Thursday, July 24, 2014

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 1.10: Hot Springs Invasion!

The Characters
Rick Hunter (Robert Ruthven): Son of Rafe Hunter, a medical researcher, Rick thought things couldn't get worse after his dad went on the run after his illegal experiments on humans came to light. Then the Mayzor raided the town he lived in, on the outskirts of Metro Scotia, and Rick was powerless to stop the swarm from taking his mother.
Now it's just him and his sister, and when Rick swore vengeance upon the Mayzor and decided to join the SAInt program to fight them, Serena signed up along with him to keep an eye on her brother.

Jason Reyes (David Andrews): Jason is a 13 year old kid whose stepfather is career military. First in the Royal Australian Air Force, then in the Preservation Force. Not being the most physical or athletic kids, Jason never really got on with his step father despite wanting to. He see's becoming a SAiNT pilot to be his best chance of making his stepfather proud of him.

Sarah Werner (Wolfie Fang): Sarah had as normal as a normal life could be before in the States. Her worries were on how she could get a sleepover with her friends and how to keep her older brother from bothering her. After the invasion, she had to grow up fast. Her family escaped with their lives, and they've moved to a new urban city on the east coast, New Alamo. She hoped that she could go back to normal, but life was always spent in fear with each evacuation, and it was hard to have a sleepover when you never slept.
It wasn't mandatory. She only got tested for the SAInt programs because everyone else was, and her brother kept bothering her about it, and honestly didn't realize what she had gotten into. Now she's worried she's lost what little freedom she's had left, but she's got a plan to go turn it around back to fun. She'll make new friends, work together, and she won't let her new chores stop them from having fun.

Previously on Tales of the Arx Jericho...
Following the Battle of New Alamo, Rick, Sarah and Jason break into Dr Johnson's office, suspecting the psychologist of having something to do with the mysterious static heard over the Metatronic psychic communications net during the battle. They learn about the new P-class SAInts which Opsie and Serena are being trained for, and discover that Rick, Serena and Opsie have all been treated with a drug called AmBro51A to assist in achieving the zen-like state necessary for piloting the P-class. They also find coded documents on Johnson's computer, which - when decoded later while the pilots are on vacation in the Bahamas - indicate that Johnson is in collusion with the Mayzor, and that he is responsible for the Metatron static and the diversion of Bravo Company to California, denying Alpha much needed backup during the battle. Furthermore, they discover blueprints for two new aquatic-class Mayzor locusts and a list of islands and coastal cities the Mayzor plan to attack. They share these findings with Captain Kasherov AKA AK-47, and she tells them to keep it secret for now. Later, she takes Alpha Company and twins Bala and Lieke to a secret base on Bimini Island, where there is a hangar with three prototype aquatic SAInts and a Mendicant-class SAInt designed to be run by two pilots (Bala and Lieke).

All that aside, there's some more normal teenage drama on the beach. Joanne challenges Rick to a kendo match with the intention of publicly embarrassing him in revenge for beating her previously. Rick accepts the challenge, and wins by catching her off-guard with some casual flirting. Meanwhile, Opsie stirs up trouble between Jason and his girlfriend Laurie, telling the other girl he tried to kiss her after a surfing competition which Jason won. Jason is able to patch things up, warning Opsie to stop spreading lies about him, telling her he doesn't like her and never will. Finally, Billy and Serena have a break-up for reasons unknown, causing Billy to storm off and take it out on Miguel - the youngest of the pilots - by kicking over his sandcastle and yelling at him. Jason and Rick are so disgusted with Billy that they rally the rest of the kids to cut him off from dinner that evening, and Billy finds himself ostracized from the group...

Hot Spring Hijinx

Sunday, August 17th 2031
The pilots and their classmates are still on vacation, visiting the natural hot springs on Bimini Island (where the secret underground hangar is located). The hot springs are, of course, seperated into boy and girl areas. The twins, Bala and Lieke, are at the base, training to pilot the Mendicant SAInt, while the rest of the pilots enjoy their own private areas of the hot springs.

