Federation-Apocalypse Session 118b – The Abyssal Depths

(Xellos) “And what sort of ID’s are you planning to use?”

   He would point out the annoying detail problem. It would be hard to come up with something without some idea of what the local ID’s looked like.

   It would be nice if they could simply drop into some local identities, but the mana-dampening effect would probably make that pretty difficult.

   They’d have to drop in, snag some local, and find out what the local ID”s and security measures were like first. Ergo, come down outside and lets look for some information

(Marty) “Ah! Just like the last sci-fi dictatorship we were in!”

(Kevin) “Yep! So in for a landing we go!

   Hm… for settling down they had a water treatment facility, a smelter, and a construction site building what appeared to be a large open pit.

(Marty) “Hmm, construction site? Maybe lots of noise to drown out cries for help?”

(Kevin) “Construction site it is!”

   The construction site appeared to be focused on that huge pit. It was about half a mile across, some eight hundred feet deep, and was being steadily dug deeper. There was a lot of work going into lining the pit with some sort of material, and there were lots of trucks and temporary buildings surrounding the perimeter – with a more permanent office building structure on the South side. Probably either a shelter or a major arcology expansion.

   There’d probably be a better chance of keeping hidden near the temporary buildings, so they put down there – by a temporary building on the North end that looked like it didn’t receive a lot of traffic in a normal day.

   They also found a person hiding in a nook behind the building and some crates taking a nap. Either they had really tough lungs or a lot of confidence in their life support gear. Still, it was probably pretty reliable around here.

   Of course, he might be dead, not napping.

   Kevin was considering sneaking up, but got pre-empted by Marty, who just dropped in next to the fellow – coming to a complete stop mere feet away from him. He was reclining against a crate and the wall in a sleeping position with his visor over his face.

   Marty scooped him up and stepped over into the nearest dark spot – making sure that he had both the mans arms so that he couldn’t reach any exterior communications controls and having his smartclothes ready to jam him if he had interior communications. If he had, it was probably on “receive only” for the moment; he presumably wouldn’t want to be caught snoozing.

   Not too surprisingly, he woke up panicking.

   Hmm… According to his radio ID and the nameplate on the suit, this was “Kimmel Henson” – and it was going to be a bother; Radio ID’s said that they were tracking these people in DETAIL unless it was just a construction precaution.

(Kevin) “Mr Kimmel! Do wake up please!”

(Marty) “Hello Mr. Henson. We just need some information.”

(Henson) “I’m sorry I won’t sleep on the job again! Please have mercy on me!”

(Marty) “Yeah, we’ll see about that.”

   That actually took Kevin aback for a bit – and Marty was trying to keep the guy at least a little nervous so he didn’t ask them too many questions. Henson seemed to be fearfully awaiting punishment – and Xellos stepped in to fill the gap.

(Xellos) “Those of you a bit squeamish may not want to watch this.”

   Kevin wasn’t that much a of a telepath, but he could receive surface thoughts… Whatever he was thinking at the moment might tell them a good deal of what they needed to know. He started probing.

   Henson’s current thoughts were that they were Landsknecht come to supervise the construction process – and that they’d caught him napping. He was fearing for his life and the lives of his family, as well as wishing that he had paid to see a doctor about his breathing problems instead of trying to self-medicate.

   Kevin sighed. Wonderful. He might keel over dead on them… What is wrong with his breathing? Lung damage from fumes and such?

   He probed a bit… Yes, a bit of lung scarring consistent with exposure to noxious stuff and the medication to suppress symptoms tended to make him drowsy, especially in the doses he needed to take.

   Meanwhile, Marty was probing as well… What was the man afraid that they would do to his family? Was it just that if he wasn’t contributing, they’d get no food or water or air filtration like on the Five Worlds?

   There were a lot of blurred images in his mind – a lot of them very disturbing. Especially the one about mindraping people and feeding their comatose bodies to the water treatment facility to rot and fester alive until processed.

   Marty had to vote for “Ewwww.” Even the Five Worlds were nicer than THAT.

   Kevin found that quite depressing – even before that last image – and quietly healed the mans lungs.

   Even Xellos, who fed on negative emotions and pain, seemed disturbed at what he was sensing. It actually seemed like he was… disgusted.

