Federation-Apocalypse Session 96b – Into the Metalstorm

   OK, it was the Necropolis that they’d probably have the hardest time getting by… They might as well go with the “Merchant” cover again; even the roughest world tended to like people who brought them things they valued and traded them for things they valued less – and the limitations of travel through the Manifold meant that those few who could travel freely could almost always offer fabulous bargains, leave everyone overjoyed with their purchases, and still maintain an unbelievable profit margin.

   So; the New Imperium and the Classic Empire really didn’t call for much of anything other than cash (which was certainly easy enough), and Korriban was pretty much a dead world. They’d be playing it by ear in the Jesus Realms – any world with nano-assembler technologies didn’t need much in the way of regular goods; they’d most likely be after information, unique artworks, special services, and similar stuff. They MIGHT need stocks of raw materials and power sources, but that kind of stuff was a bit too heavy for a small expedition.

   Trade goods for the Necropolis…

   They were more than a bit reluctant to sell slaves. Unless you stuck to relatively closely-related realms or bonded them to you, phantasms could change too easily to make reliable stock, and they didn’t want to sell any real people to a necromancy realm. Hauling a pile of corpses around would just be nasty, and it would be hard to say what kind of magic, psionics, flora, or fauna, the locals there might find “interesting” (although that would probably be something nasty too).

   That didn’t leave them much except food… Kadia did have plenty of food. OK, they could lay in a supply of some of the herbs that helped control lycanthropy, and a few of the other supernatural extracts – but obviously it was mostly going to be food for the slaves.

   Kevin was tempted to infuse it with something really helpful. Something like those “fusorians” he’d run across once… micro-symbionts which infused your cells, built a sort of magical-energy (OK, the local universe had called it “hyperspace transflection fields” or something like that) replica of your cellular structure to serve as a backup host for your soul and consciousness, and then – in seconds – converted your cells to a fusion-based metabolism which allowed you a pile of physical enhancements, super-fast regeneration, granted near-immortality (and the ability to live unprotected in virtually any environment, including in stars), gave you a perpetual sunlight-glow, and let you share your consciousness with that of the stars if you so desired – which were also sapient colony-organisms. The things were supposed to have been a natural evolution in a steady-state universe, and were responsible for much of it’s structure…

   Personally, they’d lost him when he found that the local ideas of “stellar evolution” were that stars got large and red not because of changes in their fuel supply – they got that from the continuous creation of hydrogen – but because so much of their mass was being devoted to memory-storage and processing that the energy-links impeded the escape of radiation.

   Oh well, the stuff was pretty universe-specific anyway, and it would probably be seen as a direct assault on the Necropolis anyway. He’d just have to settle for “extremely nourishing, laced with vitamins, minerals, and medications, and some strengthening, healing, and supportive magic”. It would still make life for the local slaves who got it easier for a while.

   A few extra Thralls to serve as staff again and off to the New Imperium – and then the Old Empire (and probably trouble with Darth Vader, given that Kevin’s ID in the Star Wars realms was a quasi-Jedi and the Thralls were more or less equivalent to force-sensitives.

   Well, they did have a gate to Ealor, in the New Imperium, handy at the moment – and that was where Marty had left the Ebon Hawk. Plus, they could get complained at by Child Protective Services! Their kids had been missing for nearly two weeks now – and it would be sort of fun to have a relatively small problem for once. After all, the kids had apparently used the pact, and none of them had shown up in Kadia – so they probably weren’t really in urgent trouble. Besides… they were kind of interested in just what had happened out there. The request for help hadn’t really been very revealing, and the Thrall-teams hadn’t reported back much. Of course, if it wasn’t all that important, they probably wouldn’t.

   The gateway to Ealor was straightforward… The local city had grown quite a bit since their last visit, and an imperial customs station had been set up just outside the gateway, with Imperial troops are scanning id’s and directing people as needed.

   They produced their local ID’s – Darth/Master Santarous, the force-adept with the red and white hat with the pom-pom and the merchant, Darrick Rodan.

