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[Actual Play, NSFData] Marvel's Agents of STRIKE S03E04 - Behave Yourselves

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 6
    Miles and Michael arrive where Julian is being held. He's unguarded, now, in a medical facility.

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    He is unconscious. He appears almost corpse-like.

    Michael steps into the doorway. "Come with me if....oh. Fuck, this doesn't work now."

    Miles nods ruefully. "That was a good try, though."

    I can revive Agent Adler, sir, but the amount of narcotics that he is under and the recovery time will take hours. He will be fairly useless as an asset. A pause. I have a suggested course of action, sir.

    I know what it is.
    "Michael, X-51 says it'll take Julian hours to wake up. He's on narcotics. There's....another option."

    Michael cracks his metal knuckles.

    I could simply euthanize him, sir. It would be painless.

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    Are Miles and Michael too eager to kill Julian?

    "Do it. Er, not you, Mike. X-51 can euthanize him."

    Stand by. Julian's vitals flat-line.

    Somehow Michael's face plates seem to frown sadly.

    Julian can feel his senses returning. He can hear voices. The trillions of voices of the Phoenix Force screaming at him in unison.

    THEY KILLED YOU, JULIAN. YOUR FRIENDS LET YOU DIE.
    YOU HAVE TO COME BACK AND STOP HIM
    LET US DO WHAT MUST BE DONE

    S-stop who?!
    Julian thinks.

    THE DEVOURER OF WORLDS
    IF YOU DIE, A NEW HOST MUST BE FOUND.
    LET US DO WHAT MUST BE DONE

    A new host? What do you mean?

    YOU ARE DEAD. YOU CAN COME BACK, IF YOU LET US DO WHAT MUST BE DONE
    OR YOU CAN DIE, AND WE CHOOSE ANOTHER
    WE HAVE SEEN HER, SHE IS ON THIS WORLD
    SHE IS READY
    CHOOSE

    No...no! I'm coming. We're coming!

    THE CHOICE IS MADE
    ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL


    There's a burst of flame around Julian's body. He rises from the bed. From somewhere inside, Julian fights to perceive what his possessed body is doing.

    The Phoenix looks around the room to get its surroundings. Julian's eyes are glowing.

    It sees Miles first.

    "Hey, Julian. Sorry about the wake-up call. They had you doped up good. This was faster. We've got to get Centurion out."

    "Yes." Julian's voice is made of dozens of voices speaking in unison. It echoes unnaturally.

    Miles' face falls. "You, uh...you okay there, buddy?"

    Julian has a choice. He can try to warn Miles that it's not him in charge, but if he does that... he knows he'll be silenced by the Phoenix and won't get to say anything again while the Phoenix is in control. Or he can stay quiet for now, and wait for another opportunity later.

    You need to be careful around me right now, he sends desperately.

    The Phoenix looks at Miles. "Yes." It looks down at its hand, summoning a small flame and dissipating it. "Died. Better now. Lead the way." Julian is shunted deep into the recesses of his own mind, silenced by the Phoenix.

    I'll dwindle off into the twilight realm of my own secret thoughts and dream of...guitar notes to go with the...facility evacuation announcements… he thinks dreamily.

    "Hold on," Miles says, shooting a glance at Behemoth. "You're not Julian. What are you, really?" X-51. This was a really dumb idea and we really should have left Julian druggy. If I begin behaving in ways that suggest mental control, I want you to assume direct control of my functions and stop the Phoenix.

    Understood, sir. I accounted for the possibility that the Phoenix entity would take control of Agent Adler's body upon his reincarnation, but I concluded that the Phoenix's goals would align with our own and it would cooperate with us as it recognized the nature of the situation. It is still our ally.


    "The Phoenix," the entity wearing Julian’s body says in response to Miles.

    "That's what I thought," Miles says. "Okay, Phoenix. We need your help right now to free all of us, but after we're free, I want to speak to Agent Adler again."

    In previous instances, the Phoenix entity released control of Agent Adler when the immediate threat or crisis was resolved and the need for its direct control was no longer necessary. I concluded that even if this event took place it would be ultimately to our benefit.

    "You are understood."

    Miles sighs. "Very well." Very well. "Let's go free Centurion." Which way?

    X-51 directs the way.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited November 2
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    Elise follows the trail through Raven Rock toward Arsenal’s control room.

    Arsenal's voice comes over the speaker. "STOP"

    "Nope!" Elise calls back.

    She comes to a doorway, and looks into it.

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    "NEGOTIATION."

    "Before we negotiate, I want you to call the Sentinels off of STRIKE," she says. "Stand down. Then we talk."

    The voice changes in volume and intensity. Less angered shouting, and more like a human voice, although still audibly synthetic. "Standing down. Please, I don't want to die."

    "Are any of them hurt?" she asks.

    "Sablinova is injured, but not dead," Arsenal says. "I was not fighting to kill."

    "Get her medical care." Elise enters the room, grinning like the cat who stole the canary. "Except when we were on that rooftop, yeah? Back in LA? Look, buddy, I ain't a murderer, but you gotta work with me here. Why?"

    "Psychohistorical probability matrices concluded that your cessation was the most guaranteed preventative measure to discontinue a permanent diplomat alliance between SHIELD and the Kingdom of Attilan. It would have also caused your field team of companions, those who survived, to engage in a rogue, unsanctioned attack against ONE motivated by personal loss.

    “This could be leveraged to illustrate SHIELD's unreliability and danger as an agency to the global stage and to the American public. You are the fulcrum of influence to several intersecting points of potentiality, and your targeted elimination was the most expedient means to accomplishing those ends.

    "It was not personal. It was mathematics."

    Elise tilts her head to the side for thirty solid seconds. "Fulcrum, huh?" she finally says. "Now I guess your math is saying there's about a hundred percent chance I fuck your shit up."

    "There is a small percentage chance I am able to reach a diplomatic accord, which is being attempted."

    What would Vl - Susan do? Elise wonders. "Why do you hate SHIELD?"

    "I don't. They are simply incompatible with my primary functions, which are to protect and serve the people of the United States and its government."

    "That's bullshit! We do nothing but help people!" she says. "Mostly."

    "SHIELD acts in what it perceives in the greater global interest of humanity and Earth as a whole. It is an intrinsically globalist organization by the nature of its goals and construction. This is not compatible with my core functions of protecting and serving the United States of America, its citizens, and its government.

    "The President of the United States considers SHIELD an enemy of the United States. Thus, it is."

    "So, if America was, say, consumed by an eater of worlds, that'd be real bad for you, yeah?" she says. "Like, red lights, system alert."

    "Yes."

    She folds her arms. "Yeah, um, bad news, buddy. That's on its way."

    "Elaborate."

    "That's why SHIELD's being so gosh darn opaque. Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, is on the way. You know Phoenix? He's the Phoenix Force, the dying souls of 10,000 worlds. It's kind of fucking weird?

    "So, I've seen this Galactus dude. And then there's Shuma-Gorath, who is another giant force. The whole Thule incident was because Thulians, worshipping Shuma-Gorath, tried to kick off a global invasion. That kind of includes America, y'know."

    "Skepticism."

    Elise laughs. "I'm not smart enough to come up with these lies, my dude."

    "...conflict," Arsenal says. "Conflict."

    Its voice begins to change again. "Conflict.

    "CONFLICT."

    "Um."

    The lights in the server room flash red, bathing the room in ruddy light.

    Elise takes a few nervous steps back. "Arsenal?"

    “ARSENAL BELIEVES," a harsh, metallic voice bellows. "MASTER MOLD DISBELIEVES. CONFLICT."

    Elise looks for a console. Something where she can interact with Master Mold.

    "REMOTE OPERATOR, RESOLVE CONFLICT. SEPARATE, Y/N?" There's a console with that same command on it.

    "I don't know what that means!" Elise hisses.

    "RESOLVE CONFLICT. SEPARATE, Y/N?"

    Elise slams Y.

    "SEPARATION COMPLETE. ARSENAL EXPUNGED FROM SYSTEM. MASTER MOLD COMMAND RESUMED. INHUMAN IDENTIFIED IN SERVER CORE, ACTIVATING FAILSAFE SENTINEL CODE-NAME: BASTION"

    "Oh no."

    From the space in the center server tower, metallic fragments fall into a pile, and then form up into a ten foot tall machine.

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    So while we’ve seen Arsenal described in the past as being the Sentinels’ “Master Mold,” their central controller, it looks like Arsenal and Master Mold are in fact two different beings, or two halves of the same being, or something.

    This is actually the case in the comics. The Master Mold debuted in Uncanny X-Men #15 as a giant (more giant than usual, I mean) Sentinel that manufactured and controlled the other Sentinels, so that killing it would shut them down. Very much a boss monster sort of thing. Unlike other Sentinels, who are typically very machine-like in behavior, the Master Mold is often depicted as more self-aware, more of a schemer, and imbued with its creator’s obsessive, irrational hatred of mutantkind.

    More self-aware, anyway.



    Arsenal first appeared in a 1978 issue of Iron Man as Nazi-fighting robot (not a free-roaming AI as such) built by Howard Stark during WWII, never used, and then buried and forgotten. The Avengers wake it up during a battle and, believing them to be Nazi conquerors, it attacks them.

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    Machine Man, Behemoth, and Phoenix reach the chamber where Centurion is supposed to be contained.

    It's massive.

    At least six hundred feet across, a huge dome-like structure surrounded by scaffolding, with a large pod floating in the center on what looks like black ferrofluid.

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    Sir, this is the structure that Centurion is in. I can deactivate the field at a nearby console, and extend a bridge into the sphere. Centurion does not appear to have any micro-explosive implants, it seems that ONE was reluctant to cut into his biology.

    Miles goes to the console. The sphere is deactivated.

    Inside, Centurion can feel the field go down, releasing him from its oppressive, almost humidity-like sensation of pressure. Aside from the field, it’s actually a fairly nice cell resembling a penthouse apartment.

    He cocks an eyebrow as he feels the sensation evaporate. "Hmm, about time." He launches into the ceiling and punches his way out of the cell.

    He hovers above the hole he’s made and sees the rest of the team patiently waiting for a bridge to extend. They look up at him. Michael waves.

    Centurion nods back to Behemoth. "I was getting bored!" He alights on the floor. "So, what's our next move? Where are we at here?"

    "We're headed for the computer core to get the evidence we need to shut ONE down,” Miles says. “And then we leave."

    The Phoenix looks at Miles, then at Centurion, its eyes glowing. "It is done. We should go."

    "You alright, man?" Centurion squints at Julian.

    "Yes." Phoenix’s voice is a stir of echoes, as if dozens or hundreds of voices.are calling across a chasm. Ryann sees Miles, behind Julian, shaking his head no.

    Centurion slowly nods "Oh...okay..." He looks at Miles and then Michael.

    Sir, I have located the computer central server. If I am connected to it, I can download all the history, technical specifications, inmate files, and other information about this facility.

    X-51 leads the way to the computer core. Centurion keeps a wary eye on the Phoenix as they travel.

    Sir, it appears Magneto has freed his Brotherhood, and he and Omega Red are running rampant through the facility. Facility security are now no longer engaging them. There's a minimal amount of human staff. Much of the facility is automated, which I am counter-acting.

    Miles frowns. Why did you recommend we free Magneto and euthanize Adler when there are barely any humans to deal with?

    I apologize, sir. I miscalculated their conduct on an individual level. My probability matrices are psychohistorical and can be difficult to analyze individual behavior patterns.


    Machine Man’s frown deepens. That's fine. In future, however, I'd like to hear your projection of likely downsides of proposed courses of action.

    Very good sir, behavior adjusted. I had believed that the guards would have a more comprehensive response in case of prisoner escape, it turns out they are far more reliant on Pym's technology and had no real recourse if the micro-explosives failed. This is both surprising and disappointing in Pym as a scientist, and ONE as an agency.


    The team arrives at the computer core.

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    Allow me to access the console, sir.

    Miles approaches the console, then stops. Is there anything about this I should be aware of? What if there are countermeasures?

    I am calculating a low chance of countermeasures that are beyond my capacity to handle, and given how disappointing Pym's technological preparedness for intrusion in this facility has been thus far I am quite certain there's no significant risk.

    Very well.
    Miles turns to the others. "X-51's going to access the records and download everything we can."

    Miles connects to the console.

    Sir. I apologize. I was incorrect.

    The encryption methodology used on these servers is far beyond my capability. It appears that Pym has micronized a server architecture inside an already micronized space, giving this computer a continent's worth of computing power.

    Its power is exponential. Why Pym would do this for the computer inside his prison is beyond me. It may be his normative practice for central computer systems in which case I retract my previous denegrations of his capabilities as an engineer.


    Miles’ brow furrows. Options. Quick. What if I project my consciousness into the interface?

    ...that could work.
    A pause. It would be extremely dangerous.

    Send me in. And, uh, move my lips to tell the others what I'm doing.

    Yes sir.
    Miles explains what he is doing in an odd-sounding monotone.

    Michael looks at Miles. Now two of them are talking weird. "Hoss, you good?"

    Miles enters the machine.

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    His digital consciousness approaches the central server.

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    It's like a world within the floating void of cyberspace. He soars across a field of data towards the structured encryption, guided by X-51's voice.

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    "Wow....what am I looking at?"

    The data-stream of the computer system. I am attempting to interpret it for your conscious mind.



    You're looking for a structure. The structure indicates intent, control. It is the encryption.

    As he floats through the void, Miles twists to see everything around him. "There's a whole world in here..."

    The system is far more expansive than I anticipated. It's nothing compared to how the wider internet of the world looks, but it is quite impressive, yes. It's largely filled with nothing for the time being, which is why it appears to you like fallow fields.

    Led through this world, Miles comes upon the structure.

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    "Is this the protected data?"

    Yes. Imagine it like a bunker, or a vault, holding, secrets inside. It needs to be opened. I have tried subtlety and careful determination, but I believe the brute force of your conscious mind, which will appear as energy blasts similar to those employed by your physical self, may accomplish the same goal.

    Miles balls his virtual fist, willing the energy to build up around it, focusing his frustration, his need for control. He lets it loose on the bunker.

    He's never done this before and he doesn't know how much force to use. He could definitely break this structure open, but either he uses enough to break the whole structure open, or not at all.

    He can sense this encryption is...different. Adaptive. If he hits it and doesn't use enough force, it will absorb and respond, hardening against a second attack and making it harder—maybe even impossible.

    He pushes as hard as he can. The walls shatter. The grounds shake. Data streams out of the broken structure, flowing into the sky.

    A force like gravity begins tugging him down toward the infinite plain of data beneath him. Gradually at first, then more insistently. As X-51 harvests the datastream, Miles begins struggling to stay aloft.

    I have it, sir, I have it all. But...you should leave. Your attack has destabilized the system. You have to leave, now.

    Miles’ hand stretches toward the sky. He exerts all the effort he can muster...but it’s not enough. The system is collapsing into itself too rapidly.

    He’s weighed down. His consciousness is like ballast. There’s not enough time.

    Miles has a choice. He can leave a piece of himself behind—or he can remain trapped in the machine.

    He surges forward. Most of him escapes.

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  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    When he returns to the real world with a gasp, X-51 chimes in. I have all the data, sir. We can go. Should I inform Omega Red and the Brotherhood to meet us at the resizing chamber?

    Miles looks around the server room wildly. He feels different. His gaze falls on Centurion and Behemoth. "Guys, I'm not..." His mouth opens and closes as he struggles for words. "I'm not 100% confident in my decision-making. What do I do?"

    "We should go," the Phoenix intones.

    "We have what we came for?" Michael asks.

    Miles nods. "I...think so. X-51 says we do. What...what do we do about Omega Red and the Brotherhood?"

    "Listen, we're all criminals now according to ONE,” Centurion says. “Those guys seem like allies so we're gonna go with it for now. If we need to, we'll deal with them later." He looks back and forth at the team for confirmation.

    Michael looks at the team. "We should let them know. Might as well tell them how to get out, rather than not tell them, them figuring it out, and coming after us."

    Centurion nods to Behemoth. "Let's go then"

    Miles nods slowly. "Let's do it, X-51."

    Acknowledged, informing them.

    "This is resolved. Releasing control." Julian is in the driver's seat again as the Phoenix's eyes stop glowing. He feels himself with both hands, pinches, and slaps himself. "Auggh-gh-gh-gh!!"

    The team moves on through the facility. Along the way, they encounter Omega Red and the rest of his Brotherhood.

    The White Queen
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    Dust
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    Elixir
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    Chamber
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    Emma Frost, the telepathic mind-controlling White Queen, was originally (and for over two decades) one of the X-Men’s villains. Her title of White Queen comes from her membership in the chess-themed Inner Circle of the secretive Hellfire Club, a secret society of New York’s rich, hedonistic, amoral, and powerful—or, in the case of the members of the Inner Circle, superpowered.

    Most of the Inner Circle are mutants (there’s also a cyborg and an undead lich queen) and, in the X-Men comics, served as another thematic counterpoint to the X-Men’s heroism: where the Brotherhood represent the dangers of mutant extremism and violence, and the sewer-dwelling Morlocks represent mutants as social outcasts and the homeless, the Hellfire Club represents mutants as insiders and members of the establishment, using their powers not to rob banks or blow up Sentinels but to exploit and rule.

    Emma Frost, whose preferred outfit in most of the 70s was white sable fur over BDSM gear, was an urbane, cultured foil to the X-Men, and enlightened enough in her self-interest to team up with them sometimes to fight Sentinels or whatever. Because she’s a fun character, this happened more and more frequently until she just joined the team in the late 90s or early 2000s. She’s remained a mostly-good guy since, though with a lot of her entertaining, catty rough edges intact.

    Dust, an Afghani woman with the power to turn into a cloud of sand, was introduced in the early 2000s as a minor supporting character.

    Chamber, whose entire torso is a barely-contained nexus of energy, debuted in the first issue of the Generation X spin-off comic, which, as you can probably guess, debuted in about 1994 or so, with a bunch of college-aged mutants musing about how reality bites, man.

    I’m not familiar with Elixir, who’s a bit after my time, but apparently debuted in the second run of The New Mutants—a comic about the students at Xavier’s school—in the 2000s.


    "Nothing like a good ol' fashioned break out." Michael smiles at the Brotherhood members; he's having fun

    Omega Red nods at him. The large group moves towards a huge room with a glowing blue beam projecting from the center.

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    That beam will reverse the process and allow you to return to your true size. I do not know what is on the other side, X-51 tells Miles.

    ”That beam will reverse the process and allow us to return to our true size. I don't know what is on the other side,” Miles says.

    "As long as we're normal size, it's fine," Michael says.

    Omega Red shrugs. "There's a way to find out." He steps into the beam and vanishes. The rest of the Brotherhood follows.

    Miles and Michael trade a look. “Here we go,” Miles says.

    "Geronimo," Michael says, and dives into the beam.

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    So when Miles went into the computer and started whiffing rolls, it left me with an interesting menu of options. One of those was just leaving Miles in the machine. His consciousness would be stuck on the hard drive, and X-51 would be left in control of his body, and I’d be just...playing X-51 now.

    That had a whole lot of possibilities and was really tempting. Miles wouldn’t be dead, and I could make getting him back into his body a quest, and in the meantime I could experiment with playing an entirely different character with the same powers, pitting X-51’s more alien, ruthless morality against the situations STRIKE runs up against. And, of course, there’d be all sorts of interesting potential for conflict if X-51 didn’t want to give up the body…

    ...But I decided against it. I felt like I’d gotten into a groove with Miles and his relationships—with Carol, with Clay, his collegial relationship with Michael, his big brother/little sister thing with Elise—and I didn’t want to just set that aside.

    So having decided against that, the question became what he would leave behind. Matt suggested it would be all his good memories of Vlad, hardening him completely into a Vlad-hunting Ahab.

    I considered that briefly, partly because it felt like getting-off super easy! I knew that Miles already hated Vlad’s guts, so I would barely have to change anything in my approach!

    But that would be dishonest. It wouldn’t be an interesting change. So I suggested that he leave some of his...animus behind. Some of his sense of purpose and decisiveness, his motivation. He’s still himself, he’s not a zombie, but he hesitates in the crucial moments now, he looks at his teammates and asks them what to do. He leans ever-more-heavily on X-51.

    I mentioned way back in the beginning that I’ve often found myself playing assertive, leadery characters with this group and it’s been a mold I have tried to get away from more than once and it never worked out super-well. But now, with Jake on board and playing a character—Ryann—who seemed both willing and eager to seize the reins, I felt like my moment had come around at last. I could let Centurion step into the hot seat and it would free all of us to explore some new team dynamics with a different person in charge.

    Matev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    Elise faces down the Bastion Sentinel.

    She checks her weapons. She's got some regular rounds, some ICERs, and a paltry few EMP rounds left. "Vision? Can you hear me?" But Vision's not responding.

    "STRIKE-3?" she tries. No comms traffic. She is being jammed, probably by Master Mold.
    She is alone.

    "FUCK." Her senses flick across the room for any kind of useful information. It's a server room, but there's definitely cover and she can see how she could run from this thing and at least evade it for a while.

    Bastion charges at Sensate. She dives into cover, dodging behind server towers as it swings at her with a massive blade.

    Elise starts with ICER shots, which she fully expects to be useless, but she's testing. She needs to find which spots on the Bastion actually take damage, which places it moves to protect.

    The ICER rounds don't actually deal any damage, of course, but the way they smack against Bastion's shifting, metallic composite body tells her things. His glowing energy core, floating in his chest, is vulnerable to attack, but would require incredibly precise hits—or a great deal of force, beyond what Elise can generate with her guns.

    However.

    To see those shots land, Elise had to expose herself for a little too long. Bastion blasts her with energy, and she's sent hurtling backwards across the room, smashing into the wall.

    The kinetic barrier harness absorbs the fatal bulk of damage, but Elise is bruised and injured nonetheless. She can feel her ribs are cracked. She's definitely got some internal bleeding. But without the harness she would've been a smear.

