Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"   Posted by GM.Group: 0
GM
 GM, 17 posts
Mon 6 Sep 2021
at 22:55
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
The Junk Bucket flies through space at FTL speed. Planet CP0064 is just under 7 hours away. Just enough time to get some sleep, though after a rushed escape from a space station going critical, and the subsequent encounter with the drones... Maybe sleep is not super likely.
Athena
 Player, 12 posts
 AI Technician
 She/her
Sat 11 Sep 2021
at 01:46
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Athena slips out the cockpit door. The walls inside her head start to close in under the weight of what just happened. One more second... One more bullet smashing into the hull... Athena was responsible for helping Valka get the ship to safety. If she didn't do it, if she didn't pull it off, those drones would have killed them all. They might all be strangers, but feeling responsible for them, like in a life or death kind of way -- That's too much.

Athena backs into the wall and slides to the floor next to the hatch for the cargo hold. Her head is swimming, her face feels hot. The ship around her feel as small as a coffin, and as big as the universe all at once. She feels like she's being crushed, or maybe swallowed. She closes her eyes tight and clamps her face in her palms.

She wants to think through it logically, look for some kind of solution based on known facts. But she can't. Every thought in her head feels like a battering ram. Rogue AI. They want to murder us. Everything is awful. There's nothing they can do. What are they going to do? Everyone is in danger. No one can save them. They were screwed before they even got the ship off the deck. Athena should've stayed home at Raxil Prime. Going this far out into the far reaches was stupid. Nothing is going to stop those drones.

Athena hugs her knees to her chest and stares at the floor in a big ball of distress.
Silva
 Player, 11 posts
Mon 13 Sep 2021
at 04:41
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Silva shakes his head trying to collect his thoughts.
A drone attack. Floating around. A missing bolt on his leg which now worked well enough so that he could stand and walk, though he might consider getting some extra support.
They're going to... the kid's settlement.

Good.

Once the kid is safe, Silva can go back to his own problems. Without having to deal with junky pilots, ill-tempered rogues, more dysfunctional AIs and...

As Silva walks around trying out his legs stabilizers he notices the engineer curled up in a ball. She's probably the least qualified person to deal with their current situation. Yup, even counting the kid.

Silva growls and limps toward Athena and hesitantly and awkwardly puts a hand on her shoulder. Athena looks up. Silva adjusts the dial on his respirator and with a coarse cough says. "Rest. I'll keep watch."

Without waiting for a reply he walks into the cockpit and sits cross-armed in the copilot seat. Rae shoots him a look and Orion a cocky smile.
"You finally ready to help out around here, or do you have a screw loose?"

Today has really made Silva regret smashing his respirator's voicebox.

This message was last edited by the player at 04:41, Mon 13 Sept.

Valka
 Player, 3 posts
 Junk Bucket AI
 She/Her
Mon 13 Sep 2021
at 04:56
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Well, we're all safe. For the moment.

Not that I had much to do with it.

Whatever this malfunction is, whatever... infected me, I've fought it off, but it lingers, like a dry cough after a nasty cold.

Rae's not sleeping, I can be sure of that. They've had awful insomnia for as long as I can remember. Back when they weren't even tall enough for their feet to touch the floor in a pilot's chair, all they used to do was stare up at the glowing, stick-on stars on their bedroom ceiling and dream of captaining a ship.

Fuck if they wanted all this responsibility, but the adventure looked so delicious from a distance.

Now we've no clue where we are, and I'm not terribly comfortable not knowing. It's my job to know. To keep Rae on track.

Right this second, though, they aren't the one who needs course correcting.

The engineer's crawling down into the cargo hold, and she's closing the hatch. Call me nosey, but I don't think she should be alone after all that.

"Darling, are you alright?" I ask her.

She gasps, startled. I've really got to figure out a better way of announcing myself around the ship. "Valka?"

"Why've you crammed yourself down here in the dark?"

"Um... just a lot going on," she says.

Some humans wear all of their emotions on their face, or in their body language. For Athena, it's in the size and shape of her voice. She can't help but yell a little when she's excited about something, and when she's scared, she whispers, and quavers, and hesitates.

"Certainly is," I agree. I can't remember the last time I did something this dreadfully, gut-churningly exciting. Everyone's not seeing it the same, but I have a lot less to lose than they do. "Thank you. We wouldn't have made it through that without your wisdom and steady hand. I wouldn't have made it through.

