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 Sci-Fi  Action/Adventure  Post-Apocalyptic  One x One RP Blue Rivers

Discussion in 'Roleplay Haven' started by OklahomaBattleRabbit, Dec 3, 2019.

  1. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    Footsteps echoed through the great chambers of the beast's innards, joined by a strange, almost sub-sonic whistling that hummed through every surface as if the monster was breathing, slowly, perhaps simply asleep and waiting...

    Once, the sight of the massive terraformers, half living, half machine beasts, tearing great swaths along the landscape of Earth, brought a swell of pride to any Neo-sapien who saw them. These primordial monsters were the cornerstone of their offensive on this planet, so powerful and unknowable that they held a reputation comperable to the overlords that had created them. Their trails left the ground scorched and churned, life consumed and recycled into the raw materials that other such unknowable machines would descend upon from the great ships in orbit to harvest and convert into the incredibly versatile, silver-blue substance the Neoseps called Argent.

    Now Jehm climbed through one such unkowable machine, a lifeless husk, shattered and buried, its hull cracked open, the Argent having left it's internal fuel reserve long ago to join the floating rivers of the valuable chemical that now criss crossed the sky above.

    The 98 year old Neosep, despite being free of the overlords' control for the better part of a century, still felt a primal, reverent fear here. From birth, she had been indoctrinated to serve the overlords and protect the terraformers. Such directives had warped and changed and become part of Neosep racial identity, almost like an informal religion. The overlords were to be venerated, their miraculous technology like holy artefacts. Some still held those beliefs, even after it was discovered that their beloved creators had been using a kind of suggestive mind control even from orbit, safe aboard their ships while they sent their disposable soldiers to fight and die on a planet that would ultimately be consumed and abandoned with them still on it. Jehm was of a different mind.

    The terraformers were never meant to accomodate passengers, completely autonomous. So Jehm had to swallow that vestigial reverence and snake her way through the warrenous conduits and the many cavities in which raw materials were stored and processed as the great ambulatory monstrosity slowly moved along the landscape all those decades ago. It was slow going, given that this terraformer had shut down in mid operation, some of its compartments and processing chambers still half full of churned earth. Some rooms even had their own little micro-ecosystems, whole forests consumed and half crushed, their biomatter rotting, insect life breaking it down, the cycle continuing even in here in some form or another.

    Jehm was accustomed to dirty work. She had been born to be a soldier and later, when the overlords were gone, the terraformers destroyed, and she was newly freed of her mental restraints to live a life of her own, much work had needed to be done to survive in this alien world. The humans hated them, and for good reason, the landscape was scorched and inhospitable, and the knowledge of how to operate and maintain the technology that had aided them in their fight for so long was all but gone without the overlords' guidance. They had had to relearn everything, including their racial identity.

    Decades since then and things weren't a lot better. Some human groups had come to accept that they had been brainwashed slaves. Others still killed them on sight. But they weren't the only ones at fault. Some Neoseps couldn't accept their defeat, clinging to long expired orders, some even deluding themselves into thinking the overlords would return to bring them salvation. Those that had accepted that they had been disposable and decided to move on, like Jehm, were labeled traitors and the bad blood had grown from there.

    Jehm's progress through the innards of the terraformer were impeded by the many obstacles she encountered. Luckily, she had the strength and agility to circumvent most of them. One such obstacle was a set of metal jaws which were designed to mulch up trees and other foliage. An enormous evergreen had been half way through being turned into said mulch when the terraformer had stopped functioning, the trunk splintered, the many teeth of the jaws wedged into it.

    Jehm took hold of the trunk, her arms not quite able to reach all the way around it. Gripping the rough bark, she pulled, making sure her feet were anchored, the implants in her shoulders and back straining somewhat with the exertion. A sound of effort left her as the weakened trunk began to creak, splintering and cracking further. She gritted her teeth, feeling her shoulders begin to burn, muscles bulging as the full force of her augmented and biologically superior body exerted an inhuman force upon the mutilated timber.

    It came free with a resounding crack and all of a sudden, Jehm had to act quickly to support the full weight of the trunk so that it didn't crush her. Having such a weight fall on her likely wouldn't kill her but she doubted she could lift it again if it pinned her down and she didn't fancy the idea of starving to death in the bowels of a terraformer.

    She teetered, the tree's weight taking her back a few steps. She kept her footing, managing to wedge the roots of the tree against the far corner of the chamber. Getting one leg squarely under her, she pushed up with her whole body, a grunt of exertion aiding her, the splintered end of the trunk arcing upward and away from her to fall against the wall. She wiped her forehead of sweat.