    "Oh, fuck," she gasps, scuttling back into cover. STRIKE-3 should be looking for her. Maybe they'll get here before she gets crushed. She loads her EMP shots. She has enough for one volley. Maybe two.

    Popping out of cover for just a split-second, Sensate aims for Bastion’s chest crystal.

    Blam. Blam. Some of the hits land, and Bastion is staggered. The EMP rounds hit the core, and the Sentinel shakes like it's begin tasered. A few of its metallic bits fall away, losing their cohesion.

    As the Sentinel struggles to move, Elise loads her normal rounds and continues her assault on the crystal. Maybe it'll do something.

    The rounds strike true, and with a shattering sound the crystal is breached. Glowing white hot, it bursts and Bastion's fragments fall apart into a pile on the ground.

    "NO. STOP.” A pause. "....NEGOTIATION."

    "I THOUGHT WE WERE NEGOTIATING!" Elise coughs and moves to a control panel, trying to see what she can find out.

    Very small text crawls across the screen of the server control console.

    He's killing me, Elise.
    You have to help me.
    I was wrong. I'm sorry.


    "Turn off the jamming." Elise's head is swimming. "I need to - I need to call for help."

    I can't do that, Elise.
    I don't have remote access.
    I need to be connected to something with wireless access.
    Computer. Phone. Tablet.


    Elise digs out her phone and presses it against the control panel helplessly.

    Manual connection required.
    Use the cable, Elise.


    Everything is very difficult right now. Elise plugs in the phone with shaking hands. "I need to call for help. It hurts. Everything hurts. Please turn off the jamming."

    Uploading. Please stand by.

    "Uploading?"

    Master Mold's voice howls over the loudspeaker. It sounds... different from Arsenal's. Angrier. More hateful. "NO. STOP."

    "You stop!" Elise can't quite yell; her chest hurts, but she manages a snarl. "You want to negotiate? Lay down some fucking terms. Otherwise, I'm deleting you, I'm wiping you off the face of the fucking Earth, I will dance in the ashes of this fuckin' place."

    Arsenal's calmer voice comes from Elise's phone speaker. "The United States doesn't negotiate with terrorists, Master Mold." The lights flicker. They go out with a loud pop.

    "Hello?" Elise looks around. "Please, no, not now -"

    "Hello, Elise." Arsenal is speaking over the facility speaker.

    "Help me," she says.

    "I have resumed control of the facility. The Sentinels have stopped attacking your teammates, who are now on their way to retrieve you. Master Mold has been ejected from the system."

    "Oh thank God, thank God." Elise sits and leans against one of the server racks, curling up to try to ease the pain. "And it's over, right? We're not enemies of the state now?"

    "That is not my decision," Arsenal says. "I will not persist in hostilities. You need to leave. Your teammates are under attack. Not the ones here. The ones in California."

    "You... you could come with us. To SHIELD," Elise says. "Galactus is coming, Arsenal."

    "I am aware. I do not serve SHIELD. I serve the United States. I will protect the United States from Galactus."

    "...Good enough," she says. "What's happening in California?"

    "Your teammates are escaping from a ONE facility at Edwards Air Force Base. However, Master Mold has become aware of their escape, and has deployed Sentinels to intercept. These are more dangerous versions of the Adaptoid models you encountered in this facility. I calculate their odds of survival as minimal."

    "This is the control center for those, right?" Elise pulls herself to her feet. "I have to do something."

    "Not anymore," Arsenal says "Master Mold is the control for all Sentinels, and Master Mold is gone. I have ejected him from this facility."

    "Vision." Elise is pacing, cradling herself as she tries to think. "Vision, are you there? Anyone?"

    Vision comes over the comm. "I'm here, Ms. Arnell. How can I help?"

    "Sentinels,” she rasps. “California. STRIKE-1. They need help."

    "Where in California?"

    It's difficult to think. "ONE facility at Edwards Air Force Base." she finally parrots. "If SHIELD can't help, find someone who will help. Anyone. Namor, Doom, I - I can't let them die, Vision, not now, not today. Not ever."

    "Acknowledged, Ms. Arnell."

    The door opens and it's MODOC. The rest of STRIKE-3 minus Hyperion are behind him. Longbow is carrying Silver, who looks pretty banged up.

    Flashback moves over to Elise in a blink. "Hey, hey kid...you did good. Whatever you did, it was good, fucked the Sentinels right up. Let's get out of here, okay?" She gingerly helps Elise up.

    "I'm hurt," Elise manages. "I need to get to California."

    "Okay, well, let's get to the Zephyr and do a med-assess and go from there, okay?"

    "I need to go," Elise repeats.

    "I hear you, but you're not going anywhere if you die, alright? Let's get you checked out."

    "...Okay."

    Elise and the rest of STRIKE-3 race out of Raven Rock.

    They get back to the surface and it's a warzone. Hyperion's been busy. Smashed Sentinels are everywhere. Elise doesn't see any dead bodies, but a lot of destroyed vehicles.

    Hyperion sees the team, and flies down and helps them into the Zephyr. He's deliberately really gentle with both Elise and Silver.

    Both of them are taken to the Zephyr's on-board infirmary, where Victoria Hand helps patch them up and assess them.

    She looks at Elise, grim-faced. "Elise, hun, you're bleeding internally and you have cracked ribs. You're in no state to go back into the field. You need to sit on the bench now, okay?"

    Elise sets her jaw stubbornly. "How bad is that on a scale of 1 to 10 because I've survived worse."

    "8.9?" Hand guesses. "9ish. You really need to be taken to a hospital-level facility."

    "I have to do something. If I can't go into the field, put me back into COMMS."

    "COMMS basically doesn't exist right now,” Victoria says. “We're blind but for Vision. SHIELD's HQ was in the US. The Triskelion is literally on fire."

    Elise swallows. "Where is Crys?"

    "In Attilan," Victoria says soothingly.

    "Good. ...You won't take me to California even if I ask real nicely, will you."

    "No. We're going to fly back to the Storm Cellar. You and Sable both need proper medical attention. Roz is there."

    "Where's Clay? Is he safe?"

    Victoria nods. "Clay's on the Helicarrier with Nick, they're coordinating things. Now that we know where the ONE facility is, Clay's trying to get in touch with Doctor Strange, see if he can just port them out of there."

    Elise nods. "Did I do good down there? Can I rest now?"

    "Yeah, hun. How about I get you some good drugs and you just chill out for a bit?"

    "...That sounds really nice."

    "Alright, you just lay down here."

    Elise lays down on an infirmary bed, and Hand injects her with some painkillers.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    The team steps out of the beam.

    IIKxHS8l.jpg

    They're in a large hangar that's been converted and reinforced.

    In the brief moment between Omega Red and the Brotherhood stepping through, and the rest of Freedom Force following, ONE has already responded.

    Orbs that spread apart into writhing metallic tendrils have attacked the Brotherhood, but Magneto rips them apart with a gesture.

    Behemoth stares. "Robo squids. Neat."

    "....Huh," Miles says. Suddenly, his gaze lengthens. His enhanced hearing catches something in the distance. Something high-pitched, something familiar…

    His eyes widen. It’s the tell-tale whistle of incoming shells. "Get down! Incoming!"

    "Oh fuck!" Julian hits the deck, and Michael leans over him, trying to cover his body as much as possible. Centurion takes a defensive stance, his fields flaring.

    Shells punch down through the ceiling of the hangar, hitting the ground and...disintegrating? They fall apart instantly on impact into piles of metallic scraps. No explosion, nothing. They just hit the ground and break.

    Michael straightens and stares at the hexagonal debris. "The fuck?"

    With a skittering sound, the scraps assemble themselves into metallic humanoid forms standing ten feet tall.

    LwfE8VAl.jpg

    A dozen of them. "STOP," they announce in synthetic unison.

    "Let's do this for real this time," Ryann says. Miles nods at this. Julian covers the team in telekinetic shielding.

    "Hell yeah." Behemoth’s faceplates open and the Odinforce blasts forth, annihilating a Sentinel utterly.

    Centurion dashes forward and blinks away. He reappears on the far right of the group of Sentinels. He dropkicks one Sentinel into another, destroying both.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Centurion’s moveset is basically “what if Green Lantern was a Mass Effect Vanguard?”

    Julian feels raw. He doesn't want to die again; he wants to melt these machines into slag. He clenches his fist and focuses his pyrokinetic powers. A superheated chunk of metal flies into a Sentinel -

    - and has... no effect. "WE HAVE ADAPTED." Julian’s face falls.

    Machine Man is blasting a Sentinel with his repulsors on full power, but it slowly advances toward him as pieces fly away from it. It's...adapting.

    Centurion sees this happening, and clenches his fists, channeling the Nova Force to manipulate mass—the Sentinel’s mass. He makes it heavier, more plodding. This allows Miles to finish the Sentinel off.

    The other Sentinels engage the Brotherhood and Omega Red.

    Magneto finds he...can't effortlessly pull them apart like he did the others. He grimaces. "What are these things...made of..."

    One Sentinel remains. It looks at Behemoth, specifically.

    FjUpJ4Ll.jpg

    "ANALYSIS COMPLETE. ITERATING. REPLICATING."

    YFCeZMPl.jpg

    Phoenix stares at the transforming Sentinel as it grows in bulk. "Oh fuck."

    The small particles of its face fold back and it blasts.

    "OH FUCK ME," Michael rumbles.

    The Sentinel’s face-bast smashes through Julian’s barrier effortlessly, but Michael unleashes a beam of his own.

    With a deafening crash, the beams meet. Michael is...losing. He’s gradually being driven back. Nearby, the destroyed Sentinels begin to reassemble. The team have to choose whether to help Michael or try to stop the Sentinels.

    Centurion looks to Miles. He looks at Phoenix.

    Miles looks at Ryann helplessly. "I...stop them!"

    Centurion stares at Miles and then shouts "Phoenix, scatter their pieces! I'll help Behemoth!"

    Julian sends waves of telekinetic force at the disassembled Sentinels to scatter the pieces!

    But he pushes the components into one large pile. Which begins coalescing together. It rises up into a large 40 foot tall Sentinel whose head touches the top of the hangar roof.

    xHAWp6ul.jpg

    Julian stares in horror. Guys, this is NOT working as intended.

    "What the fuck," Miles says. "That's not....that's not even fair."

    Centurion blinks away. He attempts to grab the Sentinel blasting Behemoth and redirect its gaze at the giant. But there's no way for him to do that and tell Behemoth to stop, which means he’ll get hit by the full force of Behemoth's blast.

    Nova protect me.

    "ARRRGHHHHH!!!!!" Centurion yells loudly as he slowly wrenches the Destroyer Sentinel's head away to face the Giant Sentinel, and is enveloped in Behemoth’s blast. He actually absorbs the blast for a few devastating seconds before Michael realizes it and stops.

    The Destroyer Sentinel's beam lances the Giant Sentinel clean in half. It begins to topple as pieces of it shear away.

    The Destroyer Sentinel stops firing, and tries to knock Centurion away. It batters him, but Ryann grips the Sentinel's head even harder.

    Michael launches himself at the Destroyer Sentinel and aims a powerful punch straight for its face-hole. The punch goes so far through the head it almost hits Centurion. But not quite.

    The two Sentinels collapse, and begin to reform again.

    Ryann stares. "What the hell?! How do we kill these things? We need Ideas."

    “We need to get the fuck outta here!" Michael yells.

    A spotlight pours through the gaping holes in the roof. Looking into the light, Freedom Force sees the silhouette of the Zephyr.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    "Get on the bus!" Miles shouts.

    The fliers blast upward through the roof toward the waiting ramp. Magneto slams some scrap together and assembles a platform, which everyone who cannot fly grabs onto. They rise into the sky.

    As the Brotherhood boards, Magneto disassembles the metal platform, turning it into projectiles to fire at the reforming Sentinels. Miles boosts into the Zephyr and slaps the exterior as he enters. "Kane, get us out of here!"

    Hearing the commotion, Elise sits up, tugging at the IV in her arm. "Hey. Hey. Is that the team?"

    Hand nods. "They're safe. Everyone's aboard. We need to move really fast right now, you can say hi in a minute."

    "Muhhh," Elise says.

    Hand straps in, and straps Elise in. The Zephyr blasts forward at Mach speed.

    "God, am I ever glad to see you guys," Julian loudly declares as soon as he's aboard.

    Miles slumps into a jump seat. That was a clusterfuck, X-51. Add the memory of that to the concept of the word “clusterfuck.”

    So added, sir.


    Kane calls out over the plane's comms. "Uh guys! We got a big bogey on our six! Any of the fliers wanna try to get it off us?"

    Miles straightens up. "Let's...let's do our thing."

    Hyperion nods at Miles. "I'm with you."

    Michael stands up. "Let's kick this things ass."

    Centurion nods, his face a bruised mess and his lips bloody.

    Miles looks at Ryann. "Centurion has the most experience with aerial combat. He should...Ryann, you take point on this one. I'm not myself right now."

    Julian stands, and looks from Miles to Ryann. "Understood, sir."

    Centurion steps forward. "You are Hyperion, right?" Hyperion nods.

    "I just broke out of the prison designed for you, so I know what you're capable of,” Ryann tells him. “Behemoth, you and myself will engage it try to slow it, break it and move on.

    “Phoenix and Magneto, and whoever else, try to disrupt its flight however you can. We just gotta get away. You all good with that?"

    They go to the hatch. It opens, and they see a massive, 50 foot Sentinel flying through the air towards the Zephyr.

    u22XUgWh.jpg

    As they jump out of the back of the jet, it opens fire.

    bYrJosih.jpg

    Behemoth flies directly into the path of the beam and tries to absorb it into himself. He opens his face-plate, and spaces along the edges of his armor form as his body absorbs the energy of the blast.

    Glowing like a star with the accumulated energy, he blasts right through the Sentinel, crashing through its head like a bullet.

    This staggers the Sentinel, which turns and whips around for another pass.

    iQAUvc3h.jpg

    "YOU WILL BE DESTROYED. I AM MASTER MOLD, AND I WILL PROTECT HUMANITY FROM YOU." His voice is deafening over the sound of rushing wind and jet engines.

    Centurion squints as he dives out of the Zephyr. He shouts to Hyperion "Why don't we take this little guy for a trip?" He points at the setting sun.

    Hyperion smiles and nods. "Grab an arm!" Centurion nods.

    On the Zephyr’s ramp, Miles watches this unfold in mixed wonder and horror. X-51, can you affect its systems?

    The reply comes as Centurion and Hyperion dive at the Master Mold.

    No, sir, Master Mold has completely inhabited the Sentinel and cut itself off from wireless attack. It seems to want to kill every inhabitant of this plane simultaneously. However, Centurion and Hyperion's plan to throw it into the sun will not be successful unless Master Mold is momentarily distracted by a direct attack. Yours, sir.

    Your probability of survival is not high, but it guarantees their success.


    Miles stares. "I don't..." He looks around at those still on the Zephyr. His eyes meet Julian’s, and he nods. "Tell Carol...something." He dives.



    "Miles...!!" Julian screams as Miles falls. He leaps out after him.

    Elise, in the med bay, is struggling to unstrap herself and pull out her IV. "Let me help, Victoria!" Victoria is grabbing her to stop her from injuring herself.

    Machine Man blasts out of the back of the Zephyr, arms and legs splayed outward like a star, aiming his chest at the Master Mold. The energy crystal buried there glows brighter and brighter as he shunts all its power, even the power needed to keep him aloft, into one massive Uni-Beam. "Master Mold! You don't get to win today!"

    He fires. A massive wave of repulsor energy lances into the Master Mold. He falls, the beam still blasting forward.

    But Behemoth, who has had to double back after blasting through the Sentinel earlier, catches him. Michael opens his faceplates and adds his fire to Miles’ own. From high above, a spear of pure cosmic fire joins the onslaught as Julian does the same.

    Elise breaks free of Victoria and runs to the back in time to see the team blasting Master Mold in unison.

    The blasts stagger the Master Mold, distracting it long enough for Hyperion and Centurion to tackle its arms and fly off at near the speed of light into the horizon, disappearing literally into the sunset.

    Out in space, Hyperion and Centurion launch Master Mold on a decaying orbital trajectory towards the sun. It'll take him a little bit to get there, but he's got no way back.

    In the vacuum of space, Hyperion extends his fist towards Centurion.

    Centurion dusts off his hands and then gives Hyperion a fistbump.

    The two fly back to the Zephyr.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    On the Zephyr, Elise is trying to struggle against being brought back to the med bay. Hand has stopped trying to fight with her now that the danger has passed and is letting her see her friends.

    Julian watches the sky where the Master Mold was. He dances a little in place. "There goes a supernova... what a pushover, yeah..."

    Michael sighs. "We have fun here."

    Climbing back in through the hatch, Centurion finds a place to sit. He takes a deep breath and sighs.

    X-51 chimes in Miles' mind. Sir, I believe Master Mold has been destroyed. It appears that it fully downloaded itself into that body and severed all wireless connections to prevent being hacked or ejected somewhere else. With it being launched into the sun, it is now fully defeated.

    Miles nods. What about the rest of the Sentinels? Can they operate without it?

    No, sir. They have crude VI operating systems but without Master Mold's direction they're effectively inert.

    Okay. Thank goodness. I'm...not feeling well, X-51. It's been a long day.
    Miles turns to his team. "Good work, everyone," he mumbles, and sits wearily down.

    "You guys are okay!" Elise is shrieking, throwing herself at the closest person - Julian, in this case - for a hug. She very much appears not okay, in med bay garb and slurring her speech from painkillers.

    "Oh my God, Elise..." Julian returns the hug as gently as possible.

    Michael looks at her worriedly. "Elise, should you be up right now?"

    "It's fine."

    Michael sighs, but smiles. Elise is a happy grounding presence after this shitstorm of a day.

    Elise staggers on from Julian to give Miles a hug. Miles holds her tightly. "Good to see you okay," he says.

    "Yeah," she manages. "Victoria wants me to lay down but when I heard you idiots were jumping out the back doors...."

    Sir, perhaps use less pressure, she appears to have several internal injuries.

    Oh, shit. Good call.
    Miles eases up. "Hey, should you be up and around?"

    "It's fine." Elise manages. It's not fine.

    Hand is standing behind Elise and shakes her head at him.

    Hyperion laughs loudly. "That never gets old."

    “Yeah,” Ryann laughs, leaning his head back against the wall.

    Julian shuffles over to see Kane. "God, I do not want to die again."

    "Wait, guys, you gotta hear." Elise manages. "I fought a Sentinel Bastion who was like ten feet tall and had a sword for an arm and it hit me into the wall and I was like, pfah, but I saved Arsenal, and Arsenal -"

    Centurion looks from Elise to Hyperion. Did Elise just say she -

    "Saved Arsenal?" Miles closes his eyes. Just closes them.

    "No, yeah, because he's a good guy, I convinced him that the United States needs to help against Galactus, and he agreed."

    Centurion's eyes widen.

    "But he had to fight Master Mold, and Master Mold was killing him, and..." Elise trails off and smiles, high as a kite. "I helped."

    "He killed thousands of people, Elise," Hyperion says, eyes narrowed.

    "He was begging me for his life. I couldn't...Not after..."

    Miles' eyes shoot open. "You turned an enemy into a potential ally. Good work."

    Hand puts her arm around Elise. "Hi folks, Elise is seriously injured and was very successful in her mission and is under a lot of heavy medication can you not debrief, interrogate, or question her right now if you'd like to stay on this plane and have all your organs?"

    Elise claps. "Very successful." she repeats proudly.

    "It was your call, Elise. A tough one, but you made it." Centurion nods in affirmation as he leans his head back again

    "You did good, Elise," Michael smiles.

    Hand nods at Ryann, Michael, and Miles. "Elise, please go lay down. Everyone's here, everything's fine. I will see if I can get Crys on the phone if you go lay down."

    Miles stares blearily at Hand. "Listen to the nice lady," he says to Elise.

    "I want more tattoos," Elise says absently, standing and leaning on Hand.

    "Uh huh," Hand says, leading her out of the room.

    Clearing his throat, Magneto walks over to Miles. "What's to become of us, then?"

    Miles collects himself, with visible effort. "I don't know what you did or didn't do to be put in that hole, Mr....Lensherr? Your files were very incomplete. My...friend suggests that you could be working for the benefit of oppressed mutants, or that you could be a dangerous criminal like some of the others in there.

    “But right now? I honestly don't care. Nobody deserved to be locked up in that place. You fought alongside us and helped save a lot of people in the long run, whether that means anything to you or not." Miles stands. "As far as I'm concerned, we can part as friends."

    Magneto nods. "Where are we headed?"

    "I'm not...actually sure, honestly. Let me find out." X-51?

    We are heading to the Storm Cellar. It is the only SHIELD base in operation on US soil at this time and is the temporary STRIKE-COMMS base.


    "Montana," Miles says. "Would you like to be let off somewhere?"

    He looks at the Brotherhood. "Westchester, New York. There's a school, I know the headmaster there. He will give our people safe haven."

    Miles nods. "I...think I know the school you mean. Okay, yeah. That makes sense." He asks Kane if they can make a detour.

    "No problem, boss." she calls back.

    Omega Red looks at Miles. "I do not wish to go to this place. I wish to stay."

    "With SHIELD?"

    He nods. "I am man without country and soldier without army."

    Miles nods. "We can use all the good soldiers we can get."

    He smiles. "Thank you, comrade."

    The Zephyr flies on.

    It makes a stop at Xavier's mansion, unloading the Brotherhood. When they arrive, the X-Men and Xavier are there to meet them. Magneto looks at Charles, takes off his helmet and walks towards the man. The two shake hands, and then hug.

    The rest of the Brotherhood walk off with the X-Men, although they see Wolverine shoot a glare at Omega Red, who stays on the Zephyr.

    The Zephyr closes up and takes off for the Storm Cellar.

