Monday, July 28, 2014

[Actual Play] Tears of a Machine - Tales of the Arx Jericho 1.11: The Enemy Within

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...
The pilots, still on vacation in the Bahamas, visit the hot springs on Bimini Island, which also happens to house a secret base containing three experimental aquatic-class SAInts. At the hot springs, Rick and Jason discourage Strudel and Raspberry from sneaking over to the girl's section to spy on them after Billy dares them to. When Rick confronts Billy about this he storms off and goes to peek by himself, but is caught by Sarah, who persuades him to leave before the others notice him. Later, as Rick searches for Billy to stop him from spying on the girls, he suffers a strange headache and overhears his sister's thoughts. After this clears, he finds Billy, who has stumbled upon Bala and Lieke near the location of the secret base. Tempers flare and a brief scuffle erupts between Rick and Billy, but they stop when it becomes clear the fight is a stalemate. Billy storms off, but Rick follows him to make sure he behaves himself, and Bala and Lieke tag along.

Suddenly, the main island comes under attack from a Mayzor raid and the pilots evacuate with their classmates to the secret base, where Rick, Sarah and Jason suit up to fight back the invaders. Having been prepared for a Mayzor assault on the island after discovering blueprints of aquatic-class locusts on Dr Donald Johnson's computer - indicating that he is in collusion with the aliens - the pilots are prepared for the fight. They take on the aquatic locusts, and later the new aquatic Magnas designated as 'Enki', and fight back the invasion with only minor systems damage. Only Rick is injured, having had to 'scourge' his SAInt's Id to stop it from going berserk and attacking his teammates. Afterward, the pilots are given medals at an award ceremony for their conduct in battle, with Sarah being promoted to team leader while Rick joins Serena and Sarah's cousin Opsie Wessel for special training with Captain Anastasia 'AK 47' Kasherov and Dr Johnson, to prepare them for piloting the new Prophet-class SAInts...


Creepy Science Adventures

Tuesday, September 2nd 2031
©2013-2014 SebastianWagner. Used without permission.
The fall term of classes has started, and tensions are heightened after the first ever Mayzor naval assault in the Bahamas last month, and further naval assaults since including islands close to Sydney and the Japanese archipeligo. Japan was not so lucky, as their nearby Arx had no naval prototypes, unlike the Arx Gallilae and Jericho. Sarah and Jason are in History class learning about the Mayzor, but Rick, Serena and Opsie are notably absent, and have been absent from classes since start of session. The two pilots are called to the front of the class to talk a bit more about their recent encounter and any special insight they might have from it. There's a pop quiz at the end of class on what they've all learned so far. Both Jason and Sarah ace it, since they've had a bit more hands on experience recently.

Meanwhile, Rick is in the CRC (Cloistered Research Council) facility deep within the Arx, training under Dr Johnson along with Serena and Opsie in preparation for piloting the Prophet class SAInts. For the past few weeks they've spent hours in guided meditation in a room that is half-classroom and half-zen garden. Dr Johnson is much calmer and gentler in these sessions than usual. The goal of the session is to create a shared dream state between Rick, Serena and Opsie.

Rick tries to conjure up an image of the campfire they sat around during their beach vacation, but instead the three of them end up in a shared dream of the AmBro51A experiments they were subjected to in Germany. He starts hearing Serena and Opsie's anxious thoughts, and Dr Johnson starts ranting at them to concentrate. Rick mutters that it's kind of hard to concentrate with him yelling, and the girls both plead with him to stop as well, to no avail. Rick doesn't understand what his problem is and tries to help the others block him out, but instead the scene changes to the Battle of Bimini Island, with Rick and the girls on the island, among the civilians fleeing the destruction. Serena and even Opsie start breaking down emotionally, and Rick's head starts pounding. Though they can no longer see Dr Johnson, they can still hear him yelling at them as if through the Metatron psychic link.