   The ID scan revealed that the local authorities had some sort of a “hold” flag on them.

   There wasn’t one on the Thralls though, so they sent them on ahead to get the ship ready; it would take a few minutes to get things warmed up, restarted, and checked out – so they might as well spend that time talking to the locals.

(Trooper) “Hmm, looks like there is some sort of request on behalf of the local authorities. I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to please wait patiently as we inform the local authorities. You may sit over in the lounge in the meantime though.”

   No one tried to interfere with the Thralls, although they could easily spot that they were being closely monitored.

   The local authorities were quite prompt. They looked to be a pair of drones/droids and a human female in her forties. She was in typical business attire, and didn’t look like the type to have a sense of humor. The Inquisitor came with them, and waved away the troopers.

(Inquisitor) “Well hopefully this will not take long and I can get back to more important things.”

(Kathy) “My name is Kathy Svern. At this point I am the duly designated representative of the Child Protection Services department, which until recently has been run almost entirely by computer.”

(Kevin) “That would explain why it was so silly at times… Well, what’s up?”

(Kathy) “A great number of our children disappeared about two weeks ago. As best as we can tell, a strong fascination of theirs on you and your…. subordinates has led to them developing what some of people are snidely calling RVS or Reality Violation Syndrome. I prefer to call it what it is, blatant supernatural powers.”

(Kevin) “Well, you’re doing better than they are; they are indeed blatant supernatural powers. I’ve just recently become aware that even wanting to work for me strongly enough suffices to get some of the basics. I’m going to have to talk to Ryan about that one; I kind of thought that I actually had to bestow them.”

(Kathy) “Are you aware of how much the basics is? And would you have any way to track them? And would this Ryan be the infamous Ryan O’Malley I keep hearing so much about?”

(Kevin) “The basics seem to include basic psychic abilities – low grade telekinesis and telepathy, self-healing, and a selection of other powers, the ability to create power devices, immunity to some forms of mind control, slow shapeshifting, financial aid, the ability to warp time in emergencies, the ability to re-manifest in my realms if killed elsewhere, and a few other bits that seem to be still developing. Unfortunately, they do not include a communications link. And yes, that would be Ryan O’Malley; he worries a lot more about the theory than I’ve ever had time for.”

(Kathy) “So I am told. I assume none of the children have manifested in your realm. Our own search has been nonproductive even with a jedi volunteer helping. So we had gotten in touch with Mr. O’Malley based on recommendations we were able to get in Core. He sent one of his….(consults a notepad) simulacra to consult with us. Things were going in fits in starts in the negotiations and discussions phase when all of the sudden he said he had something urgent come up and left. We have yet to hear back from him. We were about to send delegations to his main office and to a reputable Jedi Master that had recently set up shop near the galactic core when I got the message that you had arrived.”

(Kevin) “Well, I did dispatch search teams when I was first informed of your problem… What caused them to run away anyway?”

(Kathy) “I fear some of the more… concerned adults and the computer systems felt the need to isolate the children when they started manifesting abnormal abilities. And like any confined children, they felt the urge to escape and suddenly had the abilities to dodge the advanced computer systems watching them.”

(Kevin) “Oh wonderful. They saw a universe full of infinite exciting things to play with, and they saw that they could have all those things, and then some concerned adults took it all away and locked them in a box.”

(Kathy) “More or less, I must say the computers should have caught the problem earlier, but they have been acting rather erratically since we got here. I for one think that Jedi temple looks to be a sane enough place to send kids that want to learn something like that but I am afraid I only got into these discussions recently. Since you do not appear to have any special knowledge on where the children might have gone, I am afraid that puts us back to square one of hunting an entire multiverse for lost children.”

(Kevin) “Hm. Well, we’ve got a few minutes… Lets see; parameters; weighted by nearby gates, worlds which allow youngsters to have lots of special powers, take risks, and do exciting things, little or no competent “adult” supervision, probably high-tech cartoonish, medium-serious. Marty? Can you think of anything else to add to that?”