The male pilots are all hanging out together in their part of the springs. Billy is sitting alone, sulking after being denied his dinner the previous night and being pointedly ignored by (and pointedly ignoring) the other pilots. The rest of the guys are all chatting away when Strudel - who hadn't got into the springs yet - rushes into the water without realising he still has his Linc in his swimming trunks' pocket. When the Linc inevitably starts going haywire, he panics and asks Jason to fix it. The best he can do is suggest putting the Linc in a bowl of rice, so Strudel rushes off to the food hut and gets some rice to do that.

When he eventually gets into the pool, Strudel apologises to Raspberry that they 'can't go through with the plan', but Raspberry tells him it's okay, he still has his Linc. This draws Jason and Rick's attention to the two of them, and Jason turns Strudel around in the water, asking what plan they're talking about. It soon becomes clear that the two boys were planning to sneak to the girls' hot spring and take pictures, and - after grabbing Raspberry's Linc from him when he brings it back to the pool - it turns out they've already taken pictures of the girls in their beachhouse and back at their dorms aboard the Arx. Nothing explicit, but enough to raise Rick's ire, especially as there are pictures of Sarah and Serena in there.

The boys reveal that Billy put them up to it, which he denies, but Rick is able to see past the lie and suggests that Serena would be very interested to hear about this. Billy threatens to beat Rick up if he tells her, but Rick makes it very clear he's not concerned about Billy's threats. Billy storms off, leaving Strudel and Raspberry to face Rick's wrath alone. The boys say that Billy threatened to kick their asses if they didn't get pictures of Serena as well as the other girls. Rick chews them out, telling them they need to learn not to listen to Billy, and that if Billy did do anything he'd have both Rick and Serena to answer to. When the boys promise it won't happen again, Rick adds that it had better not, or it won't be Billy who'll be kicking their asses. After the two boys cringe at this warning, Strudel wonders where Billy has gotten to...

Meanwhile, at the girls' spring, Sarah and the others are chatting about the boys - Laurie about Jason, Joanne about Rick (just a little bit), etc - with Opsie trying to give them all advice because she 'knows these things'. AK and Dr Harris are just relaxing and letting the girls chat away. While this is going on, Sarah notices movement in the trees out of the corner of her eye. A few birds flutter out of the trees, and she sees Billy watching them with gleaming eyes and a drooling mouth. She excuses herself, telling the others she is just going to use the restroom, and leaves to sneak around behind Billy, who is too focused on Serena to really notice her leaving.

She picks up a big stick enroute, and manages to sneak up behind Billy, just barely. He notices her shadow and starts to slowly turn his head, but he shrugs it off as nothing and keeps watching.
Then Sarah taps him with the stick and he spins around, rendered mute with shock. He tries to deny what he was doing -claiming to be looking for his lost Linc - but Sarah knows better. She tells him he should leave, before AK 47 catches him there, implying she might draw the captain's attention to him if he doesn't. Billy doesn't believe her at first - because she's always been one of the 'nice ones' - but Sarah just starts slapping the stick against her palm, commenting that a loud noise would probably alert the others. Billy scowls and tries to claim Strudel and Raspberry dared him to. Sarah's pretty sure if anyone was doing any daring that it would be Billy, and once again advises him to leave before the others notice and subtly threatens to hit him with the stick. He stalks off, grumbling to himself, and Sarah returns to the hot springs, complaining about the flies she encountered on the way there.

Back at the boys' section, a couple hours have passed since Billy left. Strudel's Linc has dried out but it still isn't working right. Jason grudgingly agrees to look at it and gets the screen working again. While this is going on, and the others are talking about football, Rick is worried about what Billy's up to. He decides to head off and find the older boy, with the others staying behind. The taciturn Kazuhiro wishes him luck and asks him to give a scolding from him if he does.

Rick decides to follow the path to the underground hangar, thinking Billy might have gone to higher ground to look down on the springs from above. His head suddenly starts pounding, then the pain mellows out and he starts hearing Serena's thoughts inside his mind. She's filled with anxiety about skipping the training with Dr Johnson, and he hears her memories of the training. She hears Dr Johnson yelling at her over the Metatron, telling her to concentrate, focus and not being very helpful. Rick tries to use this apparent connection to send Serena calm thoughts, but it doesn't seem to help, and then he stops hearing her.

