BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP
A large right hand skipped across a board of lights. The left hand could be seen setting an old book down past the glow of the keyboard. As the alarm was switched off a mic was brought into view of the mouth of one Argonaut, Nathan Jeppert.
“Toz to the bridge.”
A crackle of a remote ecto from somewhere in the base clicked onto the bridge comms, “Toz copies.”
Minutes later a small neotenic passed through the sliding doors of the bridge area of Argonaut outpost 01-Niner. The small boy morph belonged to a fork of a fork that had attained sentience through rebellious means and now considered itself, not only autonomous, but alive heading towards impending point: death. He planned to live to the fullest, as a child for now and then move on to heavier morphs later in “life.”
Toz interrupted the beeping sounds of decoding, “What have we got?”
“An encrypted message,” Nathan replied, “Very odd. It’s originating off Iapetus however.”
“Can we pinpoint it?”
“Attempting to decode,” Nathan paused between computer readouts, “It’s a general SOS? Emergency broadcast coming from…Intrepid Station?”
“The Extropians? Wonder what they dug up and decided to tell no one about?”
“It’s strange Toz. It’s repeating without delay. My muse is running diagnostics. Decoded somewhat and replaying.”
Nathan flipped a few switches across his board and pressed some buttons. On the main viewing port a digital VR program jumped up laying across the whole window. Although the audio was still decoding, enough readout was being displayed to see the process unfold.
“Do not…Intrepid…under…excavated…Repeat!…*static*Intrepid…*static*excavated and now it’s…Repeat! Welcome to Intrepid…under forgoing…*static*Repeat! Welcome to Intrepid Station. We regret to inform you that our communications relay is foregoing repairs. The stations doors can ID you at the front. Repeat!…”
“Hmm, thats odd,” Toz broke in.
“Extremely. First it was an SOS, then it seemed to be reprogrammed as we were listening to it,” Nathan concluded, “…into a greeting.”
Toz asked, “What’s the signal doing now?”
“The welcome message is repeating. Indefinitely. What should 01-Niner do?”
“I’ll see about getting my counterpart back on his err, feet. We’ll get some help too, I’ll put out an all call on the station to see who bites. I’ll report back soon.”
“Confirmed,” as Nathan turned back to the diagnostics station and began interpreting more readouts.
It didn’t take Toz long to figure out his swarmanoid counterpart, Zot, wouldn’t be ready for some time. After extensive psychosurgery to scrub the trauma from their last dive. Toz drew a few of the Argonauts out of their overlapping work with his all call. On the bridge, after Nathan and Toz went over the pitch with the three crew members only one remained, Lillith Daedelus.
“Well now I hope you don’t mine me staying a bit tipsy about the way?” Daedelus inquired after the meeting was over and only she remained with the two leaders.
“Only if you can take your readings correctly,” Toz spoke up eyeing her suspiciously, “If we get back here and then have to turn around for something you forgot I’m leaving you there.”
Lillith was stunned at the tightlipped apprehension of, what appeared to be to her, a child. Taken slightly aback she adjusted herself. Looking about she relocked her cybernetic gaze on the small neotenic.
“Dear boy. I have been running the gamut of this system without the loss of limb and neither have I forgotten an entity I happened to be dissecting in a hallway either,” she locked his eyes with a head tilt.
“Fine,” Toz bantered on, “We’ll need transport, Commander?”.
Jeppert was replaying the message through his private mesh feed, lost in thought. Toz had to poke him and the Olympian turned to look down at him. Blinking to negate all audio feeds so he could hear what Toz’s lips were saying.
After clearing his throat Nathan responded, “Sure. You can take the buggy. We just repaired her, but if you see any junk on your way pick it up for the base.”
“We shall. I wonder…” and just as Toz was about to carry that thought forward the comms on the main board started to go off. Nathan reached over to open the feed. Two different signals were being pinged to them. One on the Autonomist Network, and one on a special scientist network. Toz walked around to where Nathan was about to pick up the Autonomist line. Lillith leaned against a wall and flipped her AR visor down, blanking everything out so that she could finish a segment of coding on her VPN.
“Let’s see what the neighborhoods got to say,” as Toz spied Lillith mentally leave the situation from over his shoulder.
