Post Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:30 am

Beyond Space Spiders -- Episode #4-6 -- Mass Body Slam

<font style="font-size: 20pt">Voyages of the Solomon Grundy<BR>
<font style="font-size: 18pt">Beyond Bugs, the Second Quest<BR>
<font style="font-size: 14pt">Episode(s) #4-6 — Contemplating Mass Body-slam<BR>

<font style="font-size: 12pt">

True to Boltz’s word, the fusion reactors were restarted in an hour. As main power came online throughout the ship, the crew shook fists and cheered. The Grundy was no longer a dead hulk in space--it was a live hulk without the ability to jump out-system. According to first-officer and navigator Kath, given a long-term two gee acceleration under full Bernard-drive burn, you could make the nearest inhabited space-capable system in roughly eighty-three years (give or take a few months).

The only source of a replacement part to repair the jump drive was aboard a space station infested with murderous robotic spiders. Based on reports by Felix and others who went down to the machine level on the station, there might be hundreds, if not thousands of the lethal creatures. In ones and twos, the little mechas were not particularly dangerous if one was alert. However, in a closed in space with low gravity and many different surfaces and places to hide--the alloy monsters could prove to be an insurmountable obstacle given the man and woman power currently aboard the Grundy--especially without some kind of hard armor.

Debate was rampant, what would Captain Kessel do?

In the meantime, Doc MacDougal was finally persuaded to do the job she was put on the ship to do--heal. That she did, sewing up crew and inmates with her usual precision and care. All except for one: the as-yet unnamed fellow who attempted to body-slam the engineering crew working on the reactors. Even his nad-deforming female accomplice was healed and given marginal freedom in sick-bay. The Doc left the fellow strapped to the operating table moaning something about being carved up.

Terrence and the security team finished a sweep of the cargo canisters--one hundred of approximately four hundred items of human cargo had been lost due to the meteor strikes and the collision with the shuttle. Approximately 30 more needed their pods repaired or they would either be freed to cause trouble or die. The most troubling fact was that at least 9 more victs were unaccounted for and likely running amok somewhere on the ship.

This particular news was not well received by the captain. Kessel had already experienced one disturbing conversation with a prisoner who both had a comm-link AND a weapon. About the time of Terrence’s disturbing inventory report, first officer Kath reported reception of a strange signal coming from in-system. The contents of the message was something repeated and was similar to some kind of distress message. The problem was that the signal was a highly encrypted packet transmission. Quite odd.

Something needed to be done, and after some time of mulling it over Kessel called a meeting of the department heads. One question was of concern. How to proceed? Did they use the prisoners to try and take the bug infested station or try something else? The issue of the strange signal came up. By almost unanimous vote, the other officers wanted to try other options before attempting a potentially suicidal attack on the station core.

The Grundy would follow the strange indecipherable signal in-system to its source.

The Grundy powered up and got underway, plotting a course to swing around the star to the far side of the system. The trip would take about 40 hours of accel time and a day or so of decel leaving plenty of time for trouble.

The crew set a goal, and that was to identify all the victs currently running around on board. Doing a complete line up of the crew in the aft engineering hanger bay was relatively inspired. The crew showed up about four short. The rest were scanned for being imposters. The problem was, several legitimate crew were ex-cons who still had prison insignia. They did sort out that ones that did not show up on the prison manifest.

Shortly after the “line-up” a body was discovered in an engineering passage, crammed between two large converter conduits. A liberal splashing of blood accompanied the corpse. Though nobody was a forensic expert, it appeared the person wearing technician Smith’s work overalls was killed with a blunt object that was NOT a spanner (a hammer perhaps?). Closer examination of the body revealed the man not to be a crewmen but a vict. Continued investigation found crewman Smith frozen in a cryo-pod.

This opened up a new line of thought and the medical scanner was brought into play to see if any other crew were showing the limited life-signs of hyper-sleep. The doctor confirmed four--crewman Larry, crewman Moe, crewman Curly, and crewmen Shemp. The problem was now finding them among four hundred cryo-canisters. Not impossible, but irritating and time-consuming.