He continues his search and finds Billy in conversation with Bala and Lieke, asking what they're doing there. When they tell him they can't talk about it he gets mad and insists they tell him. Rick steps out and chides Billy for annoying more people. When asks what Rick's doing there, Rick says he's making sure Billy isn't doing anything dumb...well, dumber than usual. Billy says he's had it with Rick and starts advancing on him, and Rick just repeats his earlier point about not being scared of him. Billy takes a swing, and a fight ensues, with Bala and Lieke pleading with them both to stop. The two of them exchange a few quick blows, but it's a stalemate and Billy pushes off, then storms away.

Rick goes after him, making sure he's on his way back to the boys' area. Bala and Lieke come up next to him as he stays several paces behind the other boy, and Bala asks if they can go to the hot springs with him. Lieke, however, is worried about getting punished for leaving training early. Rick assures them that if they've put in enough work - as Bala claims they have - AK will be understanding about them taking some leisure time. This puts the twins at ease and they head back with Rick. And Billy.

They're still about twenty minutes away from the hot springs when a boom of thunder splits the air. All the pilots look to the sky as a giant flash of lightning lights up the sky, hitting the water, and a tidal wave travels outward from the impact point as a huge shadow falls over Bimini Island.

The wave crashes against the rocky shore, but doesn't cause a flood. AK47 rallies the girls at the hot springs with Sarah's help, while Jason rallies the guys. Rick, meanwhile, tells the twins to head back to the hangar and take Billy with them. Billy asks what's going on and what Rick's talking about (he never visited the hangar with the others), but Rick just forcefully tells him to just trust him and follow the twins. Billy takes off running with the twins. Rick, meanwhile, runs towards the hot springs to help the others get away.

The Battle of Bimini Island
The boys and girls rally together after leaving the hot springs and lead an evacuation to the top secret hangar (which is no longer quite so secret), with Rick meeting them all halfway. Before long, they all reach the bunker and the three marine prototype SAInts and the Mendicant are prepared for launch. There are only three marine prototypes, so only three pilots will be able to fight, in addition to Bala and Lieke. Rick, Sarah and Jason are designated as the pilots for this mission, and all suit up for launch.

All the underwater prototype SAInts are fitted with lights and heat sensors to allow pilots to see underwater and turbines on the soles of the feet and on the back to aid with underwater movement. Jason's is set up with a rapid fire micro-harpoon gun and a super-levitating torpedo launcher. Sarah's rig includes a Giant Clam Killer (assault rifle) with 'Arc bayonet, SAM aquatic shield, and a Tiamet Multi-torpedo system. Rick's SAInt is set up with two 'Arc swords and a backup pistol.

According to radar, as final launch prep commences, there are four big blips and sixteen smaller blips coming out of the Wormwood that has landed in the water. AK opens the pressurised hangar, flooding the compartment with the water from outside and letting the SAInts out, ordering them to destroy the locusts and protect as many civilians as possible.

The four large blips turn out to be a cannon-class of locusts; Juggernaut, whale like locusts with powerful energy weapons built into their backs, which are hovering above the water, arranged around the Wormwood in a square cover formation. Eight of the smaller blips are squid like robots officially designated as 'Constrictors' (but the kids just refer to them as 'squiddies'), with many tentacles which seem to be able to shoot lasers from their tips. The other eight are aquatic modified Soldier-class resembling lobsters, crabs and other kinds of shellfish, which are shot out like rockets toward the shore, carrying swarms to send out to capture civilians.

As AK47 works to get the twins onto the island with their Mendicant to provide groundside support, Jason and Sarah open fire on the soldiers with their torpedoes, destroying three of the soldiers furthest away from the SAInts. Rick engages his SAInt's turbines, shooting towards the soldiers advancing on the island's shore, slowing down and floating up behind a lobster-like locust as he draws his twin swords and slices it into thirds which float away from him and explode.

The remaining soldiers are almost on the shore at this point, and Sarah fires off another salvo of torpedos at the soldiers, cutting through two more locusts, the two of them exploding a second or two apart. Jason stops to reload his rocket launcher while Sarah covers him with her shield as the squiddies tentacle lasers slash through the water at them both. Back at the hangar, the other pilots are cheering them on, and AK47 is complementing them on their performance.

The two remaining soldiers reach the shore and release their swarms, which start moving towards the city. Meanwhile all of the constrictors start moving toward the shore as well and the Juggernauts all fire their cannons upon the city, destroying buildings as civilians running screaming. The constrictors also fire their lasers on the buildings, causing even more destruction.