The main screen’s overlapping programs all blipped out and suddenly became a large face to face communication platform. A familiar Exalt came on screen. The anarchist leader at Durbin, James Gaban.
“Nathan, Toz? We’ve been getting an emergency broadcast from Intrepid Station for the past hour now. When it came on we were aware of some coding issues in the signals background, old relay codes that hadn’t been used since the Fall.”
“We’re getting the signal too,” Nathan replied, “We’re going to send a crew in. Do you have any personnel to spare?”
“On the contrary we’ve got more volunteers. Dragon and Hawk are still indisposed on other psychosurgical procedures, but two other members will be arriving within a few days to 01-Niner. Armand and Elden. They will take good care of your members. Who all is going from your side?”
“Two specialists as of right now” Nathan said, “Nothing heavy though, if you catch my drift.”
“Don’t worry about firepower. We’ll bring it. Make sure your people are ready to go when we arrive.”
Jame’s feed went out. Nathan adjusted the comms network to receive the second signal. Extropian, but an unknown ID, to Toz and Nathan at least. Then the feed came on and they came face to face with a man IDed as Homer Rand. Major cyberwear crowned his head, as only the face on his skull was real. His inhuman characteristics echoed through his voice as well, and it sounded as if some sort of machination were making his voice buzz sometimes.
“Rand here. 01-Niner do you read me? 01-Niner. This is Homer Rand.”
Toz took the mic, “01-Niner responding. This is Toz, state your business Rand.”
Rand’s face lacked any appeal towards emotion. He was cold and calculated, lacking any sympathy towards a humanitarian effort. Although, he still plied their temptations with his guidance and self invite to their effort.
“There has been a distress signal exported by Intrepid Station on Iapetus. Ridge Base has not been able to hail a person at Intrepid Station for the past twenty-four hours now.
As a measure of self preservation we are taking steps to ensure that other stations on the moon are not similarly affected. How fares 01-Niner?”
Toz and Nathan exchanged a glance then Nathan spoke up, “We are aware of the situation. As we have never had words before we are unaware that others are monitoring the surface as desperately as we are. We already have a team being assembled. If you can make it to 01-Niner in the next couple of days you can hop on the train out to Intrepid Station.”
“Very well. I look forward to the mission. See you in a couple of days.”
Rand’s image faded from sight. It left Nathan and Toz scratching their heads. The sudden interest in the third party had them wondering. Was it a setup? Was the whole thing a Hypercorp setup? The Argonauts were renowned for their distrustfulness towards any Hypercorp allegiance.
After little contemplation Nathan confirmed, “Ridge Base is the shared Extropian-Planetary Consortium research station near the Cassini Regio.”
Toz asked, “What do you think their ulterior motives are?”
“Espionage at least, sabotage at worst.”
“I’ll keep an eye on Homer. When Zot’s back up we’ll have no problems. I assure you. I might not be able to see out of the back of my head, but Zot isn’t limited by a head.”
Nathan chuckled a little then, “Well get to work on him. The sooner we have him back the better everyone will feel around here.”
“Don’t worry Nathan. Since this next hop is on the surface we’ll both be going to watch each others back, not that Zot has a back either.”
Nathan continued to chortle as Toz left the room. The hiss of the sliding doors to the bridge closed behind him. Toz wandered down the thin corridors of 01-Niner to the medical bay to start intense psychosurgery on his friend.
It took Toz days to psycho-surgeon out the worst sectors of the ego. Zot was shredded and only an artist could put him back together. Unfortunately for Zot, in order to function Toz had to remove the whole previous incident else Zot was likely function poorly with the retained memories. When the ego was primed for use he loaded it into the hive generator for the swarmanoid to reconfigure.
The hive hummed slightly. It had not been replaced in over three years. Toz had determined that there was no need for such a thing as the Argo base was secure enough to keep the hive safe. As small ball-oids began to flood around his feet he waited for the recognition of the cortical stack to kick. With a jolt the jumble of metal balls reassembled suddenly. It appeared to be random patterns, until Toz realized Zot was merely stretching, accommodating the new day with sensory output to re-accustom himself. The morph was clean fresh hatched swarmanoid. Each ball-oid ejaculated a small set of copter blades above itself, a couple hundred or so in total. Simultaneously they lifted off the ground and started about recognizing the station again and all the AR tags that clustered shelves and wall space. 01-Niner’s AR for the station always allowed for item searches throughout the station, as the Argonauts liked to attain a perfect state of organization within their walls.
