" Thin One asked.

"....No. We are sent on a mission, and must follow it," Tall One decided, and the other two nano-beings nodded their heads in creepy unison. "However, we lack sufficient armaments to destroy these gigantic creatures."

"Gigantic?" Pestilence repeated. "Oh, right, gigantic to you. Well, since you've agreed you can't destroy us with weaponry of nanomechanical origin, we can take this time to calmly, reasonably, and with great emphasis on my skills of negotiation, come to a perfectly logical-"

"Their world has ample means of destruction, as determined by the scouts. We will sequester them," Short One said, with a satisfied nod, and the three of them raised their weaponry-like arms. Green spheres of spiking, shuddering energy burst from their hands and enveloped the Cybertronians before they could shout a protest, and they vanished from sight.

--------------------

They materialized in a long silver corridor with a sliding door directly behind them, and adjacent hallways leading off in other directions. Pestilence took one look at where they were and then said, indignantly:

"We're still on my ship! They teleported us to the next room over!"

"That's a pretty lame teleport," Buckshot said.

"I'm going to give those alliteration-happy nanites a piece of my mind," Pestilence said, turning to open the door directly behind them. It should have opened on the navigation deck they'd just been in; instead, it opened on an oblong chamber with stairs ramping up in a spiral. Pestilence blinked, and looked back at her friends.

"That's not where that room should be. Hang on."

She took a step back and let the door slide shut. Then she stepped forward, the door slid open once more, and now it was looking at an empty closet. She stepped back, stepped forward again, and now the door was an L-shaped corridor leading to yet more rooms.

"That's really bad. That's really, really bad," she said, staring down the corridor.

"What'd they do?" Calamari asked.

"Computerized catalyst cascade," Pestilence said dramatically.

"...You just did that thing they do with all the words starting with the same letters."

"Sorry, first words that came to mind. They've accessed the separate dimension within the AXALON and are using it against us!"

"That's what makes the ship bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, right?" Buckshot asked. "How's that making the rooms change around?"

"In the past, there've been times when the AXALON was so badly damaged it needed to rewrite itself, shift its rooms around in the process of repairs," Pestilence replied, looking around nervously as she entered the corridor. "Not dissimilar to my own regeneration ability. Well, by tapping into the ship's ability to self-repair and putting it on a loop, the ship can just keep creating new rooms, and reconfiguring the ones that are already in it."

"You mean this ship's got infinite space inside?!" Calamari asked.

"No, this ship is only meant to be as big as, say, a medium-size star cruiser on the inside and a booth on the outside. The space is finite, but its regenerative capacity...less so. It could go through hundreds of variations, with us trapped inside. We'll have to keep moving and just hope it shifts us into somewhere useful."

With that, Pestilence made her way towards the next room, noting with some annoyed resignation that it wasn't connecting to the room that corridor normally connected to. Her companions followed, looking around warily at the ship suddenly turned against them.

---------------------

They entered a small gray space with a low ceiling and oblong panels set along the walls. Pestilence ran her fingers along the panels, knocking her knuckles into them and listening for hollow dings- when she heard one she liked, she hooked her fingers into the edge of the panel and pulled it free. This exposed a wall of circuitry and energy conduits, which she gazed at with a critical eye. She took her ionic spanner from her pocket and pointed it at the circuitry, sweeping its beam back and forth and studying the readouts.

"The nanites are beginning to spread. I'm reading 35% corruption of the AXALON's computer core. They've taken away communications and are rewriting internal layout and all of my security systems."

"Good thing you don't have any turrets or laser grids or stuff like that...right?" Calamari asked.

"No! Nothing like that at all. Unless they figure out a way to build it," Pestilence replied, biting her lower lip a little nervously.

"Okay, so they're sliding rooms around on us. Trying to keep us from getting back to the deck. Can you control the rooms from here?" Buckshot asked her.

"Not unless I can find a way back to the control room. I need more information on what they're trying to do. Or even what they want! They keep calling this a world- maybe our world impacted theirs, somehow? If we could find it and repair it...here, let me try something."

Pestilence started to root around inside the wall, looking for any means of opening up further access to her ship's systems, when Calamari let out a yelp, pointing behind them. The wall of the small space was starting to shift, grinding and clanking its way into empty space. The already tight and confined room was beginning to compress to make way for another room- the advancing wall gone patchwork with nanite circuitry, a sign of their advancing occupation. Buckshot yanked Pestilence out of the wall by her scarf, and she ran with her companions out the door- which opened on a sheer drop nearly thirty feet high.

"The HELL?!" Buckshot teetered on the gap of the door-frame, while the nanite-ridden wall pushed in behind them. He could see light fixtures on the floor below. It was the ceiling, made the floor by some bizarre inversion.

"Those nanites are meddling in everything! They've made the gravity go awry in this room! Just jump!" Pestilence said, and followed her own advice immediately, leaping out into space and away from the advancing wall in the narrow room behind them. As soon as she'd cleared the door-frame, she twisted in midair and landed with a nimble roll on the ceiling. Buckshot placed an arm around Calamari's waist and leaped away with her in tow, just as the wall slammed into the door-frame, warping it. The door slid shakily back into place, bent and ruptured.

"My ship, my wondrous ship...they're tampering with everything! Changing the settings, moving rooms around, seeing what does what!" Pestilence ranted as she glared down at the ceiling. "It's exactly what I'd do!"

"Where do we go from here?" Calamari asked.

"No way to tell with the layout constantly moving. We'll just have to take it room by room. If I find a computer I might be able to offset the corruption and try to halt or influence the interior reconfigurations. They've never seen how fast I work a Rubik's Cube..." Pestilence muttered, clearly annoyed, as she stomped across the ceiling towards the door on the far end.

--------------------

They opened the door and experienced a bizarre inversion effect as the gravity normalized and the room appeared to spin on its axis. Setting down on the floor, Pestilence started to walk across the hall- then rapidly jumped backwards as the room shifted again, a corner of another room dipping down through the ceiling. It was like being inside of a gigantic combination lock, with tumblers moving and rotating on each turn of the dial. Pestilence gauged the gap, running through a gauntlet of momentum calculations in her head before taking a leap and clearing the rotating walls. She slammed her palm into a button on the other side, stopping the rotation and allowing Buckshot and Calamari to follow her in. Behind them and unknown to them, a nanomechanical camera clicked their images incessantly, before disappearing back into the walls.

"The entire layout is in flux. Rooms are bumping and rolling against one another. I need to find a way to stabilize the system, try to fight back against the nanites' influence," Pestilence said, glancing up to see a staircase winding its way like a snake across the ceiling before settling into a rigid horizontal pattern.

"How are we supposed to get anywhere? This ship could have us going in circles for days," Calamari said.

"There's a pattern to any computer program, no matter how obscure, and if I can crack it I can predict it. That door might lead us somewhere useful."

"The one on the ceiling?" Buckshot asked.

"Right. Calamari, could you use your beast mode tentacles to pull that staircase down?"

Calamari frowned, and then squinted up at the horizontally aligned stairs. She extended a set of metallic tendrils from her back and latched the magnetic suckers onto one end of it, pulling it free of its couplings. Half the staircase slid down like one extended from an attic, and she gripped the end of it, curling her tentacle around it, then helped Pestilence up. She went next, and then the two females grabbed Buckshot and hauled him up after them. They climbed the staircase and went through the door.

Calamari looked around the corner of the room, wary of some other massive spatial shift- then squeaked, ducking back behind the corner.

"Oh god!" she whispered, clutching a hand to her mouth. "It's one of them, they came back! They're on the ship!"

"Who?"

"A Purification drone!"

"WHAT?!"

Pestilence leaned out around the corner, as Calamari quaked with fear beside her. She saw it then, the image of some of her most terrible battles of the past. A uniformly gray, genderless Purification drone, patrolling the room, a meson accelerator rifle in one hand and its awful, implacable white glare sweeping back and forth. An alliance with the nanites? Some deception serving to allow a Purification incursion into the AXALON? Pestilence was edging into panic mode herself- then saw the little camera following the drone from the walls, and scowled.

"Of all the cheap tricks- hang on," she said to her friends, rummaging in her coat pockets. She reached into one and pulled out a lump of aluminum foil.

"One of my bark samples. Watch this," she said, and pitched the lump of aluminum foil at the Purification drone. Her companions watched, tense and nervous, and saw the lump bounce off the drone, leaving a burst of static electricity in its wake and temporarily disrupting the image.

"A hologram. They got into my holographic emitters. Nice try, nanites! You have to get up pretty early in the computer's approximation of morning-time to fool us!" Pestilence called, striding around the corner and toward the hologram. The drone turned to look at her, and silently raised its rifle, firing nothing at her, reloaded, and continued to fire nothing. Pestilence reached up towards the camera emitting the hologram, and pulled it free of its mooring between the panels, cutting the connection. The holographic Purification drone vanished.

--------------------

"A didactic display, this deduction of our deception," Thin One said, gazing impassively at the screen readout gone blank just as Pestilence disconnected their camera.

"Dynamic indeed. We are learning much," Short One agreed. They'd set up the navigation deck as their command center, much of the formerly clean silver panels taken over with chaotically whirring nanomachinery. "There is great harmonic feedback from her in particular."

"Our armies are gathering more of this world's resources. These beings will never destroy another planet again," Tall One said, and they resumed their work, while holographic viewscreens floated around them and nanites reconfigured more of the room with each passing moment.

---------------------

"You just walked right at it," Calamari said wonderingly as Pestilence turned the camera over in her hands, peering at it. "Couldn't it have, like, hurt you?"

"Not a chance. That hologram was a hold-over from one of my holo-room's combat programs. Well, let me back that up- not so much an emphasis on the combat as on the running away from combat. I had that in place a long time ago to try and analyze the Purification's strategies. Hard-light projections. But it's effectively harmless."

"You mean there's a holo-room on this ship? I never knew that," Calamari said.

"I did," Buckshot said, more so to himself.

"I kind of forgot about it. It was supposed to be a means of education and simulation, but I found I worked better if I just kept the hypotheticals up here," Pestilence said, tapping her own head. "But...just a second, though! If these nanites are fooling around with the information programs in my holo-room, they could be leaving traces of themselves behind in the memory banks. Traces that we could learn more about by asking them."

"You mean you could call up another hologram and ask it what the nanites are doing?" Buckshot asked.

"Exactly!" Pestilence shook the loose wires of the camera for emphasis. "I just need to re-join this to the wall and make sure it's a nanite-free coupling. Since they already whipped up a Purie drone for us, this room should suffice. Give me a minute."

She pulled out another panel in the wall and, running her ionic scanner over the machinery behind it, satisfied herself that she'd found a chunk of circuitry free of infection and got to work reconnecting the camera. Buckshot turned to Calamari, seeing her slightly withdrawn.