(Marty, over the link) “Not to your tastes, Xellos?”

   Kevin suspected that it wouldn’t be. After all, at the very least, it would be wasteful overkill – as well as not at all sporting. After all, Xellos preferred to harass individuals – such as waitresses who were trying to get him to order something besides water. Besides… the fact that he needed a certain amount of negative emotions didn’t mean that he had to enjoy inducing an excess.

(Xellos, over the private channel) “There is causing suffering as a necessary part of life, and then there is causing suffering for the sheer enjoyment of it. But even then, there are limits to the level of suffering that a monster like myself will inflict on a person. There is no enjoyment in the suffering of someone who has been broken utterly already. It’s all about the teasing and the struggle. This is depravity – and that is human, not monstrous.”

   Marty thought about that for a moment. Wow, this place was BAD if Xellos was willing to get all philosophical about it.

(Xellos, privately) “What do we wish to learn from him?”

(Marty, privately) “Can we pluck any information on the local industries and security from his brain?”

(Kevin, privately) “What kind of security he lives under mostly – and if there’s an underworld.”

   Hm… It looked like this is a construction project for building a massive underground facility. He knew nothing more than that as to it’s purpose. As for the security, there were lot’s of computer taps, curfews, work schedules, and heavy police state. Entire families would just disappear without a trace. Security in and out of the Arcology was via keycards like the one on his belt. Occassionally Landsrecht would be watching over the gates for reasons never explained. Usually when that happened, they would grab someone walking by and take them away.

   Kevin got a scan of that keycard… RFID, photo, biometrics, and a unique identifier number. Rumored to be tied to an RFID chip implanted in the skin during one of the routine medical exams to prevent cheating. The biggest security feature was apparently the unique identifier code that linked to a central database for comparison.

   Well, that would be a pain. On the other hand, they might well get away with some fakery for awhile; the central database would be impossibly overloaded if they checked ID’s on everyone against it at every checkpoint. It was probably downloaded to a local system. They might be able to get to that.

(Marty, privately) “Right then! Now what shall we do with this guy? I’m for sternly telling him we’ll let him off this time, but if any of us catch him fooling around again, he’ll get it.”

(Kevin, privately) “Fair enough. He’s not going to know much of any use anyway. Tell him not to rely on medications any more than his symptoms absolutely demand from now on.”

(Marty, privately) “Absolutely.”

   Marty so informed him, and told him to go to a doctor if he continued having problems, or he’d never hear the end of it.

(Henson) “You’re letting me go?”

(Marty) “Don’t make us change our minds.”

   Henson took off running back to the construction site at high speed.

(Marty, after Henson was gone) “Well, I feel like a jerk. But at least we got some useful stuff out of him.”

(Kevin) “Eh, he’d have gotten in trouble sooner or later, he has his lungs fixed up, and he and his family have a better shot now. I think he’s gotten a good break here.”

(Marty) “Yeah. Might as well have run into us.”

(Kevin) “Right; if we want to get in, we’ll need to either hack the local database and fake all the ID’s or bypass them somehow. Off to the entrances or to the offices where there will be a computer link?”

(Marty) “Sure, why not? Worst that’ll happen is we get caught or killed.”

(Kevin) “I think off to the entrances then. It won’t be much worse getting in there than getting in the offices anyway, and more maneuvering room. An Arcology is a big place.”

   Now which ones to use? A large cargo and shipping entrance or one of the smaller personnel entrances? They couldn’t possibly guard all the small ones, so one of those.

   They picked one that appeared to be rarely used and was labelled N147. There was an airlock vaguely reminiscent of a revolving door and a card scanner next to it.

   Gerard ran a smartfiber in and started fishing… It looked like there was a simple electronic lock on the revolving door tied to verification of a valid ID card. There might be something piggybacking on the system and monitoring what cards were used where, but that sort of thing was hard to tell without tearing the system and the wall apart.

   Still, all they’d need to do would be to simply skip the card and outgoing signal and feed back an “open” signal – but to check for a door-sensor or counter first. Or another alarm. Unlikely, but possible.