Captain Kessel was getting impatient--it was time for results. At least three victs were wandering around and it was time for them to turn themselves over. At least, that’s what the announcement over general comms advised them to do.

No takers. So, the captain ordered the entire ship vented to space except for a few isolated quarters.

Thus ensued a long search effort to discover the hiding victs. Two thousand credits worth of bloated corpses were discovered--the value of which were coming out of crew pay.

The search continued. Shortly after, a room that should have been vacuum cold, was still found warm. Apparently, some victs were alive and moving room to room covertly. Thus ensued a chase of sorts. Some kind of clever trickery was being pulled on the ship’s internal sensors and camera network making the culprits effectively invisible.

Bolts, Bengal, Felix, and Mercedes continued to sweep the ship each time narrowly missing finding the sneaky victs. Then a break, Bengal located some sort of vampire hack on an internal network cable. The chip was yanked off the line and given to Boltz for examination. Shortly after, Felix caught a glimpse of one of the victs who was just a millisecond too slow. The speedy Synth raced around the corner and dove on the hapless man.

With one mighty yank on the backside of the vict’s spacesuit, he gave the nerdy vict the ultimate cyber-melvin. With the durathane waistband yanked up to his eyeballs, the hacker let out one high-pitched pig-like squeal before expiring from terminal-wedgy. The still twitching mass was carried to the doctor for resuscitation or experimentation (her choice).

Shortly after, Felix caught the second hacker who was treated to a head-stand swirly applied in pogo-stick fashion. Truly, it was not a good day to be a nerd, especially with humorless vengeful masochistic jock-bots patrolling the ship. Still drenched in blue toilet water, the second geek was deposited in the infirmary.

It took a while to recover the records, but the two white-collar victs were identified. Dead-by-wedgy went by the alias Phr34k and toilet-scrubber went by H4xx0r--cute names that didn’t earn them any points with the doctor. After reconstructing Phr34k’s synth-inverted spine, she installed a cortex bomb. The same was done to H4xx0r. They were tied up and isolated from any network or communications equipment.

As the Grundy went into decell, the last four the convicts were identified and taken into custody. The last group just happened to be biotech savvy and had each in their own way managed to disable, cover up, or otherwise deface their prison insignia.

As the Grundy slowed, several million kilometers out, it was easy to determine their destination. A gas-giant about the size of Neptune (around 25,000 miles in diameter) about 3 AUs out from the star. The source of the communications emissions were still not clear, but it was unlikely to be coming from the inside a planet of this nature.

The Grundy continues to approach until about fifty-thousand clicks from close planet orbit. The signal is determined to be something in close geosynchronous orbit with the planet.

The planet itself is fairly quiet radiation-wise for an object of its size and proximity to its host star. Scans reveal the average temperature of the planet to be balmy -80 degrees centigrade. Cold enough to freeze carbon-dioxide but well above the boiling point of noble gases. The “atmosphere” is combination of gaseous hydrogen and helium, with a significant percentage of sublimating methane, ethane, carbon-dioxide, phosgene and chloro-ethane isotopes. Given the planet’s orbit, it is actually substantially warmer than normal. Hyper-cyclones dot the planet’s blue-gray surface sporting winds close to 400 mph. There does seem to be a solid core generating some heat, but it likely only seven or eight thousand miles in diameter, 9000 miles below the surface of the planet’s slushy atmosphere.

At about ten thousand miles, the high power digital lenses can begin to make out what looks like a shadow, like a thread on the planet’s surface.

As the approach to the signal’s origin becomes a thousand miles, the object seems to be some kind of platform with some kind of extension dangling down into the planetary atmosphere. To be seen at this range, it’s something pretty big.

At a hundred miles out the captain brings the Grundy to a stop. It’s big and it’s obviously military. The odd looking station pinwheels at the end of thin tether, turned and kept stationary by huge thrust nacelles mounted on arms at either end of the massive bowl shaped structure. The thing is easily two miles across and at least a half-mile deep. The monstrous structure appears to be carved out of single giant iron asteroid. What appear to be goliath fusion stations dot the underside of the station.