After Zot came fully online and Toz gave him a situation update via his own XP, of the previous mission and the current situation. Once Zot became aware that his previous mission was a failure his swarmanoid form took no shape. It was as if the swarm were drunk and stumbling, all of its separate parts moving about like they were uncertain as to where their positions were supposed to settle.
“You’ve got to get ahold of yourself,” Toz demanded of the lazily put together Zot.
Bumbling on the air Zot’s voice sounded animatronic and glitchy, “I’m just lost in the thought of wonder. At what I experienced that was so awful I had to emergency farcast. That hole. Why did we go down it? We shouldn’t have gone downy there. Why didn’t we stop ourselves?”
“Forget it Zot, it’s Iapetus.”
“Ughh, just give me a couple hours to acclimate and I’ll be ready to go. How long do we have till we leave for Intrepid?”
“Two days. Come find me when you’ve put yourself together.”
In two days time the arrival of the Anarchists and the Extropian had 01-Niner full of speculation and intrigue. No one knew what to make of the odd signal that Intrepid Station to this day was still broadcasting. It just repeated forever never skipping a beat.
Meanwhile Zot was back online and functioning well enough to do menial remote tasks on the surface. Toz managed to find blue prints for a space suit small enough for him in one of the older fabbers no longer in use. The other members of the team had come bearing their own space-walking equipment and scientific instruments, including some heavy weapons from the Anarchs.
As they were fitting the buggy with the gear small amounts of banter broke out. Introductions were made between everyone as they arrived at the station. Homer Rand had been all but friendly and continued the trend as they packed.
Homer Rand began with, “The station likely has an approach vector protocol we need to figure out, unless we want to draw fire down on us.”
Armand interjected, “If the base is under pressure from some influence what makes you certain their defenses will come online at all?”
“The fact that any automated emergency automatically allocates enough energy to a defense grid to keep everything online,” Rand began to explain, “typical defense protocol encrypted into an Extropian layout. Never leave the goods unguarded.”
Elden enquired, “Intrepid Station is Extropian?”
“No,” Rand answered, “Well, yes and no. By reputation alone do I know the singular Doctor Smyrna, responsible for Intrepid since it’s birthdate seven years ago. It was one of the first habitats that dared to poke out of the surface of Iapetus since the Fall. And Symrna has headed the scientific leads for the station since its founding. Being the only Extropian I know of at Intrepid he has made good use of outbound and Titanian contracts for all of the other purposes the base needs. Science, logistics, and medical personnel. Not to mention Gorgon Defenses contracts directly to Intrepid and is outsourced on Iapetus for further use. Intrepid Station has its uses. Which is why we all need to know what is happening there. As soon as possible.”
A voice came out of nowhere, tearing down a wall no one could even see, as Daedelus made her way onto the deck with Toz she blurted out, “The acronym your looking for is ASAP.”
Rand regarded the two and then continued to pack his bags. Daedelus sipped from a straw near her mouth, a golden brown liquid that came from her hip pouch. Toz introduced everybody and the team loaded the small shuttle docked in the bay, hesitant for departure.
It was only another hour or so before the team was on their way. Taking to the helm Toz glided over the atmosphereless planetoid, its pock marks a brief history of its existence below. At the helm Rand also fidgeted with dials on the communications board.
“We should really figure out the approach before we get any closer. We have old docking codes, but can we trust that they still work? Risk everything to get blown out of the sky by one missile?” Homer bemused the quiet bunch.
The boy morph spoke up before anyone else, “I think our best bet is to try to skirt the edge of the station and see if the codes register. If not, then we hoof it from a few miles out. Either way, we are going to get into that station.”
Homer went silent for a time, then wrote the docking codes down for Toz to see when he needed to punch them in. The team sat in quiet wonder as Intrepid zoomed into sight ahead. When the docking codes went green for “Accepted,” everyone let out a big breathe, and Toz landed the bird at the docking ring on the backside of the station.
As they exited the vehicle the cold undaunting silence and chill of a place unused came upon them. Stillness and silence evoled their own sense of it, and therefore they moved as akin to silent predators as possible.