   Hm… an alarm on the door to indicate forceful entry and a counter system too. So; three threads, and they’d have to spoof an ID of some sort. Still, the RFID and card could be handled by their smartclothes easily enough.

   Ergo, just block the counter signal, feed the open signal to the lock, and in they could go…

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Federation-Apocalypse Session 118a – Fishing in the Grand Barrens

   Back in Inversion, hiding from the hydrocarbon rain in an abandoned town, Gerald was busy running an illicit satellite link to try and tap into the local networks… Their security was good, but not really up to Core standards.

   The current big news on the local networks was the reports on the war in space. Apparently the third Space Elevator had fallen to rebel hands leaving only the fourth and final elevator in the hands of the United Humanity Federation. The rebels seemed to be primarily Lunar, although reports of asteroids being moved into Earth Sphere orbit were mixed and rather confused.

(Marty) “Oooh, a rebel alliance . . . considering this place, though, they might be just as bad as the people in charge.”

(Kevin) “I doubt it; It was “God” who was getting to be in charge according to what information we could get.”

(Marty) “Think we should get in touch?”

(Kevin) “Lets see what else we can get first. I’d at least like to know who was issuing the propaganda.”

   Hmm… It looked like the propaganda was being issued by the Official News Network for the United Humanity Federation – apparently a state-run media corporation. Tuning into illegal satellite signals was a capitol offense. Public service announcements would interrupt everything when the Orbital Bombardment alarms went off. The atmosphere had not responded well to the latest efforts from geo-engineering; the oxygen content was dropping and the hydrocarbon content was growing. The ice caps had completely melted, and the last major ecology preserve had died off. The state media was pleased to report, however, that extensive genetic samples had been collected and could be used to restore the ecology once the planet was under control again. Finally, there was a debate ongoing as to whether or not the Lunar Rebels were being supported by Manifold agents.

(Kevin) “Well, we definitely have a repressive government…” (And to himself… Gah! I’m dealing with small children everywhere! Infinite room available, and they’re AWARE OF IT, and they STILL INSIST ON FIGHTING over RUINED REAL ESTATE. Am I going to have to separate the entire human race!?! OK, they might not like change, but what part of “free!” didn’t they get? While a dictatorship wouldn’t want people able to come and go – they’d go and never come back – it was STILL STUPID! Why was it that EVERYWHERE they went was full of suicidal idiots? Had Teacher actually changed the human race THAT much?)

(Marty) “Hmm. We can’t mess around here. Did we ever determine where the nearest settlement was?”

(Kevin) “Not yet – and I suspect that there won’t be any up-to-date maps available and that asking for one is asking for a trace as a suspected spy or military intrusion. After all, they’re fighting an orbital war.”

(Marty) “What was that countermeasure? Couldn’t have been anything good if this is the result.

   The nearest still-occupied settlement was Los Vegas; it seemed that only the cities where orbital bombardment bunkers – graciously constructed by their “Lord and God” – were available were still inhabited.

   About the only other tidbit of interest in the news was the scheduled trial for a suspected Manifolder accused of spying – although there was lots of propaganda material on the air (half of it absurdly religious in tone) regarding this so-called “god” and his greatness and loads of other adjectives.

(Marty) “Ugh! Sounds like those accounting textbooks I read bits of in business school!”

   Kevin sighed. Three-to-one that manifold traveler was someone they’d met. They hadn’t heard from Spellweaver, Shayan, or that Praetorian girl in quite some time, and the universe did seem to work that way half the time.

   Oh, Gerald had found out what geo-engineering had been up to; they’d been attempting to release enzymes to break up the hydrocarbons in the atmosphere into water and carbon dioxide. They had then planned to release engineered algae to turn the carbon dioxide back into oxygen.

   Whaaa…? OK, he was no chemist, but that made no sense! That lost energy and used more oxygen then it could possibly supply and was working directly against the energy gradient! Why not engineer algae that released oxygen and sequestered hydrocarbons?

   OK… Supposedly the enzyme design did not account for the increased levels of UV in the atmosphere and the malformed enzyme then proceeded to break down certain organic compounds into simpler hydrocarbons.

   Right. That had to have been cellulose.

(Marty) “Well that sounds like shoddy research or a rushed project. Considering local political conditions, I’d bet on the latter.”