Seeing this, Sarah and Jason decides to engage a Juggernaut each, leaving Rick to take on the soldiers groundside. While Sarah fires off her turbines to enter close quarters with her target, Jason's rocket shoots past and tears a giant hole in the other Juggernaut, splitting it apart into a mess of fiery explosions.

The swarms spread out into the city and the Constrictors close in on the shore, whipping out their tentacles towards anything close enough to attack. The remaining Juggernauts continue firing their cannons on the city. Rick jumps out of the water and lands on the shore between the two remaining soldiers, stabbing out to both sides with his swords and skewering them both simultaneously. Both soldiers explode as he pulls his blades free from them. Meanwhile, Sarah stabs into the Juggernaut, trying to find a way past the tough armour, and eventually focuses her attacks on the weapons, causing enough damage that it jams. Jason notices how the Squiddies are converging on Rick's position on land and engages the closest ones at firearms range to try and take some of the pressure of Rick.

As the Juggernauts fire their next barrage on the city, the one that Sarah damaged explodes as its cannon jams. The Squiddies continue attacking with their laser tentacles, with the ones closest to land spreading out to cover more ground, while the others move in closer to shore. The remaining two Juggernauts spread apart a bit. Jason rapid-fires his micro-harpoon rifle at the central mass of one of the nearest Squiddies, causing it to explode and sending its tentacles floating through the water. Sarah goes back to help Jason whittle down the Squiddies, closing to firearms range with the nearest ones. Meanwhile, Rick attacks one of the Squiddies, sticking his two swords into the water and spearing it, lifting it out of the water and tossing it over his head to explode behind him.

Meanwhile, Dr Harris alerts the pilots that more locusts are coming out of the Wormwood: another Juggernaut rises up from the Wormwood to the surface and three more constrictors flow out of it. Rick stabs another of the Squiddies as it rears its 'head' out of the water and slices through it, sending it down into the water where it explodes. Jason targets another Squiddie with short controlled bursts from his micro-harpoon gun, breaking up its tentacles and hitting its core, blowing it apart. Sarah unleashes a volley with her Clam Killer rifle, tearing another Squiddie apart.

As the Mendicant reaches the main island and stomps away at the swarm, the sky turns dark and there's a crash of lightning that hits the newly released Juggernaut. As the lightning clears, and silence falls, broken only by AK47 muttering 'Bozhe moi' as a tall Magnus appears, seated atop the Juggernaut's cannon like a throne, with eight jellyfish-like tentacles for wings on his back, four massive arms, three heads, two legs and a massive crown on the central head that resembles a trident. The water seems to rise up around the juggernaut and Magnas, which are now surrounded by a school of robotic fish which seem to form some kind of defensive barrier. This new Magnas, which has never been encountered before, is designated Enki.

Jason engages the reload mechanism on his torpedo launcher, with cover once again provided by Sarah with her shield as he does so. Rick orders Bala and Lieke to clean up the swarms that are still on land, and they acknowledge, telling him they have it covered. Meanwhile Rick, desperate to clean up the remaining Squids so he can rejoin his teammates and aid them in battle against Enki, sheathes his swords temporarily to draw his backup pistol and fires into the water, shredding the constrictor nearest to him as he races along the shore. However, his desperation and haste cost him as he dives into the water and redraws his swords between the two nearest Squiddies. They converge on him and he sustains major structural damage as they both grip around his limbs with some of their tentacles, with some of the tentacles tearing at his armour with sharp appendages.

Sarah asks if Rick needs help, but he tells them to concentrate on the Magnas, stubbornly claiming that he'll be fine, even as the sensors on his SAInt fail. Jason and Sarah coordinate their attacks on Enki, penetrating the protective screen of mechanical fish and hitting the Magnas, destroying the crown and leaving only part of one of its heads on its body. Rick yells at the Squiddies to get their damn dirty tentacles off of him as he slices himself free and slashes them apart, causing them to explode around him. Jason tries to close to firearms range with Enki, but it fires lasers out of two of its arms at him and Sarah, dealing damage to both pilots' SAInts, causing both their lights to short out, forcing them to rely on sensors.