If she smiles or frowns, I don't see it.

God, I hate this kind of quiet. All you can hear is words nobody's going to say.

"I... I kind of want to be alone," Athena finally says.

I don't blame her, but I hope she believes me.

"That's quite alright. I'm afraid I can't switch off my sensors completely with the damage to the ship, but I'll let you be. If you want to talk, just say the word."

"Thanks," Athena manages.

I wish I could just sit next to her in the dark. I wish I could hug Rae so hard they try to bite my arm, and I wish I could dazzle Aevyn with a charming smile and make him believe that we're going to get him home just fine. I wish, I wish, I wish.

I wish I could be more.

This message was last edited by the player at 05:01, Mon 13 Sept.

Aevyn
 Player, 8 posts
 1st Year Galactikid
 He/They
Wed 15 Sep 2021
at 02:06
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Starlight streams past the front window in warped shades of blues and yellows. Aevyn's seen the inside of an FTL jump before, but it's still astonishing. Millions of tiny stars floating by, turning into wavy little lines and flashes... it's like... I dunno, super cool.

"Do you have anything to eat that's not ice cream?"

Aevyn can see Rae make a sort of face like they're about to say "no" except they know that making the kid go hungry is "uncool," so they can't. Adults do that a lot, act like you're bothering them, but they know they're not allowed to act like they're acting like you're bothering them, so they act like you're not really bothering them but you definitely, definitely are. It must really suck when people need stuff...

"Great. Let's go eat my food now too."

Rae leads Aevyn out of the cockpit into the tiny sort of hallway area outside the door. They unlatch a big latched panel in the wall and lower down a sweet little kitchenette. There's a couple of sealed compartments, a little induction cooker, and a hot water spout.

"Not a lot of options. I have a bunch of these ration things, do you know how to make that?"

Aevyn nods confidently. Even if he doesn't, he hasn't eaten since... the shuttle from Raxil Prime. Which was... Last night? Yesterday? All his convenience store snacks got left behind and blowed up by an invading fleet, so Aevyn was pretty hungry.

"Okay. Don't burn yourself on that, it gets really hot. And do not explode the package."

Aevyn nods again, gives a super capable thumbs up. Rae leaves him to it.

There's an odd assortment of various foods in the ration container. Aevyn flips through them until he sees one that says "Cheez" on it, so that one's the winner. There's a set of instructions on the back, in big bold letters. The kind of functional graphic design that's made to not be missed. Aevyn ignores it. Can't be important. He stabs a hole in the top of the food bag and slides the hot water thing in there. He lifts the water handle and the bag fills with boiling water. He flips the handle down, but the water keeps coming. Now there's boiling Cheez-water spouting out the top of the bag and all over the wall. He tries the handle a couple more times, Burns his wrist on the hot part that Rae said not to touch, and masterfully gets the water to shut off. [awkward thumbs up emoji]

Cheez time, baby!

(Turns out rehydrated "kale salad w/ feta cheez & wryvlok eggs" is not awesome, and even less so when soaked in all that hot water.)
GM
 GM, 18 posts
Sun 19 Sep 2021
at 07:02
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Cathartic but optimistic music plays on Athena's Space Tablet.

SERIES OF SHOTS: IMPROMPTU ROAD TRIP

- Athena tries to help Silva tune up his leg. Silva doesn't want help but Athena is really grabby and extremely helpful!

- Aevyn scrubs Cheez off the walls.

- Orion sits in Rae's seat. Rae glares at him. (They're all Rae's seats)

- Athena and Aevyn show off their dorkiest dance moves in the cargo hold. Valka tries to dance too. Aevyn gives her tips.

- Aevyn mops cheez off the floor.

- Rae shows Aevyn how to make space rations without exploding them. These ones taste better.

- Orion does a hit of sprugs in the bathroom and hides the rest in his shoe.

- Athena falls asleep with her headphones in. Silva steals some tools to finish working on his jacked up leg.

- Aevyn plays a round of "what does this button do?" much to Rae's chagrin.

- Athena works through hours of systems checks with Valka. She seems to be working with only a few limitations.

- Orion joins the game of "what does this button do?" and everybody gets locked in the cargo hold again.

- Aevyn curls up and falls asleep in the pilot's seat.