It would be trite, cliché, and untrue to say you’d seen nothing like it. However, this particular combination and location seem quite peculiar. The thing being carved from an asteroid and spun in the radio-shadow of gas-giant heavy in IR absorptive phosgene speaks to the intent of keeping an extremely low profile. It appears the even the excess heat of the reactors and other systems is being shunted into the frozen atmosphere to reduce IR and UV profiles.

A stealth station?

There’s no short-range comms chatter on any of the channels, nor any visible movement save the station’s relentless rotation. Quite odd. With no challenge being issued, and the station visibly non-active the Grundy sidles closer. Scanners actively pinging the giant structure with no answering response.

Bengal is ordered to the PPC turret as they close to within twenty five miles. Still no visual activity and no detectable comms chatter. Thermal scans indicate the base’s reactors are operational but running at idle.

At ten miles, Bengal reports movement visible along the thruster nacelles which rotate the base. The giant propeller arms each of which would be the size of a large sky-scraper appear to have weapons on them. Weapons trained in the direction the Grundy.

The captain slows again and alters course. It’s confirmed the weapons continue to track the Grundy’s movement, but they do not “paint” the target as would suggest a readiness to attack. Automated systems perhaps?

Nerving themselves, the whole crew on the alert, the Grundy continues to close with the base station. From a mile out Bengal can make out the insignia on the hanger doors.

The sword and star emblem of Damocles sector. There was another thing, the hangar doors were open--sort of.

If this were an enemy space station, at this range surely the Grundy would have at least been challenged and more likely blown into atoms. Still quiet.

With the crew holding their breaths, the Grundy inches closer. Half mile, quarter mile, 300 meters. Holding station, nose almost in the massive hanger, the damage to the station becomes apparent.

The gigantic monofilament reinforced doors have been wedged open by wreckage. Three several thousand ton segments of blast absorptive metal have been knocked askew and scarred by what must have been a huge impact of something coming OUT of the station. Fragments of wreckage float and lay on the floor of monster hangar which is easily four hundred meters wide and five or six hundred deep.

Scanning intently for anything that even remotely resembles a space spider reveals nothing. The captain determines the gap in the doors is big enough for the Grundy to slip through. With precision and care quite unlike the captain, the ship is neatly piloted through the narrow gap and settled one of several docking cradles inside the giant bay.

From close observation it appears that a cruiser-class ship (around 30 to 40 thousand tons) must have hit the doors when under full emergency thrust. Nothing else in Boltz’s imaginings, could have caused the mangled mess. It was just lucky that the reactors scrammed before containment breach.

The search for a new bus for the Grundy was over, the wreckage would undoubtedly render up at least enough super-conductive bus material to make a new bus.

What about the interior of the base though? What was going on? What might be found inside? Were space spiders lurking in the shadows waiting to pounce? Only one way to find out; assemble an away team consisting of every essential crew member and send them into danger.

Kath, Boltz, Terrence, Mercedes, Felix, Thor and Bengal form the seven person team that piled into the Grundy’s one good engineering shuttle and drifted up to the inner bay doors.

Surprisingly, without prompting, the massive cylindrical doors slow and rotate to reveal a cradle slot large enough to allow the shuttle entrance. Kath urges the shuttle forward and sets it down on the inner berth.

The slot behind the shuttle grinds closed. The berth toggles lock down and the whole massive cylinder of the bay begins to synchronize with the base proper.

Another surprise, the bay pressurizes with air! Once synchronized with the rotation of the base, the toggles release the shuttle to taxi onto the sizeable airfield.

The area is looks like a battlefield. The mangled hulks of spacecraft lay sprawled all over the . Huge forty-ton mechs are splattered where they stand in gunnery positions. Communications arrays are blasted from their stanchions. Yet strangely, other mechanisms sit quiet and undamaged. Several medium range fighter-bombers with the Damocles insignia emblazoned on the tail sit amidst the wreckage of several more. Three huge assault mechs stand silent sentinel over a rows of undamaged repair hangars.

Quite odd. Quiet as a tomb.