(Marty) “Lots of exotic stuff within those fields? Sounds like anime!”

(Kevin) “None have shown up in Kadia, so eliminate overly-lethal worlds even if they were looking for excitement… Any idea what general direction they left in? I can weight the gate-search and boundary-search by that too.”

   The Inquisitor pulled out a datapad and pressed keys on it for a few moments before presenting it to Kevin…

(Inquistor) “Here is the trajectory information the orbiting star destroyers were able to get before they jumped to light-speed.”

(Kevin) “Hm… (personally, he was betting that Marty was right; one of the action-anime universes). That will still leave quite a lot of worlds to check, but it’s a start. I’ll tell the search teams where to check.”

   Hm… They probably didn’t have any actual gatekeepers along, so they’d be limited to the gates and boundaries that cycled naturally – but there would still be quite a few possibilities – especially once you counted in a jump or two.

(Kathy) “Thank you, and you will inform us the moment you learn of something? And be aware we will compensate you for any expenses incurred in finding them.”

(Kevin) “Yes, I’ll certainly let you know if and when we locate them. Expenses aren’t too big a worry in most cases, it’s agents that are the usual limitation.”

(Inquisitor) “And, since this matter is ended for today, I have a question for the pair of you from the Emperor himself. It is clear that one of you has a strong link with Mr. O’Malley. This much is obvious with the Force. The Emperor is growing quite concerned with the recent aberrant behavior exhibited by Mr. O’Malley recently. Numerous projects abandoned without warning and great issues with getting any information beyond the answering service. He would like to know if either of you have any special insight into this?”

   They consulted the information network… Kevin still only had one kid working for Ryan, but there were certainly enough working in areas he impinged on regularly to get some kind of fix…

   Hm… Apparently the Simulacrum that was running things in Crusader had run off with little forewarning – although the Thralls there hadn’t thought anything of it at the time as it happened pretty frequently. There were similar reports from elsewhere. The one working directly for Ryan’s company believed that the real Ryan was in the Linear Realms, and could send a priority message; he thought that the answering service was getting backlogged, and an internal message might be the fastest way for someone to get in touch.

   They went ahead and had him try – and included an offer to send help while they were at it.

(Ryan, a few minutes later, on audio) “Wait, what they are all gone? Oh goddamn it. I do not have time for this right now. (Sound of something metal being smashed) Alright, if you have any kids that are talented with transmutations or divinations, then send em over here. In the meantime I need to get a direct link back to Crusader operational again and try to get this mess sorted out. (Lots of muttering in the background) Tell the Emperor he will have his ship on time and let me know if you run across any of the simulacra. Hmm, send one of those kids of yours to the Pentagon, tell him to go to the ATC trailer outside the construction zone. I’ve got a bad feeling about this whole thing.”

   The connection dropped at that point… It seemed like Ryan was pretty distracted. It was probably the Linear Realms Pentagon – although Ryan had sounded too distracted to think about the fact that he hadn’t specified.

   Kevin sent Thralls to the pentagons in the Linear Realms, Crusader, and Core, just to be safe, and sent Ryan fifty Thralls with Divination and Transmutation powers. It wasn’t like he didn’t have plenty in reserve at the moment.

   If Ryan hadn’t sounded so distracted already, he’d have told them to wear collars with nametags that said “property of Kevin Sanwell” just to annoy him, but he had sounded pretty overstressed anyway.

   Kevin passed on what information there was to the Inquisitor – who wasn’t too pleased.

(Inquisitor) “Well that is certainly disturbing. And despite what he says, I have my doubts about him keeping to schedule. It is a good thing we pursued a backup option we sending out bids. Nonetheless, as much as I dislike the man, I can’t help but share his unease. Thank you, I shall inform the Emperor as the next opportunity and that you were of some help in the matter. Unless Ms Svern has something else, I think you are free to go.”

(Kathy) “No I think that will be all for now. Thank you for your cooperation.”