Rick suppresses his emotions as he responds, telling Johnson to just be quiet a moment. Dr Johnson is pleased that Rick is controlling his emotions and not letting his voice anger him, and there's a slightly manic sound to his voice. He commands Rick to concentrate on getting back to the scene he had in his mind originally. Rick holds Serena and Opsie's hands as they concentrate and they start hearing the birds and the waves, and then they all find themselves on the serene campsite in the Bahamas. Dr Johnson is sitting with them and calmly asks if they see what he did there, and Rick calmly replied that he does see, perhaps with a double entendre that Johnson misses.

Meanwhile, Jason and Sarah are out of class and they have a clear schedule, so they're free to do whatever they like. Jason heads back to his room to tinker with his hoverboard, while Sarah makes her way to the helipad to greet her brother.

Strudel catches up with Jason and asks if they've heard from Rick or Serena. He says he's worried about them, and maybe they could sneak in and check up on them using some shortcuts he knows about. Laurie shows up as Jason is trying to talk Strudel out of this, telling him he was great when he was talking to the class. Then she asks about Serena and Opsie. Since Jason isn't really supposed to know what they're up to, he says they're probably being debriefed about the Battle of Bimini Island by military brass from another Arx. She doesn't buy it - especially with Strudel 'helping' - and she's not happy with him for trying to lie to her, even when he tells her he can't talk about it. She storms off in a huff.

Sarah is in another corridor when Raspberry catches up to her and asks if she's free to maybe play some video games - like Shinobi Knights - later on. She tells him she's got her brother visiting so she won't have much time. Raspberry is disappointed but understands, and goes on to ask about Rick and Serena. Sarah likewise isn't supposed to know, so she just tells him someone's keeping them busy but she's not sure why. Sarah encourages him to go look for Jason, and maybe he can play videogames with him instead. He decides to go do that, leaving her alone to continue her walk to the helipad.

Sarah finds herself being followed by some shadowy figures as she takes a turn down an alleyway. There's not really anywhere for her to hide, and she spots two more shadows ahead of her. She discretely turns on the video record app on her Linc. As they come more into the light, she sees they are wearing suits and the trademark re-breather masks of CRC scientists. They approach her and tell her to come with them. Seeing no way out, she doesn't resist as they grab her and drag her away, but does manage to drop her phone without them noticing.

Jason arrives at his dorm with Strudel and, as he goes to grab his hoverboard, he notices a blank envelope on his desk. He picks it up and opens it to find a postcard-sized piece of paper with handwriting in black marker which reads: 'Find the real source. Trace it back. Not all is what it seems.' There's no identifying signature.
He gives Strudel a look, considering. It's not Strudel's style...or Rick's...and definitely not Billy's. He hacks the security cameras and within half an hour he retreives footage of Dr Johnson hacking the door controls from the hallway with a mini-Wormwood device and walking into Jason's room. Jason's face goes pale, and Strudel notices. He shows Strudel the note and the security feed. Strudel asks what it means, but Jason has no clue. Strudel says they should find Sarah and let her know, and Jason agrees, so the two of them head off to find Alpha Company's new team leader.

Back in the CRC facility, Rick and the girls are still meditating. They end the shared dream of the campsite, and dividers come down from the ceiling, isolating the three pilots from one another in their own mini-cubicles. Johnson wants the three of them to tap into each others' minds and connect telepathically. Rick has been getting used to this a bit, since he's been hearing Serena - and ocassionally Opsie's - thoughts lately. He's able to connect with Serena, and with her help he's able to connect with Opsie as well. He senses that Serena is still a bit nervous, and that she notices Dr Johnson is better than usual, but still has a bad feeling about him. He also senses that Opsie - to his surprise - is actually taking this exercise seriously, and it's unusual for her to take anything seriously.

The CRC scientists who grabbed Sarah escort her towards the CRC facility. On the way, they're spotted by Stephanie Yuzuki - one of the pilots from Bravo Company - who happens to be walking down an adjoining corridor as they pass by. Sarah catches Stephanie's eye and mouths to her to 'get help, tell Jason' making a 'J' gesture with her hand. She nods and rushes off. Sarah and her escort stop as they reach a pair of double doors leading into the facility and the CRC scientists hand her a pair of blackout goggles to put on, so she doesn't see where she's going. She tries to convince them they don't need to blindfold her, but they're not having it, so she just puts them on and is led inside.