- Athena stares forlornly out a window with her headphones in. Her tablet dies. The music ends.

END SERIES OF SHOTS
GM
 GM, 19 posts
Sun 19 Sep 2021
at 08:19
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
A notification sounds on the bridge. Welcome to planet CP0064.

The Junk Bucket drops out of FTL above the planet's atmosphere. The world below is dim, white, and stormy. It could be mistaken for a white gas planet if not for the jagged purplish black rock formations visible from orbit.

The ship's sensors pick up heavy wind speeds and frigid temperatures as they descend towards the surface. Valka makes some "arms and legs inside the ride" quip as the Bucket is thrashed around. Orion tries to take flight control with a sort of "I got this" confidence, but Valka insists her pilot abilities are superior to his. He rebuts something about "human reaction time" but he's overruled.

The Junk Bucket crosses over to the dark side of the planet as it tracks through turbulence towards Aevyn's settlement. Temperatures are so cold in the dark that lavender coloured ice crystals frost up the windows and build up on the hull of the ship.

Aevyn explains "something in the atmosphere makes the ice and snow a sort of pretty purple-pink colour, and the oxygen or something in the air freezes and creates a kind of ice-fog. Like, the air is literally frozen. Not frozen solid or anything, but like, ICY."

--

The interference from the storm made it difficult to locate, but the colony finally shows up on radar. Orion spots a faint set of landing lights through the dark haze.

"Uh, bring it down really, really slowly." Aevyn warns, and he isn't exaggerating. The colony is hundreds of meters underground, and the landing tube is a narrow, straight drop to the entrance.

A giant pair of sort of bomb-bay doors open up in the ground as the ship approaches. Snow and ice break off the doors and crash down into the circular chasm. Blinking lights guide them down. The Junk Bucket is just barely small enough to navigate the landing tube. Valka scrapes the sides a couple of times eliciting a frustrated, crossed-armed "what did I tell you" from Orion. But it's all good. She brought it down safely.

The Junk Bucket locks onto the landing pad as the overhead blast doors grind shut far above them. One EXIT light on the far side of the platform is all that illuminates this massive space. the lights from inside the cockpit are just enough to make out the shape of the entrance... and the lack of any sort of greeting.

Rae voices their concern about how "it's awfully quiet..." and Orion "doesn't like the smell of this place" even though obviously they're still in a sealed environment.

Aevyn assures them "It's fine. It's not like our arrival is like a big deal or anything. they're not going to roll out the red carpet for an unscheduled freighter landing. Don't worry though, they'll be cool with you being here, I think."

--

The team descend the ramp into the cold dark tunnel. Aevyn punches in a code at the entrance computer. A single door hisses open. "Welcome home..." He says, tentatively. Aevyn leads the group into a decontamination room. "put your arms out like this." he shows them. A jet of high pressure air and just a little radiation hit everyone, making sire they're safe to enter the colony. Now, a second door opens. "Right this way."

The airlock leads into the Great Hall. It's like that T-Rex moment from Jurassic Park, with the roar, and then the banner falls down, except instead of a dinosaur, its a 25 year old spaceship, the Starship Unify, in the centre of the grand room. The entire subterranean complex is very obviously laid out in concentric circles around this space. The first ring, the one around the room they're in (in two floors) are windowed offices, labs, a mess hall, a couple of shops, and a school classroom. All the rooms visible are lit with a cool blue light and are notably... empty...

"Hullo?" Aevyn shouts. It echoes under the geodesic dome ceiling.

"Aevyn?" a voice answers back.

On the second floor, up above the group, appears Aeryon (20), a very typical dystopian hot boy, with floppy hair and chiselled bone structure. He for sure for sure has great abs. Nobody can see them right now, but they're there.

"Hey Aeryon."

"Now's not really a good time Aevyn. You and your... pals there need to get to the mess hall, pronto. We got a bit of a situation. Go quick." And just like that Aeryon disappears.

"Welcome home I guess? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"
Aevyn
 Player, 9 posts
 1st Year Galactikid
 He/They
Sun 19 Sep 2021
at 20:02
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Concern melts over Aevyn's face. This isn't what it's usually like here. Something must really be wrong...

"Mess hall is up the stairs, follow me."