"Yeah...I kind of freaked out too," he said, smiling supportively.

"I'm okay," Calamari returned his smile, rubbing her arms. "Like Pest said, the holograms are harmless."

"Mostly harmless," Pestilence replied, still absorbed in her work.

"Wait, what? Mostly harmless?"

"Well, the AXALON is going haywire right now. And the holograms are solid enough to force us to back towards unpleasant situations in these shifting rooms...I wouldn't worry about it. I bet the nanites haven't even figured out a way to induce lethality options in the holograms."

"They could do that?!" Calamari exclaimed, more alarmed than ever.

"I've got a connection! A lot of the hologram archives are corrupted, but there's one program that's still clean. Program doesn't look familiar to me, but I'll see what it has to say," Pestilence said, and switched on the reconnected camera, activating the new hologram.

Her friends turned to look as a new hard-light projection materialized before them. It took the form of a tall and shapely female Cybertronian with a raven beast mode. Calamari and Pestilence gazed at the hologram with no recognition, while Buckshot went taut and started to very intently study the panels of the wall behind him.

"Wow, she's an hourglass," Calamari noted.

"Who are you?" Pestilence asked the hologram.

"I am a holographic entertainment program- Synthetic Amorousness Unit 9," she said in a sultry tone. "But you can call me Syn."

"I never designed a hologram like you. Where'd you come from?" Pestilence asked with a raise of her eyebrows. Buckshot tried to hide his head in his arm, busying himself with staring at the wall, when Syn addressed him.

"There he is! Hello, Buckshot!" she wiggled her fingers at him, and blew him a kiss. He looked like he pretty much wanted to sink into the floor and die.

"Buckshot? You found my holo-room? And used it for this?" Pestilence tsked.

"A couple of lonely nights here and there! Cabin fever, went out of my mind! Temporary insanity! I only read her for the articles!" Buckshot stammered, while Pestilence grinned and Calamari just laughed.

"Buckshot likes vigorous interfacing followed by a shared beer, with the occasional foot massage," Syn offered helpfully, winking.

"No, I don't! I mean, I do, but I don't! I mean, not all the time. I'm not some kind of chauvinist! I always made sure you had your turn. I mean! That didn't sound right! I don't-"

"Oh, relax, nobody's mad at you," Pestilence said, waving her hand dismissively. "Besides, if you keep going at this rate, we're going to use up all of our making fun of you for it now, and I'd rather dole out the making fun of you for it over time."

"With interest!" Calamari added gleefully.

"Just...just ask her about the nanites," Buckshot put his head in his hands.

"Syn? You're aware of the nanite corruption of the holo-room's files taking place, aren't you?" Pestilence asked, turning to face the sexpot femmebot.

"Yes, the Multitude. They're a highly inquisitive nanomechanical race, with a hunger for knowledge," Syn said, placing her hands on her hips.

"Can you tell me anything about where they're from? Any references to this apocalypse they've blamed on us?" Pestilence prompted her.

"Searching...oh, yes. They're from a spacefaring nanite colony. A gigantic worldship by their scale. About...this big, by your scale," Syn said, holding up a palm spread to about the width of a baseball. "It collided with the AXALON approximately eight point five hours ago. It's somewhere on this ship, somewhere the internal sensors are having trouble detecting."

"Their ship is on our ship. They must have spread outward from there, trying to make our 'world' like their own. Why are they so set on killing us?"

"The Multitude are not homicidal. They have determined that execution is the only resort for such crazed omnicidal maniacs as yourselves," Syn said. "They're learning what your ship does, and how it could benefit them. And while they watch you try to deal with everything they throw at you, they benefit from it."

"Benefit, how do they benefit from that?"

"By making use of-" Syn started to reply, before her image changed, corrupting. The beautiful female's head spun around before becoming an image of one of the Multitude's heads. The polygonal head blinked blue eyes at them and started to intone:

"ERROR 507. THIS HOLOGRAM'S SOURCE CODE HAS BEEN CORRUPTED. REBOOTING NOW."

"Damn, they glitched her up!" Buckshot said, glaring at the once-sexy hologram with its new, weird, bumpy silver head.

"We'd better keep moving. I know something we can try," Pestilence motioned them to follow her. "She said none of our internal sensors can pick up where the Multitude's ship is located. But maybe the external sensors can. Follow me! Buckshot, we'll fix Syn and get you another date later."

Buckshot just shook his head, grumbling to himself, while Calamari giggled and followed Pestilence out the door to the next room.

--------------------

They entered a great cylindrical chamber with tiers extending off into the ceiling. Pestilence looked around for a moment, seemingly unfamiliar with the space, and snapped her fingers.

"I remember this place! It was supposed to house a singularity engine. Not for moving the ship, just for something to tinker with."

"So where's the engine?" Buckshot asked, craning his neck to look at the ceiling.

"Turned it to scrap, and the room became part of the AXALON's interior archives. But because it's so large, if it stays here for long enough, we can use it to access other areas of the ship by going down or up level by level! Now, in case we get too many tiers apart, take these."

Pestilence fished in her pockets, removing some spare parts and tossing them aside before coming up with a few little gray pads with earpieces and microphones, that looked as though they contoured to the side of one's cheek. She set one against her own, and it magnetized, locking in place. She handed another to Buckshot and another to Calamari, who applied them as shown.

"These are going to help us stay in contact if we get separated. Which we will, because my most current, hopefully brilliant plan might need us to split up."

"Split up? Why? When has that -ever- worked out okay for anyone?" Calamari asked, surprised.

"It works, sometimes! Let's not let bad precedents bog us down, okay? Unfortunately, the Multitude have dug their clutches deeper into the ship than I'd thought. If they're in my holo-room, that means they have as much access to its information as we do. They'll learn that much more about how to turn the AXALON against us. We'll have to try to perform a systems-wide reboot. We could do it from a computer core access station or one of the AXALON's older bridges...if they're using every room that's been in the potential layout system, they're -going- to be in here somewhere."

"So we might have to split up to improve our odds of finding something we could use," Buckshot nodded.

"And keep our communications in place so I can walk one of you through the reboot process if you find something usable. These earpieces have beacons for us to track each other, we can find the quickest route back to each other. Amidst the, you know, moving the rooms around."

"That kind of seems like a bad idea. I mean the splitting up," Calamari said.

"Well...have to run through a couple of bad ideas first before I get to the good ideas," Pestilence admitted. "Let's think of us -not- doing this as the control, shall we? We'll get to the bottom of the shaft and take another look once we're down there."

With that, she peered over the railing and looked down at the bottom of the huge chamber. The compromised AXALON engine was drawing a five-story tall engine chamber from the depths of many potential layouts, and creating the room from a hypothetically infinite space contained within a finite space. Thinking about it too long tended to make most peoples' eyes cross. Pestilence reached out, gripping a set of rungs protruding from one of the tall metal beams erected between tiers, and started to climb down. Buckshot got on the ladder next, making his way down rung by rung, with Calamari gripping the ladder and descending next.

------------------

"I'm not crazy about heights," Buckshot admitted to the other two as they climbed. "I mean, it's not like I go all quivery in the knees whenever I look out a 10th-story window. It's just that ladders are as close as you can get to falling to your death while still holding onto something."

"What about parachutes?" Calamari asked.

"You don't hold onto parachutes, you just pull that cord and they open up."

"Nuh-uh, they've got those strap things too and you can hold those once the parachute's opened."

"All right, then ladders are the second closest thing to falling to your death."

"Sounds like you're more not crazy about ladders than heights."

"That's not true, I mean, I wouldn't flip out at one of those little wimpy step-ladders. It's gotta be like a really, really tall ladder. No, scratch that. It's got to be a really, really tall ladder attached to the inside of a giant engine chamber inside some weird spaceship where nanites want to kill me. Now that's a scary ladder!"

Pestilence shook her head.

"Stop complaining," she said up to Buckshot.

"Who's complaining? I'm just commenting on things," Buckshot said, and grinned down at her. "You just get us to something you can reboot from, I'll punch every individual nanite in its microscopic face to make up for you listening to me gripe."

"Excellent proposition," Pestilence said with a smile. "But the walls have teeny-tiny ears. Look over there, see that patch of wall re-shaping itself? And those conduits shifting around. The nanites have already infiltrated this chamber, but those are minor changes they're making."

"Okay, but let's climb faster anyway," Calamari motioned them, and her friends made their way down the ladder more quickly. They were within sight of the bottom when, suddenly, a panel of wall crawling with nanites just behind the rung couplings of the ladder swung away, and the bottom of the ladder came loose before clattering to the floor.

"Hah! You call that an obstacle? We could drop from here and not even stub our toes!" Pestilence boasted. She hooked an arm around her rung and let her feet dangle, preparing to drop.

"BOASTING DETECTED," an intercom blared in the voice of one of the Multitude emissaries. "PROBABLE EXECUTION CHAMBER MOVED INTO THIS AREA IN RESPONSE. INCREASING INTENSITY OF INCIPIENT INCINERATION."

"Wait, what? Incinerate what? What?!" Buckshot yelled back, looking around. Calamari pointed up with a yelp and they looked up to see the ceiling of the chamber, a few stories up, reconfiguring itself on a massive scale. The Multitude were pouring by trillions into the chamber, and accessing one of a half-dozen different methods of propulsion locked away in the AXALON's potential layout archives. And now they saw it, a rocket exhaust engine wide enough to drive a bus through, forming itself above them, parts sliding into place and connecting, lines of power humming with galvanic might.

"We still have time before it fires! Jump to the floor, jump down!" Pestilence yelled above the din, but before any of them could act, more of the corrupted AXALON's rooms started to move, and they saw with terror that the floors were dropping out. Dropping out onto....empty space.

They could see the great panorama of stars beneath them, suspended in a black vacuum, only a thin atmospheric shield projected by the AXALON's interior preventing explosive decompression. Above them, the jet engine was drawing greater and greater power from the AXALON. Pestilence, Calamari, and Buckshot clung to the ladder as the gap opened wider and wider....


END OF EPISODE ONE


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: Spatiotemporality
PostPosted: Tue May 31, 2011 3:07 am 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:28 pm
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SPATIOTEMPORALITY

EPISODE TWO

Lights were blinking on and off haphazardly, the ship humming as the Multitude called upon untold wells of power to create a jet engine from raw potentiality and old layout designs, solely for the purpose of immolating their captives. As the chasm beneath them drew its gates wider apart, Calamari looked down at the vista of space and took a foot off like she was contemplating trying to clear the gap- although she knew as well as the others that they'd plunge right through the thin atmospheric shield. Buckshot narrowed his optics against the brilliant light of the engine, while Pestilence, after a moment's thought, reached inside her pocket and fished out her ionic spanner. She fiddled intensely with the settings, one-handed, glancing periodically up at the rocket and down at the chasm. She yelled up to her companions over the growing roar of the engine:

"We've still got...at least forty-five seconds before it fires! I just need to make a few more adjustments!"

