The Ithrian Gambit
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Hero – Round 3, Turn 1
Use 6D - Eliza, Philosopher
There was always something special about setting foot on a planet for the first time, even one so dangerous and foreboding. And with an alien standing so close by, the special feeling was altered and amplified. It was the opposite of nostalgia, a recognition of everything new and unknown, and the thrill of possibility and potential. Despite the circumstances, Eliza couldn't help but be delighted in knowing that she was experiencing something truly unique.
The distress signal brought her mind back to the task at hand. It was broadcasting on equipment more than three decades old, on a low-power frequency, no doubt running on emergency power. Not enough to transmit a full message, just the distress code.
"Wow, this is all Core gear," Jericho said, looking around at what was left of the domes and the rover. "Damn near as old as I am, but nice. Shame it's all rusted out."
"I wonder how the beacon stayed active all this time. The rest of this stuff is scrap," said Eliza, inspecting a piece of survey equipment. Much of the old equipment was damaged as well, or knocked over. One of the habitats was caved in.
"Lot of structural damage," Jericho said. "This is more than just the corrosion." He picked through the broken components of a comm antenna. "What happened here?"
As if in response, the porous ground beneath them rumbled and shuddered, gently shaking the entire site. About a hundred yards out, a fissure opened, spraying a geyser of boiling, steaming liquid. It was thicker than water, almost tar-like.
"Oh," Jericho said. "That makes sense."
Click drew their attention with some deep thunking sounds. He stood on the other end of the camp, near the largest dome. It sat, partially buried, at the base of a low cliff. The seismic activity had apparently caused a landslide. As soon as they looked, he disappeared inside.
Eliza re-checked her weapon, a short slender tube that could extend from one end to become a one-handed baton or from both ends to become a two-handed quarterstaff. With a quick twist, the quarterstaff could be separated into two batons, and with the push of a button, the blunt ends tapered down into lethal points. On her wrist, Eliza wore a band that would reset the weapon and recall it to her hand, should it be dropped or thrown.
"Well, he brought us here for a reason," Eliza said, clipping it back on her belt. "Let's see what it is."
She and Jericho plodded over, awkward in their suits. Jericho turned on his helmet lights and went in first, plasma pistol pointed safely downward. "Proteus, we're moving inside," Eliza said, then followed, going from the rusty light outside into relative darkness.
They passed through a defunct airlock into a dusky indoor twilight. Corrosion had eaten away at the roof of the dome, creating jagged skylights that let in shafts of rust-colored light. This was the site garage, where the research team built, repaired, and modified their equipment. Toolboxes and workbenches littered the floor, long abandoned. Another rover sat in the middle of the large room, partially disassembled. The outer body shell hung from a crane on large rusty chains above the exposed chassis.
Eliza and Jericho split up, checking tools and equipment as they went along. Click had already made his way to the far side, where the landslide breached the dome. His clicking sounds echoed throughout the space. Eliza followed the distress signal, which led her to some rubble near the far wall. Next to the rocky debris was an old terminal, partially damaged. And a dead body.
"Got a body over here," Eliza said, kneeling down to inspect the remains. Not much was left. Decades in this environment had reduced the unfortunate researcher into a pile of bones in a tattered environmental suit. One of the skeletal hands clutched an old datachip. Eliza picked it up carefully and inserted it into a slot on the terminal. The old display flickered to life, and despite a high number of dead pixels, displayed a message:
Andrea Marlow, Engineer 1st Class
12.13.68 – 0519 EST
Continuing interference on all sensors and comms. Diagnostic OK. Source unknown.
12.13.68 – 0931 EST
Severe damage to Habitat 3 during heavy seismic activity. Damage report to follow.
12.13.68 – 1107 EST
Damage to 25% of outer wall on Habitat 3. Insufficient resources to repair.
12.13.68 – 1114 EST
Talk about bad luck! First all the sensors fuzz out, and now this? At least we get to leave ahead of schedule. Harker and Jones want to take a quick look inside the fissure that opened up inside Hab 3, but after that, we're out of here. Not a moment too soon if you ask me, I'm starting to feel very…unwelcome.
12.13.68 – 1533 EST
Harker and Jones are still down there. We haven't heard from them in two hours, so we're suiting up to go looking. Damn all this interference!
12.13.68 – 1724 EST
There seems to be a network of caves just below the surface. The crazy part? We're not the first ones down here! Some seriously strange tech. I've never seen anything like it. Experimental? Why weren't we told about this? Seismic activity is increasing, so I'm on my way back to the site to log this data and request pickup.
Eliza pulled the datachip back out and zipped it into a pocket. "Found the beacon," she said. "Looks like the people here went underground."
Click pulled a large rock out from beneath part of a collapsed wall, causing a small avalanche. Reddish dust filled the air, but Eliza could see a long narrow crack in the ground just outside the perimeter of the destroyed wall. Before she could react, Click jumped in the hole. Eliza cursed loudly.
"You okay, boss?" Jericho asked from over by the rover. Eliza could barely see his helmet lights through the rusty cloud.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she replied as she wiped dust off her visor. "Click went down this hole over here." She jogged over to the edge of the fissure. "We're going after him. Proteus, suit up and get down here now. Bring some extra filters."
"On my way, Captain," said Proteus over the comms.
"Are you sure about this, boss?" Jericho asked. "Some of these fuel cells are still good. We could leave now before we get buried alive."
"Where's the fun in that?" Eliza said. "There's something down there. If it's important enough for an alien to hijack my ship, I at least want to check it out."
Jericho walked over, carrying a large coil of thick tubing. One end was tied around the rover axle. "Good enough for me," he said, tossing the coil down the hole. "Ladies first."
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