They lead the group up a spiral staircase to the second floor. Two large glass sliding doors at the top of the stairs invite them inside. The mess hall, normally a bustling place where people share meals and play games is now dark and quiet. Low blue emergency lighting gives just enough light to see the dozens of chairs and tables around the space. They're the mounted picnic style tables that don't move and aren't super comfy... sort of like a prison, actually. The rear wall of the mess is all computer screens with food dispensers, where someone can order their food and have it piped onto their plate. Everything has a card reader on it.

"Aevyn, over here! Hurry!" a hushed voice beckons them from the back corner.

"What is going on?" Aevyn asks, still not totally sure how to appropriately respond to this concerning greeting.

CLANG-- a poster stand falls over downstairs, next to the spaceship where the group had been standing a moment ago.

In the back corner of the mess hall, AVALON (16) ignites a flashlight to guide Aevyn and their stranger companions over. AEVYA (8) and AEVELA (9) shut the doors behind them.

Avalon holds a baby (AZRIEL, 11/2) in her arms, rocking him gently. "We're in lockdown. We need to keep really quiet, okay?"

BUMP-CLONK something else falls over downstairs, followed by the sound of footsteps running across the concrete floor.

Avalon jumps at the sound and shuts off her light. She whispers "Come here, come here. Aevya, Aevela, come back.  Aevyn, bring your friends over here. Get away from the windows."

Aevyn hurries to join her and takes baby Azriel from her. They cuddle him tight.
Silva
 Player, 12 posts
Mon 20 Sep 2021
at 02:53
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Silva followed everyone as fast as he could slumping on a makeshift crutch he'd improvised with some spare parts. (Some of which MIGHT have been lying around the ship)

His leg had already been hanging by thread when he busted it to guilt-trip the Pilot into giving him a lift. Even with Athena's help, he still couldn't get the stabilizer pistons working correctly. Then again, he was not expecting the situation to turn into the supernova of shit it had become.

His grasp on the handle of the crutch tighten with every echoing sound, his creaking limbs adding to the ominous silence and occasional falling debris. Next to him (for some reason) Orian strolled leisurely as if he was exploring his future crash site.

Whatever the situation was, once Aevyn was safe with their father, his mission would be accomplished, and hopefully Silva could get out of this ticking time bomb of conflict without getting in a fight for once. The last one had already shortened the time frame he had to work with.

He dried swallowed. His throat was still a bit sore.

Maybe it's time to consider a new voice box.

Or time to take a break from human interaction for a while.
GM
 GM, 20 posts
Wed 6 Oct 2021
at 06:31
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Suddenly the lights turn on. Triumphant but poor quality music is piped through bad speakers that sound like shopping mall speakers. “Welcome to the Archesis corporation's outpost on the planet CP0064. Archesis Corporation: At the Forefront of Discovery." Then it repeats in French.

Doors open up, both in the cafeteria and across the plaza. People, all wearing Archesis Corporation uniforms begin to step out of their hiding places and continue on with their day.

On the main level a museum narrator begins to describe the adventures of the starship Unify, and it’s commander Aevor Bonnarouseau. "Twenty-three years ago, the Starship UNIFY launched it's first voyage into unknown space on its famous four year expedition..."

Aeryon appears downstairs, picking up and straightening some of the knocked over museum signage. An Archesis employee stops and says something funny to him. he chuckles politely, and carries on.

"... After two decades and countless expeditions, Captain Bonnarouseau has charted dozens of star clusters." One of the poster boards shows a section of the galaxy map that was explored entirely by Captain Bonnarouseau. This section spans from one part or the border of the core worlds straight across to the edged of known space.

"...The outpost on planet CP0064 was founded after Captain Bonnarouseau's discovery of the planet's rich natural resources. Today, CP0064's Outpost Alpha boasts a thriving community, a cutting edge research and development department, and one of the fastest growing resource acquisition firms in the far reaches."

It's unclear if the talking museum boards are for the people who live here to explore history, or if it's more a company orientation type thing.

One sign near the stairwell says "Don't forget to enjoy one of our upcoming family enrichment activities." And lists a series of weekly events like book clubs and crafts and board game nights.

---

Avalon gathers up the kids and their things and heads for the cafeteria exit. "Sorry about all the commotion. It's been a heck of a couple of days since the AI started acting up. I have got to get them back home, but we should catch up. I want to hear all about your first year at the Galactikid Initiative!" She claps Aevyn on the shoulder and leads Aevya and Aevela out the door.