   When they got to the hanger, the Ebon Hawk was ready – and the Thralls had just finished setting up an arrangement with the local storm troopers to create a chase scene for easy transition to the Classic Empire. Ah, the joy of traveling between Star Wars continuities!

   Off they went! Racing desperately to the ship just ahead of the storm troopers, barely getting the engines working in time, accidently sucking one of the maintenance droids in the bay through the engine…

(Marty) “Augh! I paid good money for that droid!”

   The droid came out the back end of the ship glowing red and looking very confused… Marty circled back to retrieve it. No droid left behind! Especially since that one actually belonged to them!

   Marty brought the ship back around for another pass. The landing pad was covered with storm troopers firing erratically in their direction… They could see the droid huddled in the middle of the pad waving it’s little glowing arms trying to get their attention.

   They dodged the poorly-aimed “enemy” fire and scooped up the droid with a little dangling magnet-cable. Marty pulled out droid-Limey for a tearful-or-comedic-reunion scene while Kevin struggled to get the ramp closed and the ship blasted away.

(Marty) “Hold onto your seats, people!”)

   OK, they’d had to wait while they’d missed snagging the droid the first few times – but the Storm Trooper commander had obligingly kicked it up into the magnet for them… As they blasted away, they could see the storm trooper commander saluting them.

   Marty had to grin, even with a smoking red hot droid on board making a mess of the carpet.

   Marty hosed it down, making more of a mess on the carpet.

(Marty) “See, Limey? We saved your little playmate!”

   The droids plating cracked and broke as they hosed it down, leaving the frame and electronics bare to all. The droid tried to hide, but got hit with the water stream and went up in a hail of sparks. The next moment, the naked droid was wobbling around still smoking and saying something in binary they didn’t comprehend – although they thought that it might be cursing.

   Unfortunately, now that they were in the Old Empire, it looked like they had… a super star destroyer battle group in hot pursuit. Tie fighters were closing in en mass.

   Wait, an entire super star destroyer battle group? Oh come ON!

(Marty) “Dammit! Evasive maneuvers!”

   Marty spun the ship through maneuvers that he was pretty sure that designers had never meant the ship to be capable of, barely staying one step ahead of the pursuing fighters. There was no way that he was going to have time to set up the coordinates for Korriban and align the ship along that trajectory right now. If he could just shake the pursuit for a few minutes though…

   Meanwhile, the lead ship was calling with demands that they surrender, since escape was impossible.

   Kevin was thinking… It WAS Star Wars, and the range factors there were more than a bit loose… He got on the communications gear and tried setting up a link. “Admiral… I find your overconfidence… Disturbing…”

   Well hey now! The “Telekinetic Choke” maneuver actually worked!

   That led to a quick debate on the super star destroyer bridge as to who got to be Admiral next. A game of hot potato ensued, and the capital ships began to fall behind – although that did leave them with all the fighters still in hot pursuit.

   Well, they were pretty heavily armed. They set the Thralls to shooting back while Marty flew the ship.

(Marty) “Okay, kids, let them have it!”

   That was really kind of impressive. It was so easy to get used to having the Thralls trailing around as unobtrusive servants and companions that it was easy to forget that Kevin gave them universal combat skills and reflexes like a cats. The Thralls were taking quite a toll on the fighters following them.

   Meanwhile, Kevin was back on the communications channels – “leaking” an “internal conversation”. Something about “hypermatter core overload, probability of destruction of all matter within five light minutes 60% and climbing”.

   That resulted in more panic across the communication channels as discussion of who is admiral gave way to a discussion of whose hypermatter core was about to overload. A few of the captains were already talking about bailing, a few were saying it was a rebel Jedi trick, and still more were announcing what their superiors would do to them if they let the Ebon Hawk get away.

   Ah ha! There, up ahead, was a massive field of floating wreckage from some ancient battle! Predecessors to star destroyers and some other type of ship, all bearing the signs of great battle damage. Lots of debris a pieces floating about. At the center, a roughly round mass of debris and star ships around which everything else was slowly rotating .They could dive through that!