Jason and Strudel are about to climb the stairs to the helipad when they see Alan - Sarah's brother - sitting on the steps, recognising him from the Battle of New Alamo. He looks up and says 'Sarah?' then realises neither of them is her. They introduce themselves and explain that they came looking for Sarah, and the three of them realise that she really should have been here by now. Jason tries her Linc again - having tried calling her earlier - and hears a very faint buzzing down a nearby corridor. Jason disconnects, the buzzing stops. He calls again and the buzzing resumes, so he follows the sound and finds Sarah's Linc (recognisable from the stickers she put on it to brighten it up). Alan, growing more concerned - and knowing his sister - tells Jason to check her photos in case she took any pictures that might give a clue.

Jason does so, and finds the last recorded video, and they overhear the CRC scientists telling her to come with them, and - as the phone drops - they see her being led away by the masked scientists. After recovering from the shock of this discovery, Jason asks Strudel about the shortcuts into the CRC facility that he mentioned earlier. Strudel is reluctant, but with encouragement from Alan and Jason, he agrees and the three of them head to the CRC facility. Enroute they run into Stephanie, who's distraught and tells them about what she saw. They already knew, but they tell her to go and tell Captain Kasherov (aka AK 47) what's going on.

As the blindfold is taken off, Sarah finds herself in a laboratory with a cot in the middle, mechanical equipment everywhere, tubes with chemicals, and chemistry sets; it's the same setup (though Sarah doesn't know about Rick and Serena's experiences) as the lab in Germany. The four scientists that led her there are still surrounding her, and there is a fifth masked scientist waiting with a syringe in front of the cot. Sarah tries to talk her way out of this, and when the fifth man replies, she recognises the voice as that of Rick's father, Rafe Hunter: 'Sarah Werner, approach. We're here to help. You've been selected as a viable candidate. This is the final step before you can begin your training. Please, lie down on the cot. It'll be over soon.'

Sarah assesses her surroundings, getting ready to fight her way out, but the odds don't look to be in her favour. She tries to appeal to his better nature, asking if she can't have a choice in whether to take the drug or not, since the experience was traumatic for Rick and Serena in the past. He asks her not to bring his children into this, and says there is no other way to bring her talent out without administering the drug. He claims it was not his choice to administer the drug to Rick, Serena or Opsie, but she can tell he's not being entirely truthful about that. The CRC scientists keep their distance as Rafe asks if she will voluntarily submit to the procedure. She says no. Rafe sighs, presses a button on a Linc-like device to open the door out of the room, and tells her she's free to go and perhaps Rick or Serena can talk her into it, but he won't force her. Sarah goes "'Kay bye!" and walks out. As she does, the lockdown alarm starts ringing and Rafe yells at the other CRC scientists to 'go get her'.

Lockdown
Rick and the girls start hearing a multitude of voices and Dr Johnson asks 'What's going o--'. Then they hear the alarm and their concentration breaks, the partitions retract as Rick turns to Serena and they both agree that those voices were like the static from New Alamo. They hear someone running behind them, and Rick leaps up and turns around, falling into a ready stance. He sees a shadow going down one of the exits; Opsie has run off. But another figure has entered the room, standing in the corner; it's Billy, and he's holding a pistol which he aims at Dr Johnson and tells him to get away from Serena. Billy puts himself between the scientist and the two siblings.
Rick asks what Billy is doing; he says he's making sure Serena is safe, he knows Dr Johnson is up to something and is probably responsible for the lockdown. Rick gives Serena a look as she grips his shirt in fear. No help there then.

Rick reasons with Billy, telling him this is not the way to protect Serena, and seeing Serena cry helps as Billy can't stand to see her upset like this. He lowers the gun, and Dr Johnson does a quick martial arts move, grabbing the gun, safeties it and tucks it behind his back. He tells the three of them to stay there, enters an override code into his Linc - which Rick takes a mental note of - to stop the door temporarily, then heads out the door. It closes behind Johnson, leaving the three of them in the room.