(Kevin, thoughtfully) “Or someone wants to make the entire population totally dependent on his beneficience and to have no other chance of survival. After all, if “God” actually wanted to be helpful, he could do it in a lot of ways.”

   The lead scientist involved had been officially forgiven by God for his mistake. He would no longer be working on climate engineering and had gone into early retirement. He would be provided with comfortable living arrangements in exchange for his years of dedicated service.

   OK. The mess was deliberate. Even for a pull-yourself-up-out-of-the-chaos setting, that seemed a bit extreme. According to the source material, the original realm was heading towards limited ecological restoration supported by massive geo-engineering projects designed to maintain most of the major feedback loops. While the ecology would not be self sustaining for many centuries – until the very end of the series – the sealed human habitats would continue to grow throughout the stories. Political unity had NOT been a feature of the setting; the closest it had ever gotten was a Council of Federated States, vaguely reminiscent of the old UN Security Council.

   Well, that was a pretty familiar pattern really. Most likely the Linear Realms would be blamed for supporting the rebels, the displaced and desperate population would be funneled through to attack there, and “god” would turn what was left into a private domain.

   Meanwhile the storm is clearing overhead. The night sky is coming into view… They could see two strands of light to the South reaching into the sky, and large blobs of light hanging in the air. The Moon was covered in glittering lights indicating human settlements. The sky was also very “glittery”.

(Marty) “Wonder what those strands of light are? Transport? Communications?”

(Kevin) “Orbital elevators – and a lot of orbital debris.”

(Marty) “Wow. How could we get access to those? They’re supposed to be pretty fast, right?”

(Gerald) “In theory, access could be obtained by reaching one of the two endpoints or the midpoint depending on the design. The speed also depends on the design; the biggest advantage is the sheer cargo capacity and the cost per pound of putting something in orbit.”

(Marty) “We’ll definitely have to look into that. We might need to know where those are later, and how fast they are. And somehow I get the feeling that just leaping down from orbit isn’t going to work.”

(Kevin) “Oh well. At least they didn’t try to implement the orbital wheel-scoop approach. Apparently even the locals weren’t crazy enough to try to build a scoop that rotated down through the atmosphere, drew energy from the rotation of the earth, scooped things up, and then – at the other end – launched the stuff.

(Kevin) “Gerald? Any details on the Manifold spy? I have a feeling that catching someone like that will be considered quite a coup.”

   It seemed that two people had been caught in the incident; one was a young preteen female and the other was an adult male displaying unusual powers. They were found snooping around one of the European Arcologies and trying to make a run for a gateway nearby. Luckily, the security services had been able to overpower them both and take them into custody. The gateway had since been placed under heavy guard. The preteen had been sent for psychological counseling while the adult had been “interrogated”. He had “confessed” to spying and sabotage, had pleaded not guilty in front of the judge, and was awaiting trial and sentencing now.

(Marty) “Which arcology? It’s going to be hell getting there.”

   It had been the Berlin Arcology.

   Well, it would be leaping to an incredibly unjustified conclusion – but that could be a pair they hadn’t seen in quite some time.

(Xellos) “Well this is certainly a dreary place. Even we monsters prefer a little variation to our psychic energies.”

(Marty) “Yeah, tell me about it. The Crusader Kingdoms were livelier than this.”

(Kevin) “Well, Los Vegas or Berlin?”

(Marty) “If those travelers aren’t anybody we know, we could take them on as employees for saving them… Berlin then?”

(Xellos) “So any plans? Rescue the accused Manifolders, try to get into touch with the Rebels, or just cause enough chaos to split the realm into two?”

(Marty) “While I’d like to take you up on that, Xellos, I’m not sure even WE could cause enough chaos before they blasted us home.”

(Kevin) “I’m tempted to just split the place. If it hasn’t already, it can only be because someone is pouring a lot of power into holding it together.”

(Xellos) “True, I can sense a lot of power flowing into the very air around here.”

(Marty) “Uh oh. I hope ‘God’ isn’t all-seeing and all-knowing.”

(Xellos) “If it is this “god” they speak of that is holding things together, it implies a disturbing level of power.”