   Marty did so. It couldn’t possibly be a black hole or other gravitational anomaly!

   Kevin swore. He wished that Marty didn’t get so into these things! It would be a pain and a delay to blow up!

   Marty dove the ship through a chasm that some weapon had dug into one of the ships. Space become quite confined, and the turns were became quite sudden, as he dove the ship into the maintenance tunnels.

   Behind them, many of the tie fighters were blowing up. Marty barely managed to twist the ship through a final turn into a hanger bay without doing too much damage to the paint. The shields had overloaded trying to absorb the impact – but it didn’t look like any of the tie fighters had made it though – at least given the sounds of distant explosions.

   Yes, that should have been the last of them.

(Marty) “Whew, we made it. Now where are we in here?”

   Kevin had a guess; SOMETHING on the ship would be out-of-order, it would have to be repaired from the outside, the air would be semi-breathable at best, and there would be something – alien life form, hostile droids, survivors, out-of-control-machinery, a force-user who’d foreseen their arrival, or a committee-of-the-whole, which they would have to outrun in a daring escape.

   Fighters and dead bodies floated throughout the bay, as the gravity appeared to have been shut off. The bay doors were currently closed, and the only lights come from the Ebon Hawk. The air was… not breathable, but of adequate pressure. The CO2 concentration was quite high, the Nitrogen levels were in the normal range, and the O2 levels were nearly depleted.

   They hooked up reserve oxygen supplies and helmets to their Smartclothes and headed on out into the dead ship – because it definitely looked like the main bay door would not open barring weapons or power – and going back the way they’d come didn’t seem like a good idea.

   Marty bet that they’d be attacked by force-using droids leading a coalition of out-of-control machinery.

   Outside, the air was cold and dry. A faint humming could be felt through the bulkheads, but otherwise everything was dark and quiet. The desiccated remains of soldiers, pilots and technicians hung in the air, and signs of battle were everywhere.

   They plugged into the systems to see if they could ID the ship, get a damage report, or at least tell if the bays had simply lost power.

   It looked like the main power core was still online, but the main power feeds to bay – and much of the rest of the ship – had been severed by an explosion towards the aft. The ship was the Freedom… The damage report listed over half the ship as being vented to space, life support was offline on most of the ship, the weapons were offline, the shields were offline, the structural integrity was bad in quite a few places, but enough was still hanging together to keep the remaining atmosphere from being vented to space. Subspace communications were offline, the local sensors were online (and not reporting much), the bridge was destroyed, the fighter bays were without power, the internal sensors were still online, and the backup power system was a total loss. The computer was having numerous memory errors and had written off several memory-sectors as unreadable or unusable.

(Marty) “Memory errors? Let’s hope the thing hasn’t gone sapient, then!”

(Kevin) “Hm. Drives still online and primary power still online. Local sensors OK. Want to do a little salvage? We’ll need to hook the power back up anyway.”

(Marty) “Why not? If we’re lucky, we’ll find some valuable parts.”

(Kevin) “And at worst, it’s quite a lot of armor that we can escape from when the attack starts…”

(Marty) “I think we should go to the areas without working life support and see if there are any surviving system components.”

(Kevin) “Hm. Secondary Control, Breaks in main power conduits. Both aft…”

   It looked like a major blast – probably massed turbolasters – had managed to bore a hole right through the middle of the ship. About fifteen feet across at the point where it crossed the power conduit. Not too bad… It shouldn’t take much of a shaping spell to bridge the gap. The Old Empire didn’t have much magic, but psionics were fine. They’d have to use transmutation to provide the material unless there was some unused power conduit in one of the storage or parts bays. According to the computer records, the ship carried a great deal of spares for the things that were necessary to get them back to port.

   Kevin sent a few Thralls out looking. They were in a rush; there were probably going to be people waiting outside this mess for us them to come out.