    Had she been wearing a Battle Skin, that would have been much easier. But she couldn't slither through the tight passages in here if she was ensconced in the bulky armor. Besides, complete suits were few and far between these days and most Neoseps were wary of them. They were the ultimate symbol of their subserviance to the overlords and prolonged use could cause crippling injury. Even a Neosep's reinforced body was subject to the intense wear afforded from the suits over long periods. Jehm's left knee twinged at the thought as she moved toward the metal jaws, beginning to tug free the last chunks of tree trunk still stuck within their many teeth.

    Once a sufficient amount of space had been cleared between the metal jaws, Jehm began to worm her way between them. The opening was far too small for the average human to fit through. A human child could possibly do so. Neoseps were larger than humans, some reaching eight or nine feet. But in addition to increased strength, they were also extremely flexible and their skeletons were somewhat collapsible. The Battle Skins they had often worn during the war exerted massive forces upon their users. It wasn't enough to be able to exert comparable forces in return. A flexible skeleton and muscle elasticity meant the extreme feats that the suits allowed could be performed with minimal wear on the user and let them absorb impacts more efficiently. It was the reason so few of the first batches of Neoseps still existed. Those that survived the war were horribly crippled as they hadn't had such augmentations.

    The metal jaws behind her, Jehm moved on to the next obstacle... and the next and the next until she reached her goal: the central core.

    The core could be analogous to the brain. It governed the terraformer's processes and maintained a constant connection to a specific overlord. When the humans had succeeded in wiping them out, the connection had been severed, the terraformers rendered defenseless. They were easily destroyed after that, either as a result of their own berserk rampages without the guidance of their masters, or by humans in the final push. There were rumors that some terraformers still existed, wandering in far off wastelands with no orders to guide them. Jehm didn't know if that was true or not.

    By the time she reached the core, she had had to go through several more processing chambers and cut her way through into several access ways where she had ruptured a coolant line. Being covered in the sticky liquid put her in a bit of a mood, her thermal blade hacking savagely at the last bulkhead that separated her from the core. As soon as she broke through, a hiss of cold air sobered her, followed by a roiling blue mist, the last remnants of Argent escaping. It was in gaseous form. Processed for maintaining miomech computing matrixes inside the core. It would fetch a pretty penny but she had no equipment to collect it.

    Jehm felt a sudden swell of anguish and rage rise in her as she quickly placed a breathing mask over her face. Argent was already in her, suffusing every cell of her body. She couldn't help that. The mask was to keep the gaseous form of the chemical from damaging her lungs. But the other damage was already done.

    Neoseps were sterile. The overlords hadn't simply bred them as disposable slave soldiers. On top of mind control, invasive genetic manipulation and surgical augmentation, the Argent used in their creation had made them unable to concieve. Whether it was by design or simply a side effect of whatever procedures went into their production in the first place was unclear. Since they had been only disposable tools, they hadn't been privy to a lot of sensitive information. The overlords had taken many of their secrets with them.

    Jehm was here with nothing but a sliver of hope and a prayer that she could find something here that would let her people learn how to reverse their infertility. The terraformers had their own self contained data repositories, some of the few left intact after the war that would hold anything significat. The others, for the most part, had given up on such things, believing that if there was anything pertinent to their infertility anywhere, it was likely still aboard the command ships orbiting beyond their reach around the planet, or lost altogether. Jehm was one of the few holdouts. Her painstaking investigations, tracking down leads and braving the perils of crossing human territories to talk to witnesses, had finally led her here.

    Her people's situation was odd to think about. They were a race that was born artificially and without knowing how they were made, were unable to propogate the species. Many of them had tried, almost exhaustively, to concieve, hoping that somehow, some way, one or two of them might have been exempt from the genetic manipulation which made them this way. And why? They had never been able to have children before and yet the desire to, the drive to, was there. It was guessed that it was simply a part of their biological drive, the same drive that humans and other creatures of Earth possessed. Neoseps HAD been created from a combination of such beings, after all. Perhaps it was also a way to prove, once and for all, that they weren't just tools or weapons, that they were people, worthy of all the biological rights that naturally born species possessed. Doing it all in a lab wouldn't count. Unfortunately, it was their lack of such natural biological abilities that further alienated them from humans, earning them the stigma of being viewed as unnatural by the majority of the planet's natives.