Kath sets the shuttle down near the biggest and newest appearing of the assault mechs. The giant andro is almost an antique, sporting a design at least twenty or thirty years old. Old or not, it is an awesome machine, and Bengal is drooling as he stares up through the windscreen at the massive perambulating tank.

“Sweet bezibub,” Bengal murmurs. “Two PPCs, two auto cannons, two long range missile clusters, two short range clusters, medium range turbo pulsars she’s a heat seeking nightmare!”

“Does that mean you can operate it?” Boltz asks.

“Can ducks swim?”

“Not well in a limited gee environment,” Felix answers in a dry tone.

“I wasn’t asking you, Bucket Head,” Bengal growls. “Open up, I want to take a look at her!”

Kath lowers the rear gate of the shuttle and Bengal clambers out into the low gravity.

“I believe we should be cautious,” Felix advises.

“What’s to worry?” Bengal said looking around. “Place is a graveyard.” He turns toward the mech towering over them and starts striding toward it. “Momma, she’s a beaut! Hold still baby, papas comin--ack arrrgh!”

The mech warrior halts just steps from the mech clutching his neck as a geyser of red blood forms a cloud around his writing twitching form.

Felix raises an eyebrow. “Monofilament. Interesting. It appears the mech was trapped.” He tilts his head to one side. “Surely this is a life threatening condition…”

“Arrrgh!” Bengal gasps, clutching his nearly severed head.

“Tovarich, I believe a tourniquet may be necessary,” Kath mumbles shaking his head. “Comrade Felix, use your belt, be sure to tie it tight!

“Knock it off,” Terrance snaps. “Felix, get the damn med-kit!”

“That’s got to be hurtin fer sure,” Boltz mumbles.

“I can put him out of his misery,” Thor offers, pulling back the slide on his heavy pistol.

“You guys just stay back,” Terrence says. “Disable those traps.”

Thor sighs. “Damn, I wanted to watch him bleed to death…” He looks back to Terrence as Felix returns with the med-kit. “Sure you don’t want me to put him out of his misery…?”

Thor is not taken up on his offer and Terrence uses the med-kit to do emergency surgery on the downed soldier. Together with Mercedes’ help they manage to get the bleeding under control.

“He is lucky,” Mercedes determines. “I would get Miss MacDougal to do a better sewing job--his head might fall off.”

In the meantime, Thor climbs up into the mech checking for more traps. He finds none. The ancient machine looks to be in great condition--shielded from most of the sun’s rays, in low grav and in a scrubbed atmosphere it’s survived the time quite well.

Unfortunately, it’s going to need an actual mech pilot with a military connect descrambler to pilot it.

Still wobbly but able to get inside the mech and determine what’s needed to get it operational. After a short check, Bengal determines that they only need to drain the JP tanks, refuel the turbines, and get a generator to charge up the long discharged batteries. The Grundy carried an amble supply of JP fuel for the atmospheric turbines on the shuttles and heavy generators. One of the big generators off the Grundy could charge the batteries. An hour or so of work and they would have a hundred ton assault mech at their command. Muhahahahhaha!

Already Bengal was trying to figure out how to smuggle the huge thing aboard--it was too big to fit in the cargo bay. Maybe the topside cranes…

The Captain was informed of their find and he immediately requested that they get the mech operational to defend the Grundy for when it was brought in.

Boltz and Bengal were left to make preparations to get the mech working while the rest of the team took a stroll around to reconnoiter.

The base was largely undamaged. There were destroyed craft but all of the buildings appeared intact. The group checked out the fighter squadron finding the few undamaged ships to be serviceable--a few days of engineering work and any of them could be flight ready.

Terrence guided the investigation team to what looked like a pilot debriefing center near the squadron berth. Unlike the outside, the interior of the building smelled of the musty stench death.

“Yum,” Thor mutters as he looks around.

Terrence grips his face in distaste. The first area the team investigates is caged in equipment check-in/check-out counter. A hole disturbingly close to the size of a human fist is punched through the steel mesh. The skeletal remains of human hand can be seen clinging to the counter on the other side of the cage.