   Kevin probed… they were out in the Manifold far enough… were they within a gate at the moment? Someone could be overlapping the original and split-off realm by just putting the whole place in a gate. Out of core you might even not need gatekeepers to hold such a thing – particularly with two alternate versions of the same realm.

   No… It had been a good guess, but that wasn’t it; it looked like there was a mana suppression effect going on. It might be related to the barrier seal around the Crusader Kingdoms, although it seems to be more focused than that was. Thus, the mana that would normally split the realm in two was suppressed, and the realm remained stable – although it was pretty obvious that someone was pouring a heck of a lot of power into maintaining that suppression effect.

   So, guess two; if you tried to use mana, you have to spend lots extra, which went to their flawed opener. With a world full of people desperate to escape, he or she now had a power battery. The local population may be or have been mostly ensouled, and he or she didn’t want people to leave. That seemed to fit everything he could sense anyway… As for pouring in the power… He had to wonder whether the local power-signature was anything like the Sunwell?

   Indeed it was. Very similar. Well, if you wanted to hold a realm and turn millions of souls into a power battery, you’d need an awful lot of magic.

(Xellos) “So how would you suggest splitting the place? Import nukes and start taking out cities? Or pulling on those reserves of yours and trying to overpower this suppression effect? Or something even more chaotic?”

(Kevin) “Hey, we seem to be appointed forces of chaos; we just do whatever comes to mind and the disasters happen!”

(Marty) “Hmm… well, Kevin could get some nukes from Kadia, but I’m pretty sure ‘God’ would notice a power signature on the same level as it. Probably best to stick with reserves. But if we REALLY want to get flashy, a jailbreak in Berlin might do it.”

(Kevin) “We may be approaching the center of things. A lot of bits and threads seem to come together here… (To Gerald) Any images on those manifold spies?”

   Gerald did his best to oblige… There was nothing on the official networks, but there was quite a bit on the satellites supported by the Lunar Rebels. Lots of video provided by people with cameras uploading to the Rebel network. The biggest bit was a satellite view of the battle with commentary. Images of both the preteen and the adult resembled Spellweaver and his youthful praetorian friend from Greenwald. It still might be different people, or it might be differences in appearances due to taking a local identitiy.

(Marty) “Huh. They weren’t with the House, were they?”

   Oh well. Given their luck…

(Kevin) “No, that was Spellweaver and a young lady we promised to keep an eye out for.”

(Marty) “Well, we made a promise. Guess we have to bail them out, which will probably mean a lot of shooting and exploding.”

(Kevin) “And if this is where the power from the Sunwell went, and Spellweaver was also from Baelaria, and was opposed to that project, it’s not terribly unlikely that he would wind up here. Well, that’s probably a reason to go to Berlin – but that’s going to be quite a trip in Ultralights.”

(Marty) “Yeah, it is. I don’t think there’d be local air vehicles just lying around, either.”

   The performance characteristics of Core Ultralights were pretty good, but they weren’t all that impressive from a world travel perspective. Crossing an ocean and two continents was going to be quite a little odyssey.

(Kevin) “Great. I don’t think the local transport will be too agreeable – and the local authorities will be coming already if they’ve detected the computer taps. Lets head for the fourth-nearest city, and run shadowweave to cloak ourselves and the power output.”

   That would be Seattle, and they’d keep an eye out for pursuers.

(Kevin) “With any luck, we can get out of here before they can narrow the search area too much; I think we’ve been running an unauthorized satellite link. Hard to locate at ground level.”

   Marty took some pics along the way – the sky was weird, but impressive – but it wasn’t long before a radar scan from orbit passed over them and focused in on their position before fading out. Nothing else really showed up on their sensors though, the cloak had diffused it some, and the radar signature of their ultralights was pretty negligible anyway – especially given this atmosphere. Still, they might well have been spotted.

(Kevin) “Everyone, collapse the ultralights, telekinetic boost; we should be able to maintain 3-4 G’s of push for several minutes – and the collapsed ultralights will drop the signature to our own bodies. Switch to eighth closest target. Keep up the shadowweave and someone with that ability leave an illusion of the ultralights still potting along”

(Marty) “Right!”

   OK, now they were looking at Dallas.