   Then the internal sensors started reporting unidentified movement onboard. Not the Thralls…

(Kevin) ” Ooh goody! Defense droids, alien life forms, force specters, taking all bets!”

   Marty opted to check the readings instead. Portable power cores, consistent with droids and weapons, also some anomalous readings. There looked to be three primary foci.

(Kevin) “Hey, no fair getting the fix in THEN betting!”

(Marty) “Anomalous? How?”

(Computer) “Does not match any standard power or energy reading. Would be categorized as Force, but no life signs detected. Ergo, anomalous.”

(Marty) “Looks like we’ve got some droids and force specters here, people . . . and sentient devices… It looks like they’ll reach the hanger bay in about… ten minutes”

   They informed the computer that they were undertaking some repairs, and that is should shut down any active defense droids and assist.

(Computer) “All droids are currently offline. Would you like to bring them online?”

(Kevin) “I presume none of them have repair capabilities or they’d already be online? Or was it just never ordered?”

(Computer) “All ordered repair jobs have been completed, no additional orders have been issued.”

(Kevin) “Ah. Repairs required: Power Systems. Drive Systems. Shield Systems. Weapon Systems. Structural Integrity. Life Support. Standard priorities except Life Support which is minimal priority.”

(Computer) “Understood. Commencing repair operations. Given current parts supply is sufficient to return ship to 63% capability. Return to drydock immediately afterwards in highly recommended.”

(Marty) “Can we get a visual scan of the anomalous units?”

(Computer) “Working, please wait as attempting to route around damage sections of network… Visual scan is coming online now.”

   An image appeared of three roughly humanoid droids crawling through a corridor. They appeared to be carrying lightsabers and – oddly enough – were wearing clothing… It looked like they were crawling to maintain control in zero-gravity conditions.

   They definitely seemed to be headed for the Ebon Hawk.

(Kevin) Well, if they’d been wanting to get away, they should have been fixing the ship. Ergo, they didn’t want US to get away. I guess we’d better go defend the ship…”

   Fortunately, even small amounts of telekinesis eased 0-G maneuvering immensely. They got back to the Ebon Hawk some minutes ahead of the droids.

(Marty) “Hmm. Barricade the entry points and fire, or negotiate, from there?”

(Kevin) “I’ll set a few of the Thralls on the more minor ship weapons. Wide beam for minimal interior damage and impossible to block with those lightsabers.”

   Just when they had that set up, a lightsaber came through one of the closed unpowered doors and begins slicing open the locking mechanism. Once the lock was sliced open, the two sections of the door were suddenly and violently pushed open by an unseen force – and the three droids moved into the bay looking around.

   Marty felt that that wasn’t good. Force using droids? At least the Thralls were ready to open fire…

(Kevin) “Hello there! What’s up?”

(Droids, igniting lightsabers) “Identify yourselves!”

(Kevin) “Names Santorous, and yourselves?”

(Marty) “I’m Darrick. Who-what-are you?”

(Droid #1) “We are the Hunters and we kill Jedi, Sith and those who harbor them.”

(Kevin) “Now that’s interesting. Do you work for the gray bunch?”

(Droid #2) “If you are referring to the Hoslin, then correct.”

   Yep, that’d be the pyramid-builders all right.

(Kevin) “Well, we can drop you off there on the way. Who knows? In this time zone there might even be somebody left there!”

(Droid, looking at Kevin very oddly.) “Time zone? We have been inactive for a very long time and our chronometers have become corrupted. To what time are you referring?”

(Kevin) “Oh well, the current date is about 26 Imperial. The last time we were at the pyramid on the moons of Korriban it was about thirty years from now. It was deserted then, but we might as well try it again now that it’s earlier.”

(Droid #3, apparently giving up on trying to make sense of that) “Very well, then. We shall accompany you for the time being. However, should we find you to be harboring Sith or hostile Jedi, we shall show no restraint.”

   Marty shrugged. It wasn’t like they were short of space on the Ebon Hawk, much less on this barge…

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