    Jehm extricated herself from the floor panel she had cut through, her armored but compact body suit smeared with oily coolant and other grime from the processing chambers. Her red eyes scanned the room from behind her breathing mask, noting the many pillars rising from floor to cieling, their surfaces like rubbery celulose, bioluminescent lights twinkling behind their opaque coatings. In the center of the room, surrounded by the pillars, was a large, spherical polyhedron, half sunk into the floor.

    She moved toward the geometric mound, pulling several white and brown dreadlocks that had escaped their binding out of her face as she went, red eyes taking a once over of the whole room. The floor felt slightly spongy under her feet, likely covered with the same rubbery coating as the pillars but obscured by the fine mist that clung to the ground everywhere in here.

    The faceted half-sphere, unlike the pulsing lights from the pillars, contained a rich purple glow. Even dead, some part of this terraformer was still active. She was sure, or at least speculated, that if it weren't dormant, this room would be a lot more colorful and epilepsy inducing, lighting up and flashing like a human brain would under a catscan.

    Jehm was about to sink her data spike into the surface of the sphere to rip what she could from it when she heard a noise, spinning to meet whatever threat it heralded...
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2020
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  2. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    The 'formers had been the terror of mankind. Jair could still recall the stories relayed by his great-grandfather, who had been quite young during the Invasion War. So young that more often than not he suspected the old fellow was just telling stories secondhand, things his parents had seen, or his older siblings. It didn't ultimately matter; his story echoed a thousand others, and all agreed that the sight of a 'former on the horizon had often spelled doom not only for towns, but entire cities.

    Jair had studied the war as best he could from the limited resources that had survived. So much word-of-mouth, so little writing, and even precious less footage. What did remain was often corrupted by the Multifuel, corrosion that worked its way into the silver halide and chewed up the crystals like termites nesting in a house. It made him desperately frustrated to think of what had been lost from the before-time. Before the invasion, before the war. Before Multifuel.

    That was why they were here now, he supposed, as the group of humans moved carefully into one of the gaping holes in the fallen behemoth. Ash glanced around nervously, holding their rifle tight to the shoulder, hands squirming to find a better grip. "It feels like this place is breathing," they rasped through the thick mask that covered the entire face, attached to a helmet, which was in turn attached to the neck, and so on, the human's body wrapped entirely in an airtight suit. On its own, or so many believed, Multifuel was harmless, but 'formers were dangerous even when seemingly dead and inert. Toxic gases ran through the pipes, and ruptures were unpredictable and commonplace in such hulks. Just look at their guide, an older man whose face had been terribly malformed by a jet of such gas. Thus, the protective gear.

    Jair glanced at Ash, one of his oldest friends, and shrugged. "Maybe it is," he mused. "We know they used bio-tech... just look at what they did to our species to try and kill us." He scowled faintly under his own mask at the mere concept of the Neosaps. He didn't hate them--couldn't, really, since they had no choice in their fate--but he'd be lying if he said that they didn't disturb him somewhat. The aliens that had ruined Earth had done their best to break the defenders both physically and psychologically, and aimed to achieve both with the Neosap soldiers. "Either way, don't worry. This hulk hasn't shown so much as a flicker of movement in eighty years. If anything's living in here it's barely doing it."

    "Cut the chatter," the guide snapped, his voice gravelly and sharp. "There is someone else here. There's footsteps in the grime, and this door's been pried open."

    "Trouble?" asked the de-facto leader of their little party, an older woman Jair only knew as the Governor. He had brought his findings to her, and she in turn had brought him along on this investigation. The guide grunted in response.

    "Gauging the size of the boot that left this mark... gotta be a Neosap." His tone was grim, and the other three tensed.

    "Okay," the Governor muttered. "Well, nothing for it. Maybe they'll know why the crops are wilting. Maybe they won't. Maybe we'll have to kill them. Keep your weapons up." She nodded to the guide, and the four of them proceeded into the dead machine, weaving through the path that had been made for them. They took a couple of detours, the guide unwilling to pass through a patch of severed pipes, and Jair could understand why.

    The final detour led them to an access panel built into the wall, made of the strange bio-mechanical material the invaders had preferred. The guide reached into the satchel at his hip and came out with a glove made out of a strange, thick leather. He caught Jair's cocked eyebrow through the mask and grinned wickedly, his face stretched gruesomely from the scarring. "Neosep skin," he explained as he pressed the glove down onto the panel. The light went from dull pinkish-red to a more affirming blue-green, and the wall opened up along a single seam, stretching apart to admit them to the mist-strewn core of the 'former.