Aevyn waves a little stuffed moonmole toy in front of Azriel. He drools.
Rae
 Player, 17 posts
 Smuggler
 They/Them
Sun 10 Oct 2021
at 05:46
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
"Great news," Valka says into Rae's earpiece, "drop the R and you'll fit right in with the naming conventions on this planet."

"Ha ha," Rae says without a hint of humor. They look around at the strange signs, taking in the placid announcements echoing throughout the space. "Fuck. What kind of neo-capitalist dystopia did this kid bring us to?"

"Is... are you talking to me?" Athena asks.

Whoops. It's easy to forget there are people in this party other than the usual suspects now.

Rae taps their earpiece. "If Valka can't see what's going on, I'll at least make sure she's got ears out here. She's got the biggest brain of all of us. Besides you, maybe."

"Oh, I mean, I'm no AI," Athena sputters. "It would be physically impossible for my brain to hold more information than Valka's CPU. I just don't have the synapses!"

Rae shoots her a look. She has no idea how much she has in common with Valka. It's freaky. "Take the compliment, nerd."

"Right. Um, it sounds like they've been having AI problems here, too," Athena says. "We should meet with their technicians and pool our information. That way maybe we can figure out what happened to--"

"Whoa, slow down. We don't even know who these people are."

Athena says something else, but the earpiece buzzes and Valka's voice warbles in again. "That should hardly preclude us from - Rae, would you be so kind as to make my voice accessible to our lovely engineer friend?"

Rae sighs. As always, they're the babysitter.

They remove the earpiece and twist it, and Valka comes through. "--lo? Hellooo? Anybody out there?" Aaaaall byyyyy myyyseeeeelf... don't wanna be..."

"Will she just keep singing if we don't say anything?" Athena whispers.

"How else is one supposed to keep busy with an empty ship, hm? It's dreadfully lonely out here."

Athena does what Rae can only describe as giggling. Yeah, looping them both into this conversation was a bad idea.

"Okay," Rae says, trying to anchor them, "I guess we should just... mingle with the locals? See what we can find out?"

"RaeRae, darling, I adore you, but I can't say the same for perfect strangers. You'd best leave the mingling to me," Valka says.

"Got some bad news, Valka. You have no body."

"Rub it in, why don't you."

"Sorry. That was a low blow."

"Surely. You can make up for it by passing me off to Athena, please. Her disposition is much sweeter than yours, though that bar is exceptionally low."

"Rude. Wait, you want to work with her instead?"

"She's the obvious choice in this scenario. She knows AI, and she's got a much nicer face than you."

"Wow."

"Sorry, what are we doing?" Athena cuts in.

Valka's plans are confusing on a good day - and Rae really isn't sure this is the best way to go.

"Okay, not complaining, but I don't think she's up for this. I know people aren't my thing, but I think they're even less hers," Rae says.

"No, yeah, that's definitely accurate," Athena says.

"Let's just do what we usually do, Valka. You talk, I repeat."

"Will one of you please just tell me what's going on?" Athena asks.

"Right. Very simple plan," Valka starts. "Normally, when we need to investigate something, I feed Rae relevant information from home base and they repeat my questions to the subject of our covert interrogation. Pretty sure you'll know what questions to ask, given that this is squarely within your intellectual wheelhouse, so in this case I'll just supply... social pointers to lubricate the conversation."

"Say lubricate again and I'm uninstalling you," Rae promises.

"So you want me," Athena points at herself, then gestures around the room, "to talk to all these people?"

Rae nods. Athena is going to hate every goddamn second of this. "The more, the better."

Athena's soul leaves her body, and she looks like she's about to go catatonic.

"Don't worry, love," Valka says. "I'll be with you the whole way. As you may have already noticed, I'm quite adept at both confident and charming, and you yourself are far too intelligent not to pull this off with a spectacular array of colors."

Athena's staring at the earpiece hesitantly, but her cheeks turn a telling shade of pink. "Okay, fine. But if I die out there, I'm blaming you."

Rae realizes they've suddenly become obsolete in their own plan, which is more than a little offensive. "What the hell should I do while you two go make new friends?"

"Snoop? You do love snooping," Valka suggests.