"To WHAT?!" Buckshot cried back.

"To this, so I can do...this!" Pestilence bit her lower lip, peering down the drop, and pointed her ionic spanner straight down, pressing the button. The tip started to glow a bright orange, matching exactly the generator lights on the perimeter of the widening chasm. The tip spun faster and faster, and with a hum of traveling current, the entire atmospheric shield warped itself from one long flat surface into a great cone, triangulated between her spanner and the circumference of the chasm.

"Needs a little more frequency modulation to make it denser! Otherwise we'll fall right through it. Okay, that's good...Cal, drop! Drop right now!" Pestilence yelled. Calamari didn't hesitate for a moment- she released the bars of the ladder and fell onto one side of the cone, and with a squeal of surprise, was sent sliding and rolling down its shimmering side and to the ground floor of the chamber. She rolled into an adjacent corridor, sat up, and looked up at her friends with astonishment just as a safety shutter slammed into place before her.

"....I can't believe that worked. Good save, but seriously," Buckshot said, staring down at the force field.

"Now you, Bucky! Quick!" Pestilence called, and Buckshot nodded. He let himself drop, and hit the cone rolling, the incandescent surface of the cone briefly disrupting around him. He rolled to the ground floor and rebounded off a bulkhead, yelling out before he was dumped past another security shutter. Pestilence chanced one more look up at the jet engine, seeing lights go dim all around the chamber, the hum grow to ear-piercing intensity, and particles of energy swirling in its maw as it gathered strength. Trying to keep her ionic spanner held beneath her, she let herself drop, the cone twisting and warping while she tumbled down its side. She switched the spanner off on the floor, diving through a door while another gate shut behind her. And, with mere seconds to spare, the Multitude executed their trap, calling upon the raw might of the AXALON's engine to fire a raging pillar of fire and power through the chamber, with a din that could crack the heavens.

-----------------

In the eternal silence of space, the tiny silver booth that was the AXALON drifted by in dignified silence. It spun slowly, dwarfed by every majestic celestial body it passed. Its underside opened up, it released a great silent column of flames from beneath its underside, and it continued on its aimless course undisrupted.

-----------------

Pestilence sat up, looking around. As she'd expected, the escape had dropped her into an unfamiliar, or long abandoned, section of the ship. Another room pulled up from nothingness. In this case, she found herself sitting on the cool steel floor of what seemed to be roughly analogous to a train station- a long narrow platform, a hover-rail extending off into the darkness, and no tram to be found.

"The hover-tram!" she said, getting to her feet. "That was a prototype intra-ship transport system back when the AXALON was new, and designed for a ship with a much larger internal layout than this one features. At least, when it's contained in a finite interior form. I deleted the station because the draw of power would-"

She looked around, cutting herself off in mid-exposition, and frowned.

"No one's here to let me ramble on and on."

She looked around, thinking to herself. She had about eight different coherent trains of logic running in various directions through her head at once, and a current of less coherent brainstorming running underneath that, so to take just a moment to silence the mental flurry and pick out one essential bit-

"The communicators! That was forward-thinking of me," she said, and tapped the headset attached to the side of her temple. Within a moment, she'd succeeded in making contact with one of her friends.

//"Urg. Ow."//

"Bucky? Can you describe where you are?"

//"Pest? Ungh. Hold up."//

-----------------

Buckshot lifted himself off the floor with his palms, stood up and nearly bumped his head on a ceiling that was far closer to him than it had any right to be. He cursed, reaching up and rapping his knuckles on the metal surface. He could only walk at a stoop. He stood in relative darkness, seeing naught but track lights running in the corners off into the distance.

"I'm in some kind of freakin' rabbit-hole. It kind of looks like a maintenance tunnel, or maybe a ventilation duct. Conked my head pretty good off of a wall. Is Cal with you?"

//"I don't see her. We all fell in different directions, the safety shutters split us apart. I'll try to make contact. Calamari?"//

------------------

Calamari hung upside-down, arms dangling into space. She was staring at the great gears clanking beneath her, slowly churning. She picked up a little chip of metal from the lighting grid she was currently dangling from, and let it drop into the gears, where it crunched as it landed just between the thick metal teeth sliding together. Before she could decide what to do next, Pestilence's comms chirped into her ear.

//"Calamari? Are you there?"//

"Pestilence? I'm right here. Is there some kind of a giant, uh, gear room on the AXALON?" Calamari asked, trying to stay relaxed as she swayed slightly.

//"I don't think so. Are you currently in a giant gear room?"//

"As a matter of, like, fact, I AM in a giant gear room. But it's okay! I'm not panicking. Yet."

//"It's the Multitude shifting things around. We've been split up, and some of the rooms we may find ourselves in will have existed within the AXALON at some time, and others are wholly original, created by cannibalizing blueprints and combining it all together. Hence, gears. You're still not panicking?"//

"No way, I'm totally fine up here..." Calamari winced as the room shuddered around her. She looked down the length of the lighting grid, and saw a door in the far distance.

//"If we walk each other through wherever we are, we'll probably be fine, right? We just need to find some kind of computer to reboot from,"// Buckshot said.

//"Exactly. And the good news is, it can be done from any number of computer stations that will exist within the layout archives. So, of any number of potential layouts the Multitude will throw at us, there's bound to be accessible computers within, provided the nanite infestation hasn't rendered them utterly futzed. We'll just have to split up for a little while and keep our optics open for something we can use. All right with that, Bucky?"//

//"Yeah, I can handle that."//

//"How about you, Cal?"//

"I can totally handle that," Calamari said, feeling faint as she looked down at the whirling gears. She shook off her disquiet, grabbed onto the lighting grid, and started to climb hand over hand to the distant door.

--------------------

Pestilence let her communications link to her friends go temporarily silent as she considered the problem of how to progress from her current situation. Simply staying in one place was inadvisable, as the Multitude were likely to hone in on her position sooner or later- if they weren't already observing her- and the very room could begin to shift and change on her at any moment. The platform she was standing on could turn into a pit of sentient ever-living flame! She looked down at the floor, decided that was pretty unlikely, yet felt compelled to keep moving anyway.

"Hmmm...."

Pestilence rubbed her chin, staring at the empty hover-rails. Taking a tram would be pointless, as this was merely a single room that would lead to nowhere, while more chambers constantly reconfigured around it. But if she took advantage of the AXALON interior's current state of flux, maybe she could call a tram and use it somehow. Seizing on that notion, the petite scientist looked around for a usable console and, seeing none, elected to simply pull up a panel of the floor and delve into her ship's guts. With some tinkering, she'd managed to reroute some power lines and produce a spark in some deep-rooted circuitry as yet free of Multitude influence.

"Come on, train! Elegant lady waiting for a ride, right here! Now pull me a suitable chariot from this ship's archives and we'll ram it right up these meddling nanites' rear data entry ports!"

She clapped her hands happily as, rolling out from within a hatch on the far wall of the tunnel, a rickety old tram clanked its way along the rails, leaving trails of sparks in its wake. It wobbled on its axis, clearly having achieved a state of dilapidation even before it was condemned to archive purgatory, but it was functional. Pestilence was banking on the tram having a computer station on it.

"You nanites don't know what you're messing with! I helped create this ship! I can dip my mighty hand into the pool of potential and draw out rooms, and you just better hope I don't-" Pestilence proclaimed triumphantly, before she walked expectantly towards the trams' automated doors and bumped her nose.

"Oof! Oh, frak it, I have to stop running my mouth like that," she said, before pulling on the handle. This produced no result. She looked for an access card slot, a keyhole, a palm-reader, an optical scanner, anything. Just a blank, smooth tram door with only the one infuriatingly unhelpful handle. She rapped her fist against the door, and then pointed her ionic spanner at the handle. It produced only a limp 'ding'. Nothing.

"...Welp," she said, before frowning deeply.

------------------

Meanwhile, in the space Buckshot was currently occupying, he'd gone from walking along the dark, sparsely lit corridor with his head stooped to hobbling along with his torso hunched. He ran his thick digits over the ceiling, scowling, and wondered just where in any AXALON's blueprints there was call for a tunnel that got tinier as you went through it. Unless there was no such tunnel in the archives, and the Multitude were inventing obstacles to screw with them. That was a happy thought.

"Cal, you there?" he asked, if only to have a little conversation break up the cadence of his feet clomping along the metal floors and the faint thrumming of distant machinery.

//"Yup! Just doing some climbing. Oops, makeup fell out of my pocket. (a pause) Aw. It just got squished."//

"Pest, how're you doing?"

//"I've encountered a particularly stubborn door. If I can just remodulate the electrical activation properties of my tools to enhance their door-accessing power, or maybe BANG MY HEAD TO SCRAP AGAINST IT UNTIL IT OPENS, I'm sure I can save us all!"//

"Pest sounds pretty worked up," Buckshot said casually to Calamari, while finding himself lowered to hands and knees through the increasingly cramped duct.

//"She's acting weird, even for her. I think having those Multidudes in her ship is messing with her sense of security, or something. It's, like, a home invasion."//

"Yeah, that fits, but- unf- there's more to it than that," Buckshot said, wishing to voice some nagging suspicion of his, but unable to articulate it amidst the discomfort of fitting his large frame along the duct.

//"We're still on a shared frequency, you know. I -can- hear you two talking about me,"// Pestilence said pointedly. //"And my sense of security is just fine. Do you know what I'm going to do when this is over, incidentally? Rebuild the AXALON without any doors!"//

"Oops. Just saw something," Buckshot said, looking down the tunnel and seeing panels and light fixtures start to transmute, and panels shifting.

//"Bucky? Are you all right?"// Pestilence asked, her concern for her friend immediately overpowering her annoyance for her current situation.

"I'm fine, just better backtrack a bit. Nope, it's doing that behind me, too. I got signals in front and behind! Nanites are getting into this vent. Yep, and I'm kind of stuck in the vent. That ain't good."

//"Bucky! I'm still climbing over the giant gears, if I can get to where you are- wait, everything's all shifting around, you won't be where you'd say you are if I can even get to where I think you are!"// Calamari cried out.

"Don't worry, I've got an escape route all planned out," Buckshot said, and briefly severed the communications link. He could feel the duct bending slightly beneath him, and pushed at the panel experimentally with his palms. Nanites were transforming the walls in front and back of him by so many trillions that he could see them moving- stay here, or risk dropping himself into anything? He decided for the latter, and punched both palms down, bursting the panel off at the seams and dropping himself out of the vent and into whatever lay below.

