Federation-Apocalypse Session 119 – The City of Gloom

   The security systems were on the doors of the arcology were multiply-redundant and well hidden behind the armored walls – but they had but they were purely local, and had never been designed to keep out psychics with Core technologies to call on.

   There might still be magic, or some it or weirdness out of the Manifold, or simply some elaborate remote precautions – but they’d picked a random door on a random city and the place was pretty obviously short of resources.

   They headed on in. At least there were no immediate alarms. It could hardly be more depressing than the world outside…

(Marty) “You sure about that?”

(Kevin) “You aren’t? Even Xellos finds this place a bit much!”

   The outer airlock door closed behind them – and then filled with decontamination sprays, which pooled around their knees and drained away as the air was replaced before the inner door opened – into an unoccupied locker room. Lots of environment suits hanging from the walls, assorted safety and instructional posters on the walls on how to don and use the equipment, details on the emergency shield backups that would automatically engage in case of a leak, warnings about limited battery life, and a few other details about evacuation points.

   How very BORING.

   They headed on out to see the city. It wasn’t like they’d had a definite goal anyway, although they had wanted to get some information and get to Berlin.

   “Outside” there was grass on the “ground”, small trees in the distance, tall buildings that rose into the fake sky and merged with it, and a “river” off in the distance.

   Okay. A dome-city then, not strictly an arcology – unless they were just on the roof of a truly massive underground complex. So it wasn’t as depressing as what they’d seen so far, at least on the surface.

   There was an elevated path leading to a rail system threading through the buildings and support buildings – and the rail station had a map of the city showing the major landmarks with respect to the rail network and the elevators. Still, unless they saw a good chance to hack the local system their lack of identities wouldn’t stand up to much, so they might as well wing it.

   Now, if they wanted to get to Berlin, they’d want the Airport – one of the main buildings at the center of the city, near the top where it merged into the dome. Information would probably be best obtained in the residential areas, which were probably deep underground. They’d have to look for somewhere to descend; if the locals were actually worried about orbital attacks, the high-status residences would probably the deepest underground.

   They walked. The trains had more of those keycard scanners set up at their access points.

(Kevin) “You know, this place is going to be really irritating.”

(Marty) “GOING TO BE?:

(Kevin) “We need some local ID’s or at least a decent computer access point. And you’re right, it already is – but I meant on a constant basis. We could snag some ID’s suppose, but I suspect that, as long as someone is draining mana from the people here, my usual “recruit them” tactic would be supplying more and more power to the enemy. On the other hand, if people are as desperate as I suspect, can we really deny the kids the chance?”

(Marty) “I don’t think so.”

(Kevin) “This is ridiculous anyway. I wonder if “God” is farming out the surveillance to somewhere in the Manifold? I would be.”

(Marty) “Ah, outsourcing! Maybe we can find the source and raid them too!”

   The blasted elevators would probably want keycards too… They went looking for an access hatch. They surely couldn’t put elaborate monitoring on all of those.

   They found a couple along the way; sections of flooring that sounded different from the rest of the platform they’d been walking on and appeared to be false. Rather cleverly concealed to not stand out. Hm… Nothing in the way of alarms but a simple state switch indicating the state of the access panel. Easily bypassed.

   Kevin wondered about learning a bit of divination. It would shorten this kind of nonsense a good deal. There might be any number of alarms on the other side, but if they kept wandering around in the open, someone would notice anyway.

   That led to a ladder which dropped about thirty feet to a brightly-lit concrete hallway with labeled and color-coded pipes and conduits lining the walls and ceiling. High voltage electrical, potable water, waste water, fiber, and more.

   Well, they were in. Ideally they’d want to local underworld or something. There might not be much of an organization, but the number of illegal video uploads to the rebels said that there was at least a lot of casual resistance. Of course, if those were easy to track the local authorities would be doing it – and the satellite connection was nonexistent in the tunnels. Too much interference and material blocking the path.

   Marty thought that this would have to lead to one of the central utility hubs that would fan out through the city; he’d broken into a lot of buildings… Maintenance typically started there, and followed the connections and branches that would split off to various distribution points around the city. So one direction would lead to a smaller hub, and the other would lead to a larger one.

(Kevin) “Bah. Lets go find someone, find a larger hub, and head off to a residential area. We’re here for information, and not about pipes.”

   Marty was all for that.

(Kevin) “Lets go then. If we find a maintenance guy, he or she should be easy enough to handle. If we need local ID’s, we’re survivalist Landsrecht who have been holding out in the mountains.”

   The larger hub was a clean arrangement of pipes, conduits, access panels, junction boxes, and computer and network equipment. Currently there was a sticky note on one of the main monitors; (Sticky Note) “Sasori section G-4 main breaker issue come when can.”