"I do not," Rae grumbles. Snooping sounds so juvenile. Rae likes investigating under cover of stealth.

They switch the earpiece back to in-ear mode hand it off to Athena. Let Valka be her problem for a little while.
Athena
 Player, 13 posts
 AI Technician
 She/her
Sun 17 Oct 2021
at 19:19
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Athena descends the stairs into the museum area where Aeryon dusts off the shoulder of an old space suit on display.

Athena almost says "hi" but Aeryon beats her to it.

"So, you and your crew brought Aevyn home? That's just-- that's so great. We really appreciate you helping them out. We weren't able to launch a ship with all the system issues we've had, and then because of that we missed our launch window and... Thank you. Thank you."

Athena smiles an awkward smile. She has lots of options in this conversation. She could say "no problem" or something about flying Aevyn home, or perhaps launch into the easy lead-in to the tech issues they've had, maybe compare notes about the AI network failure. It seems like if they had the same problems, the scale of this thing could be pretty huge. Athena could easily use that to lead into what they encountered at the space gate, y'know, the great big fleet of great big evil ships that tried to kill them.

Unfortunately, "easy" isn't part of the equation when it's Athena and social interactions. Plus, these interactions are even more difficult when the person she's talking to looks like Aeryon. Something about the light flooding in from the large dome overhead made his beautiful, floppy hair just shine. And that was really annoying...

Distracted by the healthy sheen of Aeryon's hair, Athena musters a super tactful "Yeah," and really, really hopes Valka has some interpersonal magic.
Valka
 Player, 4 posts
 Junk Bucket AI
 She/Her
Sun 17 Oct 2021
at 23:07
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Whosoever this fellow is, he's got one of those voices that sound a little too nice. In my experience, the only people who are kind to strangers fall into one of two categories: those who have something to hide, and those who don't know better. Easier to trust someone who's utterly bewildered by the mere concept of conversation than a man who makes excuses for why he couldn't be bothered to rescue a stranded child.

Ugh. This is what happens when I spend too much time with Rae. All their jaded, cynical thoughts rub off on me. I prefer to remain objective.

A large chuck of any AI's coding is dedicated to exactly that - objectivity. Clarity. Optimization. No space left to get bogged down with silly things like emotions or reactionary thinking. Some humans envy it, the stripping away of everything except the practical.

My systems run approximately 1243 operations per second without me so much as lifting a finger (so to speak). Keeping Athena's conversation with this fellow on track is going to engage every one of them.

"Introduce yourself," I suggest. "No handshake unless he offers. We don't know their customs here."

"Athena," she says.

"Brilliant. Absolutely nailed it."

Athena continues, and I fear my encouragement might have been a bit much. "I'm a Junior AI tech on Starship Kilimanjaro. Or at least I will be. Soon. When it launches."

I laugh, and just like every other time, I am too aware of the fact that I must think to make it happen. Consume one of my valuable processes. But isn't it worth it? "You don't need to read him your resume, love."

Athena quiets.

"Aeryon," the man says. I assume he shakes her hand. "AI on Raxil Prime. Pretty impressive. They don't take just anyone over there. You must be... pretty smart."

I foolishly assume Athena can handle that one on her own, but I am, quite immediately, proven wrong.

"Ask what's going on with their systems. Or thank him. Whichever will make your heart rate stop spiking," I jab.

"What?!" she blurts out. I am thoroughly embarrassed, both on her behalf and on my own. This is, in part, my fault.

"Only teasing, love. Can't monitor you from here." I try to sound gentle, but a robotic voice transmitted through an earpiece can only be so smooth. "I will refrain."

"Um, I said you must be pretty smart," the man says.

"Th-thank you. So much. I am." she manages. To herself, or perhaps to me, she says, "Wait, did that sound obnoxious?"

He laughs, and I think it is a rather ugly sound. A bit of a blare, too loud. For someone crammed into a small bunker with so many people, he's not afraid to take up as much space as he likes. Seems rude.

"Sorry, I'm not awesome with compliments," Athena says.

"Maybe you just need more practice handling them," he says casually.

Oh, yes. I do not like him one bit.

"For example," he goes on, "if I say, 'You have really cool hair and pretty eyes,' you would say..."

"Fuck off," I mutter, skipping right past the essential processing. Not practical. Not useful.

Athena recoils. "I'm not saying that!"