Meanwhile, the Juggernauts are still wreaking destruction on the city with their cannon fire. Jason pulls back to engage one of the Juggernauts and fires a barrage of harpoons at his target, destroying it. Sarah locks onto one of the Squiddies closer to the Magnas with her Clam Killer and fires bursts at it, blasting it to pieces. Rick sheathes his swords and shoots forwards with his turbines, drawing his pistol on another of the Squiddies as it closes to firearms range with him, and empties a clip into it, shredding it. He then stops and engages the self-repair system, and the force of his SAInt's Id rises to dangerous levels, putting it on the verge of going berserk.

Sarah and Jason recombine their efforts against Enki, getting through the fish barrier and doing minor damage to the Magnas, taking out six of its wings. Rick, barely reining in his SAInt's rage, unloads another clip to destroy the last remaining Squiddie as he continues rocketing forwards to help the others defeat Enki. Sarah and Jason are able to close to firearms range with Enki and get into position on his left and right sides.

Rick, meanwhile, is losing control of his SAInt, and desperately scourges his SAInt's Id to stop it going berserk; disabling the trauma buffers that filter the SAInt's senses to him, and translating the sensory overload into painful sensations in an attempt to cow the SAInt into obedience. Unfortunately, this harms him physically as well, sending him into a seizure as his neurons misfire. As Rick's screams of anguish carry over the metatron, AK47 yells: "Rick, no! NOOOOOOO!"
He's able to reduce the SAInt's rage somewhat, but it's not enough to stop it going berserk, and his conscious mind is pushed aside as the SAInt takes over.

Jason and Sarah concentrate fire on Enki, tearing through the school of fish and hitting Enki, destroying the last of it wings and its attacks are growing noticably weaker now.

Rick's berserk SAInt lashes out with the two swords at the Juggernaut, slicing it apart and causing it to explode. Luckily, Rick is able to rein in his SAInt before it can attack the other pilots, and instead falls in with the others for a final assault against Enki. The first volley of fire from the three SAInts is absorbed by the school of fish, but the second tears through the barrier; Sarah blast off the remaining head, Jason shoots up the body, and Rick takes out the whale Enki is mounted on with his pistol. The Magnas' core is exposed and starts blinking as it prepares to explode. Jason gets clear, while Sarah uses her shield to protect herself and Rick from the huge tsunami wave that bursts forth from the destroyed Magnas. A flash of lightning hits the Wormwood and it disappears. AK47, Dr Harris and the other pilots cheer at the victory.

The city is more or less destroyed, but civilian casualties were kept to a minimum. As the pilots return to the hangar, the other pilots help them get out of their suits. Rick is bleeding from his nose and eyes, and Serena holds his head in her hands, worried about him. He feigns nonchalance, saying he's feeling 'a little rough'. Jason is approached by his girlfriend Laurie, who's proud of him, and Opsie tells her cousin Sarah she did good out there.

Rick spends most of the remainder of the vacation in hospital. AK47 visits him and commends his bravery, but tells him she's decided to promote Sarah to team leader and that maybe it was too soon to make him team leader. She doesn't want him to think of it as a demotion, because she thinks he'll need to start focusing on his Prophet training and Sarah should be team leader in case he's not available due to training. Rick is saddened by this, but he understands. Sarah is told of her promotion, which -while good news - does mean she'll need to do extra training with AK.

Back aboard the Arx Jericho there is a ceremony and feast in the three pilots' honour and they each receive medals for their conduct in the battle. The pilots from the battle of Bimini Island are now celebrities among their fellow pilots and classmates. Sarah is publicly promoted and it is implied Rick will be receiving special training.

After the ceremony, Rick asks Serena if she has been hearing any voices in her head. She's shocked by the question, but admits that she has occasionally heard his thoughts, and she's been having more nightmares about Rick and Opsie in medical cots, receiving their AMBro514 injections. Rick also warns her to be careful of Johnson's intentions. If he knew the attack would happen, why did he want her to stay behind? Serena thinks he wanted her out of the way, in case she saved them like she saved the survivors in Chicago. Rick isn't so sure, and when Serena asks what else it could be, he says he doesn't know and that's what scares him. Serena tells her she's scared something will happen to him. He tells her he's scared too, and the two of them hug.

TO BE CONTINUED...

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