   Well, that was either maintenance or somebody’s private communication system. It looked like – at least according to the stenciling on the wall – this was section G-8, and G-4 was a mile or so down the corridor to their right. It looked like the residential areas were below them, probably starting around level -18 or so. They were currently only at -3.

   They needed a downshaft. And a general map. Fortunately, all of the was easily available on the maintenance computers… The next downshaft was between G-8 and H-8, which should be down another corridor.

   Well, the best places for security sensors would match the best places for engineering sensors – the major junctions and such – so they made a note of those, and kept going – keeping an eye out for people along the way.

   Hm. A knocking sound? Water hammer in the pipes – and Marty noted a very familiar sound; someone swearing at said hammering down the hall and around the corner.

(Kevin, whispering) “Well, we’ve found somebody to talk to. Want to give it a shot?”

(Marty, whispering) “I think the plumber’s having problems. Why not?”

   They went to have a look. Given how their presence bent probability and the tendency to be shunted into plotlines, it would probably turn out to be someone of significance to them, Kevin suspected that Inversion was really trying to reject what had been done to it anyway.

   Around the corner there was a middle aged man looking back and forth between a computer terminal plugged into a service panel and several display readouts on the wall. He was pecking away at the keyboard with lengthy terminal commands of some sort.

   Marty wavered for a moment – so he be sane or not? – and so Kevin took the initiative.

(Kevin) “What’s the problem?”

(Marty) “Spring a leak?”

(Engineer”, not looking up from his display) “Got a problem with the system not ramping pressure down correctly, leading to a water hammer on a nearby valve. Fools just keep replacing the valve instead of fixing the issue to root.”

(Kevin) “Oddly enough, virtually no one ever fixes the underlying problem instead of treating symptoms. It’s a lack of patience and logic I suspect.”

(Marty) “Or they’re lazy. My money’s on lazy.”

(Engineer) “Amen to that.”

(Marty) “Smart man. So, how long’s this been happening?”

(Engineer) “According to what I can see on the parts log, I would say six months at least. They’ve been changing out the 12 inch valve monthly for that long.”

(Marty) “What would they have to do to fix the pressure?”

   Kevin was considering… Plumbing was not one of his things, but it was likely either a damaged flow restrictor/pressure stepdown, a bad sensor, or a stuck relief valve.

   Wait. Why was he worrying? It wasn’t one of HIS problems, and there was already someone fixing it! Had his tendency to drop by and fix things gotten COMPLETELY out of control? He was NOT going to wind up being diverted into every trivial problem in the entire Manifold! He was going to start saying “NO!” to people! Profitable sidequests were one thing, but this was getting quite ridiculous!

(Engineer) “Have to properly modify the control program to ramp down the pressure from the nearby pump before the valve is closed. Instead they shortcutted and just closed the valve hoping the pressure sensors would tell the pumps to ramp down fast enough.”

(Marty) “Which is working REALLY well from what you told us.”

   Ah, a sensor that was never set up properly in the first place. Kevin let Gerald scan the control program into his own computer system and take a look at it… It looked to be an addressing issue at the I/O level. The sensor was reading it’s findings to the remote I/O, but the block wasn’t sending the data to the main system in the correct format. A minor, but well-buried, programming issue. Kevin had him tell the engineer the problem and offer a patch.

(Engineer) “What? Oh hell, I thought they checked that! (More furious mumbling and tapping at keyboard.) Alright, new configuration loaded, let’s try again. (The valve closed with a soft hiss.) Well, that’s fixed although the valve may need to be changed one last time as it sounds like there is some small bypassing going on. I’ll put that in the maintenance schedule one last time.”

(Kevin) “How have things been going otherwise?”

(Engineer) “Well enough I suppose, not much of anyone pays attention to you down here and that is nice and all. The drains on the power systems have stopped being so disruptive and that has led to a drop in major maintenance issues for the last six months.”

   Gah! What a nasty place! It looked like curiosity was NOT healthy around here.

   The engineer was still looking at the computer terminal checking logs and had yet to turn to look at them. Either he was VERY focused and hadn’t yet wondered they’d known about the problem or he was carefully not considering it while he looked at a mapping of water flows across the sector and measured pressures.

   Eventually, though, he ran out of excuses and turned to look at them – and Kevin made sure that the Thralls were ready to jam communications if necessary.

(Engineer) “Wait who are you guys and what are you doing here?”

(Kevin) “Visiting actually. This place is a mess and really needs some fixing.”

(Engineer) “I imagine you are talking about the region and not just these tunnels?”