The door to the cage is secured.

“Can you widen that hole?” Terrence asks Felix.

The synth nods. With a bulge of artificially enhanced musculature the robo-marine tears the mesh apart with a shriek of tearing metal. With opening widened Terrence reaches in and grabs the body and hoists it up where he can grab hold of the belt.

As predicted, the belt contains the key to the lockup door. They get inside to examine the remains. The man was obviously a military police officer. He apparently died instantly when whatever punctured the mesh impacted and crushed his face. Apparently, he’d been standing at the exchange counter when the attack came.

The keys let the group into the next chamber which is an armory. While somewhat disappointing, it is still a treasure trove of items. HUD enabled flight helmets, breathers, flack jackets and everything a pilot might want can be found. Unfortunately, it appears that the majority of the materials had been removed previous.

Still, the group gathers up a couple of the helmets, ten grenades, a side-arm for each member of the party and clips of ammo. The real jack pots are a pair of ten-gauge clip loading shotguns and two assault rifles with launchers. The only disappointment… no ordinance for the launchers. Enough ammo to twice fill the fifty-shot magazines is also located, along with a couple boxes of shotgun shells.

Exiting from the other door of the armory they find the other distribution cage to be a blood splattered mess with the door smashed open. No sign of the victim can be found save for a Damocles MP helmet smashed down to the size of a grapefruit by repeated impacts.

On the floor is a snail-trail long dried blood leading out of the cage, into the foyer and deeper in the debriefing center. Cautious and curious the team follows the trail into a reception area. There a large secretarial desk has been shattered, and bloody silhouette is outlined on the wall. One door in this room leads into an office and other into the briefing area.

The group examines the office. The large desk has been overturned. Bullet marks mar the walls. A semi-circular hunk of the desk has been knocked out and there is blood splatter on the wall behind.

“Zis attacker is a real take-no-prisoners kind of guy it zeems,” Kath mentions looking around. “Why did zis fellow take the bodies with him?” He pointed to the floor. Additional trails indicate three bodies being dragged from the reception area.

“Sick,” Terrence murmurs. “Just sick.”

“Very efficient,” Felix murmurs.

The trails are followed into a temporary barracks where all the rooms lay open. At the end of the short corridor, a larger room proves to be where the three victims and at least ten more are interred, the corpses stacked like wood in one corner of the room.

“No human stacks corpses like that,” Kath mutters.

“Let’s get out of here,” Terrence growls.

Further examination reveals the debriefing area which clearly shows Damocles forces in opposition to Metua. The old fashioned glass pinboard still shows the units and systems of both sides. This base had been positioned to strike into Metua’s core systems with a capacity to equip at least twenty strike carriers loaded with drop craft.

If this base ever struck, it’s not on record.

The equipment is all telemetry and point-to-point packet transmission comms for briefs sent back and received from Damocles headquarters. No more evidence of what attacked the people in the base can be located.

Back outside, the group checks in with Boltz and Bengal who’ve completed their survey of the big Andromech and know what tools, equipment, and cabling they need to get the beast operational.

Its decided that the group will investigate the space-port control tower.

As they approach the edifice, Thor ranges ahead, probing with a piece of fuselage he picked up from one of the wrecks. Within thirty paces of the tower he halts the group.

“More fun with wires,” he tells them. “Ankle cutters here.” He points, swinging the duralloy tube in the air where it gets sheared off. “You fall forward into a criss-cross there.” He points further down the path. “Chunky salsa. Sweet.”

Thor disables the trap after a few moments and they approach the tower. Unlike the other buildings viewed so far, this one has taken damage. The heavy vault-like metal door has taken a hit from what was likely an assault cannon. The hinges and surrounding structure show the door was ripped open after being weakened.

The interior shows the remains of a fierce battle. The walls are scored from what must be the blasts of fragmentation grenades. The walls are riddled with bullet scaring.

Thor climbs the stairs carefully checking the areas for shrapnel from the grenades and other residue.

“Heavy ablative assault armor,” he determines looking at some of the material. “Ah, lookit…” He picks up a piece a material discolored by a clear residue. “What’s this look like to you?” he hands it to Felix.

