Camped deep in the Sahara Desert of the Colonial Era, the group – and Dr Vu – awaited hostile natives, dark cultists, dangerous fauna, sandstorms, or morning, whichever came first. Kevin ran a little late explaining some of their new powers to the youngsters he’d recruited, but eventually retired to a tent (and set one up for the kids) for a little privacy, while most of the others slept out.
As it happened, what came first was an eerie silence followed by a sandstorm and an eerie iridescent glow. Kevin simply transmuted the sand into windbreaks and barriers to meet the ever-shifting whirlwind, while most of the others took cover behind the wagon. As the wind calmed, the glow remained, coming from behind a dune – and radiating from a huge pyramid that hadn’t been there a few hours ago. Daniel (one of the kids) went in to investigate (Jack didn’t want anything to do with mysterious pyramids: he knew what that kind of side trip led to), and found a lot of dusty old rooms, a new gateway, and a lot of weird symbols. Nothing dangerous though, so Kevin and the rest headed in – and found that the Gate led to Greenweld, the planet they wanted to reach, near the center of one of it’s well-dispersed “cities”. Evidently someone there had wanted out really, really badly… They could sympathize. It looked like all hell was breaking loose over there. The city was on fire, sirens were going off, vehicles were crashing – but they couldn’t see any people anywhere.
Wait – there were two. A couple of guys dodging their way towards the gateway. The group pulled them through and found that they were Raphial Midwater and Marty Tabard – a support team sent by the House of Roses to back them up (apparently they’d found an even better shortcut), and that the robots were trying to pacify the population and protect the sane ones. It was a civil war; about 15% of the population had simply gone homicidally crazy all of a sudden.
Well, the pair didn’t seem to be carrying any weird toxins, pathogens, or other perils, so they were probably safe enough to work with. They needed to investigate the place anyway. There had been an odd planetwide broadcast just before the population went nuts, but Raphial and Marty hadn’t been watching or recording – and the robots had apparently tried to stop the broadcast when law enforcement collapsed. While Raphial was inclined to blame the robots, it really didn’t look that way to anyone else.
Raphial Midwater is a technomancer driven by his paranoia about intelligent machines. Best to rely on your own implants, directly interface with anything that needs a mind to run it, and use your own psychic powers to control things. Let the machines get in charge and they’re likely to take over and turn people into extensions of themselves, rather than the other way around. Given how heavily cybered Raphial is, it’s sometimes difficult for other people to tell the difference anyway… He’s currently working for both the Galactic Empire of th First Circle and the House of Roses of the Core. Both of them seem to have a lot of relatively decent people, both have access to a wide variety of interesting cyberware and other technologies – and both are at serious risk thanks to their excessive reliance on computerized systems… He was recruited by the House a few months ago as a part of their ongoing Ourathan-evaluation project, and has had a fairly successful career as a troubleshooter so far.
Marty Tabard is a corporate acquisitions agent – specializing in stealth and assault operations – from a world where daily life (and especially business) is an endless cycle of battles and violence, but where it’s almost impossible to actually be killed. While he retains a portion of his cartoon-like resilience elsewhere, he’s principally interested in expanding his business “amarant solutions” – into core earth and in acquiring advanced technologies, since his homeworlds technology dates back to its original creation several centuries ago, and is far behind current core technology.
Oddly enough, despite a relative shortage of weapons and a modest population, the robots were apparently having problems maintaining control. They were collecting the unaffected people and taking them to defensible positions. So far, most of what fighting Raphial and Marty had seen had been mob tactics against the robots – but the robots tended to be mysteriously cut down, explode, or get holes blown in them if they got too successful at maintaining order.
Just great. Add invisible menaces to mysterious berserker influences.
Well, despite their directions to rescue anyone who needed protection from the robots, rescuing dangerous homicidal maniacs seemed a bit inappropriate. They called back for some directions while Kevin made sure the kids were out of sight of the communications link and whipped up some tea and sandwiches… The House wanted a copy of the broadcast that had apparently started the mess, to find out how the locals were overwhelming the robots, and to otherwise have them proceed at their own discretion.
They left Dr Vu to watch the gateway now that he was sane again, shut down their broadcast reception, and headed in.
The place was a mess: burning buildings, broken windows, holes in the pavement, wreckage of flits, a heavy flit coming down, and a whistling sound overhead from what seemed to be a Ourathan patrol ship heading for a crash landing in the mountains. They couldn’t be too far away from a combat zone or the fires would have burned out. There were sounds of battle in the city to the east and massive explosions to the north in the mountains – but nobody around at the moment. Gerald – one of the kids – “volunteered” to hide and stay near the gate (it was stable, but unmarked on the planetary side) in hiding and keep an eye on it and to help anyone who couldn’t work a gate escape if it was needed. The group had to leave the Flit: it detected an intrusion and Kevin shut it down for a hard memory purge to initial state. There was some argument, but they headed for the city fighting. How else were they going to find out what was going on?
It looked like it would be best to stay under cover though, there were a lot of destroyed Ouratha laying around – and they were supposed to be pretty tough. It looked like they’d been taken out by massive impacts from a wide variety of primitive weapons-shapes wielded with immense force. Either the local Flits were being used as power armor or a lot of the crazies had superhuman strength.