(Kevin) “The entire realm. Someone has REALLY been making a mess out of this place.”

(Marty) “Yeah, it’s sucking my soul from my body. I like my soul.”

(Engineer, cautiously) “Are you Landsrecht?”

(Kevin) “It’s not supposed to be nearly this bad.”

(Marty) “Yeah, the biosphere should be RECOVERING, not almost destroyed.”

(Kevin) “In any case, the Landsrecht abilities are straightforward enough, if rather high-powered.”

   The engineer “casually” grabbed something out of a toolbox next to him and laid it down beside him out of view – from the glimpse Marty had gotten, some sort of hot cutting tool. Ah, he thought they were loonies! And he was right, but they were also right!

(Engineer) “I can’t say I agree with all the things that have happened, but I am in no position to voice that either… So are you Manifolders then or just Landsrecht trying to get me to say something I shouldn’t?”

(Marty) “We’re Manifolders. Can the Landscrecht do THIS?”

   Marty used a bit of illusion to “cut off his hand and reattach it”. It was cheating a bit, but it wasn’t as if he couldn’t do the parlor trick for real anyway.

(Kevin) “Oh. we’re manifolders. And if the local authorities are going around harassing their competent technicians, this place is in even more trouble than I thought… Oh, never mind that. Marty does love his parlor tricks.”

(Engineer) “Alright, that didn’t look entirely real, but the fact is that Landsknecht cannot do that either.”

(Marty) “I can do it for real too. Anyway, which way to the nearest residential area?”

(Engineer) “What here on some kind of bombing mission? Then I would suggest hitting the main distribution hub from the Casimir system.”

(Marty) “Just how bad are things around here? You said that like I was asking for the nearest train stop!”

(Kevin) “Nope. We’re here to find out why Merlin, and “God” have been harassing the rest of the multiverse. We have a habit of fixing things wherever we visit though – and the easiest way to find out what needs fixing is usually to talk to people.”

   The engineer considered… Most of what he knew about Manifolders was from “Gods” propaganda. Should he trust these people? Even a little?

   Well… They’d stopped by, and waited for him to finish, and helped him fix something before trying to get on with their own business. Somehow, he couldn’t see the Landsknecht, OR “God”, doing that. That counted for even more than the youngster’s astounding charisma…

   And there wasn’t all that much to lose.

(Engineer) “Ah well for that I would recommend getting some ID’s if you haven’t already. As for why “God” as he likes to call himself is causing trouble out in the multiverse, he is rather full of himself and do you really need more reason than that?”

(Marty) “Who does? Where can we find some of these IDs?”

(Kevin) “Well, I usually like to think that people have better reasons than that. Oh well, his being crazy was always a strong possibility.”

(Engineer) “Hmm, that gets to be tricky. Usually the only ones giving out ID’s are the hospitals these days. But the server system was built on a contract awarded based on politics as opposed to technical qualifications. Entries are continually lost and so service requests to put them back in are rather common. Where do you want to live and work?”

(Marty) “Can you make US Landsknecht?”

(Engineer) “In reality or just on paper? Cause in reality is well beyond my abilities.”

(Marty) “Paper will do.”

(Kevin) “Oh, real enough should be manageable. If there’s some need for power use, that can be done – but usually it’s best to identify the problem rather than apply raw force to things.”

(Engineer) “I’ve never tried, I haven’t heard of any Landknecht getting dropped from the database, but they are stored in there. Probably just one of those sheer odds deals. Give me a sec while I log into the relevant system.”

   Marty grinned. A good thing this system was built by politicians!

(Kevin) “Most kind of you to assist. Is there anything we can do for you or for any family or friends? Or will simply making some efforts at improving things here be safer for you?”

(Engineer) “Either get me out of here or to the moon or just not tell anyone that you ran across me. Since I doubt you can do the former, work on the latter. But if you do get a chance to nuke “God”, please do so.”

   They considered. Getting him out of here would obviously be his first choice – but a gate in the city, even in the maintenance tunnels, would almost certainly be noticed. There wasn’t any magic, although psionic energy was – of course – very high. Any major reality manipulation would almost certainly be noticed, and a full-scale magical gate was awkward… Still, there weren’t very many restrictions on the local psionics. As usual, you couldn’t bring back the long-dead, but teleportation and gating was merely very rare, since few could manage the raw power and fine control necessary to push reality like that. Jedi and Orb abilities were common.