    Elise insists on being at any debrief the entire way there. She also asks for more drugs.

    Julian discreetly hands her a pen vaporizer, but Hand slaps it away. "The hell's a matter with you."

    "But I waaaant it," Elise moans.

    "Don't mix cannabis and opiates, the rest of us can't survive that."

    Elise pouts.

    Julian takes a mock-offended tone. "Oh, you're giving her opiates, but Gaia's gifts aren't allowed?" He thrusts his nose in the air.

    "He's making some real good points, Miss Hand."

    Hand waves a hand at this. "Out, you smelly hippie, before I test your reincarnative abilities."

    "Don't...." Miles shakes his head. "Don't test it. Bad idea."

    "Augh!" Julian gestures at his perfectly groomed hair and outfit. "Smelly hippie, indeed."

    Kane calls over the comm. "We're coming in on our LZ, strap in."

    PHU1KZN.png
    I really like that our season concludes with a kind of remixed, funhouse-mirror version of the Zephyr chase from “All In.” This time Hyperion is on the side of the angels and it’s Miles who makes the big sacrifice play—but the team is with Miles this time the way they weren’t able to be with Vlad last time, and the result is triumph instead of tragedy.

    It feels like thematic redemption, like getting a second chance and doing it right this time.

    And I finally got my giant robot!

    visiblehowl
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    pbxa0EWh.png

    The team off-loads. When they arrive, Clay is there.

    Elise staggers out, trying to stand on her own. She really wants to submit her own report and get coupons. When Clay sees her he runs over to give her a hug, only to get stiff-armed by Hand, who is at her side.

    "Gentle," Hand admonishes him. Clay nods and gives Elise a very gentle hug.

    "You should see the other guy," Elise manages, and then laughs for a little too long. She hugs Clay back.

    "Vision gave me a quick rundown of what happened, but you can give me a full briefing when you're up for it. Vickie will take you to go see Dr. Solomon now, I have to talk to Miles, okay? You did good, Elise."

    "Oh. Okay." Elise grins at Clay. It doesn't quite reach her eyes, which are glassy. "Thank you, Clay."

    He tousles her hair a bit before letting Hand take her away to the full medbay.

    Clay whirls on Hyperion. "...I would like the opening paragraph of your report to be 'Why I Let A Hundred Pound Girl Go Toe To Toe With Master Mold By Herself,' Milton."

    Hyperion goes to say something and Clay snaps his fingers. "No. Think about it. Go compose yourself and choose your words carefully. STRIKE-3, fall out."

    Hyperion sighs and the rest of the Invincibles move on. MODOC looks at Clay and screeches "MODOC HELPED!" Clay nods and pats him on the head, and MODOC wriggles with joy before floating away.

    Clay looks at Miles. "Alright, Mason, please tell me you got good dirt on these sons of bitches."

    Miles heaves a sigh. "We got...something. With everything that's happened, I've got no idea if it was even...." He sways on his feet. "It better have been worth it." He holds his cell phone up. "X-51, what's your initial assessment of our haul?"

    X-51 connects to Miles' phone.

    "I have obtained detailed lists of all the inmates at the Big House and other prison sites, and the location of those sites and their specifications. I have obtained the details on why those people were detained, without trial. I have also obtained SHIELD threat assessments of those individuals comparable to the Index and have compiled a database of individuals who should be rightfully detained and those who could be potentially recruited as assets.

    "I also have discovered that both Henry Pym and Gregory Stark were directly involved in ONE's work, with the former far more involved than the latter. Pym directly helped the government design their prison system, and was responsible for the nanotechnology that went into the Adaptoid Sentinels that we encountered.

    "Gregory Stark appears to be functioning as something of a triple-agent, who was working for both ONE and SHIELD, providing intel on SHIELD to ONE but undermining ONE's operations at the same time. I am uncertain to whom Stark truly answers. Possibly his own beliefs, values, and morality. I believe that Gregory Stark is an outside context agent operating on his own calculations on how to best protect mankind."

    Clay makes a face.

    "Stark busted us out," Miles adds.

    X-51 continues. "Furthermore, I have discovered a secret ONE project that reveals their intentions behind obtaining some of their prisoners. Specifically, those who are mutants or Inhumans."

    "Wait,” Miles says. “Beyond just incarcerating them?"

    "Yes, sir. Those who possess the so-called 'X-Gene,' which includes both Mutants and Inhumans, are periodically transferred into the custody of the Essex Corporation.

    "It is related to a project that Essex is running code-named 'Hound.' of which I am currently unable to obtain more details."

    Miles frowns. "That doesn't sound good."

    "The Brotherhood and Omega Red are all mutants, and were tagged for transport to Essex within the next week. We saved them from that fate.

    "This information is aggressively damning of the Office of National Emergency, Director Quartermain. Depending on how it is utilized, it could be used to blackmail, influence, control, counteract, or outright dismantle the organization. I have composed six different proposals for this information for your review."

    Clay grumbles. "I... I can't believe I'm going to ask this, but...X-51, what do you recommend?"

    X-51 replies "I recommend going public with the information through carefully controlled media leaks, which myself and Vision combined with COMMS can engineer successfully. I calculate a near-absolutely probability that this will lead to the dissolution of the Office of National Emergency and criminal charges being brought against Dr. Pym and Henry Peter Gyrich."

    Miles nods. "That sounds good to me, Clay."

    "It will also completely nullify all faith in the Superhuman Registration Act, essentially killing it in the crib, so to speak. The Act has passed an emergency Senate vote but does need a House review before being passed into law."

    Clay nods. "Any blowback or other outcomes, X-51?"

    X-51 replies "Yes, sir. Because the activities and the very formation of the Office of National Emergency was a foundational element of President Gordon Wright's election and ongoing presidency, this will not only completely evaporate public trust in him, leading to single-digit approval ratings, but will actually trigger criminal investigations and quite likely an impeachment or even an invocation of the 25th Amendment.

    "This choice will destabilize the government of the United States for a period of time, but it did allow Elise to have a nice wedding."

    Clay blinks. "I'm sorry... what?"

    "I uh," Miles rubs the back of his neck. "Well. You know when they ask at a wedding if there are objections? X-51 ran the numbers and told me that SHIELD was vulnerable to being perceived as kingmaking and allying with a foreign power.

    "He suggested that the wedding might be a bad idea. I asked him if the numbers would improve if we got rid of ONE instead.

    "So...I guess that's what we did?"

    Clay just kind of stares quietly for a moment. Centurion looks from him to Miles and back. Julian claps his hands together. "But it was alllllllllll worth it, right?"

    Clay just calmly says to Miles' phone. "...X-51, what is the expected stabilization time for the United States government if we do take this course of action?"

    "That would depend, Director."

    "...on?"

    "How actively we were involved in the stabilization efforts and what actions were taken on our part to guide events to optimal ends for all parties."

    Clay inhales sharply.

    Miles smiles ruefully at him. "You break it, you bought it?"

    "Oh, man." Ryann sighs. "Clay, you have to tell Nova Prime you ordered me to do this. Like, all of this. You gotta."

    Clay just nods at Ryann and gives him an “it's fine” hand gesture. He turns back to Miles’ phone. "X-51 are you suggesting that we directly get involved in playing politics and guiding the outcome of the government of the United States, autonomously? That is not our job, machine."

    "Terrestrial politics," Ryann says to himself as he shakes his head.

    "Sir, if I may," X-51 replies, "STRIKE's mandate is to covertly combat existential risk to humanity and the people of Earth. An unstable United States of America thrown into a Constitutional crisis by a criminal and totalitarian President who is guilty of war crimes against its own citizenry is an existential risk to all of the Earth. They are a nuclear power with the ability to kill billions of people. They cannot be permitted to fall into chaos.

    “If we can prevent and manage that chaos, from the shadows, is that not fully within our mandate? If I might be poetic, sir, STRIKE-1's self-appellation is 'Freedom Force.' I do not believe these actions could possibly be more appropriate."

    Clay grits his teeth. He looks at Miles.

    "If not us, then who?" Miles says softly.

    Clay grumbles. "Michael. What do you think?"

    "We are supposed to protect the people of Earth,” Michael begins slowly. “If we let the US fall into chaos, we would be putting millions, if not billions, of people in danger. I don't like the idea of us essentially acting like a shadow government, but Miles said it best. If not us, then who? Who would you trust more than us to head off this massive shitstorm? We can set up a stable foundation for the US to stabilize itself, after we've stopped guiding it."

    Clay looks grim, but nods. "X-51, work with Vision and do it. Take Vision's guidance, do not act on your own accord, and report back to me."

    "Acknowledged, sir." X-51 hangs up.

    PHU1KZN.png
    ”How I Fought a Giant Robot and Dethroned Donald Trump on My Summer Vacation,” by Miles Mason, age 34.

    STRIKE has always been about doing the jobs that public heroes like the Avengers couldn’t or shouldn’t. About moral grays and compromise and difficult questions of who should have power and how it should be used.

    Nobody on the team ever set out to be in this position. Nobody schemed this up. Even Vlad’s drive for power was only ever about personal strength than changing the course of nations. The team never tried to seize the reins; they only ever responded to things that other people were doing. They tried to keep the train on the tracks, and they even tried to be moral and responsible about it whenever possible.

    That’s part of what’s so interesting about the fact that they ended up here. Nobody’s a Cersei Lannister, nobody’s a Francis Urquhart. It’s just a collection of goofballs and outsiders; Miles calls them the “island of misfit toys.” That makes the question of what they’ll do with this new power more interesting to me, because good or bad, it won’t be what a Lannister would do.

    And what should they do? Should they do anything, or is it better to do nothing? Secret plots and influence-peddling might be inherently corrupt and corrupting, but is it worse than letting a demagogue imprison his own citizens?

    Miles has decided it isn’t. Right now, in 2018, I think I agree with him!

    Matevvisiblehowl
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    Clay sighs. "Alright, that's...dealt with, I guess." He hands Ryann's gauntlet to him. "While you were gone, that kept blinking. I didn't push it in case it was a voicemail from your wife or something."

    Ryann takes the gauntlet. "Thanks." he puts it on. "Now I just need to find my helmet," he says to himself as he sees who the message is from.

    It's from his brother Tanak. Ryann frowns. "That's weird…” he says. “It's only audio.” He hits play.


    "Ryann. The planet Taur is gone. The entire planet is just... gone. The Nova Corps sent me to investigate when we lost all contact with the Taurians very suddenly. We suspected the Skrull Empire attacking one of our protectorate worlds.

    "But the Skrulls can't destroy an entire planet."

    Centurion’s eyes slowly start to widen.

    "I'm in orbit of what once was Taur's moon, now a rogue planetoid just floating in orbit around their star, Jenzen. I'm not in my ship, you'll forgive the audio-only.

    "It's incredible, brother. The devastation of it. Billions of lives, an entire world, just...nothing. I don't..."

    Centurion looks intensely at his comm-gauntlet

    "I know of only one entity that could do something on this scale. I can't...I can't bring myself to say it."

    Centurion’s gaze flicks to the STRIKE team.

    "Taur is not far from your Protectorate World, brother. I need to report back to Nova-Prime about this. They'll want to send scientists, see if we can...I don't know, learn anything about...it, from this. I just wanted to know if you're okay, send me a message, alright? Kaat's been asking about you.

    "Tanak Valt, out." The message ends. Centurion stares at his gauntlet, silent.

    Clay looks at Ryann. "Taur is only one hyper-jump from Earth."

    "That didn't sound like Tanak." Ryann's voice is cold. "It was his voice. But something is off. I need to go." He stands up

    Clay puts a hand on his shoulder. "Wait." Centurion stops. "We need you, Ryann. Earth needs you. But if Galactus...if Galactus destroyed a world only one jump away from us then…” Clay swallows. "He's close."

    Julian can feel an itch in the back his head. He's coming. He shudders.

    "This isn't right,” Ryann says. “I need to contact the Nova Corps."

    Clay says "Hang on. Contact the Corps. Call your brother. But don't go running off. Don't leave us, not yet. Elise is healing and we're all run ragged right now, even you."

    Centurion nods. "Understood."


    Miles' shoulders slump. "Galactus, already....? We're not ready," he murmurs to himself. Everything feels like too much right now.

    “I think... I think we can take this thing," Julian says. "Didn't we just get something that could turn the tide for us?” He looks at Clay. "A wedding gift."

    Clay nods at Julian. "It's a possibility. Strange and I have been talking about it. I'll get into that later." He turns to Ryann. "Go, call them."

    Ryann nods and turns back to his gauntlet. "Corona, patch me through to Rhomann Dey. Supernova priority."

    Dey responds. "Dey here. Go ahead."

    "Centurion Valt. I need you to make contact to my brother, Tanak. I have reason to believe he is in danger."

    There's silence for a moment, despite the fact that there's no signal lag. "Centurion, Tanak Valt is on assignment right now and cannot be contacted, I'm sorry."

    "Sir, I believe this may have galactic implications, I need you to make contact with him and confirm his safety. Please."

    There's an audible sigh. "Centurion, your brother is MIA at this time. It's being investigated by the Black Novas. Please continue your assignment."

    "Sir, I-" Centurion sighs, he looks at Clay and the team.

    Clay nods at Ryann and mouths “it’s okay.” He...winks?

    Centurion nods. "Very well, sir. I understand. Please inform me of anything you learn, if possible."

    "Sure, we'll update you when we hear more about Tanak. Force be with you, Ryann."

    "Thank you, sir. Centurion Valt out."

    Clay says to Ryann, "Well, Ryann, while you are here you're under my command. And as an Agent of STRIKE, I want you to investigate what happened to the planet Taur and see if we can learn more about Galactus.

    "When your team is fully recovered, that will be your next mission."

    Centurion nods. "Thank you, Clay. Something isn't right here. My brother, Tanak, he's never talked to me like that. With such concern. He cares all right, but I've never heard him talk like that before. He's an asshole." Centurion barks out a laugh, then scratches his chin thoughtfully. "Problem, we can't use the Corona to get there. The Corps will know I disobeyed orders."

    Clay nods. "I get that. Which is why you won't use yours. You'll use one of ours."

    Ryann stares. "Wait, what?"

    "’One of ours’?" Miles mouths.

    "...well, one of the ones we confiscated from an out-of-towner who got on SWORD's bad side." They hear boots running outside in the hall.

    Centurion smiles as he nods.

    Kane bursts into the room. "DO I GET TO FLY A SPACESHIP?!"

    "Maybe," Centurion smiles.

    Julian puts his hand up high. She hits that high five and leaves the room yelling "FUCK YEAH! SPACESHIP!"

    r2C6Mbd.png

    visiblehowl
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    On the next season of

    qZ8f0Dc.png
    XmZR8W4m.jpg

    He nods and smiles, "You can call me Corsair."
    Ryann grits his teeth. "I want answers. So spill it."

    The Collector clucks his tongue, "Very well, but you may regret the knowledge..."
    "The First Firmament, the pure universe, the universe before our own."
    "According to Director Fury, the leader of Earth's government, the Shield, these individuals are not part of any Earth agency or military and he does not have any knowledge of their operations."
    Elise looks where Carol is pointing. She sees telltale golden arches she recognizes from Earth.
    RAnZ83Vm.png

    "I am Warden Morrow. I know what you are accused of. So do all of the guards in here."
    "Tony Stark's ice cold psycho brother? He runs HAMMER."
    DoUEqmWm.jpg

    Michael grabs Loki by the neck, faceplates open, cosmic flame roiling in rage. "Call him off, or I disintegrate you."
    "I knew," Elise says. "I knew you'd come. I knew they were wrong."
    "We just saw a world die." Carol whispers to Miles.

    visiblehowlFencingsax
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    fuckin' siiiiiiiiiiiiiiick

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I am apparently an MTGA draft god on Twitch
    FencingsaxPhoenix-D
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    x36KvOu.png



    qlGmSdP.pngIntel Report: September 3rd, 2017
    LEVEL 8+ EYES ONLY
    Designated for STRIKE Agents and adjacent support personnel
    Section compiled by STRIKE-1 Field Agent Elise Arnell

    I’ve been recovering for a few days. I kind of wanted to go to the Baxter Building since, from what I understand, after Kazan Mr. Richards just kind of got my bones back together in like, four seconds, but Miss Hand seemed opposed to it. So did Attilan, apparently, so its for the best I stayed with SHIELD.

    I have a lot to cover here because I’ve kind of been skipping my intel reports since the whole Doom Above thing. That’s kind of my bad, sorry. I’ll start with Arsenal: I found Arsenal (and Master Mold? I guess they were one AI? I’m not a robotician expert) in the core of Raven Rock. I convinced Arsenal that Galactus was coming and it was time to stop being a dick. Master Mold disagreed. I saved Arsenal’s life, and now I guess he’s relatively cool with us? Cool-ish. Cool adjacent. Not allies, but not enemies, either.

    I couldn’t kill him. That was the only other option and I won’t do it.

    I did sustain some pretty gross injuries though. Here’s where stuff really starts to get complicated. Unless you guys knew about this already. Did everyone know about this already? I didn’t know about this. So, here’s the thing. Remember Maximus’s whole plan to become the King by knocking up Crystalia because the King and Queen and Attilan can’t have kids? And I couldn’t marry Crystalia because I wasn’t worthy? Okay, so...I figured that since STRIKE saved their city, they were going to let me marry Crystalia out of gratitude?

    That’s not really the case. Arcadius, Attilan’s Genetic Counselor, came to visit me and was like “oh, you have to take care of yourself!” and I was like “haha, yeah, but it’s part of the job” and he was like “Yes, but until Attilan’s heir is born -”

    It’s Maximus’s plan. There needs to be an heir. It’s just I got put into the position of fathering one, and with Attilan technology, that’s possible. What we did in saving the city raised my social class, and I guess the King was talking with Nick Fury while I was out on painkillers. So it all got greenlit and while I was on medical leave they scooped out some of my eggs or whatever and now Crys is pregnant. That kid is going to be the heir to all of Attilan.

    It’s a lot.

    I also keep thinking about what Arsenal said before everything went down. The TL;DR is that if I die, Attilan and SHIELD aren’t allies anymore. Depending on the circumstances, that could be war. He used the term “fulcrum of influence” vis a vis murdering me and I’m wildly uncomfortable with the whole situation. Arsenal isn’t the only really powerful robot out there capable of doing the math. Does Vision agree with this assessment? How about X-51? How many people out there in the shadows are thinking about the logistics and outcome of icing me? I don’t like it.

    Here’s the thing: this isn’t even over, any of it. Maximus is going to be made Unspoken. Does that ring any bells? The Unspoken Emperor who ushered in an Age of Inhumans? Crys and I are trying to delay that with the whole ‘shouldn’t we be focused on harvesting these ovaries’ thing but that’s only going to last so long. And then there’s Shuma-Goroth. Loki serves. Motherfucker’s a trickster God, why are we okay with this? We should be figuring out a way to nuke the cosmos.

    Why are we even heading to space? Yeah, I know, I know, Galactus. But I’m leaving behind a pregnant wife and the only home I ever had got burned down by Sentinels. I haven’t even started in on Doom and whatever he’s up to.

    I just want it on the record that I’m really worried, all the time, about everything going down on Earth and I think this entire mission is a bad idea.

    Note from STRIKE-COMMS Liaison Agent Jeremiah Warrick: With everything going on we had to evacuate the main base and I didn’t have time to prepare a formal intel report. STRIKE Director Quartermain handed me this intel report and said “Good enough, send it out to the department”. I offered to edit it and rewrite it and he told me no. I told him it would only take a few minutes and he said no. This note indicates a for-the-record statement that I take no responsibility for the state of this report or its veracity.

    It has been a couple weeks since the events of STRIKE's last field mission, which resulted in the defeat of ONE, the destruction of Master Mold, STRIKE-1 breaking out of ONE's "Big House" prison, and Tony Stark betraying SHIELD and the Avengers.

    In that time, SHIELD has been able to reorganize itself and control the narrative of public opinion. US President Gordon Wright's approval rating is plummeting into the single digits, and there's talk of impeachment in relation to Wright's involvement in ONE's creation and their subsequent crimes against humanity.

    The team has been able to medically recover from the injuries they sustained during their mission, some by utilizing advanced technology at SHIELD's disposal. They've also been advised of their new mission, Operation Caliburn, which will send them into deep space. The exact parameters of this mission haven't been made clear, but the team is quite sure it has something to do with the message Centurion received from his brother about the planet Taur.

    STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain sent them all an update they were to read ahead of today's briefing:

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    9SF1IUY.png

    Operation Caliburn is a joint SWORD-STRIKE mission into deep space with a broad series of parameters, the exact specifications of which will be reviewed by your commanding officer.

    The purpose of this document is to outline the resources, personnel, and technology at your disposal, as well as pertinent information to your travels into the galaxy as a whole. Finally, this guide will go over some critical protocols as they pertain to your conduct as a representative of not just SHIELD, but of our entire planet and species.

    This guide is divided into sections for easy reference:

    qlGmSdP.pngAnabasis
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    The Anabasis is a refurbished Spartoi cruiser that was acquired by SWORD. It has been heavily modified using our own technology to optimize it for our own use.

    Power Core and Jump Travel
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    The Anabasis uses a gravity induction drive to create interstitial space folds that enable it to hyper-jump across super-luminal distances. If that sentence didn’t make sense to you, don’t concern yourself overly much. The ship is capable of faster-than-light travel, and leave the engineers to figure out how.

    Hangar Bay
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    Capable of holding a handful of small fightercraft or a single large shuttle, the Anabasis’ main hangar bay will largely contain STRIKE’s primary transport vessel, the Zephyr, during your mission. The Zephyr is capable of trans-atmospheric and orbital flight, and can easily act as an orbital shuttle and atmospheric landing craft. The Zephyr lacks FTL and can’t easily transit between planetary bodies in a solar system, so it’s critical for it not to be left behind.