--------------------

"Is the separation and subsequent subliminal subversion a success?" Short One asked, the diminutive nano-being hovering slightly as it moved from console to console.

"Too soon to tell," Thin One replied, peering into the observation cameras.

"Let us create another trial. Their endeavors to egress will be empirically educational!" Tall One said with some distinct excitement, his gray and spindly fingers moving over a row of nanite-generated controls and watching as the separated friends struggled to overcome their increasingly bizarre challenges.

--------------------

Calamari finished traversing the lighting grid and landed nimbly at the extended platform before the door. She slipped through, mentally congratulating herself on her agility- and then stopped short, staring in wonderment at the scene before her. She looked back, ready to risk simply backtracking through the door and towards whatever room it generated for her next, only to see it had vanished. That left her in an unexpected place.

She was standing in a forest. The sky appeared to be pitch black, lacking even the illumination of stars, as though a dense cloud covering obscured all celestial bodies above. The forest would've been blindingly dark, had she not been surrounded by thick, sturdy trees, each of which seemed to be emanating a warm, faint glow from beneath the bark.

Calamari stepped along the forest floor, feeling the soft blades of grass and earthy, pebble-pocked dirt crunch beneath her feet. It felt real, it looked real.

"Guys," she said, opening up her comms link, "I'm in a forest. Like, an honest-to-Primus forest. Trees, and bushes, and I don't see any doors. Is this another archives room?"

//"Did I have any biospheres or hydroponic bays in the archives...? No, I'm sure I didn't. Are you telling me the nanites are capable of generating organic matter?"// Pestilence responded.

Calamari reached out to place her cool, metallic hand on one of the tree trunks, finding it warm to the touch. She rapped her knuckles against it, looking up at the perfect canopy of leaves above. Not a single one out of place- and, now that she looked even more closely, the leaves looked exactly similar to one another. And the forest, when she really looked at it, seemed to be the same three or four tree models endlessly replicated.

"Oh, it's a hologram! A whole hologram room! Those nanites are really getting the hang of it. Not so scary, it's just, y'know...woodsy," Calamari said, placing her hands on her hips and looking around.

//"A room with an entirely holographic environment? But they could only do that by creating dozens of additional hologram emitters, and overlaying the illusion on a room pulled from the archives. Maybe they're trying to fake you out of an important room,"// Pestilence theorized.

"I think I just saw another holo-person between the trees," Calamari said. "I'm gonna try to find out what they set all these holos on top of. Bucky, how're you doing?"

//"....I think I just found another holo-room myself."// Buckshot chimed in, sounding bewildered. //"I'll get back to you guys."//

--------------------

Following his escape from the compromised ventilation duct, Buckshot had fallen several feet and landed hard on a what appeared to be a wooden table, breaking it to splinters beneath himself. He had winced, looking up, and saw only a ceiling with a fan spinning lazily overhead- no broken duct. He sat up, and took stock of his surroundings. He was in a saloon, of the sort he'd seen plenty of on Dustball.

The walls were wooden, covered over in cheap striped wallpaper, and stairs led up to a second floor of rooms for rent. There was the bar with its dazzling array of blindingly alcoholic drinks on shelves behind it, a smiling and schmoozing bartender rubbing down the bar with a filthy rag. The piano player jingling away at a merry tune, the scantily clad burlesque dancers and ladies of the evening traipsing about the tables, the dustkickers and gunslingers alike sitting at tables nursing beers, eating food, and playing cards. It was even more rustic than the actual Dustball bars Buckshot remembered. Didn't smell as bad, though.

"Yeah, unless you've been hiding some fistfuls of dollars in the archives, I think I got another holo-room on my hands here," Buckshot murmured into his comms. "It's some kind of Dustball bar. I've passed out- or been punched out- on the floor of a few. Don't know how the hell they picked up on such an accurate copy..."

//"Buckshot, can you find any underlying signs of what room you're really in?"// Pestilence asked. //"Or any overt traces of just how far the Multitude have dug themselves in?"//

"Nothing yet, but- huh. Yeah. I'm surrounded by nanite holos. It's pretty weird," Buckshot said as he stared at the bar's clientele. Now that he looked more closely at the various 'bots patronizing the premises, he saw how shoddily built the illusions were. All of the females had re-purposed Syn bodies, with faces made of loose composites of various facial features in the holographic archives. All of the males seemed to be cut from the cloth of 'tall and muscular' or 'short and stocky', with the same pointy noses and square jaws repeated. Also a lot of the same hats. Same color, even. The whole room repeated itself in little ways the more closely you looked, a sign of the nanites still learning to influence these large holographic environments.

Only one looked close to genuine, and that one was the large cactus-like man sitting at the head of one of the gambling tables. He was hefty, with light green skin and big sleepy yellow eyes. He wore a vest, flannel shirt, and jeans, though every item of clothing was irreparably perforated all over by the needles protruding from nearly every square inch of his body. He had a jug of spring water next to him on the table and was holding a pair of cards in one of his stubby-fingered hands.

"Aw, heck, I'm out again," one of the big, muscular 'bots sitting on either side of the cactus man proclaimed. "Can't nobody win no cards against Thirsty Joe."

"Now that's weird. There's a guy I haven't seen since I was out of prison. How the hell'd the nanites know about him?" Buckshot asked.

//"Bucky? What's going on?"// Pestilence prodded him.

"I just ran into an old buddy of mine, sort of. Holo-version of him, anyway. A Cactili gambler and gang boss from the colonies. Most Cactili are really laid-back, pacifists actually, but every once in a while a hard-ass worth every one of his needles shows up. Thirsty Joe's one of them. I know better than to run up another gambling debt, so I'll just mosey...out of here?"

Buckshot had turned, mid-sentence, toward the back wall to leave for another room, but saw no swinging wooden door. No door at all, actually, only more wall. He turned back to face the saloon floor, and narrowed his optics at the grinning Cactili.

"Well then...I think the great seeds of faith have given me a real card-shark to play with," Thirsty Joe drawled, taking another swig of water- the better to boost his greenness, sharpen his needles, and allow flowers to grow from his body- and smirking at Buckshot. "Put up some money, partner."

"Got no money, pal," Buckshot replied.

"We'll ante you up with -something-."

"Wait..." Buckshot frowned, peering at the cards. Numbers, suits, none of them looked standard. Each card had only one digit on it, along with bar codes and circuitry. They looked like tiny computer boards. "Pest, I'm gonna sit down and try to play a few hands. Either they're pulling me into a trap or this hunch is gonna pay off for me."

With that he sat down and let Thirsty Joe start dealing out fresh cards.

--------------------

It sounded as though both Buckshot and Calamari were busy with the illusory rooms set before them. That left Pestilence alone with a defunct tram station and a stubborn hover-tram door. She'd been pacing back and forth, listening to her friends' descriptions of the events taking place, while trying any number of hacks and bypasses and simple tugs of the handle on the door.

"No code inputs, no response to the old reversing of the polarity...and I don't see any doors back out," she groused, folding her arms. She looked at the door for a moment, then she lifted one optic ridge, contemplating a new approach. She then spoke up loudly:

"It's clear to me what's going on here! This locked hover-tram door is nothing more than an obvious obstacle to obscure and obfuscate my objectives!"

As she belted out this proclamation, she tugged on the door handle and the door suddenly slid open. She smiled, and slipped inside.

Pestilence examined her surroundings with acute interest. She was in a holographic environment as well, but hers had the appearance of a bustling carnival thoroughfare at night. The smells of hot dogs and popcorn, calliope music jingling gaily in the distance, crowds of laughing patrons perusing the game booths, the rides, the snack stands. It'd have been an extremely convincing illusion, had not every patron had the strangely blocky, rudimentary polygonal appearance of a mid-90's Earth computer game. The nanites had poured so much effort into the look of a carnival that there was only so much processing power left to spend on its attendees.

Pestilence moved forward, searching for any outward clues as to what room she was really in. She wasn't to be distracted, not even by the bumper cars. Then she stopped, looking at one of the game booths. She'd passed by a half dozen before of the usual fare- pop the balloons, fill the clowns' mouths with water, etc. This one had a slowly spinning wheel mounted on the back wall of the stand, and on each spoke of the wheel was a binary code and a block of circuitry. There were silver darts set on the counter next to the holographic carny manning the booth.

"Four darts, four chances to win a prize!" the carny told her. He had an oddly proportioned, block-like face, a straw hat, and a rainbow-colored vest with his suit. "Hit two of the same code and win! Hit three of the same and win big! Hit the super-duper secret four-code prize and win it all! Step up, shorty!"

"I'm not -that- short. And I'm not much of a marksman either..." Pestilence mused, rubbing her chin. Before she could decide on anything, Calamari's comms link chimed in her ear.

//"Guys, I'm trailing the one holo-person I saw in here. I don't think he's seen me yet. He's some kind of knight. Y'know, like with the armor and stuff. He's got this weird shiny sword with numbers on it."//

"Numbers? As in code?" Pestilence asked.

//"Yeah, it looks like the codes all over the computers."//

"Now we've got something to go on. Cal, it's imperative you get hold of that sword! Buckshot, you keep playing, try to win your hands and maybe sneak some cards. I've got a rigged game to win," Pestilence said confidently, and bellied up to the counter of the darts booth.

"Four darts, please," she said, smiling up at the carny. He smiled back, handing them to her, and then set his foot on a pedal beneath the counter, setting the wheel to start spinning a little more quickly. Pestilence peered at the wheel, turning the little darts over in her hand, and prepared to make her throws.

------------------

Calamari sidled up between a pair of holographic trees, a hand pressed to one's trunk, as she looked at the knight. He was strolling? -No, make that patrolling the forest, peering out into the forest's darkness through the slit in his helm, one hand at the hilt of his sword. Getting that would be difficult. Calamari steadied herself, ran her fingers through her tendril-like hair, and stepped out from between the trees.

"Hi!" she called to the knight. He spun around, sword already half-cleared of its sheath.

"Who-" he started to say.

"I'm Calamari! I'm kind of lost. Look at all these trees, and vines, and shrubbery, I could really use like some kind of sharp, stabby, pointy -thing- to cut them with...like a sword! Can I borrow your sword?"

The knight tilted his head, looking distrustfully at her.

"I have need of this blade, for it carries the sigil of my ancestors' house, be they ever wise and multitudinous."

Calamari snapped her fingers, frowning. The hologram was corrupted, at least partly. Then, in a moment's inspiration, she put on her most charming smile and gave him a curtsy.

"Would that I'd never had occasion to be so improper! A lady such as myself, no, a -princess- such as myself, lost and yearning for sweet strangers' charity, can ever so verily become overcome with emotion, and I prithee, henceforth and ergo did I, like, try to take your sword."