As the alarms go off, Jason, Alan and Strudel are heading down the steps towards the CRC facility and hear an announcement over the PA of the lockdown. CRC scientists are huddled together outside the door to the facility. The threesome are able to hide in a large, coffin-like metal box. Jason berates Alex for bringing them to the front door after claiming to have a 'shortcut', complaining that he was expecting a back way or some 'Bruce Willis s*$%'. The CRC scientists run past them and head off in the other direction. They get out of the box and leg it towards the door, but it closes too fast and slams shut on them. Jason, thinking quickly, remembers seeing a ladder further down the corridor leading up into the ceiling crawlspace, and after climbing it they find a ventilation shaft that looks like it might lead in the right direction. Jason pulls off the grill and they make their way into the shaft.

Meanwhile, Sarah is on the run from the four CRC scientists, ducking and weaving through the corridors to try and shake them off her trail. She hides round a corner and the CRC scientists run past. She hears Jason's voice from further down the corridor and above. After recovering from the fright, she quietly walks backwards towards the voice chides him about watching those Bruce Willis movies. She hears one of the CRC scientists coming her way, and as she sees the figure approaching there's something familiar about the scientist's demeanor and gait. The scientist takes off her mask, revealing herself to be Captain Kasherov (AK 47). Sarah remarks that this is a fancy way to make sure she was doing her homework, but Kasherov puts a finger to her lips and says 'shh'. Sarah asks Jason to come down, saying it's okay, and when he's uncertain AK 47 softly tells him to come on down. He reluctantly opens the grate and drops down as quietly as possible, followed by Strudel and Alan, to Sarah's surprise.

No sooner have they all got down than they hear footsteps running in their direction. Sarah peeks around the corner to see Opsie running their way, and waves her down. She's surprised to see them and asks why they're there, and Jason just says he's here to rescue Sarah, to whom he hands back the missing Linc. Opsie's confused by this, but when asked she explains that she was with Rick and Serena in training when the lockdown started and ran before the doors closed since she didn't want to be stuck with Dr Johnson. AK 47 asks Opsie to lead the way back to the room she left Rick and Serena in, and she nods, leading them off down the corridor.

Back in the zen garden/training room, Serena and Billy are still a bit broken down, while Rick paces around the room, trying to find a way out besides the door. He mumbles that he could use a little help and, once he explains what he's trying to do, Billy snaps out of it a little and tries to look for a ventilation shaft or something. However, because the room is part training room and part zen garden there's a lot of stuff to check, so it takes a while.

The others make their way through the hallways, evading the CRC scientists moving through the facility on their way, and eventually reach the training room where Opsie left Rick and Serena. Rick stops as he hears footsteps head towards the door, and hears Opsie call through the door. He asks if she can get the door open, but she has no idea how to do that. He decides to try and hack the door using the code he saw Dr Johnson use. It doesn't quite work for him, and he grumbles as the screen gives him an error message. Jason hears the error code and tells Rick what it means, and Sarah offers some advice as well, so between the three of them they get the door open.

Rick is surprised to see all of them there, and the others are surprised to find Billy there. Rick briefly explains that Billy tried to 'rescue' Serena from Dr Johnson at gunpoint. Before they can discuss things any further all the power goes out of the facility and the pilots' Lincs go dead. AK 47 and Strudel both have flashlights, which they turn on to navigate the facility, which has been plunged into pitch black darkness by the power failure. Rick asks what the hell is going on, and Jason surmises that some kind of EMP has knocked out the power on the Arx, and they're only being kept airborne by the backup generators.  AK47 urges them to keep moving and asks Rick where Dr Johnson is. He explains that the doctor left them in the training room shortly after confiscating the gun from Billy, and snaps at the boy, asking where he got the gun in the first place. Billy is, however, still in a state of shock and non-responsive.

They continue to sneak through the facility, keeping an eye out for other lights. Strudel rambles on about what has happened so far today, and Rick is furious when he hears about the CRC scientists kidnapping scientists. Alan asks what they wanted her for and she just says something about 'special training' which gets Rick and Jason's attention. It comes out that Rick's father was involved and he tried to inject her with the AmBro51A. Rick is outwardly calm, but his fists are clenched tightly. Sarah tells him not to be too worried, but he's determined that he's going to kick his dad's ass when he sees him. She tells him Rafe asked for her permission and let her go (although the alarm did go off and he sent the CRC scientists after her anyway), and Rick isn't sure what to make of that.