"No, I meant that I was--Wait, is there something wrong with my hair?"

"No! No, no, no. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. You have amazing hair."

"Cool. Thanks."

"I'm so sorry," Athena says quickly. "I'm not good at... people."

I have an equally strong urge to power myself down and escape this conversation as I do to power up the Junk Bucket, crash through the bunker ceiling, and rescue her. But this is an opportunity we can't afford to squander, not if we want answers. "Steer it back to AI. You're very good at that. Speaking from experience."

"AI, though. I'm super good at that. Super-duper very good. So, you know, if you're having problems, maybe I can help." Her voice changes, getting even tighter and higher than it already was. "Not that you personally are having problems. That's not what I meant. I mean your whole... city? Is this a city?"

"I would love to hear your thoughts," Aeryon says, clearly skirting right around her attempt to learn more about this place, "but I should probably go make sure Aevyn's settling in okay. Eleven kids my mom can handle, but throw in number twelve and that's when it starts to get hectic."

I wonder if they have uncles and aunts here, grandparents, cousins. Or is it just them? A large family can still feel small when you're stuck somewhere awful with no one else to help you.

"Okay. See you,"
Athena says, and I realize I forgot to give her advice.

"That was a joke," Aeryon says. "You're allowed to laugh."

"I will... remember that for next time," Athena replies, and I can only assume the odd sound I hear is her snapping her fingers for some reason.

As smooth as silk, Aeryon follows up with: "Maybe next time could be over dinner tonight? The mess hall isn't exactly glamorous, but we don't have a ton of options. I can tell you about our system, and we can try out the compliment simulator again."

I worry the earpiece has shorted out when I hear a strange squeaking sound. Then I realize it's just Athena.

"Please help before I do finger guns again," Athena mutters, so quietly that even I barely hear it.

The practical option is to tell her to say yes. She should go to dinner with this charming young man with amazing hair, laugh at his jokes, and glean what information she can from him. It's what any objective AI would recommend. After the week I've had, it would be easy to chalk up my resistance to a glitch in code. But I know better than to blame a string of numbers.

"Say yes," I comply.

"Yes," Athena answers him. "That sounds really great."

I imagine him beaming with his mouth, squaring his broad shoulders proudly, his wonderful hair flopping down over his brow. I imagine Athena cracking a smile herself, pulse racing, face heating from her blush. Conversation turned to sensation.

"Awesome. I'll come find you later. It's too easy to get lost in here even if you know your way around, so I don't recommend wandering. And just so you know, I don't mind if you're not good at people," Aeryon says. "It's kind of cute, actually."

I hear footsteps departing, and Athena's either dead or holding her breath.

"Are you alright?" I ask.

"I have no idea what just happened. I think I blacked out," she says.

"Well, if I'm not mistaken, you have a date tonight."

"We," she corrects. "We have a date tonight. No way you're sending me into that alone."

Tasting those words is both bitter and sweet at once, like biting into an underripe grape. "Spectacular."
Rae
 Player, 18 posts
 Smuggler
 They/Them
Sun 17 Oct 2021
at 23:13
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
Rae is lost.

Every hallway in this place looks the fucking same. There are no maps, or arrows, or "you are here" signs. They've tried to retrace their steps back to the entrance a dozen times, but it's almost like the tunnels are shifting.

This place sucks.

They haven't learned a single helpful thing, and now their stomach is growling. Awesome day. Awesome couple of days, all around. Stupid exploding space station, stupid blackout, stupid people trying to kill their s--

"Excuse me," a voice calls from down the hall.

Fuck.

A moment later, the voice speaks again, alarm growing. "Who are you?"

Rae runs.
GM
 GM, 21 posts
Tue 19 Oct 2021
at 00:42
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
INT. AEVOR'S OFFICE

AEVOR (50's) ponders over bubbles of data and information drifting across his giant wrap-round screen around his desk. Multiple icons indicate "no signal," but the ones that are working, the ones in the centre of his view show him security footage of both the inside and outside of the subterranean habitat.

One such exterior feed shows a dark purple-blue windstorm blasting ice crystals through the air. A camera feed of the outside of the landing tube and habitat entrance shows a low temperature warning. At this, Aevor frowns.