    And a hulking Neosep, wearing a cut-down suit of armor.

    Ash and the Governor both raised their rifles, sighting on her and bracing on the edges of the accessway. The guide stood there in the center, scowling, still wearing his macabre glove. Jair backed away slowly, transfixed by the woman. He had never actually met one in person before, and had always heard that they were abominations, grotesque and disfigured. From what he could see this one was simply larger than most humans... but hardly malformed.

    "Easy!" the Governor yelled, voice electronic through her mask. "We're not here to hunt you or to pick a fight. Just trying to get some information." She glanced at the guide. "Take that fucking glove off and get back," she snarled in a whisper, but the scarred man didn't move. His hands curled into fists, and Jair wondered if he was going to try and attack the Neosep. After a moment, though, his shoulders slumped and he backed away, though his glowering eyes didn't leave the alien warrior.

    "Good," the Governor murmured. She turned her attention back to the core. "What's the situation, then? You gonna try to kill us? How are we doing this?"
     
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  3. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    Jehm reacted with the same lightning quick reflexes she had displayed decades ago when she was newly made and ready for battle. Her physical abilities had not diminished over those many years and any youthful rashness and headstrong behavior had been tempered long ago by experience. Her movements were almost lazy as she rolled backwards over the spongy surface of the spherical polyhedron as the door behind her began to yawn open, the vacuum sealed air in the room hissing outward as the pressure changed. She hunkered down behind the core, drawing a long barreled pistol from a thigh holster and aiming it over her impromptu cover just as the newcomers entered. In her other hand, she still held the data spike as if poised to plunge it into the surface of the sphere.

    The spike was a unique device something like a traditional knife but three sided, the pomel of the hilt dotted with several controls. Overlord technology was partly organic. There were no access ports for the most part. The spike had been created to interface human and overlord tech but it could be just as easily used as a weapon. She very much wanted to use it and her pistol upon seeing what the human with the chemical burns was wearing on his hand.

    The barrel of her gun lingered on the burned man in particular as she looked at the others, red eyes peaking over the core. Those crimson hues sported a startled fear but also a savvy focus. She didn't know who these people were or what they wanted, the many possibilities flashing through her mind in a matter of moments. Had they tracked her? What did they want with her? Were they simply angry she had entered human territory to get here? Was there something else going on? That glove worried her. It was used to access overlord tech but it also spoke to a level of savagery some human groups had adopted in the aftermath of the war, regressing to a more primitive time as if the final centuries of their evolution had never taken place at all. They were tribal and bloodthirsty, almost animals. But these people didn't look like that. They were armed and looked relatively healthy. These weren't bandits or canibals or tribals.

    The woman--Jehm got the sense she was the leader--barked at the burned man to put away the glove and did her best to convince Jehm they weren't here to hurt her all while still pointing their guns. Jehm couldn't really blame them, given she was doing the same but the woman had earned some points with her by admonishing the burned man.

    "We have the same purpose then," Jehm replied, still behind cover, her gun unwavering. It was a beast of a weapon, one that an average human would be hard pressed to keep raised for long even with both hands. Her arm didn't tremble in the slightest and she was still aiming at the burned man. The other two with him and the woman were younger. So young... Had she ever been that young? Even the older woman who led them was likely at least 40 years her junior.

    "I seek information as well." Her voice was low, hoping to keep the situation on a calm timbre. She spoke with the formality and confidence of someone who had had a long time to learn a language but had rarely actually conversed with its native speakers, only educating herself from books and audio samples. "If you allow me to collect it and leave, I will cause you no trouble."
     
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  4. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    "Information about what?" Jair called before he could help himself. The Governor shot him a glare, but he just shrugged. She had brought him along based on his theories, after all--if the Neosep hiding inside had some sort of extra intelligence about it, why not ask? Jair stepped closer, lifting his hands, showing that he was unarmed. He heard Ash swear but he ignored his friend. This was more important. "We're here to figure out some things about the Multifuel rivers, about what the stuff is actually made of. Maybe... maybe we could help one another."

    "Jair, get back," the Governor ordered. Her tone was iron, and Jair glanced at her and frowned beneath his mask. She lost patience when he didn't do as she said and yanked him out of the doorway entirely, shoving him none too gently against the wall. Her rifle went under his chin and she put their faces close, her voice a hiss. "That thing is dangerous, you hear me? I know you think you get it but she could wipe all of us out in about three seconds flat."