They duck out of sight upon seeing some lights, and continue their conversation in hushed tones. Jason explains about the note left by Dr Johnson, leading Sarah and Rick to wonder why he would want them to 'find the source'. They stop short of turning a corner as a light shines on AK47 - who is turning the corner ahead of them - but she doesn't seem worried and shines her light back. Rick just reads AK's expression and knows whoever she's signalling back to is friendly, but Jason uses his Linc as a mirror and he and Sarah see that it's Dr Johnson.

AK waves them over and they join her as she meets up with Dr Johnson, who is relieved to see they're all together and tells them to follow him quickly. The teenagers are a little confused that AK and Johnson are now working together, given the intel they shared with her about his collusion with the Mayzor. Sarah realises they're being led back to the room she escaped from and stops the others to tell them. AK orders them to follow as she and Johnson head towards the room, and Billy, Serena and Strudel at least aren't inclined to disobey an officer. Sarah reluctantly follows, peeking into the room before entering to make sure it's empty. It is.

Rick and Serena find the room uncomfortably familiar, with Rick clenching his teeth and Serena stands back, not willing to proceed. Dr Johnson are heading for a door on the other side of the room which is stuck halfway closed. Rick - with help from Sarah and Jason - gently persuade Serena to come with them as they head for the room. Rick glances back at Billy briefly as he shuffles after them, worried about how uncharacteristically quiet and compliant he's being. He shakes it off, resolving to deal with the boy later.

They come to a high security door, which Jason sets to work on unlocking, fashioning a device to open it despite the lack of power. On the other side of the door is a huge hangar - like a deep pit with walkways spiralling downwards - containing some deconstructed aquatic Mayzor locusts, chemistry sets of AmBro51A and other serums, giant tanks containing test subjects from the captured Wormwood, previously unseen prototype locusts and a crashed satellite. On the walls are paintings and tapestries depicting a human woman wearing armour of glowing white porcelain, pale skin and silver hair. At the bottom of the hangar they see a figure. At first it looks like a CRC scientist, but its form shifts to that of Rafe Hunter - dark hair, similar features to Rick, tall, syringe in hand. He's just standing in the middle of the hangar, unmoving, and as they reach the bottom his form changes again. He still looks like Rafe, but he's wearing white porcelain armor, his skin is much paler and his hair is silver. He gives them a wicked smile and laughs lightly.

"Who the hell are you?" Rick breathes, shocked at his 'father's' appearance.
'Rafe' cracks his neck, "Don't you recognise me, son? Daughter? It's me. I'm your father."
He has the Wormwood flash drive in his hand, and his laugh continues to echo in the chamber as Rick whispers, "But you're...you're a..."
He uses the old word for the Mayzor, before they fled attacks by radical religious groups on Earth, "...Legulus."
Holographic screens project the words 'Operation Blue Moon', designs of the Prophet-class SAInts, references to something called 'the General', and AK 47 and Dr Johnson are looking very worried as the figure gloats, "You're too late."
Sarah says, "A gun sure would be handy right about now."
And Dr Johnson remembers the gun at his back, drawing it on 'Rafe', who just laughs at him, "Bullets can't stop the General."
Dr Johnson looks at AK 47, who nods, and he sighs, firing the gun. The bullet goes straight through 'Rafe' and he shimmers, revealing him to be a hologram.
Suddenly the power comes back on, and they hear the words 'Self destruct initiated' over the intercom just seconds before a Mayzor raid alarm sounds...

TO BE CONTINUED...

NEXT TIME...
Will the self-destruct sequence be disabled in time?
Can the pilots defeat a Mayzor raid against the Arx Jericho itself?
Is the Mayzor General really Rick's father?
And how will the Prophet pilots fare in their first combat with the new P-class SAInts?
Tune in next time, for the thrilling season finale of Tales Of The Arx Jericho!

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