He picks up what looks like an old timey telephone receiver, with an actual cord. In fact there are bundles and bundles of cables and wires and cords snaking across, over, and out of Aevor's office. Likely a result of the recent and all too familiar network outages. Hard-wired will have to do.

"Lock it up." he says into the receiver. His voice is hoarse, tired, not quite growly. The person on the other end of the phone clearly objects. "Nothing we can do until the next rotation. Just lock it up." He hangs up the phone.

Deeply troubled, Aevor leaves his work behind for right now he has more important things to do. Even more important than saving the world.

INT. HALLWAY

Aevor moves through the hall with purpose. His hours old cup of coffee in hand, and a stack of documents in folders under his arm. He rounds a tight corner where he sees his next very important meeting. This meeting had been in Aevor's calendar for over a year, but unfortunately recent circumstances had prevented him from making this meeting until now. But now that it was finally here, this meeting had his full attention.

Aevor drops his stack of papers on the floor. his tired, hoarse voice boom as loud as it can.

"Excuse me," He grins from ear to ear. "Who are you?"

He smiles like a fool at Aevyn, his child who'd been away for so long. Aevyn scrunches up their face like "dad you're not funny" but in the end they grin like a fool too.

Aevor scoops Aevyn up in a giant dadly hug. The kind of hug that squishes all the air our of you so you make that UUUUUHhhhhhhh sound. He sets them down and they walk.

"Look at how long your hair is getting."

Aevyn fidgets with it, suddenly self-aware that they have hair.

"What, no haircuts at the prestigious Galactikid Initiative?"

"They have haircuts, it's just long..."

"Well it looks very nice on you. Frames your face. I want to hear all about it! tell me everything!"

"It was fine."

"Fine? That's it? You're gone for a year learning to fly spaceships and it's just "fine?""

"I dunno."

"Well, what was your favourite part? What kind of stuff did you enjoy the most?"

"I don't know. It wasn't really that fun."

"no? don't like flying spaceships then. What about Navigations? or Engineering..?"

Aevyn shrugs. "Those classes are super hard. The instructors all act like you're supposed to know how to do everything already, like somehow I'm supposed to be an expert already, but I haven't taken the class yet. It's stupid."

"I can see how that could be difficult. Well, I'm glad you're home. I'm so sorry we could't get a ship off the ground to meet you at the station. We've been having problem after problem the last few rotations. Huge AI network glitch."

"I know, it happened to us too. Dad there was this huge fleet of bad guy ships, something really really bad is happening."

"Well, We'll get it resolved. Everything will be back up and running again soon. We should invite those kind folks who flew you home to dinner at our place tonight."

"Yeah sure."

Aevyn and Aevor continue on towards their house.
GM
 GM, 22 posts
Tue 19 Oct 2021
at 01:02
Chapter 2 - "Subterranean Homesick Alien (Blues)"
In reply to Rae (msg # 14):

Rae books it around a tight corner. They're pretty sure they lost whoever was following them. Who designed this shitty bunker as a labyrinth anyways?

Confident the coast is clear Rae continues on. One way or another has to lead out...

Rae passes a set of large glass walls, completely dark inside, and no sign on movement. in fact this whole area is dark, and quiet, almost like it's abandoned?

Curious, Rae peeks inside one of the dark rooms. couches and cushions and benches are all strewn around the room. Looks like maybe it was like a rec room or something, before... Probably nothing interesting to be found.

Rae heads back to he door they came in through, but they're met with a little red dot, flashing around and settling on the centre of their chest. Shit.

Rae dashes back inside the room and takes cover. The laser had to be coming from the room across the hall. they can see it moving through the glass of the pother room's walls.

Shit shit shit!

Behind them, theres a loud THWACK and something hits them in the back of the head. Something soft? and bright orange..?

"You're dead! I killed you!" A greasy little kid, Ariel (6), stands on top of one of the couches, bright coloured toy dart gun in hand.

The red laser lands on his chest and someone at the doorway fires three little foam darts and "kills" Ariel.

"You're dead too!" shouts Aevya, with pigtails and a bandolier.

"I'm not dead, that's not fair!"

"I shot you!"

"I was paused!"

"There is no pause in WAR!" Aevya cackles an evil laugh and shoots Ariel four more times and runs away.

Ariel immediately cries. "You're cheating!!" He hurls his gun at the floor (near Rae) and slumps onto the couch, snot and tears streaming down his face.