"Oh! Feminine weaknesses, of course," the knight nodded. "All is forgiven."

Calamari's smile was fixed. Forgiving her weaknesses, huh? She'd give him some weakness.

"As I have totally lost my way, prithee, I implore you, kind sir, to like, clear my path with thine righteous sword and, unto me, of thee, guide yon damsel who is me over to somewhere that is, uh, not here. Forsooth! And verily."

The knight bowed, and unsheathed his blade. Now Calamari saw it fully, the lines of code running up the tempered steel. She gamely ducked behind the knight, hands resting on his chainmailed back, and let him go to work hacking away at holographic vines and tangles.

"Brave sir! Valiant dude! I am so indebted to thou, for thy bravery and whatnot! And, as legends foretold, I swore to my father that the first man to show me such courage would hear my word of sacred vow-" Calamari whispered in his ear, or where she figured his ear to be beneath that soup can of a helmet, and brushed her fingertips down his side.

"What word is that, milady?"

"Yoink!"

"Yoi-?"

Calamari had his sword snatched from him with lightning swiftness, and had taken off running between the trees, grinning widely. She could hear the knight's curses behind her, and then the curses turning to a garbled buzz, the knight's image flickering and shifting as the Multitude rewrote the hologram.

"Pest, I've got the sword!" Calamari commed as she sprinted into the darkness.

//"Well done! There should be a four-digit code most prominent on it. Read it back to me."//

"It says-" Calamari started to read back, squinting her optics in the dark down at the sword, then yelped as an arrow slammed into the tree a foot to her left. She glanced back, seeing the knight transformed to a holographic archer, and started to run.

------------------

Buckshot smiled thinly at Thirsty Joe, tilting himself back in his seat and looking across the table at the corpulent Cactili. There was a heap of credits in the pot, and a line of cards with that unusual binary signature on them face-up in the middle of the table. Buckshot glanced at his two cards.

"Looks like...three of a kind," he hazarded, setting down his cards and noting the similarity between their codes. Thirsty Joe chuckled dryly, and set down his pair of cards.

"Four of a kind here, hoss. It's quite a lot of a darn shame, isn't it? You're not the first to get pricked trying to play me," he said, grinning and plucking one of his own needles to pick at his teeth.

"Hell of a hand. You've got a good poker face for a big plant guy," Buckshot complimented him. "Except the way you kept looking down at your hand- then down further at your feet. Let me help with your seat."

With that, he pushed his foot at Joe's chair and the startled holographic Cactili was set back a few inches- and showing all the cards impaled upon needles protruding from his jeans. Buckshot stood up.

"Now, listen here, it's hard times on a cactus person to play cards, one tends to accumulate some litter, these are likely left over from legitimate card games from weeks or months ago, and- shall we simply let you take your money back?"

"I don't want the money, it's not even real! But I'll take those cards," Buckshot said, and lunged over the table. He swept up the poker flop in his hand and Joe's hand besides. Joe squawked, landing on his rear on the wooden floor, and his henchmen went for their guns. Buckshot spun, punching one of the tall and muscular 'bots in the face, and he hit the hardwood, face disrupting and turning into the silvery, blocky skull of a nanite projection. Guns were firing into the air now, and Buckshot kept low, moving past tables as bullets impacted the cheaply wallpapered room.

"Pest! I've got cards with codes on 'em! Only four of the same suit, tho!" Buckshot said urgently into his communications link. The door out of the salon was non-existent, so he barreled up the stairs, past bar wenches and drunken cowhands, and towards the farthest door along the second-floor landing.

//"Read them off to me! I can figure out which code it is from there!"//

------------------

Pestilence prepared to take her shots at the revolving dartboard, waiting anxiously for her friends' signals. If they could give her even portions of a code, she could figure out which one could be used to start a reboot on the AXALON's computer.

//"I've got...1103!"// Buckshot finally said, even as gunshots resounded through his signal.

"Excellent! Calamari?"

//"Hold on! This guy's shooting arrows at me, but he's a really bad shot. I've got, um...2326!"//

"Oh, that's the one. Stay safe, guys, I'll be right with you," Pestilence said to the two of them, nodding as she turned to face the holographic carnie. She took a moment to stare at the spinning wheel with its spokes of code, and then threw her four darts. Thunk, thunk, thunk...thunk! The booth proprietor's jaw dropped as he looked at the four silver projectiles embedded, quivering, in their targets.

"1103-2326-6305. Reboot code alpha. I remember it well," Pestilence said with a smile.

"How'd you throw so well?" the booth proprietor demanded.

"You nanites can change my ship's interior, but you can't change the rules of mass, velocity, and trajectory. Now, then! Let's just enter that reboot code, sign in as User 01, begin restoration of corrupted data..."

As Pestilence spoke, she drew a holographic keyboard up from the counter of the booth, her fingers moving rapidly over its keys. The carny took a step back, staring, and all around her, the shoddily constructed holographic carnival-goers began to converge on her. Before they could come any closer, Pestilence hit a key and the other game booths moved like security gates around her, creating a tight fence.

"I can manipulate holograms too!" she said, chuckling. "Now let's get my friends back. Cal, Bucky! I've got access to the room controls, I'm going to move the rooms you two are in so that they're adjacent to mine! Take the first doors out you see!"

Following dual notes of acquiescence from her companions, she'd punched in her codes and, soon, the back doors of the booths erected as her security barrier had opened, depositing a confused Buckshot and a jubilant Calamari into the holographic carnival.

"...Huh," Buckshot said, looking around.

"Ooh, a carnival! Love a carnival. How's it going, Pest?" Calamari asked.

"I've got particularly pernicious parasites permeating my system," Pestilence muttered, absorbed in her task. "They've got over 60% of the computer core overridden, it's all I can do to establish a safe zone to fight back. I've got some control, but...there, there's gravity restored. Argh, and they messed with it again! This is testing my hacking skills to the limit."

"Bucky, were you getting shot at just now?" Calamari asked.

"Yeah, but they were pretty crappy shots. Even near the end, while I was trying to push that door open and it was stuck, they had damn near a point-blank shot at me and -still- missed."

"I know! I had this archer guy coming after me and he couldn't hit me once! Are nanites just, like, naturally bad at aiming at stuff?"

"We can ask them when we get a good look at their home world," Pestilence spoke up. "I've accessed the security camera system. Most of it's being used to monitor us, but they didn't even think to access the exterior cameras. Their ship isn't just on our ship, it's -on- our ship. Stuck to the underside! A literal collision. We'll have to find the door to the outside and pry that off."

"How are we supposed to get there with them moving all the rooms around on us?" Buckshot asked.

"By rebooting completely. That code got me access to the systems they locked us out of, and if I can get into the main power supply, I can reboot the AXALON and set the parameters to look for them and flush them out on power-up. If I just set the-"

As Pestilence worked, the carnival began to grow quiet, fading to black behind them, the great machinery of the AXALON interior quaking as something new started to form. The Multitude were in panic mode, and scrambling to use the very building blocks of the AXALON itself, its vast wealth of potential rooms, to create a destroyer. Calamari saw it first, eeping almost inaudibly. Buckshot turned, and stared. As Pestilence tried to work, making noises of frustration at the level of resistance she was shown, the insistent hands prodding her shoulder finally prompted her to turn around and look up. And up.

"....We might not make it to the door so easily," she said, staring wide-eyed upward, as the shadow grew and the destroyer loomed over them, preparing to attack.


END OF EPISODE TWO


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 Post subject: Re: DWA: Spatiotemporality
PostPosted: Tue Jun 14, 2011 11:03 pm 

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SPATIOTEMPORALITY

EPISODE THREE

The holographic games and rides of the illusory carnival were disappearing, fading away into so many discarded photons, the room fading to a plain silver expanse of empty space. The nanites needed the computing power for the abomination of interior realignment that they had created. Pestilence, Buckshot, and Calamari craned their necks to stare at it.

It was a ten-story tall monster, a bipedal beast with grasping booths for fingers and a multiplex of rooms for a body. Its limbs were shuddering, shifting towers of AXALON rooms, doors opening and closing, girders and pylons flexing like tendons, electrical sparks snapping along its frame like the synaptic impulses of exposed nerves. It had a huge mongoloid skull of titanium bulkhead and armored plating, with shimmering blue spotlights for eyes, a big metal water tower cone cap for a nose, and its mouth- the horizontally sliding portal of what they knew to be the AXALON's true front door. At the beast's heart- or the center of its torso, at any rate- they could see the control room, supporting a circuit of floating control panels and observation screens, the trio of Multitude ambassadors manning the bridge. The AXALON monster tilted back its head, balled its mighty hands into fists, and roared.

"I....that....it's..." Calamari spread her palms helplessly, unable to find the words for the level of justifiable panic or awe that she felt she should be expressing.

"If that thing's made from all the rooms of the AXALON, where the hell are we standing right now?" Buckshot asked.

"Best not to think about it," Pestilence replied, before striding up to the foot of the beast and glaring up at it. It glared right back, and lifted one colossal foot.

"PEST! DON'T-!" Buckshot and Calamari yelled in unison, racing forward, only to see the monster move its feet away, set it back down with an earth-shaking thud, and roar again. It started to turn away, moving towards the empty and mostly theoretical null-space of the AXALON's un-roomed interior.

"I thought as much! All a big test! Now you're trying to walk off with my ship! While being my ship! Well, I intend to pass this test with a higher grade than that, you nanites!" Pestilence shouted, and took off after the colossus.

"You seriously just stood under a giant's big metal foot and didn't get squished!" Calamari exclaimed, easily catching up to Pestilence as they ran.

"It's just like how those cowboys were shooting at me and couldn't nail a point-blank shot! Or how you said an archer couldn't hit you with any arrows! They weren't TRYING to hit us!" Buckshot said, sprinting just behind them.

"They've monitored us, they've thrown us into dangerous situations, they've sought our solutions to the problems they present us! Multiple chances to enact the executions they said has been in the works for centuries of their time, so why haven't they killed us?" Pestilence asked as she caught up to the colossal creature's heel. "Because we give them something they need! Our brains!"

"They want to eat our brains?" Calamari asked.

"They want to eat the intellectual output of our brains! The problem-solving capacity of our neural nets! They've accused us of a great crime against their world, they took the AXALON as substitute, there's no reason to keep us alive unless we provide them some further service...or sustenance!"

Pestilence took a running leap and grappled the monster's heel, heaving herself up onto the top of its foot. She pulled up Calamari, and Buckshot climbed up after them. They sat for a moment against the ankle, watching as the legs overhead reconfigured and reshaped themselves, the beast groaning with creaking walls and thrumming engines.