The robo-marine examines the material for a few moments, turning it over in his fingers. “It appears to be the dried residue of class seven refined perfluorooctyl bromide,” Felix responds. He looks up. “Synth blood.”

“Damn, three laws my eye,” Terrence said shaking his head. “They were screwed over by some seriously pissed off mecha.”

The group continued their examination of the tower. Many systems had been damaged but a significant number had escaped harm. Enough to get the Grundy into a dry-dock and hook into the security grid. Provided they could find a skilled hacker to crack the system.

They knew where to find one--and he’d be dying to help--one way or another.

Thor offered to retrieve RTFM from the collection of caged convicts. Since Boltz and Bengal had to return to the ship to get the necessities to power up the mech he hitched a ride with them.

Back at the Grundy, Thor was quite persuasive with his heavy pistol. He shoots one the hackers in the leg, just to prove that he’d have no qualms about shooting the arms dealer the same way if he gets out of line.

Back in sick-bay, the re-enable RTFMs cyberware, but Thor has her disable his smart-gun link.

Bengal gets his neck patched up while Boltz has the staff load the shuttle with the generator, fuel, cables and tools needed to make the mech operational.

After a short time, Thor and RTFM are dropped off at the control tower while Bengal and Boltz start working on the mech.

With a gun wielding Thor at his right shoulder and a hawk-eyed Terrence at his left, RTFM begins repairing the critical systems, patching things in, and hacking the system. His efforts are successful after about an hour of work.

Out on the tarmac, Boltz and Bengal meet with similar success, firing up the twenty-five year old turbines, which in turn build up the juice necessary to boot the reactor on the monolithic Andro.

With a shriek of burning plasma exhausts, the giant shudders and comes to life.

“Whoohooo!” Bengal cheers, swinging the torso around. “Oh yeah. Come on baby show me what you got. AC 10 alpha online. AC 10 beta online. PPC A online. PPC B online. Pulsars to chain. LRM and SRM missile stores are go. Even the machine gun pods are full. We are ready to ROCK!”

With the Andro ready to defend the Grundy, its deemed safe enough to bring the ship in for dry-dock. This the captain does cautiously. Parking it on the giant elevator in front of the hanger.

The well-made Damocles equipment works flawlessly, lowering the Grundy into the giant subsurface garage. Fully equipped to provide every service needed to repair an ailing ship.

Most of the light-weight tools have been removed from the repair area but all the heavy machinery still seems in place--and power is abundantly available. There are even comms and computer hookups for flight data should the Grundy decide to avail itself.

Alert and on guard on the surface, Bengal is getting the hang of the ancient mech.

“She’s pretty frisky in this light gravity,” Bengal says to Terrence, Felix, and Thor who’ve taken up gunnery positions in the mech’s spacious cockpit. “Good to get in a real machine for once.” He flips some switches. “Gonna switch on the ECM and EECM just in case, this thing probably pings like a sky-scraper.” He looks back to the other men. “You guys actually know anything about gunnery?”

“What’s to know?” Thor growled. “You point the gun, you pull the trigger.”

“Uh huh,” Bengal responds with a furrowed brow. “Well, that trigger you got your finger on controls a mark IX fifteen cm aperture autocannon. It fires hundred-round bursts of high explosive shells that weigh a kilogram each. It ain’t a pop-gun, don’t shoot at stuff close to us!”

“Cool it, Gramps,” Thor responds. “I won’t shoot nothing that isn’t shooting us first.”

“It is unfortunate,” Felix murmurs.

“What’s unfortunate?” Terrences asks.

The Synth points to the controls. “There is no taser. Just a pair of rotary 75 millimeter phalanx hardpoints and two phase-pulsed mass drivers.” He shakes his head, but the corner of his mouth quirks up.

Terrence rolls his eyes.

“Just keep your fingers off the guns,” Bengal growled. “I’ll tell--frell--”

Bengal whirls the Andro’s torso and lurches the behemoth into a motion as a contrail streaks across the base toward them and clips the left side with a thunderous crash…

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