   The landscape slowly passed by beneath them. Looking at the familiar, yet dead, terrain was disconcerting to say the least; it was hard to imagine humans having such a negative impact on the environment even with the evidence right in front of them. For the most part, it was utterly desolate… They passed a high-speed rail line on the ground as they passed through Colorado, but it was almost the only thing that moved… Soon enough, they entered Texas and the large flat expanses of the midwest.

   As they approached Dallas, they could see the lights of the arcology lighting up the sky from a hundred miles away. The place towered into the sky, and they could see multiple rail lines connecting to the city with trains coming and going constantly.

   Huh. So much for “Orbital Bombardment”, unless it was strictly limited to purely military targets – and with this environment, how many of those would there really be?

(Kevin) “Now, how to arrive without simply announcing ourselves?”

(Marty) “I wonder how well guarded the cargo trains are?”

(Kevin) “Given that there’s currently a war on and the place has a theocratic dictatorship…”

(Marty) “Yeah, that won’t work.”

   Well, there were some outskirts. There were quite a lot of industrial and city maintenance facilities located outside the arcology itself, and it looked like some of those areas were even connected to the city using roads inside air tubes and tunnels. Others looked to be using old roads and airlock gates at the arcology.

(Marty) “Maybe take one of the older roads? They might be less important and more lightly guarded.”

(Kevin) “And there we go. We’ll probably need to whip up some phony ID’s, but that’s what hypnotism, illusion, and Jedi Mind Tricks are all about!”

Federation-Apocalypse Session 117b – The Pack Mentality

   The kidnaped children were being held in one of the industrial areas, where there was plenty of noise to drown them out, machinery moving about and regular mechanical cleaning with to cover any physical traces, and inconvenient bodies could simply be dumped straight into the recycling systems.

   There were supposed to be alarms that would pick up on large living things in where they didn’t belong – but they never had anything to report. It looked to Sasha like they might be entirely inoperative. At least none of them seemed to have gone off for quite some time. Was that just having nothing to report, poor maintenance, or something more sinister? Still, they had to save those kids.

   The industrial sectors were generally limited-access with some basic guards to keep out saboteurs and – far more often – to redirect people who’d gotten lost. A lot of raw materials moved in and out of course, but that would be a rather risky approach.

   The workers and janitors and such went in and out of course, but their access was pretty limited. Engineers could get in almost anywhere, but there were relatively few of them. Technicians and repairmen probably had the best access for their purposes… The industrial areas were mostly in the underground or lower levels, so there was access from above – but generally not easy access.

   Wait! Those sectors did pull a lot of power and water; interruptions there might be good diversions – and all that piping and cabling would need access tunnels.

   So… The closest major power plant was nuclear – an old-style fission breeder reactor, using 238 and thorium – and the next closest was hydroelectric. The plants themselves were pretty closely guarded of course, but there were plenty of vulnerable connections… The power grid was mostly underground, and the access points are electronically locked and alarmed, but there were no human guards on anything but the most critical junctures. It looked like there were simply too many tunnels spread over too wide an area for effective patrols. It would call for a small army of guards, and the Linear Realms couldn’t spare that many workers.

   Sasha went looking to see what wires they could pull. It had been easy enough to pull some basic maps of the layout, but actually getting in would be harder.

   Hm… They could probably crack the access restrictions, but they might set off more alarms. It would be a lot easier to get a technician with legal access to those areas to open a hatch for them. There were plenty of them out there – and they could get the basic list of who was working where easily enough. How to go about it though? Bribery? That made a dog’s fur crawl! Maybe say the system needs a retuning and fast talk their way through?

   Well, maybe over an electronic connection, rather than in person. The locals weren’t used to talking Neodogs after all.

   They picked a handy junction, called in a trouble report under a phony identity, and requested a technician.

(Tech) “What kind of symptoms have you got? That’s cabling, sparks, heating, a short? I’ll check for major power drains; that could start fires pretty easy.”

(Sasha) “Well, it’s very hot and I think I heard crackling inside.”

(Tech) “Damn! I’m not showing much on the readings; either they’re buggered again or it’s on fire already! I’ll be sending someone right out – but this had better not be a phony report; I’ve got your ID logged, and that can get you into real trouble!”