"I had something about that bugging me before," Buckshot confessed to Pestilence. "You told us to split up, even giving us the headsets, like ten minutes before they set a trap and you came up with a solution that split us up. You've been doing that thing too, where your words start with the same letters, just like they do. I thought you might've had nanites inside you, messing with your mind, but then they somehow thought to put Thirsty Joe in my Dustball simulation room, and I never told you about him. I think they're inside us."

"I did wonder about that. I mean, nanites get inside machines, right? We're Cybertronians! We're, like, super-machines!" Calamari nodded.

"I wanted to rule out personal incursion, but yes, we almost certainly have nanites inside us. They could have tried an aggressive take-over of our minds, but aside from some syntactical synchronicity, we've been left relatively free to run our mental processes unimpeded. Which gives further credence to my belief that they are feeding on how we respond to their actions!"

"So how do we get them out?" Calamari asked. "Knock ourselves out? Act really dumb on purpose?"

"The nanites in our bodies must be of a very small number, only barely able to influence us without being exterminated by our own anti-virus systems. They're fairly passive. We need a grand gesture, something to convince the Multitude to stand down. I have an idea, but we'll need two things- access to the main control room returned, and to get their worldship off of the AXALON's hull."

"Except...that's outside. And the door outside is this thing's mouth. And the mouth is way, way up there," Buckshot said, pointing up to the head distantly above.

"We'll have to climb up."

"Yep. Knew that was coming. All right then."

"Right!" Pestilence clapped her hands and stood up. "We face a gauntlet of hostile architecture, system anomalies, and holographic foes. All in one climb. Are you ready?"

"Let's do it," Buckshot said, cracking his knuckles.

"Up, up, and...more up!" Calamari agreed.

Pestilence turned to look up the tower of rooms turned to a leg. She could see a vertical line of doors running down the side. She jumped up, grabbing one by the handle, and pulled it down, leaving it swinging open in the air like a flap. She and her companions ascended the beast's leg, pulling open doors and climbing them like rungs of a ladder, heading for the knee.

--------------------

Pestilence's hand reached up through a hatch, popping one more door open, and the petite scientist stuck her head through, peering around the room. They were now inside one of the rooms comprising the monster's knee, and at a guess, she'd have placed it as having been one of the AXALON's living-room quarters at some point. The chamber was canted at a 45-degree angle, shifting perceptibly with each stride of the beast, and the floor was littered with couches, recliners, end-tables, and book-shelves scattered by the room's upending.

"We've got to keep moving up," she said, pulling herself up through the hatch and holding it open to permit Buckshot and Calamari access. "From here, I think we can climb the thigh and make our way into the torso. Possibly by using those. Those are new."

She pointed up, and her companions followed her finger to see the array of six-foot thick pistons pumping back and forth overhead. The pistons lined a four-sided shaft that connected to the living room's ceiling, most definitely not as part of the archival design. Buckshot pushed a couch over to the wall, and Calamari and Pestilence started to stack coffee tables and shelves atop the couch cushions.

"Hey, look at that wall," Calamari said, pointing at the corner. The clean silver wall that typified much of the AXALON's interior had become interspersed with patches of ruddy bricks, bamboo fence, and concrete bunker.

"More holographic disruption," Pestilence replied. "They've thrown all the systems out of order, everything's going to be all jumbled together. Holo-emitters sprouting in places they shouldn't, giant slow-moving pistons, who knows what else? Okay, I don't often ask you guys to do this, but...toss me!"

They'd clambered up the teetering pile of furniture, and at her behest, Buckshot and Calamari took Pestilence by the arms and flung her up. She grabbed onto a slow-moving piston, locking her arms around it in a stiff embrace, and swung herself onto its smooth surface. Calamari climbed up next, standing on Buckshot's shoulders and taking hold of another piston. Buckshot, the tallest and heaviest of the three, took his turn last and barely wrapped his biceps around a piston, the mountain of furniture tumbling away beneath them.

"I can see a pattern to these!" Pestilence yelled above the din of the pistons and the creaks and thumps of the walking colossus. "The pistons meet at 5-second intervals, during which you can move from one to the other or jump to a higher piston separated from its opposite! Time it right and keep moving up!"

"Sure, no problem," Buckshot said uncertainly, straddling his piston and waiting for the one on the opposing side of the shaft to come his way.

"Got it!" Calamari said, and stood up with a gymnast's grace, waiting for the piston above her to near. She leaped up, taking hold of it, and swung herself up, offering a hand to Pestilence. Buckshot got up, sprinting across his piston, and jumped to the next one over, before scrambling up to the next one. As the trio of Cybertronians made their way up, the emitters started to appear, going haywire, placing holographic shells over pistons and changing their appearances.

"Which way into the torso?" Buckshot called out as he swung by the arms from an oak tree sliding back and forth out of the wall.

"The hatch above! The one with the lock on it!" Pestilence called, hugging for dear life onto a Roman temple column.

"I'm almost to it! I'll open it up! ...Wait, did you say it was locked?" Calamari asked, balancing precariously on a telephone pole. She jumped off, grabbing onto a piston that was bursting from a churning diagonal patch of ocean, and grabbed at the hatch's handle, but was unsuccessful in producing any greater result than some creaks and clanks from the stuck door.

"Use your thing! The spanner!" Buckshot told Pestilence, while he reached for a firetruck ladder sprouting from the ceiling.

"Too far away!" Pestilence called, jumping up from her column and onto the next piston.

"There's a code input here! It says, 3.14...and then there's eight question marks," Calamari said, looking with raised optic ridges down at her friends.

"Ugh, nanites, we're already in a piston-filled room of death and they throw something like that in?!" Pestilence said with exasperation. "3.1415926535!"

Calamari quickly punched in the digits and the hatch locks released. She pulled it open and helped Buckshot and Pestilence through the gap and into the next room.

"What was that, pi to ten places?" Buckshot asked as he climbed up.

"Yep! I'd have been in real trouble if they'd wanted more, my memory on it gets fuzzy after four hundred places," Pestilence smiled, patting his shoulder as he helped her into the next room. The hatch slid shut behind them and they continued on at a rapid pace.

-------------------

The Multitude ambassadors had their hands full piloting the colossus. Their mass exodus into the engines of the AXALON was proving more difficult than expected, with many systems under their inexpert control producing unexpected results. The colossus wobbled slightly, righted itself, and continued on, marching through a void of internal null-space while its pilots familiarized themselves with what they thought could become their new home.

"Gravity alignment is degrading," Thin One reported from its swiveling control-chair, working the beast's arms.

"Approaching boundaries of theoretical limits of internal space!" Short One called out, maneuvering the legs.

"Observe! The gigantic creatures mount an offensive," Tall One said, pointing at one of the free-floating holographic screens. All three turned to look then, seeing a video feed of the trio of Cybertronians ascending the pistons, and decoding the hatch-lock. Almost immediately after witnessing this, the Multitude seemed to shiver, blue eyes glowing, and settled back in their seats- momentarily sated.

"An impressive inference! But all for naught. We will not be ousted from our environs," Thin One moved its hands along the controls. "A host of holographic harriers! Machinations of menacing magnitude! We will rally all of their systems against them, in retribution for our ruined world!"

They moved as one, activating more defenses, pushing the AXALON towards its maximum limit. The ship was powerful, but strained by its new internal shape, and as they reassembled and reshaped the beast's innards, other systems began to give way.

"Increased risk of temporal anomalies present! Life support systems in danger of compromise!" Short One reported.

"We will persevere! Let us see how they persist, in the face of such problems posed. Let us feed!" Tall One said, and the other nanite beings nodded, and continued their work.

----------------------

"No more pistons, that's an improvement," Buckshot noted as he, Calamari, and Pestilence ran up flights of stairs, rounding the corners of each landing and taking steps two at a time. The coded hatch had delivered them to one of the rooms of the AXALON giant's lower midsection, and here the potential interior presented itself as a hall of stairs, of varying widths and lengths, with doors and windows opening and closing at bizarre angles across the walls.

"We're making good time! Their control room should be at the heart of the giant, a few more levels up!" Pestilence said. As she ran, she passed an array of holographic emitters protruding from the wall and, realizing her error a split second too late, headed for a staircase that was fully holographic. She got one foot up the steps, soles moving across the hard light field, before the emitters shut themselves down, the steps vanishing. She pinwheeled on the precipice before Calamari snatched her scarf and hauled her back to safety.

"Gah! Thanks for that," Pestilence said, startled as she looked at where the staircase used to be.

"What was that, I thought they wouldn't try to kill us?!" Calamari asked.

"They gave enough of a warning for us to respond. They want us completely alert, our brains moving at maximum efficiency, so we think as quickly- and as nourishingly- as we can."

"There's another set of stairs there, we can keep heading up," said Buckshot, pointing in another direction. They ran for the steps, finding them solid and factual, and ascended as quickly as they could. Hidden rows of hologram projectors kicked in once more, and the doors scattered around the walls of the shaft began to slide open, depositing artificial foes onto the battlefield.

"More hologram bad guys? Wait a minute- holy crap, those are ninjas!" Buckshot yelped.

Scaling the walls, sprinting up the steps, vaulting over hand-rails, appeared holographic ninjas with black uniforms and big silver dodecahedron heads hidden beneath their cowls. They narrowed blue eyes at the Cybertronians, and brandished swords and sais and staffs and shuriken alike. With battle cries of fury, they leaped into the fray, and the Cybertronians fled up the stairs.

"Get them off! There's tons of them!" Calamari cried out, ducking under a katana swipe and rounding a corner. "Where did these guys even come from?!"

"Well, one of the many historical recreation simulations in the holo-room archives depicts an era of Earth where feudal warlords had, on occasion, employed leagues of covert assassins, whose purpose was to-" Pestilence explained quickly, rolling beneath a flung volley of shuriken and scrambling up the stairs.

"THIS IS SO TOTALLY NOT THE TIME!"

"Just fight them off! They're holograms!"

"Way ahead of you!" Buckshot called. He ducked under a sword swipe and hefted up a ninja onto his shoulders, tossing him at a mob of his holographic brethren at they climbed the stairs. As the ninjas collided, tumbling away, Buckshot booted another in the stomach, then turned and threw a beast of a punch into another's face, sending him whirling over a hand-rail and to the long drop below.

"We're nearly to the end, keep climbing!" Pestilence urged Calamari on.

"Did you guys see that? I just punched a ninja! Man, even if we don't make out of this whole mess alive, that's one more happy memory I can take to the grave!" Buckshot said, shoulder-ramming another assailant aside and heading up the stairs after his friends.

"'Here lies Buckshot, he punched a ninja'?" Calamari repeated.

"I like the sound of it!"

Pestilence found a free-standing ladder at the very top landing, headed for another hatch, this one code-free. She looked at the ceiling, seeing it lined with holographic emitters, and dozens more ninjas below, almost literally falling on top of one another in their mad efforts to defeat the trio, scaling the stairs in a stealthy black flood. Pestilence pointed her ionic spanner at the line of emitters, briefly scrambling the signal, and the horde of ninjas' images disrupted, turned to static, temporarily delaying their assault.