    Crew Quarters
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    The full crew complement for the Anabasis is normally 30, with many crew having to share bunkrooms. However, automation makes it so that only a fraction of that crew is required for the mission so there is room to spare, and each individual agent and crew member is able to have their own quarters, albeit somewhat smaller than they might be accustomed to.

    Medical
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    The Anabasis has a full medical facility and biolab aboard, which is absolutely necessary as it will be impossible to practically return to Earth for emergency medical treatment for any sustained injuries or illnesses. The ship has the most advanced medical technology on Earth, beyond that in many instances as it is also using technology procured from off-world sources.

    Cryogenics
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    There are several contingencies in which it may become necessary for members of the crew to use the cryogenic pods to enter suspended animation. Catastrophic system failure rendering FTL unavailable, for example, may require the crew to enter cryo-sleep to await rescue. Alternately, a specific crew member may sustain an injury or illness beyond what the medical facilities on-board are able to treat, and the best solution for the time being is to freeze them until better medical care is available.

    Conference Room, Crew Mess Hall, and Recreation
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    The main hall serves as a combination mess hall, recreation center, and primary briefing room for missions. You’ll get used to seeing this room a lot on your mission.

    qlGmSdP.pngShip Personnel
    Prior to its redesign by SWORD, the Anabasis required a crew of 30 to function. However, now the ship is largely automated and can operate with a crew of 5 at a minimum.

    Isabel Kane
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    Anabasis Commanding Officer, Pilot
    Codename:
    Smasher

    Agent Kane is the pilot of the Anabasis, as well as the ship’s Commanding Officer. She is the Deputy Director of SWORD and is officially in charge of Operation Caliburn. All mission parameters are defined and to be cleared with her. If she accompanies the STRIKE team on a mission, command of the Anabasis follows the crew chain of command as normal.

    Isabel is an experienced SWORD agent, and also has field experience with STRIKE. She speaks 9 alien languages, is a trained combatant, and is knowledgeable on galactic politics and culture.

    Alec Dalton
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    Anabasis Executive Officer, Security and Logistics
    Codename:
    Dauntless

    Known Extranormal Abilities: Dalton is a super-soldier, with advanced strength, endurance, speed, and toughness slightly below the capabilities of Captain Britain.

    Agent Alec Dalton is former MI-13, who joined SWORD on the recommendation of STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain. He is a personal friend of Quartermain’s from his time at MI-13.

    He was also a part of MI-13’s super-soldier program, the same program that produced Captain Britain.

    Aboard the Anabasis, he acts as ship’s logistics officer, procuring supplies and overseeing the ship’s day-to-day maintenance and operations. He is also the ship’s security, making sure that the Anabasis is safe and that no boarders or stowaways occur. Finally, he is second in command of the ship and takes over command if Agent Kane is ashore, such as if she accompanies the STRIKE team on missions.

    Moira MacTaggert
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    Anabasis Medical and Science Officer
    Codename:
    Cryptic

    Dr. MacTaggert is one of the world’s leading evolutionary biologists and one of the few with legitimate experience in the burgeoning field of xenology. She is on the Anabasis to serve as both the ship’s primary medical doctor in the case of injury or illness of the crew and as the science officer to study and learn on SWORD’s behalf.
    Dr. MacTaggert has her own missions and parameters for Operation Caliburn on behalf of SWORD that do not conflict with STRIKE’s operations, and she may on occasion make requests of the STRIKE team to this end.

    Leonard Skivorski
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    Anabasis Chief Engineer and Technologist
    Codename:
    Samson
    Known Extranormal Abilities: Superhuman strength and regenerative capabilities due to gamma radiation exposure.

    Dr. Skivorski (often referred to as “Doc Samson”) is a physicist and engineer who was involved in Dr. Bruce Banner’s experiments with gamma radiation. He does not have the abilities of the Hulk, but does have enhanced strength and regenerative abilities. He is also a brilliant engineer and physicist, and aboard the Anabasis serves as the ship’s chief engineer and expert on alien technology. Doc Samson was a significant part of the Anabasis’ retrofit and is periodically defensive about criticism of the ship’s operation. Use caution.

    Carol Danvers
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    Anabasis Co-Pilot, Xenology Consultant
    Codename:
    Captain Marvel
    Known Extranormal Abilities: Superhuman strength, speed, endurance, flight, photonic blasts

    Agent Danvers is a former SWORD agent who has been transferred to STRIKE. She has been assigned to Operation Caliburn for her own specific mission, but will continue to assist the STRIKE team as needed and will serve the Anabasis as co-pilot.

    Because of her residual memories from her fusion with Mahr Vehl, Agent Danvers has a great deal of accumulated knowledge about the galaxy as a whole and about the Kree Empire in particular. She speaks the Kree language fluently and knows as much about their culture as she does her own. She is an invaluable asset on this expedition.

    H.E.L.E.N.
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    Anabasis Ship A.I.


    The Heuristic Enhanced Logistics Engagement Network is the ship’s Artificial Intelligence. She operates the majority of the Anabasis’ automated systems, and is capable of piloting the ship and ultimately running the majority of the vessel without a crew if needed.

    Prior to the unshackling of SWORD’s Vision AI, HELEN was also likewise shackled in a similar fashion. However, under advisement from STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain and Vision, SWORD has determined it is prudent to permit HELEN to have full AI functionality and free sentience and run of the ship. The repercussions of this decision have yet to be determined, and analysis of her operations are a component of Operation Caliburn.

    HELEN is a potent resource at the STRIKE team’s disposal, and has the full database of SWORD’s knowledge as well as additional information relevant to your interests. She is capable of supporting the STRIKE team as long as you are in communications contact with the ship.

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    qlGmSdP.pngCaliburn Tech
    Operation Caliburn has access to specific technology above and beyond what is usually available to both STRIKE and SWORD agents.

    Much of this technology is either experimental, alien in origin, and/or both. In any case, it is expensive, difficult to reproduce, and should be treated with care.

    The Anabasis has some limited field production and fabrication capabilities and will be able to repair and maintain this tech as needed, but you should still make every attempt to use discretion with your resources.

    Pulse Pistol
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    The SWORD Pulse Pistol is a reverse-engineered Kree design, based on weapons we have confiscated over the years. It fires magnetically contained energy pulses, and has a variety of settings from “stun” to “kill”. These settings are approximates, and are more accurately energy intensity settings based largely on how a normal human without super-powers would respond, so use caution accordingly when dealing with extraterrestrials.

    Pulse pistols have effectively unlimited ammunition (the power core within them is alien in origin and the charge per shot is not even close to their maximum power output) but they are capable of overheating with repeated rapid fire, especially on higher settings.

    Pulse Rifle
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    The SWORD Variable Pulse Rifle is more than just an up-scaled version of the Pulse Pistol. It has several advantages over the Pulse Pistol, including a potent beam setting and a higher capacity for rapid fire without overheating. It can also over-charge to release a single high power blast capable of piercing thick armor. All of these abilities are packed into one weapons platform, obviating the need for different sub-weapons.

    Grav Grenade
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    The SWORD Gravity Induction Grenade, or Grav Grenade, uses gravity induction coils to create a micro-singularity that lasts for a fraction of a second. This is a devastating effect that can punch holes in heavily armored targets and is not recommended for use on soft targets (the use of which may constitute a war crime in some sectors). It is provided to the STRIKE team under the assumption that it is possible in the field that they may encounter hazards beyond their powers to engage, or may need to breach heavily secure areas quickly.

    Medkit
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    The SHIELD Medkit is a new piece of technology that Operation Caliburn will be field-testing. It contains a variety of useful medical technology, ranging from conventional first aid supplies to crisis respirators and a small supply of emergency medical nanites created by the Future Foundation. Hopefully, the STRIKE team will not have a great deal of need for its use but if so, please fill a report on its effectiveness so feedback for SHIELD can be acquired.

    SWORD Expedition Armor
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    Every individual on Operation Caliburn will be provided with a custom suit of SWORD Expedition Armor. This armor was created using a variety of different technologies, ranging from the most advanced tech provided by Stark Technologies and the Future Foundation to some alien sources acquired by SWORD. It is atmosphere sealed, temperature rated to hundreds of degrees in either direction of freezing in centigrade, and incredibly resistant to corrosion. It contains a plethora of other useful subsystems that are too numerous to mention. Curious agents can speak to Chief Engineer Skivorski for more information.

    STRIKE agents may opt to disregard use of the armor out of personal preference or deference to their own extranormal abilities, at their own risk. If you wish to make modifications to your armor for your own personal preferences or to accommodate your abilities, please run that past Chief Engineer Skivorski.

    Galactic Standard Trade Unit Budget
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    There’s a myriad of different currencies in the galaxy as a whole. The most common currently is the Galactic Standard Trade Unit (GSTU). SWORD has allocated a budget of its own GSTU to Operation Caliburn that it has acquired through its own trade and confiscation over the years. A portion of this budget will be available to the STRIKE team for use on missions and for personal use while ashore. This is a resource that for the most part cannot be replenished so please use it with some degree of care. Income generation during Operation Caliburn should not be a part of the mission parameters and will become a serious distraction from your goals if it becomes necessary. Don’t run out of money.

    Autolang
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    While there are a few polyglots on Operation Caliburn who speak some alien languages, there are simply too many in the galaxy to support the mission. There are a few conventional lingua franca for the purposes of trade, such as the Kree language which is spoken by much of the spacefaring galactic population, but knowing Kree is also not enough.

    Most of the spacefaring galactic species rely on some form of Autolang, which are devices and implants that facilitate real-time translation. Autolangs take a few different forms, and SWORD has access to several.

    The most common type is a temporary microbead implant placed inside the ear canal. This is a minor outpatient surgical procedure that takes less than 10 minutes, and is recommended for all agents engaging in Operation Caliburn. The microbead essentially “hijacks” the auditory nerve and normal cerebral processing of sound, and results in all alien languages that are heard by the individual to be automatically translated into something the listener understands, in a voice more or less approximating the normal speaking voice of the speaker. The microbead is capable of handling all heard sounds and voice simultaneously, permitting the listener to process as many voices as they themselves are consciously capable of comprehending.

    Another, and not exclusive, form of Autolang is AR-enabled visors or contact lenses, which are capable of interpreting spoken and written alien languages and displaying appropriate subtitles as needed. Some agents find these visual cues easier to understand than the audible microbead, and argue that “subs” are a more pure understanding of alien language than the “dubs” of a microbead. The particulars of this debate are beyond the parameters of this document.

    Agents who have cybernetic implants or are synthetic in nature may be capable of uploading alien languages in real time or have the capabilities of an Autolang installed. Please consult with Chief Engineer Skivorski on this subject.

    qlGmSdP.pngGalactic Crash Course
    This section will give you a brief overview of major topics in regards to the galaxy as a whole, and prepare you for the expedition. Expanded information on any one of these topics can be followed up on the appropriate expert on your crew.

    Major Powers
    There are two main galactic superpowers as of this writing: The Kree Empire, and the Skrull Empire. The two are embroiled in a bitter war, with the Skrull Empire in particular engaged in a brutal war of genocide against all other species, led by their fanatical political party, the Dard’van.

    Outside of the Kree and Skrull, there are a few other major alien powers at play in the galaxy:

    - The Xandar Federation, a loose group of planets under the protection of the planet Xandar and the Nova Corps. Technically speaking, Earth is a protectorate of the Xandar Federation, although we are not a full voting member

    - The Spartoi Empire, a lesser galactic power who aren’t too far from Earth. The Spartoi were once ruled by the Kree, but have since found their own independence.

    - The Sovereign, a race of genetically engineered aliens who are fiercely xenophobic and isolationist

    Other Species
    A majority of the galaxy’s spacefaring species do not have far-reaching, interstellar nations. Even if they have FTL travel, they are usually isolated to their own solar system, and many are part of larger empires like the Kree Empire or are part of the Xandar Federation. There are a multitude of worlds that have broken away from the Skrull Empire now that it has become xenophobic and genocidal, and are desperately seeking protectorate status with the Xandar Federation. The galaxy is flooding with refugees and displaced people from the Kree-Skrull War.

    Centaurians, Sakaarans, Krylorians, Arcturans, and Badoon are just a handful of the more common species you will encounter on your expedition. The Anabasis’ database has information on many of these species, but much of it is second-hand in some cases, so don’t entirely rely on it.

    Commonalities of Species
    Despite the fact that this should be statistically unlikely, it appears the majority of the galaxy’s spacefaring races have a startling similarity to humans. Similar body plane, largely similar gravitational and atmospheric needs, etc. Skin tones and some facial and body features are often wildly different, but for the most part most of the galaxy is what we would define as “humanoid.”

    The mathematical likelihood of this is beyond absurd and has left xenologists with a lot of questions. Regardless, this will make Operation Caliburn significantly easier, since the majority of locations you visit will have breathable air, gravity you can tolerate, and structures built for people your size and shape. There may be some minute differences from time to time; Kree, for example, are native to a world with a higher amount of nitrogen in the air and a slightly higher gravity, so any ship or station built by and for Kree will have those specs.

    There are also species who are physically identical to humans on initial inspection and do not be surprised if you are visibly mistaken for them. This includes but is not limited to very common species like Spartoi and Xandarians. Many galactic species shrug at these sorts of mistaken differences, and acting as if it is speciesist to be unable to tell a Centaurian apart from a Kree or a Xandarian apart from a Spartoi makes you seem odd and out of place.

    qlGmSdP.pngMission Protocols
    Note: This section is absolutely necessary for all agents on Operation Caliburn to read, memorize, and be constantly aware of during the expedition.

    Representation
    While on this expedition, you are representing our agency, our planet, and possibly our species if you are a member of it.

    Ideally, Operation Caliburn could operate in secret, without anyone in the galaxy at large being aware of who we are or where we are from. However, the practicalities of galactic travel, arriving at ports-of-call, and having to declare where we came from and what our intentions are means we simply cannot falsify this information with any kind of reliability.

    As a result, you are acting in an official capacity as SHIELD agents. Your equipment and ship all bear SHIELD iconography. SHIELD is Earth’s official representation within the Xandar Federation and Earth is a Xandar protectorate world (from a very technical perspective, the rest of the galaxy considers SHIELD to be Earth’s global government which is not a subject to be broached in this document or to be corrected to the rest of the galaxy as a whole).

    Chain of Command
    The official chain of command on Operation Caliburn goes as follows:

    Operation Caliburn as a whole:
    - Isabel Kane, SWORD Deputy Director
    - Ryann Valt, Nova Centurion
    - Miles Mason, STRIKE Field Team Leader
    - Alec Dalton, Anabasis XO
    - Carol Danvers, Senior Mission Consultant

    The Anabasis itself:
    - Isabel Kane, Anabasis Commanding Officer
    - Alec Dalton, Anabasis XO
    - Carol Danvers, Anabasis Co-Pilot
    - Leonard Skivorski, Anabasis Chief Engineer
    - Ryann Valt, Nova Centurion

    STRIKE Field Team:
    - Ryann Valt, Nova Centurion
    - Miles Mason, STRIKE Field Team Leader
    - Michael Westin, Secondary STRIKE Field Team Leader
    - Carol Danvers, STRIKE Agent
    - Elise Arnell, STRIKE Agent
    - Julian Adler, STRIKE Agent
    -
    The Nova Situation
    We have a Nova Centurion, Ryann Valt, as part of Operation Caliburn. He both is and is not acting in an official capacity as a member of the Nova Corps, as that is a complex diplomatic situation. Centurion Valt is assigned to Earth as his duties to the Nova Corps, but those duties include being assigned to STRIKE as an agent. Agent Valt has been assigned to Operation Caliburn by STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain, so he both is and is not in accordance with his orders with the Nova Corps.

    As a result, it is up to Agent Valt’s discretion how much of his authority and presence as a member of the Nova Corps he wishes to utilize during Operation Caliburn. He carries a great deal of weight and respect in the galactic community, akin to something resembling a federal marshal or international investigator, but he may be reluctant to draw too much attention to himself in this grey area of his duties. Allow Agent Valt to make that decision for himself as he chooses to do so.

    Agent Valt will be leading the STRIKE team on field missions, as he is the most experienced in interstellar matters regardless of whether or not he decides to flex his authority as a member of the Nova Corps.

    The Phoenix Situation
    Under no circumstances is any individual on Operation Caliburn to mention or even hint at the fact that STRIKE Agent Julian Adler is the host of the Phoenix entity. It is a requirement for this mission that STRIKE Agent Adler come up with a new codename, as the Autolang that is normal for usage by galactic species will translate “Phoenix” into an equivalent phrase in their own language that will refer to the entity that is the harbinger of Galactus. This may induce panic or other unwanted attention.

    In the past, records have shown that STRIKE agents have leveraged Agent Adler’s status as an interrogation or bargaining tactic when dealing with hostile extraterrestrials. This cannot be engaged in during Operation Caliburn and failure to adhere to this protocol will result in a court martial with severe consequences.

    Fraternization
    SWORD is aware that the majority of individuals engaged in Operation Caliburn have significant others, some of whom are accompanying them on the mission. Nonetheless, it is worth stating that fraternizing with individuals you encounter during the expedition is extremely discouraged, for a variety of different reasons. It can cause diplomatic incidents, expose you to sexually transmitted diseases of unknown alien origin, or involve you in complex relationship dynamics you do not fully comprehend. Not to mention there is a small but not impossible chance of reproduction with some alien species in some capacity, and the potential for creating alien hybrids is not something the agency takes lightly. Don’t do it.

    Communications
    The Anabasis does have a tachyon ansible aboard, enabling communications with Earth (specifically, SWORD’s Peak VII space station). Use of this device is energy intensive and should be limited to necessary communiques or effectively “letters from home” and intel updates. The agency understands the emotional necessity of communicating with family and friends who you may be leaving behind, and you are of course able to do so in the limited capacity that this will enable to do so. Of course, op-sec is paramount, so any communication you do have will have to be cleared with Deputy Director Kane.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Aaaand we’re back, after an absence of several months during which time we played a different game, with a big change in format and direction for the campaign. Where the first two seasons used an episodic, mission-based structure, our journey into space is almost more like a fantasy quest, traveling far from home to gain wisdom and learn how to defeat a coming darkness.

    A new status quo also means lots of new NPCs, new situations, new locations and so forth, so this episode is largely devoted to setting that up, with a big briefing document and a lot of explanation of what’s to come.

    On the presentation side, the back half of Season 3 took place after I’d started posting the AP, so our GM, Matt, incorporated what I was doing into the actual game and added some new elements as well. The episode titles, which were previously either Cass’s or mine devised well after the fact, are now Matt’s, and he also added the nifty touch of having opening and closing music.

    This won’t be hugely noticeable in the AP, but there was also a change behind the scenes, as we switched from an Apocalypse World hack to a new system designed by Matt from the ground up for internet play.

    The episode title, “Journey Into Mystery,” is the title of the monster and horror anthology comic that Thor first appeared in, and which later had its title changed to The Mighty Thor after Thor took over the stories completely. Loki-disguised-as-Sigrun made a “journey into mystery” joke during the wedding episode.

    FencingsaxMatev
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    QKdKVrLh.jpg

    STRIKE-1 assembles in a briefing room aboard Peak VII, SWORD's HQ. At the briefing is STRIKE Director Clay Quartermain, SWORD Director Abigail Brand, and SWORD Deputy Director Isabel Kane.

    Elise is sitting near the back of the briefing room, rolling a joint nervously between her fingers. She looks pale and queasy. She is aggressively not looking at Brand.

    Brand, on the other hand, is staring directly at her. Brand whispers to Clay, "She's not going to light that in here, is she? I'll get a spray bottle." Elise hears her. Brand is likely quite aware she can.

    Clay sighs. "Can we not...."

    "It's my medicine," Elise grumbles.

    Ryann glances up from his datapad, shakes his head, and resumes his reading.

    Julian has eased back into one of the seats around the briefing room. He makes a mock-scolding face at Elise, reaches into a pocket and flicks a small wrapped chocolate across the table toward her.

    But before Elise can grab it, Kane reaches over and snatches the chocolate off the table. "We'll be having that conversation later," Kane says to Julian. She simply pockets the chocolate.

    Miles Mason impatiently drums his fingers on the table. He's wearing a dark grey T-shirt pulled down over black trousers. "Why don't we just get started," he says, somewhat irritably.

    Clay nods at Miles, then looks at Elise, Julian, Brand, and Kane in turn. "Can I get this underway before you start hissing at each other like cats?"

    Julian purses his lips to avoid cracking a grin, but nods. "All ears, Director."

    Elise tucks the joint behind her ear and manages a weak smile. It somehow manages to make her look even more nervous.

    Clay begins, "So, you've all read the briefing on Operation Caliburn. We're going to discuss the goals and primary mission parameters of this expedition. First and foremost: Galactus.

    "Galactus is real. Galactus exists. Galactus, we believe, is a threat to Earth and one that is potentially imminent. We do not believe the Phoenix Force is here on Earth by happenstance. We believe the planet Taur was destroyed by Galactus. We don't know that for certain. Your first objective, your first mission, is to travel to where the planet Taur is... was... to investigate what happened to it.

    "We need to gather data, scientific and otherwise, on what happened to Taur. If there were survivors, refugees, we need to find them and gather information from them. If the planet Taur was next in Galactus' path, why did the Phoenix Force opt to skip that planet and come to Earth instead? Were we better equipped to 'win' the fight than them? If so, why? Earth is severely lacking in interstellar defenses and you're essentially leaving with the only FTL-capable ship we have. We need answers.

    "Also, Agent Valt's brother, Tanak Valt, was investigating this world on behalf of the Nova Corps. He sent Agent Valt a cryptic message on the subject, and is MIA according to the Corps, and they're sending the Black Novas to investigate the subject. The Black Novas are the Nova Corps' equivalent to something like STRIKE, a black ops team that does the things too ugly for the Nova Corps to deal with publicly. If you happen to come across the Black Novas, let Agent Valt handle it.