   Sasha felt a bit guilty over that. It wasn’t right to be fooling people, to make phony reports, or to give the technicians extra trouble to deal with!

   Still, the children took priority – and she liked to think that the technicians would volunteer to help if they knew what was going on.

   Fires were a serious threat in the linear developments. They had a technician out in short order.

   A bit Witchsight to guide their powers, the Hand of Shadows to provide a few modest shorts, and Witchfire to provideda real – if non-serious – fire gave them a bit of burned insulation and a good reason for the technicians to open things up to do some checking.

   It wasn’t long before they had a small technical crew, some barriers set up, a fire inspector, and a small bustle of activity there. It was nice to see that the locals were being fairly efficient about repairs. While the chief technician – probably a manager-type – tended to make impossible demands, and ranted about wastage, the younger ones seemed a lot more practical.

   In any case, the access hatches were open, and a bit of beglamourment and illusion got them in. That didn’t seem to disturb the technicians – but the fire inspector was prowling around and seemed pretty suspicious. Trying to distract him with more glamour simply made him even MORE suspicious… A sensitive? The realm did run towards psychics.

   Hm… His record showed that he might well have a trace of ability. He was very VERY good at locating potential fire hazards. Blast; they needed to get in the hatch before he got REALLY suspicious. He was prowling around muttering about how he didn’t see how that much heat could have built up…

   They settled for the old distracting-noise-while-they-made-a-run-for-it routine. It wasn’t as if the locals were particularly on the watch for psychic dogs…

   The power conduits in the industrial sector were a bit dusty, over-warm, and reeked of concrete efficiency – but there were regular code-markers to keep them oriented on their maps. The main power feeds led to a distribution subsystem. From there, there were a dozen or so possible routes – eight into active sectors, two down for maintenence, one on partial production, and one currently being decontaminated after a bad chemical spill. They’d be safe enough thanks to their smartcollars, but the locals would need chemsuits. They could get in that way, but it wouldn’t be a viable way to leave again with thirty children.

   They went in through one of the sectors under maintenance. One of the plastics-forming and recycling sectors, with a sideline in hydrocarbon reclamation. What little they had suggested that the kids were being kept in the plastics-forming section.

   The conduits wound up in a heavy safety grid, with a selection of electronic alarms. The scene beyond that is moderately busy, with at least two crews working on machines, along with a selection of simple sweeper robots. There was a couple of feet of clearance beneath the catwalks if they got past the grid though – which wasn’t bad for a neodog, and would be no trouble at all if they used shapeshifting. Magic was a strictly limited resource in this world though, would it be better to save it for later?

   There wasn’t a lot of time though – and rat-forms could squeeze through the safety grid without setting off any alarms and could easily creep past most of the other obstacles.

   The plastics-forming section had a selection of disused storage areas for production overruns – all locked, and all pretty miserable. One, however, had a sign proclaiming that a structural collapse was under repair – and two guys who read as guards, even if they were pretending to be taking a break. That same telepathic check showed signs of life beyond the door – a lot of youthful misery and, with a few moments of listening, some faint sounds.

   Those poor kids!

   What did they have to work with? A few tools scattered artfully about, a bench and table, the sign itself, a couple of boxes (suitable for lunches), sodas, and clipboards with assorted paperwork. The men themselves were carrying concealed weapons of course…

   They weren’t being very nice, but they were still human. They didn’t want to hurt them – and they didn’t want an open fight if they could avoid it either. Still, a telekinetic and witchfire distraction to keep them focused down the corridor – and a little sleep-beglamourment – should be enough to take them out.

   Perhaps unwisely, they decided on some gunfire noises to make SURE to focus their attention. That brought out the concealed guns. One of the guards triggered some sort of alarm and stayed by the door behind the bench – while the other moved down the corridor very cautiously.

   That hadn’t exactly been what they’d had in mind, but it let them focus their massed efforts on them one at a time – which made it a lot easier. They put the one behind the bench to sleep, and then took out the one in the corridor, who was trying to figure out what was going on.

   There was… Hm. Panic coming from inside the storage area.

   The door was sealed with a key-card and code-input. The card was on one of the guards, and was easy enough to find – but probing their minds for the code took several minutes. The panic was fading however, which was something of an improvement!