   Kevin couldn’t do that – not yet anyway – since his psychic abilities were mostly the kind of things which worked in Core, but Daniel had psionics, psychic ritual, and access to disciplines. It would be within his abilities, although he could only carry about half a ton. That should be quite enough for the bunch of them. Xellos didn’t really weigh anything, the Thralls didn’t have to weigh much, and it didn’t seem likely that the engineer weighed a thousand pounds, unless he had weird implants – and they’d probed enough to be sure that he wasn’t a deep-cover agent for Merlin or a Landsknecht. Besides, it would let them consult the rebels.

   To the moon it was!

   To… Tranquility Base Historical Park as per the engineers suggestion; he didn’t have life support gear handy of course (while his protective clothing did provide protection against all sorts of environments, it was not vacuum rated), so Kevin put up a telekinetic bubble just in case they missed.

   It was a bit awkward. The moon was almost in another realm given the current problems, and it was awkward to navigate – but they made it. They found themselves standing on top of a clear plastic or glass floor above what looked to be lunar dirt. The sky was black with a slight tinge of blue to it which they could clearly see that stars and the Earth through. There were signs of a dome above them, and there were definitely see signs of a major colony/city off to one side.

   There were also a bunch of currently-panicking tourists and security guards running their way. Kevin waved cheerily.

(Marty) “Hi!”

   Various small arms were pointed their way and a small perimeter was set up.

(Guards) “Identify yourselves Landsknecht!”

(Marty) “We’re dropping this guy off. He’s a refugee from Dallas. And I’m Marco!”

(Kevin) “And I’m Kierroth!”

(Guard) “Refugees? Landsknecht refugees?”

(Kevin) “And that’s Daniel and Gerard and Bard and Xellos! And no, we aren’t especially refugees; we were just dropping off this fellow because he was helpful.”

(Marty) “Yeah, he told us about the situation and we’re repaying the favor. Need an engineer?”

(Kevin) “Besides, if we wanted to be refugees, this would be a lousy realm to drop in on…”

(A voice, calling out from behind the guards.) “Manifolders then? I was beginning to think that you guys were propaganda to justify some internal purging that the unified-whatever-they-call-themselves-these-days needed.

(Marty) “Who are you?”

(Kevin) “Nice view by the way!”

   Marty started using the smartclothes to take pictures. That way he didn’t have to wait for the situation to calm down!

(Kilhoy) “I am one of the Lunar Landsknecht, Kilhoy, enemy of God and whatever else he may try to lob into orbit these days. I am assuming you to be Manifolders since you obviously have odd powers and are not Landsknecht.”

(Marty) “Nice to meet you, Kilhoy.”

(Kilhoy) “The view is quite breathtaking, I was hoping for some peace and quiet on my day off, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.”

(Kevin) “Oh well. It needn’t take up too much of your time unless you want it to. I take it that “God” took over, and has been making a mess of things, and that there was little choice except to resist?”

(Kilhoy) “Resist, die or submit if you want to be specific. But then not everyone cares to go into that much detail up here.”

(Marty) “Any idea what exactly happened?”

(Kilhoy) “I don’t know the exact details myself of the very beginning other than the fact that a very strong Landsknecht appeared out of nowhere and started systematically taking over the place. He was killed by a battle against 18 Landsknecht before he reappeared again months later with a new face and started again. Eventually that one was killed too. More would keep coming back and eventually more than one at a time. Eventually the defenders ran out of stuff to through at him from what I understand.”

(Marty) “Got a name on him?”

(Kevin) “A rude way to exploit your talents; he’s been simply using more victims as remote-operated puppets.”

(Marty) “Joy.”

(Kilhoy) “Eh, for that I am going to have to consult the records. I am fairly certain someone managed to get some of that info during one attack on the bastard. Would you be adverse to coming in for questioning? I am afraid we are disrupting things talking in the middle of a tour site.”

(Marty) “Oh. I have no problem with that.”

(Kevin) “Oh, why not? It’s likely to prove mutually profitable in terms of information. To the conference room!”

(Marty) “Oh, joy. Can we at least do it in an interrogation room? Something that won’t remind me of ISO9000?”

(Kevin) “How about a bar?”

(Marty) “Private room IN a bar!”

(Kilhoy) “”Alright, a bar it is then. I know an Irish Pub not far from here. I hope you don’t mind some of my friends joining in do you?”

(Kevin) “Not at all.”

(Marty) “No! The more people come, the more interesting stories we can try to cover up the next morning!”

   They had a few near-spills learning to deal with low gravity – Kevin and some of the Thralls had had a bit of experience, but not much – but a touch of telekinesis kept things from giving the locals more than an occasional smile. Eventually, however, they reached to pub. Inside there were several rather gruff military types and some more indeterminate types sitting around a makeshift collection of tables pushed together in the center of the room. They could feel a certain amount of energy in the air that made the hair on the back of their your necks stand on end. The bartender/waiter is looking a bit nervous.