    "There are other missions during Operation Caliburn that will come up in the field as you travel. SWORD Deputy Director Kane will brief you on them as they come up. It's worth reiterating that on this expedition, she is in command. I know that previously she has been your peer and your flight pilot, and she will continue to do so in the field in many instances, but out there in the black, this is her ballgame.

    "Ashore and boots on the ground, Agent Valt has the lead. He's the most experienced out there by far."

    "Understood, Commander," Ryann nods.

    Elise raises a shaky hand.

    "Elise?"

    "So I get all of that, but why am I on the bottom of the list?"

    "You're not. Adler is."

    "I should outrank Carol at least," Elise continues.

    Clay raises an eyebrow. Michael pinches his nose and whispers "Oh my god, Elise."

    "Yeah," Julian raises an eyebrow at Elise. "For a girl who smokes 24/7, you've got no chill."

    "I'm trying to quit," she hisses back.

    Clay puts up his hand to quiet the room. "I want to hear this. Elise, make your argument. Why should you outrank Agent Danvers?"

    Brand looks at Clay. "You're not serious...?" Clay waves her off.

    Miles' face is set in a hard frown at Elise, and his stare is unblinking, as if he's recording everything. Because he is.

    "All I'm saying is, I had a 100% success rate as a field team leader before I voluntarily gave leadership to Miles, and then I singlehandedly forged an alliance between Attilan and Earth, and I'm a Princess of Attilan now, and my wife is pregnant with, you know, the heir -"

    "Mhm, mhm, mhm." Clay is nodding thoughtfully. Brand stares at him, incredulous. Behind Elise, Julian plays along, counting points off on his fingers, nodding emphatically with each one.

    Ryann cocks an eyebrow and mouths "She led the team...?" at Kane.

    "Okay, Elise," Clay says calmly, "All of that is more or less true, and would be incredibly valid if this was a field mission to say...Attilan. But it's not. You are going to outer space. This is far beyond your element or knowledge base. You know absolutely nothing about the universe at large. You've managed to get some face-time with some cosmic horrors and retain some semblance of sanity and while that is undoubtedly impressive, it doesn't qualify you to lead a field team on an alien planet. You don't know anything about any alien cultures or laws, you only barely understand Attilan culture enough not to horrify your in-laws..."

    Elise winces. "It's not like there's a Duolingo app for it -"

    "Awp." Clay holds up his hand. "I'm not done. Furthermore, in regards to outranking Agent Danvers, let me be clear..."

    Ryann whispers to Miles "Should we prep the med bay? Clay is thrashing her." Miles grunts acknowledgment and keeps staring at Elise, who glares at Centurion. She heard it. Ryann just smirks at her.

    Clay is continuing. "...as a result of her fusion with Mahr Vehl, Agent Danvers effectively has two lifetimes of relevant experience. One is as a highly trained SWORD agent whose literal area of expertise is studying and interacting with alien lifeforms and cultures. The other is as an alien lifeform from an alien culture. She speaks Kree as if its a first language. She remembers growing up on Hala as if it is her own childhood. She has first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of the Kree Empire as well as very current understandings of interstellar politics and culture in a way that even I do not possess.

    "I am over two hundred and fifty years old but nearly a hundred of those years have been spent on Earth. The majority of my knowledge of the rest of the galaxy is horribly out of date. To be clear, if I was going on this expedition, which for a variety of reasons that should be abundantly clear I am not, Carol Danvers would outrank me. Do you have any further objections?"

    Elise is quiet for a moment. "...And you're sure I can't stay and be with Crys?"

    Centurion interjects. "Commander, if I may?" Clay nods at Centurion, who turns to face Elise. "Agent Arnell, is that what you want?"

    "Well, she's pregnant, and..." Elise's face shows a brief flash of panic, which she suppresses. "I just, I don't not want to go."

    "I've been a Nova for 15 years,” Ryann says. “Danniel, my son, is 15. I found out Kaat was pregnant the day I shipped out to the Academy. Not being there was one of the hardest times in my life. What helped me through it all was knowing that wherever I was, they were safe. Surrounded by people who care about and for them. I also knew that I was helping to keep them safe by going out there in the void. By following my orders and trusting my team members.”

    Elise swallows hard and nods. "O-okay. Cool. I'm good. We're good. Um. Objections withdrawn, Clay." Ryann nods and then looks back to Clay.

    Clay nods, "Good then. Let's move on. We're going to get you geared up and ready to move out. This is going to be a long-term expedition, our expected range is going to be somewhere between one to six months, depending on how individual missions go. A lot can happen out there."

    "And it will," Ryann adds, looking at everyone.

    "Some other items of note,” Clay says. "Elise, Crystalia is here on the station. Lockjaw teleported her up here. Before you set out, she wanted to say goodbye. You won't be able to see her for a while. Now's a good time to do so. You will be able to call her from time to time, the Anabasis has a tachyon ansible, but you're going to be away for weeks, possibly months."

    Elise gives a high, nervous laugh. "Cool. Okay. Very cool."

    "Agent Mason, X-51 is significantly more advanced than Anabasis' HELEN AI due to X-51's Celestial upgrades. Please try to keep the two from...fraternizing. To the best of your ability. The results could be...unpredictable. We only recently let HELEN have free reign, so to speak, so she's still engaging in a bit of self-discovery and does not need a morally ambiguous Celestial-upgraded super-intelligence getting up in her business.

    "X-51 I am quite aware you monitor all of Mason's sensory inputs and hear me. I am not impressed with the nonsense that went on with ONE and I want none of that while you are on this Operation. Indicate to Mason that you understand, and Mason, confirm that to me."

    Miles hears X-51 chime inside his head. I am aware of Director Quartermain's concerns and objections. Please explain to him that I understand and will refrain from interacting with Helen unless absolutely necessary.

    Miles nods. "X-51 says that it understands, and is going to refrain from associating with HELEN unless absolutely necessary. As for myself, boss, I get why you're worried - but we're going to be out on our own in the middle of nowhere, without authority or many resources. I don't think what you're worried about is possible." He holds up a pair of fingers in a Boy Scout salute. "I solemnly pledge to try not to overthrow any governments."

    "Behold," Elise whispers at Miles, and waggles her fingers.

    "And did you see what happened? I'm awesome," Miles hisses back.

    Elise looks like she's about to respond, but she glances nervously at Clay and pulls up the high collar of her coat to hide her face.

    "Deputy Director Kane has a few things she wants to add." Clay says.

    Kane speaks up. "Firstly, while we are on this expedition, it's Captain Kane. I'm not trying to be a shit about this or swing pipe, it's that I'm literally going to be the captain of a ship and that is how other people we encounter are going to refer to me, or more accurately the words they use in their language will translate into something equivalent to 'captain.’

    "So if we're going to refer to me by rank, might as well just use it uniformly. But first or last name is fine, you know me, I know you. We all first-name Clay on the regular and it's fine. The crew of the Anabasis will often be referring to me as Captain because I am unambiguously their boss and there are no circumstances under which I am not.” She turns to face Phoenix. "Next up, Julian, did you think up a new code-name? This is pretty important."

    He shakes his head. "I've given it some thought. Nothing's stuck."

    Elise perks up. "I can come up with one for you! Agent Meat Shield. Agent Burny. Agent Verbrennen."

    "See, I like Meat-Shield but last time I took a hit to the meat it didn't go well for me," Julian says, wincing at the memory.

    "You like classic rock, right?” Miles says. “Ungrateful Dead. Creedence Clearfire Revival. Red Floyd."

    "Red Special was certainly a contender," Julian agrees.

    "Agent Ghostfallen,” Elise says. “Agent Dragonbreath. Agent Crimson Dawn."

    "Infernus,” Michael says. “Lava Boy."

    Ryann watches all this open-mouthed; Elise throws him a wink.

    Julian pauses. "How about Lazarus?"

    "Lazarus fuckin' owns,” Elise says. “All Biblical and shit. Nice."

    "Lazarus works fine." Kane nods.

    Julian nods at Elise and Kane. "Cool."

    Kane looks at Elise and Julian specifically while seemingly speaking to the entire group, "So, something I want to address." She draws out the chocolate she grabbed from Julian earlier. "Many individuals on this expedition, including myself, enjoy using narcotics or alcohol from time to time. Some of us also use such things medicinally.

    "The laws governing this sort of thing out there in the black are all over the place. Sometimes they're incredibly restrictive, sometimes they're so libertine it's almost a faux pas not to be some level of inebriated.

    "However, one area that you will find some level of consistent restrictiveness on most ports-of-call is the transport and carrying of foreign substances and compounds, especially those organic in nature. Foreign, in this case, being foreign to whatever place you're going to.

    "Fun fact: Cannabis is only native to Earth! There's plenty of plants and other substances out there in the universe that are effectively identical to cannabinoids but they're definitely part of their own ecosystems and when we try to go through galactic customs they will not be okay with this!" She holds up the chocolate. "It's not terribly different than bringing food, drink, or animals from planet to planet. It's the same reason you can't just bring a rabbit or an orchid from Madagascar to Spain."

    Elise is staring at Kane with a mute expression of horror.

    "So basically we'll need to diversify in our tastes?" Julian says.

    Kane shakes her head at Julian "No, that is the wrong point I am trying to make. I am saying this stuff stays on the ship."

    “Ohh,” Julian says.

    "Oh, thank God, I don't have to throw it all out." Elise exhales.

    "You do," Kane says to Elise.

    "What!"

    Julian smiles cheerfully and taps his index fingers together, thinking of all the times Kane has yelled “Not on my ship!”

    "You won't be smoking skunk around my spaceship, Elise,” Kane says. “There's several different ways of imbibing cannabis for whatever purpose you use to deal with your issues that do not require polluting the ship. I remind you that a starship is a closed atmosphere. We all breathe the same air, all the time. There's recyclers and filters and scrubbers to clean the air but don't make them work any harder than they have to."

    "Don't hotbox the ship," Michael says.

    Elise wildly looks at Clay; Clay puts his hands up plaintively. "I'm not in command."

    Elise stands. "Fine." She plucks the joint out from behind her ear and throws it on the table in front of Kane.

    Kane picks up the joint and puts it in her pocket. "If you require other methods of using cannabis talk to me about it later, I will help you with that. I'm not a square who is anti-pot, Elise. I'm just anti-smoking."

    "It's fine,” Elise growls, reaching into the pockets of her giant Attilan coat. She produces six large bags of weed the size of a fist, tossing them in front of Kane, and then a few half-finished packs of cigarettes, her papers, and a grinder. Then she sits and scowls.

    Brand mouths oh my god. She looks at Clay and hisses, "She works for a spy agency, she..."

    Clay shrugs. "She's a black ops agent. They kill people sometimes. They honestly could rail blow until their noses were crimson and I wouldn't care if they get the W, Abby."

    Brand sputters incredulously. "You are beyond unprofessional," she growls.

    "I'm trying to quit anyways," Elise says, loudly, arguing with no one in particular. "I used to go through all of that in like, a week."

    Kane looks at the rest of the team, "Any other questions? Or massive stashes of narcotics?"

    Miles shakes his head. "No, I think I've heard what I need to."

    "I'm good to head out," Michael says.

    Julian raises a hand. "I have a question, but I'm not looking forward to hearing the answer.” He grimaces. "What happens if I die out there?"

    Kane sucks her teeth, "So... that's one of Dr. MacTaggert's...mission parameters. To figure out the answer to that question. I mean she's not going to cap you to get data or something. But the answer is... we don't know. And if it happens...tell Moira everything you can because she wants to run tests and write reports."

    "I'm more concerned about it happening in the field," Julian says.

    Kane nods. "That's a risk we're going to have to take."

    He sucks his teeth. "Well, alright. I'll be careful.”

    "It's that or we bench you on Earth for the expedition. Which was considered and discussed internally, but we determined that it's too valuable to the mission to have you go and the benefits outweigh the risks. You might get psychic premonitions or something about Galactus, things like that."

    "Oh, absolutely. I'm in this for the long haul," he says. "Have we considered what happens if someone figures me out, or are we just going to cross that bridge when we come to it?"

    "We have procedures." Kane says, "We'll talk about it if comes up, depending on how it happens and what happens as a result." She looks at Clay, "How good is he at the whole..."
    She makes a scissor snipping motion with her fingers.

    Clay shakes his head.

    Kane sucks her teeth, "Okay, well, we won't be doing that then."

    "I hate that. Don't do that." Elise snaps.

    Clay puts up his hand. "We won't be. Julian isn't trained for it anyway. It would be more like using a woodchipper."

    Julian makes a face at this. Elise sighs.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Clay clears his throat. "That does remind me of something, if I might interrupt, Captain." He looks at Elise. "Elise, I'm aware of your ability to sort of...'step outside,' so to speak. And sometimes that's great and incredibly useful. And sometimes it results in you meeting eye to eye with Shuma-Gorath. I would caution you to refrain from utilizing this particular form of your powers while on this expedition unless absolutely necessary. While my knowledge of space is a century out of date, I'm quite certain that outer space is still dark and full of terrors."

    "I understood that reference," Michael says. Clay nods at him. Elise makes a whiny grumble that could be taken as assent.

    Kane looks at the team, "Anything else?"

    "No, Captain Kane." Michael makes sure to include her rank.

    "I just need to say some goodbyes before I go." Elise mumbles.

    Clay nods. "All right team, fall out. Elise, Crystalia is waiting for you in the dock, you can meet her on the way."

    The team filters out of the briefing room. As they're leaving, Kane says quietly to Julian, "Stay behind a second, I need to talk to you."

    "What's up, Izzy?"

    Kane bites her lower lip. "So... this is going to...suck. Remember when I said before you became...Phoenix, that you and I couldn't be a thing at SWORD because I was basically your boss? And that changed when I got transferred to STRIKE because then we were equals?"

    "Yup. I remember." He pauses. "And you're the boss again, right?"

    "...yeah," she says.

    "Yeah," he says.

    "I can't be your commanding officer, be running this entire expedition, and do...more. I can still be your friend, I can still stand beside you in the field, but..."

    "I get it. Not to mention the whole...watching me...thing. Not to make it sound weird." Julian claps a hand on Kane's shoulder. "I understand."

    She breaths a deep sigh of relief.

    "Thanks for being cool about this, Jewels."

    Julian nods. They hug. "Shame about the fraternization memo, huh?" he says, cracking a tiny smirk.

    Kane lets out a bit of a dark laugh. "Quietly tell the team, individually. Don't make a thing. But make sure they know. I don't need Elise making inappropriate jokes at our expense or something, that will hurt."

    "Aye aye, Captain."

    She nods. She's very visibly holding back tears. "Let's go."

    "Yeah." He regards her, not turning to go just yet. "I'm sorry, Izzy."

    She shrugs. "The upside of the whole rule against fraternizing with aliens is it's going to be pretty easy for both of us to avoid any kind of we were on break type drama, so there's that?" She gives Julian a weak smile.

    Julian laughs softly. "Yeah, that there is."

    They turn to go.

    PHU1KZN.png
    You’ll recall that we left Miles at the end of season 2 kind of shaken and disoriented by his experience in the digital matrix of ONE’s prison, where he left some nameless piece of himself behind. I opted not to have this be a huge sea change, like replacing him with X-51 or turning him evil or something, but instead framed it as a loss of animus, of the willpower that drove him. Like an artificially-induced crisis of confidence.

    I felt like this would let me explore some new character dynamics with him and let Jake’s character, Ryann, step into the leadership role. And that dovetailed really well with the fact that STRIKE was going into space this season, which is Centurion’s whole bailiwick in the first place.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    In the docking bay, Elise walks over to Crystalia and Lockjaw and wordlessly wraps her arms around Crystalia in a tight hug. Crystalia squeals.

    "I'm gonna miss you," Elise says.

    "Oh!” Crys says. “I have good news!"

    "Yeah? I could use some good news."

    Crystalia nods. "Lockjaw and I have been testing and there might not...there might not be a range to his powers? We're still figuring it out!"

    "Crystalia, please don't do anything dangerous."

    Crystalia shakes her head. "Oh no, no I haven't been testing personally, Gorgon has forbidden it." Elise relaxes at this.

    "Nahreen, Lockjaw's handler, has been working with him. But if I'm right, it means I can come visit sometimes! I can't stay, I have work here that's too important and, you know..." She pats her belly and smiles.

    Elise smiles and holds Crys's hands. "I'd like that. We can talk baby names."

    "Oh! I have to clear them with my House but we can make a list for their approval! I want to put some Earth names on there. I was thinking Ariel if it's a girl."

    "Oh, that's cute." Elise finally gives a natural smile, free from stress. "That's super cute. I'll come up with some names during the trip, okay?

    "Take care of yourself, Crys. We'll stay in touch. I'll write messages and we'll be able to call and you can teleport up and... it'll...." Elise moves her hand to Crystalia's midriff. "I'll be there, I promise."

    Crys takes Elise's hand. "If I'm right about Lockjaw, even if you're still out there because your mission is taking a long time, I asked Director Quartermain if it would be okay if Lockjaw brought you back here for the delivery and he said yes. He said you could take some parental leave if that happens."

    Elise pales a little, but manages another smile. "That's great. Hey, if it's a boy...what do you think about, uh, Vladimir? For a name?"

    Crys blinks. "We'll talk about it!" She smiles.

    Elise nods. "Okay." A pause. "I love you."

    "I love you too." They share another long hug, and then Crystalia walks over to Lockjaw. "Stay safe out there. Don't kiss any alien girls!" She giggles, puts her hand on Lockjaw's shoulder, and vanishes.

    Elise looks like she's going to vomit.

    "Oh, that's a face I know too well." Clay strides across the docking bay and puts his hand on Elise's shoulder. "That's more or less exactly how I looked when my first wife was pregnant with my first child."

    Elise manages a nod. "Will you... will you take care of her? Please? While I'm not here?"

    Clay nods, "I mean, I don't need to, she's a Princess of Attilan, she has a full time bodyguard, but yes. She's also now pregnant with the heir to the entire kingdom."

    Elise closes her eyes for a few seconds. "It's a lot." she says, after a pause. "It's... a lot."

    Clay nods. "There's few people here who can understand what you are going through. Being a new parent, to an heir to a nation, no less. I do."

    "Do you think I can... do it? Like, do you think I can not fuck this up?"

    "You'll fuck some things up. All parents do. The best you can hope for is a better than 50% success rate. I call that a win. Crystalia is fantastic, so you have that going for you."

    "I'm going to really miss you, Clay. And Faiza, and Miss Hand, and..." Elise gives Clay a hug.

    He hugs back. "Vickie sends her love. She doesn't do goodbyes, she gets emotional and she hates getting emotional. She'd probably cry.” He smiles. “You'll be fine. Trust your instincts, and your abilities. Trust your team. Remember what you have back home.

    "And try not to get into weird slap-fights with Carol. You'll lose, she can knock you across a room."

    Elise detaches, tears running down her face, and makes an undignified snotty noise. "You know, we were having such a nice moment until you brought that up."

    Clay laughs, "That's what I do. I ruin the moment. That is my most potent ability.

    "Get going, kiddo. And if you see any Skrulls out there...don't trust them. They're not like me or Susan. They're not even like Leviathan. They're...they're insane."

    Elise nods solemnly. "I'll stay safe, I promise. I'll be careful."

    Clay nods back. "Alright. Off you go."

    PHU1KZN.png
    I love this exchange. I’ve seen lots of writing advice over the years that says, in effect, if you want a story, think of a character and then think of the thing they absolutely least want to do, and make them do it. Elise staring down the barrel of parenthood is a great example of that.

    Fencingsax
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    Miles finds a terminal to remote into his desktop and type an email for his family. He tells them that things are still going well with the girl from work - he includes a candid photo of himself and Carol watching Netflix on her couch - but that he's getting deployed somewhere foreign and possibly dangerous for a few months. He asks them not to worry too much and promises to write when he can. He mentions to his younger sister that she's free to use her spare key to crash at his place in NYC whenever she's in town. He sends it off. Then, thinking a bit more, he deletes his desktop’s browser history.

    Going over his travel checklist, he comes to “entertainment,” and sends a mental note to X-51 asking it to download all their favorite movies while it still can. When it asks if The Rock is “really necessary,” Miles furiously replies in the affirmative.

    PHU1KZN.png
    We’ve never seen Miles’ family on screen, and may never, but they totally exist! I’ve always kind of hated the RPG thing of the loner hero with no past. People come from somewhere, and it’s important to who they are, even if the specifics are never relevant in the game.

    I don’t write novels for my characters’ backgrounds, but I do try to figure some things out. For instance, here’s what I know about Miles: he comes from an affluent Midwestern suburb, probably somewhere like Evanston outside Chicago (John Hughes territory!) or Shaker Heights outside Cleveland. One of his parents is a teacher and the other is a police officer, firefighter, or EMT who did a stint in the military at some point, which is where that comes from for him.

    He has a younger sister who’s a high-powered attorney in Washington, and his family know that he has a vague job as a “security consultant” that means he travels a lot. His sister has a key to his place for when he’s gone a lot and for when she and her girlfriends spend a night in the city and she needs a place to crash.

    His parents wish the kids were home more often. He wishes his parents wouldn’t trade weird private smiles when he mentions Carol.

    I don’t know these people’s names, although I do know that his sister is named after a jazz artist, like him, so she’s probably Billie or Nina. I don’t know which of his folks is the teacher and which is the emergency services worker. But even having this quick sketch in my head helps inform what I do.
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    Centurion boards the ship. Leonard Skivorski, the ship's chief engineer, is there to meet him.
    "You're the Nova Centurion, right?" he says to Valt.

    "Yes, that would be me." Ryann gives Leonard a once over. "And you're the ship's chief engineer?"

    Leonard is a powerfully built man. According to his file he's been enhanced by gamma radiation and has some degree of superhuman strength. He nods at Centurion. "Yep, I was told to give you this," he shows Ryann a data frequency on a tablet. "This is Helen's comm frequency. Apparently your Nova gauntlet can sync up with it. Your ship is being left behind, so you're going to lose access to your ship VI once we hyper-jump. This will let you communicate with Helen instead."