   Could they get in before reinforcements turned up? They set up a few obstacles – even if there wasn’t all that much to work with – and kept working on the door. A bit of illusion to cover up the facts that the guards were missing might delay things a bit more. One of them would have to stay to control it – but that left two to see what was going on now that the door was finally open.

   There were a couple more people coming this way; they seem to be looking for something – so they covered up the open door with more illusion and headed in.

   Their smartclothes reported atmospheric contamination – a fairly unpleasant set of hydrocarbons, that would cause swift unconsciousness and – with too much overexposure – would eventually be fatal. There were a couple of kids – rather hurriedly being tossed onto a trolley and moved by a couple of men in oxygen masks. It looked like they were working their way through the last couple of small rooms that had been being used for cells down at the end of the corridor…

   Sasha and her pack were sufficiently outraged that they simply blasted them into unconsciousness as soon as they set down the kids they were currently holding. They needed to get the kids out of this toxic atmosphere!

   Reverting to normal form gave them custody of four unconscious youngsters – but there were a rather a lot more pallets and such than that around though. Where were the other kids?

   They ran another set of mind probes – not nearly as gentle and patient as the last set.

   It was pretty easy, perhaps due to the guys fundamental nervousness. The last four were supposed to go down the recycling conveyor like the others if the alarm was sent.

   RECYCLING CONVEYOR?!

   NO!

   It was… down the far end, beyond a safety shield. It was there in case a production overrun turned out to be unwanted. And these men had been sending kids down it! That was SO wrong! They had to save them! It… ran down two levels to the organic reprocessing center. The guard wasn’t sure how long it took though; it wasn’t like it normally mattered…

   There wasn’t time for conserving power any longer. They levitated he foud they had and took them along. Taking them down the conveyor might be dangerous – but they pretty obviously wouldn’t be very safe if they were left behind! And at least it would get them out of that gas!

   They overtook another eight unconscious kids along the way before the conveyor – not too unexpectedly – emptied into a giant reprocessing bin. They added them to the floating collection, even if it did start pushing their telekinetic limits. They could handle a few more – but not more than five or six at most! Could they drape some on their backs physically? Maybe four or five of the smaller ones…

   The end of the conveyor has already dumped another dozen or so; still unconscious, but at least the ones on the bottom broke the fall of the ones on top. Of course, that left the poor kids at the bottom shoved into the rubbish and goop – and in urgent need of medical attention. Broken bones, internal bleeding, inhaled rubbish, one with some fairly extensive brain damage – although she would live if they could get her lungs clear, and magic could heal the neural damage in Kadia.

   First aid took priority – and didn’t leave them with much power in reserve.

   By the time they were done, some of the kids were starting to stir – and the back wall was beginning to push everyone forward – towards a shaft that dropped into some sort of chopping device designed to break everything up for reprocessing. Non-corrosive steel alloy walls, no place to get out of the way, the alarms and emergency stops seemed to have been disabled externally, and there were no convenient areas that wouldn’t be swept – well, they would have defeated the purpose anyway. Enough damage might shut things down. They might be able to weld the pushing wall to the floor with witchfire… Oh well, if they just blew a hole in the pushing wall, there had to be a space behind it.

   This was desperate enough to warrant using more magic – and that made burning through the wall easy enough. It was a minor nuisance to line up all the kids so that the wall would pass over them – but it was better than being chopped up!

   Behind the wall there was a great big hydraulic piston, some control relays and sensors – and the kids were waking up, not unexpectedly hysterical. Well, stuck was always better than dead.

(Sasha) “We’ve come to save you and take you to a refuge!”

   Too bad they weren’t carrying more tools. Stealth missions – and pretending to be normal dogs – was pretty limiting that way.

   It was kind of embarrassing to admit it – but the best option at the moment was to call for another team to bring more medical gear, let them out, and help them transport the kids.

(Sasha) “Thank you very much!”

(Backup) “Hey, it’s hard to maneuver easily with two dozen injured kids! You’re very welcome!”

   They sent the kids back to Kadia – and began making plans to do something about the local “authorities” and their murderous henchmen. The kids didn’t have too much information – but they had some faces recorded, and had been mind-probing. It was time to do some research.