(Kevin) “I’d be willing to bet that this is like a much happer place than down on the surface…”

(Marty) “You think? They seem to have some freedom up here.”

   Kevin was probing… They weren’t quite outside the mana-suppressing field, but it was nowhere near as strong. That was a pretty blasted good radius of effect. Even in his Red Wizard ID he wasn’t up to that. Not without some REALLY drastic cheating anyway.

(Kevin) “Hello everybody! Nice to meet you!”

(Marty) “So, what do you guys want to know?”

(Guy who was tilting his chair back) “So, you’re Manifolder’s eh?”

(Marty) “Yeah, we sure are.”

(Kevin) “Afraid so! I take it you haven’t had many actual visitors from the Manifold?”

(Another) “Most supposedly end up planet side and end up caught or run like hell. A few pop up here, but they never really seem to do much besides take pictures and shit.”

(Marty) “Well, I took pictures when I got here, but we managed to make it from North America to here.”

(A girl sitting on the table) “A rare feat even for us. So where do you come from besides this “Evil Manifold trying to conquer us all”?”

(Kevin) “I take it you’re winning wherever you’re not actually confronting “God” or Merlin, but can’t make any progress where they show up, and are relatively short of actual resources. It’s also likely that the “orbital bombardment” is mostly a myth? And I’m from Core. Marty is from Battling Business World… As for the Manifold, while it does contain every evil ever imagined, it contains every force for good as well.”

(Marty) “And some forces that are just really, REALLY weird.”

(Kilhoy) “I’m afraid we aren’t familiar with any of those places. If by winning, you mean “Keep them stuck planetside” then yes. As far as facing them in battle besides that, one on one we are better, but there are a lot more of them than us. We just don’t have the resources to kill “God” or Merlin in anything called a battle. We’ve tried taking potshots from orbit when either wandered a bit too far from the cities, but it doesn’t seem to do any good.”

(Marty) “What do you know about their abilities? Any more than us?”

(Kilhoy) “As for the orbital bombardment, save for attacks on blatantly military installations with guided munitions and lasers, we don’t do that stuff. Pure propaganda. To listen to them, we’ve destroyed New York fifteen times already, much to the amusement of the people of New York.”

(Kevin) “Hm. I’m not sure we’re up to directly confronting Merlin as of yet. God is doubtful – although that might change with more information. Still, what sort of assistance do you need?”

(Marty, laughing) “Is there a New York City everywhere? I shouldn’t be surprised.”

(Guy pretending to sleep in booth) “Merlin seems to have a full load of fucking magic at his disposal. God seems to operate on somewhat similar rules to us, but on a whole other power level.”

(Kevin) “Unfortunately, Merlin is one of the most powerful known mages. Comes of being such a popular legend.”

   One or two of the locals seemed to wince a little. The implication that someone had vast power just because they were a popular story was a bit hard to swallow. Still, an open offer of assistance – and an offer of explanations – was well worth some discussion, even if it was a bit hard to credit.

   That discussion continued in the background for some time, with mostly positive responses.

(Kilhoy) “God has been seen doing several things, although it does seem to depend on the avatar or incarnation. Of the current bunch, we’ve seen a summoner / teleporter, an energy absorber / discharger, a telekinetic guy that the word specialist doesn’t do justice for, and something that was once human but has since been heavily cybered to the point it doesn’t seem alive anymore. There’s a master telepath and one that’s only been seen in support of the others.”

(Marty, who’d been getting impatient with the background discussion) “So what do you guys need? I’m new to trading goods instead of blows, but I’m getting a good handle on the Manifold markets!”

(Kilhoy) “Largely we are short of food, water, manpower, quite a few manufactured goods that do not process well in low gravity or none. Antimatter has been one of our trump cards and is in limited supply. Transuranics are extremely helpful as are the uranics.”

(Marty) “I’ll see what I can do about that.”

(Kevin) “Well, most of that is fairly compact. Lets see what I can arrange…”

   That got him some rather incredulous looks. Hm… it looked like he could get away with a magical gate here on the moon. It would be pretty draining in a no-magic universe of course, but that could be managed pretty readily with thrall-support. Getting a shipment together in Kadia would be easy enough. After all, Ryan had been importing antimatter and transuranics by the hundreds of tons.

   It took them a few minutes to come up with some actual requirements and specifications on how they’d want it packaged, but they mostly simply made some calls and got the information from the technicians.

   Kevin threw up some cloaking spells and such to hide the gate – and got them a shipment.

   The locals found that quite a shock – but would be pretty pleased when they found that the stuff was actually for real…

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