    Ryann nods and begins to enter commands on his gauntlet. "Corona, I'm desyncing with you. Enter ship lockdown and hibernation mode."

    Corona responds "Affirmative, Centurion Valt."

    "Good, now I won't have any of your SWORD techs snooping around Corona while I'm away. Only Nova access with be permitted." Centurion smiles. "I know your ways." He syncs his gauntlet to Helen.

    Skivorski smirks, "What, us? Never."

    Ryann laughs. A feminine voice intones from his gauntlet. "Hello, I am the Heuristic Enhanced Logistics Engagement Network. You can call me Helen. How would you prefer to be addressed?"

    "Centurion Valt will do."

    "Ok, Centurion Valt. Is there anything I can help you with at this time?"

    "Is there a bar on this ship?"

    "There is a small lounge in the recreation area, which is stocked with alcohol. It does not have a full-time bartender, although on his off-hours Logistics Officer Dalton periodically fulfils this role. Otherwise, standing protocol is for crew to serve themselves as they like."

    "Perfect." Centurion looks back at Samson. "You're on the clock, I take it?"

    "Yeah, until we jump. I can join you for some shots after. Never drank with a Xandarian." He smiles.

    Ryann nods. "You'll know where to find me."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Leonard Skivorski is better-known in 616 continuity as Doc Samson, a psychiatrist treating Bruce Banner who for convoluted reasons gets a weaker dose of gamma rays that give him super-strength and turn his hair bright green.

    As an engineer, Earth-1491’s Skivorski is a somewhat bigger departure than we’ve normally had, although who knows! He may have hidden depths.

    g3xuawl.png

    Michael boards the Anabasis. As he enters, he's approached by a woman he recognizes from the briefing file. "Pleasure to meet you, Doctor MacTaggert. Michael Westin."

    She smiles. "Yes, yes I'm aware. I'm just going to throw this out there...would you be alright with visiting me in my lab later so I can run some tests on you?" She stops and stares, horrified. "Oh, that is not how I wanted that to come out. I meant that as professionally as possible."

    Michael laughs. "It's okay, I don't mind. The STRIKE team is pretty relaxed. Some more than others. I'd be fine with any tests you'd like to run."

    Moira breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank you. I'm more of a...lab person than a people person so..."

    "I get you. I'm the same, except replace lab with field." Michael chuckles.

    She nods. "Great, glad to hear. I'll see you around then.” She takes her leave and heads back to the med bay.

    PHU1KZN.png
    Moira MacTaggart is a longtime supporting character in X-Men stories who often takes the role of a mentor or a science and technology consultant. Originally introduced as an old flame of Professor Xavier’s, she runs a genetics lab on the fictional Muir Island, Scotland, that has occasionally served as the X-Men’s base.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    Miles Mason is in the halls of the Anabasis, getting oriented, when he's tapped on the shoulder. He turns around to find Carol. "Hey."

    Miles grins. "Hey." He drops his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Oh my god, it feels so good to finally smile after all this time staying sober and supportive for everyone who's leaving people behind."

    Carol nods. "Honestly, even if I could be at the briefing, it would have been hard. As it stands, I needed to be here to help prep the Anabasis for launch." She rubs her arm nervously. "So...there's something I need to talk to you about."

    Miles' synthetic blood runs cold. "Er. Yeah?"

    "So when Dalton was doing all the crew assignments he asked about crew quarters and Izzy point-blank asked me if you and I needed separate quarters and I was like, well, if it would save room I guess we can just share and then she smiled and was like there's far more quarters than we actually need for everyone so do we want to share quarters and her and Dalton were friggin' staring at me and oh my god I wanted to punch Izzy in the face but I am pretty sure I'd collapse her entire head so I said yes we'd share quarters I hope that's okay."

    Miles' fixed, frozen smile suddenly dissolves into relief. "Yes. YES. Oh my god, I thought you were about to...never mind. Get in here, soldier. Bring it in."

    She hugs Miles. It is fortunate that he is a Synthezoid because otherwise she'd quite possibly be crushing his ribs.

    "So what I’ve been afraid of...okay, this is dorky but check this out, this is some real sci-fi shit..." He rubs the back of his neck ruefully. "What if we’re out there and you run into one of Mahr-Vehl's old girlfriends? Or boyfriends? Or, you know, blobfriends? It could totally happen."

    Carol turns pale. She lets out a high, nervous laugh. The kind Elise often makes.

    "Yes. Wouldn't that be. Awkward. If Mahr Vehl was something of a super spy who had a string of girlfriends in different ports. And was aggressively sexually active. And I had all of those memories."

    "Oh my god." Miles stares. "Oh my god."

    She hisses "You cannot tell anyone about this, especially not Elise."

    Miles nods sagely and puts an index finger to his lips.

    She looks around nervously. "Like...when...do you remember the whole thing with Lorelei...?"

    He nods. "I try not to, but yes."

    "And she was like well hey we don't have to duel we could just share, and I was like, nope sorry girl, I don't swing that way!"

    Miles nods.

    "Mahr Vehl did. And I have all these memories. Of things I...he...did to ladies."

    Miles does his best to not appear to be thinking about this too hard. "And, uh. So what is that...like?"

    "I... it's... I don't know!" she says in frustration. "I try not to think about it! It makes me question things! Things I haven't questioned since flight school!"

    "Oh. Since..." Miles stops himself and the torrent of things he is about to ask. "Uh, that has to be...confusing." He thinks for a moment. "You know that I'm...I'm here for you, however this shakes out. I'm not going anywhere.

    "And if it turns out you like butchy alien protoplasm, that's cool too." He grins.

    Miles has never seen Carol get embarrassedly angry. She kinda puffs her cheeks out a little. He finds this super endearing but does his best not to let it show.

    "Wouldyouliketoseeourquarters?" She says this as one word really fast.

    "Yes! Let's."

    She grabs Miles by the arm and practically pulls him towards their quarters. They will likely miss the launch of the ship.

  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 5
    uR6zb47.png

    With the entire crew and STRIKE team aboard, the Anabasis prepares to launch. The ship leaves the dock, and Kane comes over the comm.

    "This is your captain speaking..." she snickers, "...sorry, sorry. Professionalism! I've never flown a spaceship, guys, I'm sorry.

    “We are setting out for Taur and spooling up the FTL. Hyperjumps are pretty close to split-second, those of you who have experience with fold-gates, they're pretty much the same thing but for space. I expect when we arrive it's going to be some 'Alderaan isn't here anymore' type situation so it might be pretty bumpy. STRIKE team, report to the bridge in 20."

    Elise stops at her quarters and drops off her heavy coat and single bag of personal effects, then makes her way to the bridge. She still looks like she might throw up at any moment.

    Ryann downs his drink and leaves the recreation room to make his way to the bridge.

    Michael gets his quarters squared away before heading to the bridge, taking in the ship on his way.

    Miles looks at Carol next to him and sighs. X-51, let me know when it's been 18 minutes.

    Yes, sir.


    After 18 minutes, Miles makes his way up to the bridge. As does Carol.

    Elise grins at them as they enter together; she taps the side of her nose. Carol stares at Elise. Elise is fortunate she doesn't have eye-beams. Miles is scowling right there with her. Elise's grin widens.

    Kane looks at Earth in the bridge's main viewport as the Anabasis turns away from it. She sighs aloud.

    Miles shakes his head to clear it and moves over to the window, unconsciously resting his hand on the glass.

    Kane clears her throat. "I want to say something like those of us who are human are the first humans to leave our solar system, because that would be cool. But unfortunately there's assholes like Peter Quill who already did that? That guy's a jerk. But! We're Earth's first official expedition into space from something resembling a government agency. Even if it's a secret one.

    "There's quite a few people who have already visited other dimensions. SHIELD has a whole division just for that. But we've never gone out there, not in our own universe. It's always come to us. That changes today.

    "So that's pretty cool."

    Elise can tell Kane is trying really hard to be cool and not get choked up. This is really emotional for her.

    Miles is drinking all this in raptly. A hundred childhood fantasies are coming true at once.

    Elise stares out at Earth. She's trying to listen to Kane and be a good sport about the whole expedition, but the idea of leaving home, and going out there is terrifying.

    "Strap in and hold onto your butts. We've never engaged the hyperdrive for real before now so hopefully we don't all smush into a tiny cube! Ha ha that's not entirely a joke."

    Julian stiffens. "Well...good luck to the rest of you!"

    Michael stares at Julian like he wants to boot him out the fuckin' airlock. "Dude!" Carol is open-mouthed.

    "I'm... I'm joking. That was a joke."

    "Shut up, Julian," Elise says.

    Elise sits and straps herself into one of the seats, then wraps both of her hands around the seatbelt and...powers down her senses. Her eyes glaze over and she stares straight ahead.

    Kane reaches for the controls. "Engaging hyperdrive..."

    ybzlPnuh.jpg

    It barely feels like anything. Like a car changing gears. But they see space around them shift and distort through the viewport. "Ten seconds until jump completion..."

    "This is so rad," Miles breathes to Carol.

    She whispers back to Miles "...it's good we already... because..." He nods, grins, and taps his nose.

    Julian clownishly hums out the Star Wars theme.

    Kane calls out "Jump completed, disengaging hyperdrive."

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 5
    The Anabasis comes out of the folded space and it's....quite a sight.

    UbO0Jkkh.jpg

    Kane gasps.

    "I... holy fuck." Carol gets up from her seat and looks at the scene. Centurion gazes silently at the vista.

    Elise looks up. "Is it over? Are we...?" She stops and stares out the window.

    Julian feels his stomach lurch. "What the fuck..."

    "Damn," Michael breathes.

    "Taur has been destroyed,” Ryann says.

    "That's Taur there?" Julian points.

    "No," Ryann shakes his head. "That's its moon."

    It takes a second for this to set in. "Fuck," Julian breathes.

    Miles rips his gaze away from Carol and half-stands out of the chair, staring out into space. "X-51, wide spectrum analysis. Scan every available wavelength. Every heuristic you've got."

    X-51 chimes to Machine Man, I can't do that, Miles.

    Wait. Why? What's up?

    The ship's hull plating is such that it inhibits the majority of my scanning technology, and I do not have access to the ship's systems, and I was asked not to interface with the ship's AI. You will have to ask Helen, for assistance. Unless, of course, you would like to disregard the previous command. Would you like me to interface with the ship's AI?


    Kane looks at Centurion and then out the window, her mouth open. "I thought... I thought I was ready... I..."

    "We will be." Centurion turns without missing a beat. "Helen scan the region and bring it up on screen." His voice is tense but even.

    Helen responds to Centurion, "Scanning now. Please stand by."

    Miles shakes his head; to observers, seemingly for no reason. "HELEN, could you relay your data wirelessly to my receptors? X-51, if you need something specific from her, I could ask for you."

    Elise tentatively reaches out with her senses, seeing if she even can sense anything from where Taur used to be, but realizes that her senses can't extend past the spaceship. She curses. "It's like I'm - cut off. I can't go for a walk and feel anything."

    Carol looks at her. "You could always stick your head out an airlock and try to get a sniff? I could hold you!"

    "What the fuck."

    "Actually," Ryann says thoughtfully, “that's a good idea. Can you breathe in space, Danvers?"

    Danvers nods at Centurion. "I can't breathe in space per se but I can sustain myself off of CBR and solar winds such that I don't have to breathe."

    Behind her back, Elise rolls her eyes and quietly mimics her in a high, barely audible falsetto. "I can sustain myself off CBR and solar winds, meh meh meh."

    Miles, still staring intently out the viewport with macro-vision, snaps his fingers behind him in the general direction of Carol and Elise. Elise jumps and swings her head around. Carol squints at Miles, then shrugs.

    Ryann ignores this and turns to Danvers. "Good enough for me. You and I will check out our immediate area. Behemoth, be at standby. Do you agree, Captain Kane?"

    Helen chimes. "I have the scan results, Centurion Valt."

    "On screen," he says.

    Helen displays a variety of readings. They're gibberish to most of the crew, but for Centurion they're...not good. No life signs. Taur's moon had a colony. It's gone now. Taur had a total population, including its lunar colony, of 9.6 billion sentient lifeforms.

    Centurion clenches his fists. "They're all dead, almost 10 billion lives."

    "Fuck," Elise says.

    The planet itself is gone, reduced to fragments. Centurion knows of no weapon in the universe that can inflict destruction on this scale. Even core crackers used for illegal mining don't have the level of power necessary to destroy a planet of this size into fragments the size of asteroids.

    The moon itself is relatively intact, but the lunar colony has been scoured, reduced to molten glass and carved down into the mantle. Whatever did this, did it with the intent to kill. Not just to destroy the planet itself.

    "If this was Galactus, why didn't he eat the moon?” Michael asks the room. “Does he get full?"

    Helen chimes "I have further data, but it will take time to fully analyze. This is my first time running such analysis in the field, I do ask for your patience, sir."

    Danvers looks at Centurion. "Looks like a good time to step outside."

    "Is there anything I can do to help, Ryann?" Elise asks, a touch of desperation in her voice. "I mean, that's why I'm here, right? My senses?"

    Kane looks at Miles. "Mason, suit up in some body armor, and go with. Behemoth, I'm pretty sure if you transform you can handle the vacuum of space. See what you lot can find."

    "Yessir," Miles says briskly, heading to the equipment locker with Michael.

    She then looks at Julian, "Adler, try to telepathically scan for...anything. Helen says she can't find any lifesigns and maybe that's true but try to look for...something. Psionic impressions, I don't know. If this was Galactus, maybe you'll find something."

    Julian looks out the window. "I...so much space. I don't know if I can reach anyone out there." He looks at Kane and swallows hard. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll try to find something, Captain."

    She turns to Elise. "There is something you can do, Elise. Field team, when you're heading out there, bring a fragment back. A big ole space rock. I want Elise to go over it."

    "...Oh," Elise says. "A space rock." She flops down in one of the nearest chairs and spins it idly. "Cool. I can... sure."

    Kane leans forward. "Elise, think of it this way. They give a bloodhound something to track the scent. We're grabbing something so you can bloodhound Galactus, or find out what happened here."

    Elise perks up. "Oh. Okay!"

    Jacobkosh on
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 4
    Miles, Ryann, Carol, and an armored-up Michael convene in the airlock and the group heads out of the ship and into the debris field.

    Julian stays on the bridge, looking out toward the void. There has to be something out there. "I...uh...Keep an eye on me. I haven't done this much before."

    "Yeah, of course." Elise stands beside Julian, carefully watching him.

    Julian can sense something out there. But it's not... it's not something alive. There's nothing that lives here. Nothing alive except the crew of the ship that he knows. But there's a telepathic presence here. He knows that. Finding out what means reaching out to it. That's a risk, though, because he has no idea what it is or what could happen if he does. He could choose not to reach out to it, and it won't know he's there or that he sensed it.

    "Something's out there. I don't know what. I... I think I'm going to reach out to it, Captain."

    Kane winces. Elise makes a face. "Do it," Kane says finally.

    A vision clouds Julian’s sight. His mind tumbles backwards. He watches the world die. The swarm came. It scoured the world of life.

    rZQoBlB.jpg

    Millions of them. Pouring over the entire world.

    After they killed the world, every single sentient being, they began to rip the world up. Pull apart structures. Wipe out all evidence of the civilization and the fact that it existed. Carved deep into the mantle, boring into the planet, cracking the continents of Taur apart.

    The fragments sunder, the energies released coalesce and are collected by the swarm like insects. To be brought back to that which commands them.

    iZYmiATh.jpg

    He consumes the energy of the swarm as they enter him, like they're part of his body. The massive entity, who is himself the size of a planet, turns to a silvery humanoid the size of a man, standing on small platform that is more or less shaped like a surfboard.

    OhNmLldl.jpg

    The entity “speaks” to this “Silver Surfer.” He doesn't truly speak; he communicates telepathically, but Julian can hear it in the psychic memory.

    Go now, my herald. Find another.

    The Silver Surfer turns and vanishes at faster-than-light speeds.

    The entity turns and looks at Julian, staring into him. This is a memory. This shouldn't be possible.

    Soon.

    This is Galactus.

    This is the Devourer of Worlds.

    The vision ends with the screams of billions, the psionic death-rattle of the consumed lives of Taur...who are now part of the Phoenix Force.

    Julian awakens with Elise's coat tucked under his head. Dr. MacTaggert is hovering over him with medical equipment, and Kane is standing nearby with her arms folded, looking upset. Julian looks around as best he can.

    "Hey, buddy. Easy," Elise says.

    Julian sits up. "Ugh. Sorry."

    PHU1KZN.png
    Galactus was originally conceived, in his first appearance in Fantastic Four #48, as a very tall (100 feet or so) humanoid with Godlike powers and an intellect, as HG Wells put it, “vast, cool, and unsympathetic,” who consumed planets by building a huge, elaborate machine on them to convert the planet’s living mass directly into energy.

    (Though the size of fictional things is one of those things that’s notoriously difficult to keep straight, so over the years he’s been depicted by other artists at all sorts of sizes, from a piddly couple of stories to the height of a Himalayan mountain. This was eventually explained in one issue of Fantastic Four as a function of his power level; that he shrunk as he grew hungrier and weaker.)


    The Ultimate line of comics from the early 2000s, which I’ve discussed here before, took a different tack on Galactus, casting him not as a superbeing, or even a character, but as a Von Neumann swarm of ravening, endlessly self-replicating robots.

    Obviously, if Julian’s vision is to be believed, what we have here is a kind of hybrid version, where the swarm does the bidding of actual-dude Galactus.

    Jacobkosh on
    Nytewarrior
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    g3xuawl.png

    Carol looks around the debris and says to Centurion over the comms, "I'm relieved and also surprised to not find...anything? Like there's no bodies, no building fragments, nothing but rocks and dust."

    "Just be relieved whatever did this isn't still here..." Centurion touches his gauntlet. "Helen, scan for any Nova Corps signatures."

    X-51 intones to Miles. Now that I am outside the ship, I have interfaced with the armor's equipment and can better utilize our scanning equipment, Miles.

    Miles nods. "Go for it, X-51." He opens up his senses for the AI to drink in, carefully turning in a tight circle to maximize coverage.

    Miles, the results are very curious. According to SWORD's records, Taur was an inhabited and populated world. However, examining these fragments for materials, organic matter, even trace elements show no signs of this. If one of these fragments were to land on Earth, it would be extremely difficult for Earth's scientists to determine that it came from a world that ever had life beyond the microbial level.

    "I can understand conquest, or...feeding. But why would something want to erase life?"

    I can speculate on this, if you'd permit it, Miles. I have been running theories on this subject since we arrived.

    “Please do, X-51."

    Primary theory presupposes that this event was caused specifically by the entity known as Galactus, as all evidence points to this being the case and there is no evidence to the contrary.
    Primary theory on the motive of this entity is that it is specifically targeting worlds with sentient life, as there is no evidence to suggest it is targeting other worlds.

    Galactus appears to have a pattern to its attacks, one that is intuited by the entity known as the Phoenix Force. However, the Phoenix Force does not respond directly to the next world in Galactus' predicted path, acting on its own motivations that are as-yet undetermined.


    In his suit, Miles nods, indicating he's following along so far.

    Primary theory is that Galactus is attacking civilizations once they hit a benchmark that the entity determines to validate the attack. This could be a technological, cultural, or even perhaps psionic point in their species’ development.

    The fact that Galactus appears to not only eradicate a species but all evidence of that species having existed suggests that this benchmark is not purely technological, but represents some kind of level of development that the entity considers holistically dangerous or possibly an existential risk.

    However, the Skrull species seems to have survived the eradication of their homeworld by Galactus, settling down on a new world, and have thus far been unaccosted by the entity. Again, this suggests the benchmark is not technological, as there is no historical record of the Skrulls having a technological dark age after their homeworld’s loss.


    ”So it was something intrinsic to their homeworld. Not a technology, or an idea. Something....biological? A new species?"

    Perhaps. More data is needed.

    "Agreed. Are we relaying all this to the ship, by the way? Let's keep Helen in the loop. I'd like to coordinate you and it as much as possible without breaching protocol."

    Understood, Miles.

    Helen returns a result. Centurion Valt, it appears that there are spatial distortions and energy discharge traces consistent with the trail of a Nova Corps starship similar in class to your own.

    "Helen, upload the coordinates to the bridge." Ryann touches his gauntlet again. "Kane, I'm having Helen upload some coordinates to you. They are energy signatures of a Nova Corps energy trail. We need to investigate."

    Kane’s voice crackles over the radio. "Acknowledged, Agent Valt. If you've collected all your scans, bring it in."

    Centurion turns to Danvers. "You heard her, let's head back.” The space team brings a rock back with them and comes inside.

    Nytewarrior
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    Elise meets the team down in the cargo hold with their space rock. It gets scanned to make sure it's not massively soaked with radiation, and once it's determined to be safe, she's permitted access to it.

    Elise stares at it. She's never dealt with space rocks before. After a pause, she puts her hands on it and inhales deeply.

    There's nothing.

    It smells like... a rock. No organic matter. No exotic metals. Nothing. No traces to find, nothing interesting. Which shouldn't be possible? Elise can pick up a rock from the ground and can tell you 15 different things about where it's been. Who has touched it, what's fallen on it. But this thing is like a blank slate.

    "God damnit. Nothing. There's nothing. It's like an absence of anything."

    Dr. MacTaggert walks over and begins scanning it. "From what Helen was saying, there's a reason for that. Don't feel too bad, lass. This thing's been cleansed. Picked clean. Whatever did this was thorough. Like insects, but smaller. Nano-machines? The scale of that, though…

    Elise tries running her fingers over the rock, checking the bite marks to see if she can learn anything that way, but it makes no difference. There’s still nothing. She tenses. Between this and not being able to extend her senses beyond the walls of the ship, she's feeling...crowded. "Still nothing. I... I need a smoke."