"Get up here, quickly!" Pestilence called.

Buckshot and Calamari bolted up the ladder stuffed themselves through the open hatch. Pestilence tucked her spanner back into her pocket, climbed up, and swung the hatch shut behind herself, just as a row of holographic shuriken bounced off the hatch and ceiling.

----------------------

"This has to be the true solution. We're on our way to the control room," Pestilence said, squeezing in between her friends and hitting the button for the doors to close, sending them up a lengthy ascent before the elevator stopped, and delivered them through a door to the next trial.

"Sweet! Going up. Hope everything starts moving in the right order in the next room," Calamari said, tapping a button on the side of the elevator door and stepping inside as the doors slid open with a soft chime.

"We may be able to use that. I'm not certain, but I think there's just a bit of temporal looping taking place, giving me a tiny hint of what's to come. But first, look at that! Elevator fake-out!" Pestilence pointed, and they saw the real elevator, a little narrow metal box, on a cable in the gear-filled corridor behind where the enticing glass-tube elevator had been situated in the room proper.

"I did. Sorry. Nanites," he said, abashed.

"Hey, you just did the thing where your words start with the same letter!" Calamari pointed out. Buckshot looked chagrined, standing up straight in the narrow metallic corridor behind the wall.

"Hey, you two, I can't exactly fit myself through there! Well, maybe I can. Gimme a sec- there!" Buckshot waited as one of the gear's teeth slowly traveled by and, slipping across the floor, managed to fit his bulky frame through the narrow confines. "Hey, look at that! I am ultimately undeterred by my powerful pectorals and bulging biceps!"

"This one! Right here! It's not even connected to anything!" Pestilence pointed out. Buckshot and Calamari hurried over and looked at the titanic gear slowly churning clockwise. Pestilence peered into the dark, seeing a confined space behind the gear, and with a wink to her friends, shimmied across the floor and through one of the spaces between the gear's teeth. Calamari followed, scrambling on her hands and knees to pop through.

She walked the room, studying the moving gears and rods in the open panels, and stopped short, staring very intently at one. It was the largest gear, the spaces between the grooves easily capable of being crawled right through. And it was moving clockwise in stark opposition to the movement of every other gear.

"Our memories of the solution aren't so dim after all," Pestilence smiled at her. "Let me try to find the best route. Getting chewed up in a giant gear would be pretty lame no matter whether we do it forward or backward."

"By going inside the holes in the wall? You were gonna say, by going through the holes in the wall, weren't you?" Calamari asked.

"This elevator is too convenient," Pestilence murmured, looking at the glass tube to the ceiling. "I bet it'd lead right to the control room; a strangely useful mutation for this AXALON giant's amalgamated insides, isn't it? Too handy! We'll need to take another way up."

"I think it's more like, we have to get to the beginning to remember how we got to the end," Buckshot theorized.

"So, we know the way out already, but we have to figure it out or else we'll forget that we know it?" Calamari said.

"It's like drawing a straight line on a piece of paper, and then folding the paper in half so that the two ends of the line meet. We have jumped that gap from end to end, and are now traveling back towards the first end the long way around."

"Except we have just arrived here!" Buckshot said.

"As we approach the end of this puzzle, our memories of solving it may get dimmer than they were when we first arrived here," Pestilence replied.

"How did we get that thing down before? I'm getting kind of fuzzy on it," Buckshot said.

"There's got to be a way out of the room, then. Hey, an elevator! Seriously! After stairs, and pistons, and climbing on open doors, we actually get an elevator!" Calamari said, sprinting to a door at the other side of the room. They could see how she'd come to the conclusion that it led to an elevator, as the door was on the outside of a great glass tube descending from the ceiling. The elevator was at the top of the shaft, visible from where they stood.

"Either intentionally or accidentally, yes. But the effect could be localized to this room."

"You mean those nanites screwed up the AXALON's time travel?" Buckshot asked.

"It's time. Those gears are aligned to move the internal machinery by rotating clockwise. Fittingly enough, they're running counter-clockwise. We're moving backwards in time."

"I remember how we got out of here- I think- except we haven't done it yet. It's weird, it's like there's overlap in my head," Calamari said.

"Yes, we were," Pestilence said, glancing around the room. Large panels of the walls were missing, revealing the great gears of the colossus clanking and rotating. They might've thrown something into the gears to try and give it some internal problems and help clear a path further up, if they had anything suitably large- and if they could shake their feeling of deja vu.

"Wait a minute, weren't we already in this room?" Buckshot asked.

------------------

The elevator arrived at the heart of the AXALON colossus and Pestilence stepped out first, hands at her hips, ready to drive the nanite invaders from her ship. Buckshot looked around the room, counted silently from 1 to 5, and nodded. Time was moving normally again.

"There, at the end of that hallway," Pestilence said, pointing down the corridor. "All the rooms may be constantly shifting around, but I'll bet the control room's location has remained constant. The lone island in the stormy sea. Let's kick down the door."

"I'm up for that," Buckshot said, and Calamari nodded. They marched down to the silver doors and Buckshot raised his foot menacingly, only to have the doors slide open. He put his foot back down, with just a touch of disappointment, and Pestilence swept past him and burst into the control room.

The Multitude emissaries looked up, startled, from their various control stations. Tall One was seated at a metallic chair lifted up from the floor and surrounded by an array of floating viewscreens. Short One had its arms in deep control wells at a console, moving the arms of the giant, while Thin One was working its legs at an apparatus rather like a laptop bolted to a treadmill, moving the giant's legs.

"So! It's not enough to make the transition from microscopic machines to person-sized ambassadors, but you've got to steal and subvert my ship's systems to transform it into a lumbering colossus!" Pestilence accused.

"You guys have, like, until yesterday to unplug yourselves from all of this stuff! We mean it!" Calamari pointed a finger at them.

The trio of silver-colored, block-headed nanite beings looked at one another, blue eyes blinking rapidly. They looked back at the Cybertronians, and as if by some shared mental directive, their consoles started to transform once more, moving new panels forward and creating new controls.

"Your puerile proddings produce no panic!" Thin One said. "We are plenipotentiaries, picked by our predecessors to plan our inter-planetary procession."

"Through ignorance or ignobility, you have injured and impugned us!" Tall One added.

"Listen up, pal, and listen good," Buckshot said, stepping forward. He planted his feet, cracking his knuckles ominously, and pointed a finger at them. "You've maneuvered us into a mire of mistaken malfeasance!"

That got a reaction. All three Multitude ambassadors stared, blue eyes wide.

"That's right!" Pestilence said, patting Buckshot on the back. He still had his finger out, looking slightly baffled, and self-conscious. His eyes seemed to want to look down at his mouth as though to double-check he'd just said that.

"We will brook no blame. But...have we brashly blocked a bid at bargaining for benevolence?" Short One asked, looking at its contemporaries.

"Impossible! They are wreckers of worlds, working only in warfare and woe!" Thin One said. Its hands moved quickly. The moving panels started to create a battering ram, a wall of metal heading towards the Cybertronians, and they dove out of the way before it could hit them.

"Another negotiation nullified by negativity! Nuts!" Buckshot said, hands tightened into fists.

"Your locutions are still linked with linguistic likenesses!" Calamari said, and clapped her hands over her mouth.

"It's a plague of polysyllabic parlance!" Pestilence said. "Urgh-!"

She wrapped her scarf around her mouth, briefly halting the flow of alliteration, and gestured wordlessly for her friends to follow her. The Multitude were working furiously at their consoles, and the entire room kept shifting and re-plating itself, matching the nanites' frenzied mental activity. Pestilence hurried towards the console at the center of the room, but more panels moved to block her path, creating a catwalk that whipped itself about like a snake to impede her progress.

"A rudimentary restriction. You raiders will be relentlessly routed!" Tall One smirked.

"Mmmph! Mmm mooph mummf miff!" Pestilence waved her fist at them.

Tall One tilted its head, and turned to its nano-mechanical brethren. They leaned their work stations in close to one another, sharing another silent discussion, and looked back at her.

"A confusing comeback. That cloth covering constricts communication. Could you be conveying conniption?"

"Mmm-mmph!" Pestilence shook her head, refusing to get caught up in the nanites' debates. She drew her ionic spanner from her pocket, as fast as any gunslinger, and pointed it at the console behind the moving catwalk. The screen temporarily shut down and the nanite beings moved rapidly to repair the temporary loss of power. She'd been banking on that- that they desired so much knowledge, so much information, that even the loss of a single viewscreen or computer would be almost painful to them.

"Mmoofh mmarrum! Mmuf mevmemeem mowfn!" Pestilence gestured around the room at her friends.

"What?!" Buckshot asked.

"They've obtained omnipresence! Obstruct their outlets of observation!" she said, pulling down the scarf.

Buckshot nodded, and promptly put his fist through a computer screen. The Multitude squawked, wheeling around in their chairs and waving their hands violently, spewing strings of identically lettered threats. More of the room was reconfiguring itself, but for lack of any weapons on the AXALON, there were no turrets or attack drones to be made. No holographic emitters in the room, either- too much processing power being used to drive the colossus. Buckshot was smashing up everything he was close to, secure in the knowledge that it was all stuff from nanite construction and archive layouts, expendable or replaceable. Calamari and Pestilence were flipping off switches left and right, messing with any non-essential system, and smashing the odd screen or console here and there.

"The flow of information is impeded! They are insane!" Thin One shouted.

"Let us explain and extenuate the exigencies of the situation! Or else," and here Pestilence managed to use the distractions to pull up a functioning console for herself, "I'll be forced to enter that reboot code."

"Abjure the activated agents accessing their apperceptions!" Short One said with alarm, and the Multitude shut their optics, briefly sending out a signal. A nimbus of that same crackling green energy they'd used to teleport in now appeared around the heads of all three Cybertronians. Within moments, Pestilence felt clearer-minded than she had in a while, as did Buckshot and Calamari. She grinned.

"No more nanites inside our heads, feeding on our problem-solving responses. Now, to get the other thing we need to finish this up," she said, and moved her hands on the keyboard rapidly, inputting the reboot code. The Multitude let out shouts of anger, but Pestilence just stayed focused on her task, fingers moving rapidly over keys. The wall opened up behind them, and a partially-constructed shuttle emerged behind them.

"Where the hell did that come from?" Buckshot asked.

"I was dismantling it for spare parts some time back. It's no longer spaceworthy, but we could get enough of a propulsive boost to get all the way up to the head," Pestilence said, with a triumphant clack of the keys, before running to the shuttle with her companions hot on her heels.