They found a network broadcast node that was still standing. Lots of smoke, lots of destroyed robots, lots of general damage. They left Daniel (another kid) at the entrance to keep an eye out and headed inside to investigate. It looked like it was just the equipment smoking at least. It also looked like there had been a serious effort to defend the place – and there were some non-robot bodies in badly-damaged power armor that was “bleeding” mercury (although that was probably just the structural reserve). The group got samples of everything – including a complete body and some invisible armor that Bard (Kid #3) stumbled across. It looked like the damned armor was almost undetectable by everything except sonar and actual physical combat. Still, most of it looked like fairly standard tech – except for the exotic-matter plating (not too complicated), hyped-up force field systems (exceptional range, otherwise fairly standard) – and that invisibility system. The body itself had some sort of micro-systems driven by chemical energy from the bloodstream infesting the body. It looked like it could handle some fairly serious injuries – but not a crushed brain.
There were splatterings of some weird stuff – a bit like black blood full of micro-machines – around, a data-feed system that actively – and physically – resisted being removed hooked to the broadcasting systems, and a girl who looked to be about 10-12, but had survived massive attacks and wounds and was radiating all kinds of odd energies. It looked like she was bleeding the black stuff. Kevin took this as an ominous sign, but he was a bit paranoid about the potential capabilities of children – if only because he didn’t look much older than she did. The robots had been fighting super-enhanced homicidal nutjobs, and she’d been fighting. Ergo, she was probably a super-enhanced homicidal nutjob, and he didn’t want her loose. She didn’t respond until they got too close – and then used some sort of built-in weapons scan, launched a magical delaying-attack, and fled through the walls, ignoring shots from hand weapons. Dispelling was only semi-effective as well.
At least Daniel saw her going: she was hooking up with some weirdo in robes. Kevin got line of sight on them just as the man was opening a gate – and got really lucky and got him with a transformation-spell. The Girl got away though – heading into a radioactive wasteland. Even with Smartclothes, survival time to lethal dose would be about 30 minutes. They settled for letting her go and recording what they could of the spell, the mystical diagrams, the gateway, and the thoughts left in the mages brain. It looked like he’d been primarily worried about the girl; she couldn’t be allowed to die – and he was shocked at being taken out by such a “low-level” spell (well HELL. Kevin had put everything he had into that spell). The girl should have been able to handle anything but a party of adventurers. His brain and body were breaking down fast though: it looked like his metabolism was partially psionic, and probably wouldn’t have worked for long in core anyway.
They decided to beat it with their samples, corpses (to be put under preservation spells), robot gadgets, recordings, and other materials. It would be a long trip to a quarantine facility belonging to the House of Roses, they had to haul along Dr Vu (and, thanks to his presence, stay out of Crusader), and there’d be a lot of time to check for various kinds of contamination along the way. (Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be any, but Kevin did some purification rituals anyway).
Back at the House, there were a few questions about the kids, but Kevin explained them pretty simply: he’d picked them up out in the Manifold, was training them as assistants, and they were already pretty good – and relatively unsuspected. He wasn’t sharing any house secrets with them.
Raphial wanted to spend a few days working with the techs analyzing the nanotech stuff and cracking the coding, so Kevin took the kids and went shopping for them (for any minor items they wanted, for bigger guns, and for their vaccinations, arrival-in-core registrations, and assignment to him as guardian; technically he was old enough), while Marty went drinking, and Jack went looking for a seedy hotel to await the inevitable assassins. He was rather disappointed when none showed up. He’d gone on a top-secret mission for these people as a freelancer, had stomped off in a huff, and they seemed to be just letting him go. For that matter, they were sending kids and letting them pick up even younger kids! Didn’t any of these people understand security?
Back at the labs, it looked like the tech was a legacy of the Singularity War – the result of a self-improving AI or something that could pass as one – and that the girl might have been a Praetorian, a artificial nanite-based cyber-organism patterned on a humans genetic code. The recording turned the first tech who tried to analyze it into a homicidal maniac. Magic, Psi, or neural reprogramming would fix it – but the recording didn’t analyze well. It did affect a neural-simulation test, a bit like a super-powered inspirational speech.
Current Core News:
There was a “Sithari” leading a rebellion in the Empire against The Chosen One (the Emperor Skywalker)
More Americas were signing the American Bill of Unification: Rustic Americana World, both Nazi Invasion World and Nazi Necromancy World, Martian Invasion World, Communist Invasion World, Maxfield Parrish World [very popular with the tourists], and a few tribes from Primordial Indian World had all joined – but Robber Baron World had refused while Aztec Empire World and the Confederate States of America World hadn’t even been invited. It looked like they mostly wanted the more peaceful, recent, variants – even if it did just subdivide them, it still weakened the general nastiness. It looked like the Manifold Destiny idea was still going strong.
Attempts at sneaking into the ATE labs were increasing.
The Oracles were expected to release a new prophecy in the next few days. It was supposed to be one of the most important since the Precognitive Wars –which had been an ugly mess with the the Fremen, Sith, and whatnot going at it, all lead by very powerful precognitives. (They needed the immunity gene from God Emperor of Dune World spread around a bit more).
There were even some newscasts of the destruction as the Ourathan robots valiantly attempted to save humanity from itself.