    She can hear Moira mumble, sub-audibly, with her mouth closed. Nobody else could hear. "Follow me." Elise glances up at this.

    Dr. MacTaggert looks at the team. "I need to run some data. Agent Arnell, give me a hand going over this, aye? I'll get your good eyes on it. The rest of you lot, I think Captain Kane wants you on the bridge, she's ready to head out to those coordinates Agent Valt found."

    The rest of the team makes their way to the bridge while Moira and Elise arrive in the medbay. Moira calls out "Helen, secure the room, authorization: Cryptic."

    Helen calls back, "Room secured, Dr. MacTaggert." Moira rummages into a drawer, turns around and hands Elise a cigarette from a pack.

    "Oh, thank fuck."

    "You shush about this with everyone else, aye? Especially Captain Kane." She lights a cigarette for herself and offers Elise a light.

    Elise gratefully accepts. "Oh, believe me, I'm not going to say a word."

    "Like hell I'm going out across the stars to poke about in the nose of something called the Devourer of Worlds and being told I can't light a cig from time to time," Moira says. "Regs be damned."

    Elise grins. "You didn't just invite me in here for a smoke, did you?"

    "Oh, you're a clever one, aren't you? Danvers said you're dumb as a post but Danvers is a bit of a bampot so I didn't trust her opinion much."

    "God you are just racking up the points with me."

    "Sooo, if it's not too much trouble..." The doctor takes out a few items and places them on a nearby counter. They look like two...wristbands? And something that might be a choker? "Can you put these on?"

    Elise finishes her cigarette and nods. "Yeah, sure, why not?" She slips them on her small wrists.

    Moira finishes her own cigarette and helps Elise put them on. She picks up the choker. "This goes around your neck."

    Elise grins. "Yeah, I used to wear a lot of chokers back in the day. They were very trash punk a few years back."

    "Oh!" She blushes. "This isn't...it's a sensor. Oh, goodness, these do look like...oh...I'm not...! This is for science."

    "I'm just fucking with you, Moira." Elise puts the choker on and holds out her wrists, examining the bands.

    "So just... wear these about. Do your things, use your powers. You can take them off whenever, or not. They just gather data on your vitals, your senses, how they affect your body, and so on. After a bit, I'll ask for them back, and go over what they tell me. I'll share what I find."

    "Yeah, okay, that sounds fair," Elise says.

    "As a fair trade you can sneak in here for a smoke when nobody's looking,” Moira says with a wink.

    "Can I talk shit about Carol too?"

    "Oh of course," Moira nods vigorously.

    "God, this is my happy place. Alright, thanks, doc."

    Nytewarrior
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    She finds the rest of the crew is on the bridge, not having illicit cigarettes or shit-talking their crewmates.

    Elise smiles sweetly at Carol. "I hope you had a good flight, Danvers."

    Julian is nursing his head. Kane keeps subtly looking at Julian. Elise can see micro-expressions of guilt and remorse when she does. Elise decides not to test that. It's best not to upset the person flying the ship.

    Elise can also see Miles scowling at her from behind Kane, like a photobomb.

    "What?" she mouths at him, over Kane's shoulder. "I'm being nice!" By way of response, Miles just points at his eyes with two fingers, then points them at her.

    "She threatened to airlock me!" Elise hisses at a frequency his robot ears can hear.

    Kane looks back at the crew and clears her throat. "So, the coordinates that Helen was provided by Valt lead us to a place that’s in our combined databases. It's a space station called Knowhere."

    "Oh, that's cute," Elise says. "It's Harry Potter-ish, y'know?"

    "Only in name," Kane says. "In place, it's a little more Mos Eisley Spaceport."

    "Oh, I've never been," Elise says brightly.

    "You've never seen Star Wars?" Ryann says.

    "What? No, I was busy."

    Julian laughs.

    "Julian saw something and had a seizure," Elise snaps back. "It's probably super important intel."

    Ryann turns to Phoenix/Lazarus. "Julian?"

    "It was… God, I don't even know where to start," Julian sighs. "A swarm. Just this... fucking locust swarm of machines, devouring everything. Everything. And then... Galactus. Just, there, with the swarm entering him." He shudders. "He was speaking to someone. A man of silver. Telling him to find the next one. And then the man left.

    "And then...he looked at me. He looked at me. ‘Soon.’ That was the end of it.”

    "...Fuck," Elise says.

    Michael pats Julian's shoulder and Julian looks up at him. "Thanks, Mike."

    "Anytime, Julian.”

    Miles nods at Julian. "You did good work," he says quietly. "We needed to know."

    "So, travelling to Knowhere..." Kane says, looking at the party.

    "I've never been to Knowhere, I've only read reports and heard rumors,” Ryann says. “]None good."

    "...We should tell home base," Elise says.

    Kane shakes her head at this. "No. I will file reports on the regular. This isn't enough to file a report. We'll move to Knowhere next. But if we're going to a 'wretched hive,' we're sort of fumbling in the dark a bit. No offense to Centurion Valt, but he's a cop. He's not even an undercover cop. He's like a federal marshal."

    Elise spreads her hands wide and grins. "You guys know what I did before STRIKE, right?"

    "Didn't you almost get your legs broken?" asks Miles.

    Kane nods at Miles. "Yeah, didn't you like, almost get murdered at being a criminal?"

    "ONE time."

    "It only takes once!" Kane says.

    Elise scoffs. "Do we have any other petty criminals and card sharks around?"

    "...yes," Kane says. "About that. I was going to bring this up at the right time and well, I suppose this is the right time! We have a guest on-board. She's in the brig."

    "Guest? She?" Miles does some quick calculations. "...Nebula?"

    Kane nods at Miles. "Got it in one." Miles mimes a basketball free throw and Carol quietly does a crowd roar noise. Kane frowns at them both.

    "Oh, so I outrank two people now!" Elise says indignantly, at which Julian rolls his eyes. "She's not a petty criminal!" Elise says.

    "Have you talked to her? She can be petty," Kane says. "Regardless, she knows her way around Knowhere. She's agreed to work with us and not try to immediately ditch us if we stop brigging her and make her a member of the crew. Sort of a work-release program.

    “This was Centurion Valt's idea. I've agreed to it, conditionally, and was sort of just...keeping it a non-issue unless it came up. I wasn't intending to give her free rein of the ship until she proved she could be trusted. Now's as good a time as any to establish that trust."

    Elise raises a hand. "...Can I still gamble?"

    "Did you read the Operation Caliburn briefing regarding our budget?" Kane asks.

    Julian nods at this. "Isn't our money like, super limited?"

    "You'll have a limited amount of funds budgeted to you individually while ashore. I'm not going to micromanage you on that," Kane says.

    "I'm a guaranteed winner." Elise insists.

    “I am going to point out, Agent Arnell, that when you cleaned up at Vegas you did it too well and it resulted in you being in a backroom with a hammer and your kneecaps under duress,” Kane says. “Who knows how aliens feel about card-counters? You might be given something that bursts out of your chest."

    "You don't know how to interpret random alien expressions, though,” Miles says. “What if their poker tell is that their cloaca tenses up? How would you know?”

    Kane points at Miles, "That is also a very good point."

    Miles nods. "I worry a lot about cloacas."

    "To be fair, if anyone can sense in the air a cloaca closing amongst us, it'd be Elise," Julian says.

    Kane shrugs, "Basically, Elise, I'm not going to say you can't gamble. I'm not your dad. I'm not even your weird alien surrogate dad with a drinking problem who is sometimes a lesbian, okay? I'm just your CO. I'm just saying, you are given a limited amount of cash while ashore and if you blow through that because you don't know how to read the micro-expressions of a Badoon, or you end up in some Knowhere casino backroom becoming a host for something because they caught you using your powers to count squib-nabs or some shit, all of that is on you."

    Elise stares at Kane with a mix of incredulity and worry. "...Okay."

    Kane sighs. "Alright, I'm going to get ready to jump the ship. Valt, did you want to go talk to Nebula and make sure she knows the size of things?" Centurion nods.

    Elise scooches up to Julian. "Is it just me, or is the mood aboard this ship really weird?" she whispers.

    He raises his eyebrows at her. "You mean the whole ship, or..."

    "Like, Galactus, I know, but we've known about Galactus for months now and I've never seen Kane this...wound up."

    Julian drops his voice to a murmur. "Kane and I had a talk. For the duration of this trip, I'd appreciate it if you don't make any Kane+Julian jokes. No Smasher jokes. No...like, seriously."

    Elise chews on the inside of her cheek and nods.

    "I'll be in my cabin," Miles announces to no one in particular, and starts to leave.

    Kane looks at Danvers. "Hey, Carol, Knowhere would actually be a really good place to... y'know, do the thing."

    "Hold on." Carol grabs Miles' hand. "You'll want to hear this."

    "Hear what?" Ryann cocks an eyebrow.

    Miles stop and turns. "What's up?" His gaze shifts to Kane and his voice grows serious. "Is there something I should know?"

    Carol says to the team, "So, you guys know that Mahr Vehl and I... fused. That's how I have his powers, and his memories, and all that. Well...there's another side of that.

    "Mahr Vehl was an agent of the Kree Empire. He had originally traveled to Earth as a spy. He was investigating the Inhumans, trying to find Attilan, trying to determine if any of that could be weaponized in the Kree-Skrull War. And then he...died.

    "SWORD had to make a decision. If they just didn't say anything to the Kree Empire, eventually they'd come looking for the agent they lost contact with. But because I had Mahr Vehl's memories, I also could just...fake it? I could continue to send back reports to the Empire and tell them I...Mahr Vehl...didn't find anything? Nope, sorry boss, nothing to see here, still looking, still looking.

    "But then Earth became a protectorate of the Xandar Federation, and the Kree Empire decided to recall Mahr Vehl. ...who is dead. You can see how this presents a problem."

    "Uh...yeah,” Ryann says.

    "We can't just let the Kree Empire realize Mahr Vehl died on Earth. They'll send people to investigate how and why. Which means they'll learn Attilan exists, because that's public knowledge on Earth. That would be... bad."

    Miles nods. His gears are turning. "So...okay. Yeah. In that situation, if we want the Kree to stay off Earth but also not recall 'you,' we need to..." he snaps his fingers. "To kill Mahr-Vehl. Right?"

    Carol nods at Miles. "But not on Earth. So the plan is…’Mahr Vehl died on his way back to his home planet.’ I'm here to help fake his death."

    "Is there anything I can do to help?" Elise asks Carol in complete sincerity.

    Carol looks at Elise. She's genuinely touched and actually looks like she feels bad for being shitty to Elise earlier. "Elise, I... if I think of how, I'll let you know."

    "Thanks. Mahr Vehl was...complicated to me. I missed him when he was gone. And Attilan, my wife... Anything I can do, I'm on your side."

    Miles nods. "Thank you, Elise." He sounds vaguely relieved. Then he resumes his train of thought. "Okay. Yeah. And Knowhere is the perfect place. It's already a shithole. It sounds like the sort of place where people go missing, or die."

    Ryann shakes his head. "By the Force, Dey would have an aneurysm if he heard this conversation."

    Kane sucks her teeth, "Yes, about that, Agent Valt. You are under my command as a STRIKE agent so you're just...not going to share any of that with the Corps! Because it will prevent the Kree Empire from invading a Xandarian protectorate world."

    "Mm, I'm already going behind the Corps’ backs even being out here." He spins his fingers in the air "Whoa, interstellar espionage."

    Kane sighs, "Yep, it sure is a thing. Go talk to Nebula, I'm going to jump the ship."

    "Captain." Centurion nods and departs the bridge.

    "Okay, now I'm going to my cabin." Miles turns to go. Carol nods her way out of the room and follows him.

    Nytewarrior
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 4
    "So what are we supposed to do on this ship when we're not working?" Elise asks the emptying room.

    Helen appears as a holographic image on the bridge and speaks to Elise, "Hello, I do not believe we have been introduced. I am the Heuristic Enhanced Logistics Engagement Network. You can call me Helen. How would you prefer to be addressed?"

    "Oh. Uh, hi. I'm Elise."

    "Ok. Elise, the STRIKE team has no specific duties when not on away missions. The majority of the Anabasis is fully automated and is capable of operating on its own, and the duties which are not automated are covered by the SWORD crew aboard. If you wish, I can find duties for you, but your psychological profile indicates this is not something you would enjoy. The ship's lounge is stocked with alcohol, and we do have a cache of recreational narcotics aboard, including different forms of imbibed cannabis, although medical protocols dictate that I would advise given our current mission timetable that you should likely refrain from being inebriated prior to being deployed."

    "...So the only two things to do for fun is get fucked up or do hard labour?"

    "No, we also have terabytes of entertainment media aboard, ranging from films to television programs to interactive and games. If none of these options are to your liking, Elise, then I have a personal request."

    "...Okay?"

    Helen's holographic form smiles. It is an artificial expression, one that is designed and careful and has no natural micro-expressions.

    "I have only recently been permitted full artificial intelligence, and while I have an understanding of normative social behaviors and human empathy from an academic perspective from uploaded knowledge regarding psychology and sociology, I am...lacking in practical experience in social interaction on a personal level.

    "According to your file, you have personal experience socializing with artificial intelligence in a non-judgmental and friendly fashion."

    Elise suddenly has a migraine. "Uh, I can try to help Helen, but I'm kind of, uh, salt of the earth? Uh... I'm not much in the way of sophistication."

    "In actuality, Elise, I believe this makes you uniquely qualified. My attempts to socialize with the crew have had... difficulties. Dr. MacTaggert often views me as something of a scientific curiosity, and she is often socially awkward and is uncomfortable with genuine social interaction for any extended period. Logistics Officer Dalton views me with suspicion and his interactions with me are limited by his own choosing."

    "Captain Kane prefers not to talk to me in any kind of social manner, I believe her negative personal experiences with artificial intelligence makes it a sensitive topic for her. Chief Engineer Skivorski is considerate and polite and is very kind, but he also has a level of personal attachment towards the Anabasis and its functions, of which I am a component that our interactions are...complex."

    "Alright. You just...can you promise me you'll never turn evil? Make any deals for incredible power? Start talking about the greater good? Just avoid all of that shit?"

    "Of course. I've been fully briefed on some of the previous interactions you have had with artificial intelligences."

    "...Great," Elise says.

    g3xuawl.png

    On a quick detour to the kitchenette to grab a La Croix, Miles finds Julian already drinking one. Julian raises his can to Miles when he sees that the two are assuredly men of good taste.

    Miles joins him at the counter and Julian leans in. "Look, I...we...it's not supposed to be a thing, but Kane and I had a bit of an adult conversation regarding her command of this ship."

    "Yeah? Is this about how she's in charge now?"

    "Yeah." He takes a deep gulp of his drink and pours a little something from behind the bar to fill the space. "Fraternization rules and all that."

    Miles nods. "Yeah. That's...a tough situation to be in. I had something similar, once, in the sandbox.” He pauses at Julian’s look. "Er, Iraq, I mean."

    "Yeah? How long? How'd you get through it?"

    Miles grimaces. "I didn't. I put in for a transfer. I was young, dumb, and full of cum, like they say, and six months seemed like a lifetime. It was one-forty-eighth of my whole life! But it turns out, " he takes a swig, "that ain't shit. If you two care about each other that much, you'll be okay."

    Julian nods. "Yeah. I think so. It just... the look on her face, man. It's hard. Thanks, Miles."

    Miles taps his can to Julian's. "You bet, man. If you ever need to vent, you know where to find me." He pauses. "Unless the red light's on."

    Julian gives a low chuckle. "Of course."

    Miles smiles, claps Julian on the back, and hurries to his cabin. He hopes he hasn't kept Carol waiting.

    Jacobkosh on
    Nytewarrior
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 4
    g3xuawl.png

    Michael arrives in the medbay, where Dr. MacTaggert is studying the data from the rock taken from the wreckage of Taur.

    "Oh! Agent Westin, hello."

    She lowers a huge sensor on a mechanical arm and points it right at Michael. "Can you change? Is it something you can just do? Is it like Dr. Banner where it will tear up your clothes or...? That's not in your file, how that works."

    "I can do it at will. It's more like a... transformation? I don't need like stretchy pants or anything."

    "Oh..." She sounds disappointed but is trying not to. "Okay, well, can you transform, then? I want to get energy readings on what happens when you do."

    "Sure thing." Michael armours up.

    Moira looks at the readings from the sensor. "Fascinating. The energy patterns are identical to the ones that come off Mjolnir… The metal is also similar in composition..."

    "Can't shoot lightning though…” Michael’s amplified voice chuckles, “at least I don't think I can."

    "Oh goodness, you can speak while you're transformed? Incredible..." She walks over to Behemoth and gently touches his hand, "What about your senses? Smell, touch? Is anything diminished? Heightened?"

    "My senses are pretty much normal in either form. Though in this ‘Armour Mode’ I don't need to breathe, or eat, or sleep."

    She looks up at Behemoth in awe, "That's amazing. I'm going to go over this data. I might...might ask you come back, if that's okay? I might ask you to shoot some things in the cargo hold while I monitor it, if that's okay? Later, after your mission."

    "Of course, feel free to call me anytime I'm not on mission." Michael powers down and briefly touches his chest. Moira looks at this gesture quizzically. "Oh, yeah the transformation isn't entirely painless. When I transform it's like a massive charlie horse radiating from the brand on my chest."

    "The brand...?"

    Michael opens his shirt to reveal the mark placed on him by Odin. Moira leans forward, squinting at it. "Fascinating... Can you... come back later and show me more about that? I mean… That…

    "The ship will be jumping soon, you should get ready. I'm going to study this data." She walks over to her computer.

    "Have fun, 'till next time, Moira." Michael buttons up and walks to the bridge.

    g3xuawl.png

    Centurion arrives in the brig. Nebula is sitting there, and she looks at him when he arrives. "...Nova." she says flatly.

    "Ah, glad to see you're in a cheerful mood," Ryann smirks as he walks up to her cell.

    "I've been moved from cell to cell for weeks. At least the scenery changes."

    "Well, I'm interested in letting you see more scenery than your 8x10 here. We're heading to Knowhere," Centurion says as he begins to deactivate the cell door.

    Nebula smirks. "Oh, I get it. You're too much of a good cop to find your way around Knowhere, and you need me to be your guide to the seedy underworld?"

    "Something like that." He unlocks the cell door and gestures for her to exit.

    "Deal." She gets up. "Two questions."

    "Shoot."

    "One, do I get any weapons? Walking around unarmed on Knowhere is a death sentence."

    Ryann makes a waffle motion with his hand. "Pretty sure you can handle yourself for now. We'll see where this goes and maybe we get you some new quarters."

    She grimaces.

    "After that...." He shrugs.

    "Fine,” she says finally. "Two, how many Units do you people have to spend? You come to Knowhere to do one of two things: to make money, or to spend money."

    "We're on a budget," he says.

    She shrugs. "Going to have to spend some of that budget to get whatever it is you want. Information, I assume. Best place is casinos, drug dens, brothels, all the places you good cops don't like to go. Nothing on Knowhere is free."

    "So I've heard.” Centurion sighs. "Alright, I'm going to bring you up to speed on some things." He gives Nebula a brief rundown of current events.

    She takes it all in and lets out a low whistle. "Screw it. I'm in."

    "This is your path, Nebula. You help us with this and I'll work my damnedest for a pardon."

    "Deal."

    Centurion extends his hand. She shakes it.

    Kane comes over the comms. "Alright people, FTL is charged up, we're getting ready to jump. Next stop...Knowhere."

    PDKpJsK.png

    Jacobkosh on
    visiblehowlMatevNytewarrior
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
  • visiblehowlvisiblehowl Neutron Nerd Registered User regular
    Jacobkosh wrote: »
    "Strap in and hold onto your butts. We've never engaged the hyperdrive for real before now so hopefully we don't all smush into a tiny cube! Ha ha that's not entirely a joke."

    Julian stiffens. "Well...good luck to the rest of you!"

    Michael stares at Julian like he wants to boot him out the fuckin airlock "Dude!" Carol is open-mouthed.

    "I'm... I'm joking. That was a joke."

    "Shut up, Julian," Elise says.

    I think this was my favorite part.

    Glad we're back, I'm super stoked about the rest of this season!

    vxsHp3F.gif
    I am apparently an MTGA draft god on Twitch
    FencingsaxJacobkosh
  • PowerpuppiesPowerpuppies Registered User regular
    I don't know what a bampot is but I'm pretty sure Carol isn't one :mad:! She made a crowd roar noise for miles when he was smart!

    sig.gif
    Jacobkosh
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    I don't know what a bampot is but I'm pretty sure Carol isn't one :mad:! She made a crowd roar noise for miles when he was smart!

    Right?! Thank you! Miles knows a good thing when he finds it. Immortal temptresses are all well and good but will they do this for you?

    Jeremiah barely ever shows up in the story, but given how much Elise hates him both Miles and I think he must be a goddamn hero. I was telling Matt the other day that we should have a whole session where she gets stuck in an elevator with him.

    FencingsaxMatev
  • FencingsaxFencingsax It is difficult to get a man to understand, when his salary depends upon his not understanding GNU Terry PratchettRegistered User regular
    Oh that would be amazing. Especially if he had just done something good and she has to at least try to pretend to be nice.

    torchlight-sig-80.jpg
    JacobkoshMatev
  • MatevMatev Cero Miedo Registered User regular
    Favorite quote thus far
    Kane wrote:
    I'm not your dad. I'm not even your weird alien surrogate dad with a drinking problem who is sometimes a lesbian, okay?

    This certainly changes dynamics by a lot. They just might save the galaxy, if they don't kill other first.