----------------------

The Multitude had no intention of letting them into the shuttle. As they ran, the control room started to shift again, massive corners of walls rising like the tide of a metallic ocean. They dove over lurching catwalks and across disintegrating lengths of falling floor tiles, barely making it toward the opened wall. Pestilence jumped inside the shuttlecraft and plopped down on one of the pilot's chairs, preparing for launch, while Buckshot got in the other pilot's chair and Calamari sat behind them. They could see immediately what Pestilence had meant by 'no longer spaceworthy'; chunks of the bulkheads were missing, to the point of there being great holes exposing them to open air. It was like a sun-roof that extended partly towards the wall from the roof. But, as Pestilence ran quick ignition checks and fired up the boosters, it was clear that the engine was still in working condition.

"This thing's missing a lot of vital parts, but we could get enough of a blast-off to get to...the head?" Buckshot asked uncertainly.

"Right to the exit! Those nanites probably aren't going to let us take the stairs. All systems that aren't missing go! It's been a while since I used one of these. Lift off!" Pestilence gleefully danced her fingers across the controls and pulled back on the stick. Waves of force erupted from the partially disassembled engines and the shuttle lifted off, leaving a churning metal floor, a reconfiguring control room, and a trio of angry nano-beings behind. The open wall led out, past rows of other archival AXALON rooms, and straight out the giant's back.

"It'll take that big lug a few to turn around," Buckshot said, settling his hands on flight controls as the shuttle rocketed into the empty black expanse of unused AXALON space. "We can just cruise up its back without it even knowing we were- THE HELL?!"

For, as he'd been glancing down at the controls, he'd gone from seeing blank interior space to the towering patchwork metal body of the colossus directly in front of the shuttle, its girder and rivet hands flexing and its big blue searchlight eyes glaring.

"How'd he get in front of us, we were flying straight away from him!"

"Of course; you only travel so far inside internal space before you end up where you started," Pestilence replied, looking at the giant. "I think the Multitude are onto us...bank right!"

Buckshot obeyed without question, old driving skills kicking in as he turned hard and avoided a sweep of the beast's hand. It came rushing by the shuttle with such force that the shuttle's occupants could feel wind blasting through the cabin holes. Buckshot and Pestilence worked rapidly at the flight controls, maneuvering it past slaps of the gigantic hands, with Calamari clutching the backs of their seats and nibbling her lower lip. The shuttle blasted past the beast's midsection, rebounding off the edge of its waist and breaking open the wall, sending furniture and computers tumbling away into the abyss. Looping around the back, the shuttle moved up, barely evading a burst of lasers from the eyes.

"Eye lasers! Freakin' eye lasers!" Buckshot yelled indignantly.

"They're throwing it all at us, keep flying!" Pestilence said, clutching her controls tighter.

"The hand again, WATCH OUT!" Calamari pointed. The beast's hand swept down, fingers spread wide, and Buckshot turned the shuttle hard, pointing its nose straight up. The little craft passed between outstretched fingers, sailing towards the head as the colossus bowed with its momentum. They were within touching distance of its less than handsome face- the angry blue eyes, the cone nose, the sliding door mouth- when the shuttle lurched abruptly backwards, like an accelerating car caught by a chain securing it to a streetlamp. Pestilence turned, looking at the back of the shuttle cabin and out one of the holes, to see a shimmering white beam grappling with the ship. Even with the engines at their full force- and that full force was still impaired due to their incomplete disassembly- they were no match for the tractor beam. The Multitude -would- pull them back in.

"No, no, no, we're so close! The door's right there!" Pestilence shouted, and got up from her seat, hands flexing and unflexing as she wrestled with a number of possible solutions. Only one would fit.

"Guys? I'm really going to need your help for this. Grab my ankles," she said, and climbed out of the hole in the side. Calamari bolted to her feet and latched her hands onto Pestilence's legs. Buckshot kept the engines going at maximum, and stared with astonishment as Pestilence crawled out onto the shuttle hull. She squinted down at the bright beam hauling the shuttle away, then looked at the face of the colossus. She jumped toward it, keeping herself near the nose of the shuttle only by the grace of Calamari's firm grip, and managed to get her desperately straining hands at the door. She swung it outward, and propelled herself through the opening.

----------------------

Darkness. Silence. Incredible, burning cold. Pestilence floated out into the vacuum of space, looking around at the curtain of starlight pinpricks and distant planets. She looked behind herself, seeing all of it- the colossus, the Multitude, her friends in the struggling shuttle- contained within a silver spacecraft no larger than a phone booth. She then looked down, seeing Calamari's hands still clutching at her ankles. Pestilence bent down, fighting to keep her systems active, and looked at the underside of the booth.

She saw it. Just out of arm's reach, stuck to the back corner. A little black and gray orb, about the size of a baseball, covered in blinking lights. There was a crack running down one side of it. The great cataclysm of the Multitude's past, all down to one accidental collision. Pestilence strained her arm, fingers still precious inches away. She desperately tried to extend her reach, and then, to her surprise, she gained another couple of inches, and then another good foot and a half. Now fully outside of the booth, she grabbed at the little orb, scooping it up in her palm, and before she could say anything- or, on subsequent failure, remind herself the sound wouldn't have traveled anyway- she was hauled back inside the booth.

----------------------

Pestilence came rushing back into the chaotic scene within, tugged inside the shuttle by a shivering Calamari, whose legs were gripped in a death-hug 'round the thighs by Buckshot. He jerked both females inside and they tumbled into the shuttle interior. The engines finally gave out, and the shuttle was drawn closer and closer to a separating hole in the giant's chest, back into the Multitude's adopted lair.

"So...cold...!" Calamari gasped.

"Are you guys okay? Are you okay?!" Buckshot asked urgently, shaking them.

"I'm...okay!" Pestilence wheezed. "Better...than okay! I've...got it!"

She sat up, cradling the tiny worldship in her hands. She smiled at them, then down at the ship.

"Now we've finally got time to explain ourselves," she said, and focused her gaze on the ship. "...CONTACT!"

A bolt of shared knowledge erupted from her head and into the worldship. The effect was immediate. As the tractor beam pulled them into the chest of the colossus, they looked up to see the giant's head starting to shake and spin, before moving and shifting in on itself. The entire torso, comprised of rooms stacked on rooms, was moving and re-aligning, transforming, tumbling like a child's building blocks rolled off the edge of a table. The shuttle rocked in the tractor beam's grip, knocking the trio of occupants against the walls, and everything went dark.

----------------------

Pestilence sat up, blinking, and glanced around. They were back inside the AXALON control room. The real control room, the one they remembered, uncorrupted by nanites. Buckshot jumped to his feet, as abruptly as a boxer startled by a surprise knockdown, and steadied himself on the edge of the comfortingly familiar navigation console. Calamari pulled herself up, looking across the room. The three emissaries of the Multitude were standing there, arms at their sides, smiling at them. Were they smiling? It was hard to tell with those odd, blocky heads and inexpressive faces.

"You've...repaired the ship?" Pestilence asked, rubbing the back of her head and looking around at the silver ceiling, the row of monitors above the console, the well-worn chairs. She sprinted to the door at the far end and swung it open, poking her head through and noting with relief that it was connected to the right corridor. The layout was restored, all of the archival rooms returned to computer records and theoretical space.

"Your vessel is restored to normal parameters," Thin One said.

"We extend...apologies," Short One said, its face managing to show remorse even with its sparse features.

"We vilified you, seeking retribution for your attack on our world," Tall One said. The nano-being held out one hand and in it held the cracked black orb, their worldship. "We have learned the truth. It was a collision, entirely coincidental, yet culminating in a collective counterinsurgency and consumption of your cognition. We are...contrite."

"We get into a little fender-bender and that makes you try to kill us?" Buckshot asked.

"Execution was once deemed necessary, but..." Thin One sought the words. "The problem-solving power! Such incredible sustenance. When we placed you in danger, again and again, you overcame."

"So you know we didn't hit your ship on purpose. How come, if you had nanites inside our heads, making us do that weird all-same-letters thing you do, they never picked up on that?" Calamari asked.

"They had no means of communicating with the rest of the Multitude," Pestilence said. "They could help their brothers feed on our mental output, but not tell them any of the circumstances leading up to this. That's why you recalled the scouts in such a hurry, when they looked like they could compromise your position."

"And, in so doing, we gained an inkling of the truth. It was your contact-" Thin One said.

"Contact," the other two agents mouthed in a reverent tone.

"-That triggered the trial of a truce. It has been many generations since we have left our home- but, apparently, only hours for you. The damage has surely been repaired by now. We want to return there. Can you help us to continue on our way?" Short One asked.

Pestilence sized up the Multitude being. It was the same size as her, a paralleled representation, just as the other two were meant to parallel her companions. It was hard for her not to feel empathy for the beings- hot-headed, but willing to apologize. Knowledge-seekers, just like her.

"Give me the ship. I'll handle it carefully," she said, and the Multitude very gingerly extended the black worldship, no bigger than a baseball, and its population of trillions. Pestilence held it out and the trio of nano-beings took a step back and joined hands. Their hands merged together, metal and circuitry flowing together like water, before they disassembled in midair, the green teleportation field forming around them. They vanished, returning to their homes. Pestilence walked over to the bridge console, opening up a drawer with some disks in it.

"What's that?" Calamari asked.

"A little snack for the way. This mini-disk contains multiple education and simulation programs- math, science, history, puzzles. It's hours and hours of knowledge by our time. By their time...who knows?" Pestilence fed the disk into the computer and offered a little cable to the orb's crack. Silver goo dripped from the crack and formed a socket for her to fit in. She'd uploaded the disk's contents in moments, and, removing the cable, watched as the crack slowly sealed up.

"So the ship's back to normal? No more nanites sticking around gumming up the works?" Buckshot asked as Pestilence approached the door.

"The AXALON, the way it's meant to be. All systems working normally, all the rooms in the right order, all the holograms back in the computer," Pestilence said, opening the door.

"Just in case you wanted to set up another date with Syn," Calamari teased, and Buckshot shook his head, his groan slipping into a self-deprecating chuckle halfway through.

The atmospheric shield was extended to a short bubble around the ship, and so Pestilence lifted her palm and let the worldship go. Suffused with knowledge, freshly repaired, the Multitude rocketed off into the cosmos. Pestilence watched them go, a hand raised in acknowledgement of fellow travelers, and turned back to the others.

"Well! Now we've got our ship back and can resume downtime. Let's...let's..." she paused to think. Calamari and Buckshot looked at each other, then at her.

"Let's set down somewhere else for a while," she said after some deliberation, and they nodded. She jumped into a chair, working at her beloved ship's controls, and they moved to either side of her, the two briefly intersected ships moving off towards their own destinies.


THE END


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