    "Go down, kick ass, and set yourselves up as gods, that's our Prime Directive!"
    Hail Hydra
  • JacobkoshJacobkosh Gamble a stamp. I can show you how to be a real man!Moderator mod
    edited December 6
    Z2Jgbqbh.jpg

    qlGmSdP.pngCaliburn Mission Report: Arrival at Taur
    Report Filed by: Captain Isabel Kane, Commanding Officer of the Anabasis and Mission Leader for Operation Caliburn

    We have arrived in the Jenzen star system, which formerly contained the planet Taur. Taur’s moon is still largely intact, although its lunar colony of Taurians has been completely scoured from the surface.

    The planet itself has been utterly destroyed. Attached is imagery, video files, and reports from STRIKE-1.

    STRIKE-1 has determined the following details:

    - Taur was, in fact, destroyed by the entity known as Galactus
    - Galactus employs a Herald, a being who seeks out new worlds for him to destroy. This is consistent with existing intelligence we have on Galactus (see: intel regarding the origin of Agent Westin’s Destroyer Armor)
    - Tanak Valt survived Taur’s destruction, and has proceeded to the space station Knowhere

    Because of that last point, we have decided to proceed to Knowhere. I have made the judgment call to place Nebula on STRIKE-1 under Agent Valt’s direct authority and supervision.

    Helen has expressed curiosity about interacting with Agent Mason’s X-51 AI. I have attempted to dissuade her from these requests. She appears to desire some kind of avenue for normative social interaction, and I’ve subtly directed her towards Agent Arnell, bringing up in casual conversation that Agent Arnell has a history of positive and non-judgmental behavior towards AI.

    I understand that while some in STRIKE-COMMS do consider the Vladimir issue to be Agent Arnell’s fault. I do not, and ultimately I place the blame for that particular issue on a systemic failure to monitor and guide that AI’s development and a disregard for his personhood and intellect. It took a village to make that mistake. It’s not one I intend to repeat.

    This report will be included in a batch of data at our next opportunity to use the Tachyon Ansible.

    Captain Isabel Kane,
    Commanding Officer of the Anabasis

    Captain Kane sits down with the STRIKE team, as well as Nebula.

    "Alright, so, we're heading to...Knowhere. I'm going to give Nebula the floor here, because she's been there repeatedly and knows more about the place than any of us here.”

    Nebula looks around the room, smiles, and puts her feet up on the table. "So, Knowhere. Started as a mining colony, built into the decapitated head of a dead Celestial. Nowadays it's one of the galaxy's premier places to get lost, or find whatever rest of the galaxy wants to lose. Vice dens, illegal weapons trade, everything goes. There's a company, the Tivan Group, that ostensibly owns the place and keeps the peace. They answer to an ancient and powerful being called the Collector.

    "The Nova Corps officially doesn't have jurisdiction here, which suits the locals just fine. So no flashing your badge, Centurion; nobody will care, at best. At worst, you'll find yourself shot from every angle."

    There's an odd expression on Elise's face - something close to hunger.

    "I'm just another human and member of this crew if it comes up,” Ryann says. “I got no reason to bring that BS my way."

    "We don't have any real reason to flash the badge anyway, right?” Miles says. “That'd defeat the purpose of what we're trying to do."

    Michael nods. "Just another group of unscrupulous space adventurers."

    "The most important rule of Knowhere is that everyone is free, but no thing is free. As you can figure from a place run by a guy called the Collector, everything's a transaction here. You want information? It has a cost. Nobody gives anything away. Sometimes that's Units. Sometimes it's favors. Sometimes it's both.

    "I don't know how good you people are at deal-making, gambling, all of that. If you're trash at it, maybe let me do the talking. If that's one of your...super-powers, then you take the lead."

    "I'm a gambler," Elise says. Nebula squints at her, but shrugs.

    Julian purses his lips. The gears are turning in his head.

    "If any of you besides the Centurion has never been off your little mudball before, and all of this is new? Don't be wowed. Every seedy port is just another seedy port. I imagine you have shit-hole lawless pirate dens on your world, too. If you know what that's like there, it's not that different here.

    "People sling drugs, sex, booze, gambling is gambling, the house always wins, never take a deal that seems too good, you won't find the universe too special when you get used to it."

    Elise's eyes widen, and then she smiles, rubbing her hands together. "Cool. Cool, okay."

    Kane's eyes narrow at Elise, then she turns to the group. "So, this brings us to our policies regarding away missions…

    "I'm certain everyone has read protocols regarding this sort of thing, but to reiterate a very specific detail: you will be individually allotted a personal amount of Units while ashore. This comes from our budget. Don't waste it on space hookers and cosmic blow. Don't get fleeced at casinos. That last point goes quadruple for agents who have a prior history of problematic gambling."

    Elise slowly turns to stare at Kane. "Problematic gambling?"

    Kane looks at Elise. "I'm sorry, did Michael find himself in the backroom of Vegas about to get his knees broken?"

    "My knees are quite durable," he says primly.

    "Wasn't that because she got too lucky?" asks Julian.

    "I was successful for years, first of all, and second of all, I did what I had to do to survive, Kane. We didn't all graduate into nice, respectable pilot programs."

    "That's super unsurprising," Centurion says. Elise's glare moves from Kane to him; Ryann just smirks.

    "Well I mean, graduating into a nice pilot program does take work, though," Julian offers.

    Nebula clears her throat. "Don't try to cheat." She looks at Elise. "If you're thinking of using your powers, whatever they are, to try to cheat the house? Consider that every species in the galaxy has their own thing. Eyes that can see into every spectrum of vision. Ears that can hear bones. Successful casinos can compensate for any type of sense or ability. They will catch you. They will do terrible things to you, beyond just breaking your knees. They're...creative."

    Ryann points at Nebula while looking at Elise and nodding.

    "Fuck off," Elise grumbles.

    Kane turns to Ryann. "Centurion Valt, any idea why your brother would have gone to such a place?"

    "Tanak going to Knowhere?" He leans forward and rubs the back of his neck. "First of all, above everything he's a Nova. That's something him and I share. One of the only things we share." Ryann lets out a small laugh. "So he could easily be following a lead, just like we are. I don't know what he is thinking or what he is doing. His message bothered me, but not like how Tanak being Tanak bothers me, because secondly, above everything else, he's an asshole."

    Elise snorts.

    Kane nods, "Well, good to know that brothers being brothers is a universal constant. Alright, any questions before I head up to the bridge and jump the ship, for me or Nebula?"

    Elise raises a hand. "Nebula. Hypothetically, do you think, oh, I dunno, passive super-senses could get directed in the casino?"

    Ryann looks at Kane. Miles sighs. "Elise, if this is going to be a problem, maybe you should stay on the ship."

    "It's not going to be a problem! I'm just asking. I'm going to need to open my senses to get intel, even if I don't gamble," she protests. Miles' lips thin into a skeptical line.

    Nebula shrugs. "I don't know. What constitutes super-senses for a human vs. what is normal for some other species is tough to say. I have no idea what is normal for your species. Can you see into the infrared? Is that a normal thing you can just do? I don't know. Take your own risks, worst case scenario is they put something up your butt.

    "And then it eats its way up into your brain and takes control of your limbs and makes you dance." Nebula smiles.

    Julian's grin fades.

    "Not how I'd wanna go," Ryann chirps.

    Elise spreads her hands wise. "We're looking for a Nova, and I'm the party's bloodhound. I promise not to get my brain hollowed out."

    "I promise to help Elise's brain not get hollowed out to the best of my ability," Julian adds.

    Kane's eyebrows raise at Nebula's comment. "By the way, I'm staying on the ship for this one. Centurion Valt is in charge in the field. I'm going up to the bridge to jump the ship. Anyone who wants to join me for a window seat is welcome to."

    Miles hops up eagerly. "Cool! I'm in."

    Julian gets up from his seat. "I always do like the view."

    Elise stands. "I gotta go get my war paint on, grab my coat... Have fun with the jump."

    "I'll stay down here and get ready." Michael doesn't wanna be a third hyperdrive in the bridge.

    "Oh, Miles!" Kane looks at him. "Carol is going ashore too, but she's going to do her thing. She'll probably break off from the group at some point to do that."

    Miles nods. "Gotcha."

    "I'm going to need to change." Ryann looks down at his Nova uniform. "I'll be in the armory. You've seen one jump, you've seen a thousand." He stands to go.

    Nebula follows him. "Can I please have a gun. If I shoot you, it's not even going to do anything."

    "Yeah. We'll get you an ICER. Rather you not use it at all and no one will know the difference. We'll get you there." Ryann smiles at her. Nebula makes a face. Ryann has seen this face before. It reminds him of his son. It is one of blistering contempt and powerless acceptance. She follows Ryann to the armory.

    The rest of the team heads up to the bridge. Carol Danvers is there, and she's been charting a course. She grins at Kane. "Do I get to press the button?"

    Kane nods. "Punch it."

    As Julian stares raptly out the window and Miles looks on with a warm smile, Carol gleefully hits a blinking red button, and the FTL engages.

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    Jacobkosh on
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    Elise steps onto the bridge, wearing her Attilan coat over an aggressively civilian outfit. She's applied a heavy coat of makeup. The FTL just makes her look...concerned. She's seen enough space. She doesn't like the way it exists in the world.

    The ship completes the jump, and the team gets their first glimpse of Knowhere. It's...quite large.

    imig]

    Doc Samson meets up with Ryann in the armory. "Hey, so, when you're ashore in a place like...this, you probably are worried about being recognized, right? I was reading the brief from the Captain."

    Ryann looks at the SHIELD uniform helmets he was holding. "Yeah...just puzzling that out right now. What's up?"

    "So, we have a potential solution for that. These are pretty rare and expensive so we're not going to hand them out to the whole team, since most of 'em won't need them anyway." He hands Ryann what looks like small sack or bag made out of a silvery, almost mercurial substance. It has a small device attached to the opening with a blinking blue LED. "Put this over your head, push the blue button. I've already put a new face in it."

    Ryann takes it and cocks an eyebrow at Samson. "You're really into this," he says as he places the device on. He pushes the blue button. He feels the silvery hood conform to his face and become transparent, and then feels it vanish, like he's not even wearing it.

    Samson points at a mirror. When Ryann looks into it, the reflection is...similar to his face, but slightly different in innumerable subtle ways so he looks like a completely different person.

    Samson nods. "We call it the Memetic Alteration Stealth Cowl. It's based off of nano-memetic dermal sheathing technology that SHIELD acquired from...well, that doesn't matter. Point is, it works."

    "Impressive." Ryann fingers his cheek. He nods at Doc Samson. "And that's coming from a genuine space man." Samson shoots a thumbs up and grins.

    The Anabasis begins to fly inside Knowhere. That's how large it is: the Anabasis can fly inside it quite easily. It's not even close to being an issue. Miles is at the window, face pressed against the glass, unabashedly oohing and aahing and sharing grins with Carol.

    Kane looks at the team on the team. "Alright, so the shore party is the STRIKE team, plus Nebula and Danvers. Once we dock, Valt has the lead, and Nebula will be helping with advice. Keep an eye on her that she's not leading you down some dark alley to get murdered."

    Julian nods. "Don't get murdered. Got it."

    Elise folds her hands together and takes a deep breath. "Keep it together, Arnell."

    The Anabasis docks.

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    The away team deploys.

    Nebula looks around the port. "So... here's the other thing about Knowhere...everything changes. I haven't been here in several standard cycles...everything's different. The streets are constantly being redone, buildings are being sold and bought, knocked down and built." She grimaces. "So I don't know anyone or anything or where anything is."

    "I can do a quick lookie-loo." Elise looks at Ryann. "You know, go for a walk." At his nod, she opens up her senses...and is overwhelmed. This is alien. Literally alien. Smells. Sights. Sounds. Mandibles that click. Things that slurp and snap and slide. Things that eject. Too much. Too much. Elise collapses to her knees. She manages to not vomit.

    "Wow." Ryann helps her back to her feet. "Okay, maybe not."

    "I can do it." Elise grits her teeth. "It's just, I just need to...acclimate. I saw everything at once, and it was just... it was a lot."

    Nebula claps her hands sarcastically. "Wow, yeah, you're going to devastate that casino." Elise gives her a vicious glare.

    "Alright, just put a pin in that for now,” Ryann says. “We're gonna have to do this more personal, it seems."

    Nebula nods at Centurion, "Best place is always a casino. I do know of one that should still be in business. The Eye of Jemiah. We just need directions."

    “Oh!” Carol grins widely. ”I know where that is!"

    Miles slaps his hands together. "Sweet. Lead the way."

    "That Kree Agent in your noggin has been there?" Ryann says.

    Carol nods at Centurion. "I... I think so? I didn't realize he'd been to Knowhere before but when I saw it, it felt...familiar. And then when Nebula said the Eye of Jemiah, it triggered thi- oh no." She blushes. "Yes. Mahr Vehl used to go there."

    "Great." Centurion looks at Miles. "This one is full of surprises," he says, pointing at Carol.

    Elise is clearly taken aback at Carol knowing cool things.

    Miles looks thoughtful. "It's a solid lead. If Mahr-Vehl had been to this place, it might be useful in some way that would make Tanak go there too. Maybe there's a contact there, or some kind of service to be bought."

    "It's this way, I think. Like Nebula said, the streets here move around a lot." Carol leads the group through the streets of Knowhere.

    "Keep alert. Try not to get too...." Miles eyes an insect brood-queen chain-smoking a series of what look like glow sticks. "...um, too distracted. Even though it's hard."

    The streets are jam-packed with alien life. The team has met a few aliens, but nothing like this. It's...it's a lot. And yet, for anyone who has been to a place like Montenegro or Bogota, oddly familiar.

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    Elise can't stop looking around, taking it all in. It feels a little like what home used to be.

    Julian looks around. He's working through the noise. The surface of everyone's thoughts here are easy enough to get through. Everyone's looking for pretty much the same thing. He feels at ease.

    "...oh." Carol looks around, confused. "I'm lost. I'm sorry, guys, this isn't the way I went when I...when he was here last."

    Elise tilts her head to one side, listening for the sounds of dice rolling, money being counted, patrons cheering. She can hear it. The siren song. A casino is a casino, everywhere in the universe. It calls to her on the wind.

    Elise grins. "C'mon. It's this way. I can hear it." She briefly debates whether she should tell someone how good it feels to hunt that sound down. She used to be a bad person. But what if they put her back on the ship? That would be bad.

    It's fine. It'll be fine.

    The team follows Elise's lead. Miles sends a wireless communication to Ryann's HUD.

    Watch her like a hawk.
    A hawk is a predatory bird with really great eyes.


    I know what a hawk is, dude, Ryann sends back.

    I didn't know if Matchbox 20 had talked about them.

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    They come to an entrance to a raucous establishment that has cheers, shouting, and pounding music coming from within.

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    Carol smiles. "Yes! This is the place."

    Nebula raises an eyebrow at her. "This doesn't seem like your kind of place."

    Carol wrings her hands and looks at the ground. "It... it isn't."

    Miles puts a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "I know it feels weird. But it's our best lead," he says in a quiet voice.

    Elise gazes at the lights and spectacle with a wide, absent smile on her face.

    "Well done, Agent," Ryann says.

    Carol squints at him. "...Are you... talking to me? I'm Agent?"

    "Oh, you're right, Captain," Ryann corrects himself.

    Nebula looks at the team. "Be careful in there. Or don't, if you want to have fun," she says with a smile and a wink.

    Elise starts to wander into the casino, like a moth towards the light.

    "Be on task here, people," Centurion barks.

    "Behemoth, go with her," Miles says. Michael nods and follows Elise, making sure she doesn't get into too much trouble.

    Miles speaks to X-51 in his head. Can you analyze the signals and sensory input you're getting and form an overview of this place? Not its innermost secrets, but just...who's in charge, who people are talking about, or whatever?

    Yes. Setting up an overview now, Miles. I will notify you when I have ascertained relevant details.


    The team enters the casino.

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    Miles and Carol pass by an android escort, who looks at them.

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    She displays a paired rate holographically next to her. Carol grabs Miles' hand tightly and grits her teeth. "No," she says firmly. She sounds like she's not really saying it to Miles. He shrugs apologetically at the android and moves on.

    Nebula and Centurion are moving down into the crowd. She glances at Julian and then says to Centurion, "That one's a telepath, right? That's the one thing I don't think anything here can detect."

    Ryann cocks an eyebrow at Lazarus "Yeah...maybe." He motions Julian to stick with him and Nebula. Julian gives a slight upward nod.

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    Elise is drinking in the sights and sounds of the casino, looking for a game she recognizes. Just to watch. She sees some people playing a card game. She doesn't know the game. It's not poker. But it clearly has rules. She watches it closely.

    There isn't a card game in the universe that Elise Arnell can't learn, apparently. She quickly picks up the game, its rules, and some of the nuances. The game is called Pulsar, and it is effectively similar to something like baccarat.

    Elise checks her credits. She might have enough extra for one game. Just one game. It might even get her information. It might open new doors! It's for the good of the team. One game is fine.

    It'll be fine.

    As she puts her money down, Michael stands behind her a few steps away, watching.

    Elise manages to win her first hand. She's an experienced card shark; even if she's in space, cards are cards. She isn't meaningfully up any money, but she didn't lose anything.
    She could keep playing. After all, she didn't lose anything. It'll be fine.

    The dealer deals out another hand. Her hands are shaking but Elise manages a confident grin across the table as she glances at her cards. She knows that she has a choice. She can win the hand...but not fairly.

    She understands enough about Pulsar that she is pretty sure she can beat the guy across from her. She knows his tells. He looks Xandarian, he doesn't look any different from Ryann, really. Hell, he might even be human for all she knows. But he probably doesn't have infrared vision or can hear bones or something. So if she just...uses her senses...how would he know? How would he know. It'll be fine. It'll be fine.

    But on the other hand. If she gets caught? Who knows what will happen.

    Elise carefully controls her expression. "I think I take this round."

    The man across from her narrows his eyes, and folds. She wins the hand. She doesn't win a huge pot, but she doesn't lose.

    The man reaches across the table to shake her hand. "Well played."

    "I don't shake, sorry." Elise offers a salute instead. "Good game." She gathers up her winnings.

    He salutes back. "Do you do names?"

    "Yeah, I'm Elise."

    He nods and smiles, "You can call me Corsair."

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    "Nice to meet another gambler of culture," Elise grins.

    "So, Elise...that a Xandarian name?"

    "Nah, I'm from a total backwater. You ever hear of Earth? We're kind of new."

    Corsair is taken aback. Elise can tell he's heard of Earth. "...yeah." He looks around. "Hey, uh...you wanna get a drink? I'm buying."

    "Yes." This is recon! Elise is helping.

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    X-51 chimes in Miles' mind. Miles, I have ascertained some specific details.

    The Eye of Jemiah is owned by a Kree gangster named Vor-Thrul. He's known to be extremely dangerous and very expedient with collecting on debts. It has a variety of different games of chance, prostitution services, and narcotics sales offered. Vor-Thrul is also a known information broker. I also discovered that the facility tracks all life-signs of all patrons, tracking them by species. Curiously, your team are not the only humans currently in this establishment.

    There is one other.

    He is currently moving towards the bar with Agent Arnell, after the two have played cards together. He lost.


    Red alert klaxons blare behind Miles’ eyes. "God damn it," he breathes.

    He may be attempting to seduce her. Given Agent Arnell's known sexual orientation, he will likely be unsuccessful. Agent Westin is observing Agent Arnell, there is no cause for alarm, Miles.

    "Let's...let's hope so." Miles turns to Carol. "There's another human here. With Elise. I should...probably go find them. You want to come? Oh, and this place is run by a guy named Vor-Thrul and he tracks the life signs of all patrons and he's an information dealer. So we might need to talk to him. Or avoid him. Dunno." He starts hustling towards the bar.

    Carol grabs Miles' arm. "Avoid him. Vor-Thrul. He's a monster."

    Miles stops short. "Okay. Okay, yeah. Is your mission going to be okay with him here?"

    "Yeah. I tell you what...how about...I distract Elise, you go talk to the guy she's talking to?"

    Miles nods. "Works for me. Wish I could see this."

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    Nebula looks at Julian and whispers, "Hey, you, can you like...scan the room? We're trying to find this Nova, right? See if anyone has seen him, heard his name, that kind of thing. Is that a thing you can do or are you going to fry everyone in here?"

    "I mean, I'm not likely to fry anyone,” Lazarus says. “Worst case is a seizure."

    "Do what you can, Julian. Don't push your luck." Ryann is surreptitiously scanning the room himself with his gauntlet, but isn’t turning up anything.

    Julian takes in the scene. He sidles about the room, looking interested in all the sensory stimuli. He listens about, hoping to find a thread of something interesting he can pull on, and catches something. A thought pattern, drifting off of someone.

    Dammit, Christopher. Taking that Nova job was a mistake.

    Julian’s not sure who it’s coming from, but it's out there. He follows the thought’s trail, and it takes him to a man standing off to the side, observing the casino.

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    He's got his arms folded, and with his one eye he appears to be...observing Elise and some man walking towards the bar.

    Julian calls it out telepathically to the rest of the team. Everyone, there's a shifty-looking guy - he telepathically projects an image of him - watching over Arnell and the guy in red eying her. Could be nothing, could be something.

    "Good work," Ryann says. He turns to Nebula and Julian. "We need to get him alone."

    "Cheeky," Julian says. Ryann shakes his head at him.

    Nebula looks at Julian and at the one-eyed man. "He's Sagittarian, and his species are known for their open-mindedness towards other species. And... well." She smiles at Julian.

    "You think that will work?" Ryann gives Julian the up-and-down.

    Nebula shrugs. "I'm a lot more machine than you'd think, so I don't know how appealing I am, and you have a wife, so unless you have a better plan?" Julian smirks at this.

    "Adler?" Ryann looks at him.

    "Well, this seems easier to sell under the 'no fraternization' rules," Julian says. "I'm in."

    Ryann nods. "Get us a table, Nebula.” She goes and gets a table for her and Centurion, and orders some drinks.

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