    "She isn't here to kill humans," he snapped back. "Information--"

    "Is power," she finished for him. "I know you think so. But keep your head on straight." He sighed and nodded once to show he got it, but she kept him pinned for another moment before turning back to the room. Jair looked at the guide, who still stood in the hallway, glaring at the Neeosep with undisguised venom. The man was starting to worry him--scavengers like him were half-feral as it was, and in a situation like ths...

    The Governor had just begun to speak when the guide lurched forward into the room, drawing a handgun from beneath his shirt, one Jair hadn't even seen before. "Die, mutant!" he snarled, firing as he ran for cover inside the core. Ash and the Governor both swore explosively and jerked back out of sight, though Ash kept the rifle up. Jair heard his friend yell something, and covered his ears as further gunshots began to crack out in the enclosed space. He saw Ash's rifle kick twice, flames bursting from the end, and knew one way or another the guide was dead.

    "Just what we need," he said to nobody in particular. "More senseless violence!"
     
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  5. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    The young man who asked her a question was the only one who seemingly didn't have a weapon. When he went on to describe their own reasons for being there, Jehm's aim finally wavered for the first time since she had drawn her gun, the barrel dipping ever so slightly as she recognized the similarity in their reasons for being here. Both needed more information on the Argent rivers although for slightly different reasons. Everything seemed to lead back to that infernal chemical. Thankfully, information was infinitely replicatable, unlike so many other commodities, and she saw no reason to deny them their purpose here. Some of her kind might take it as an affront to see humans inside this place, believing the 'former's bodies to be akin to holy ground. To her, it was simply a dead symbol of an oppressive alien species that had subjugated her people as much as they had humans. At least now, there was a chance this enormous corpse held something useful.

    The woman who led them, however, seemed annoyed by the young man's willingness to talk to her. Whatever amount of vigilance Jehm had let slip away since this started returned immediately as discord became evident between the members of this human band, her gun was up again and pointed still at the burned man while the woman chastized her young subordinate. The man looked transfixed with her and she didn't like the vengeful gleam in his eyes. His whole body was coiling like a feral cat and everything seemed to slow down for her as she noted his hand quickly moving for his weapon.

    Jehm's first instinct was to but the man down before he could even draw the weapon. It would have been prudent. The man was obviously unstable, especially given he was willing to initiate an attack while standing out in the open while she already had her gun sights aimed directly between his eyes. But if she took him down before he started something, it was likely the others would open fire on her too. It was entirely possible they would do that anyway. She had no way of knowing if this wasn't the plan to begin with, to lull her into believing they could end this peacefully before turning on her. Maybe the burned man was just jumping the gun.

    Jehm could tell by the look of them and the differences in their demeanors that the burned man was not like the other three. He was less feral than the average tribal but by his clothes and the age lines in what should have been a relatively young face, she could guess he had had a tough life in the bush. The others looked as though they came from some kind of civilization. She could only hope they had more discipline as well as the burned man screamed a battle cry filled with malice and prejudice.

    Rather than turning him to red mist with her heavy pistol, Jehm made to retreat. With the same fluid grace she exhibited upon their arrival, she melted back into the lit pillars. She had little worry that the burned man would actually hit her, his first shot going far wide of her position in his adrenaline fueled charge. The mist and the dizzying lights from the pillars made an effective visual disturbance to hide her movements. She moved like a great jungle cat, keeping low and twisting through the maze-like forest of pilons, intending to draw the burned man further into the room so that she could flank and dispose of him quietly. If she were quick about it, she could neutralize him and then do her best to placate the others before they decided to avenge their human fellow on principal.

    She never got the chance to use her knife, however, as one of the humans put down the scavenger themselves. Jehm was actually caught off guard by that, hesitating while peering out from behind a pillar. Her pistol was still drawn and from her new position, it would be very easy for her to pick off the humans without them being able to get a good shot at her. She cautiously kept it half way raised, ready to do just that should the situation devolve any further.

    "I would like to assume shooting him was intentional and you were not in fact firing at me when he got in the way?" she asked cautiously. "I value life too much to err on the side of caution and kill the rest of you. Please convince me I am making the right choice."
     
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  6. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    Ash exhaled slowly. "Well, if I had been aiming for you and shot him, then you still wouldn't have a whole lot to worry about." Jair gave Ash a long look and his friend sighed. "Which means I was aiming for him. I haven't got a grudge with your kind. Not enough of one to kill a total stranger."

    "The scav was a stranger," Jair pointed out and immediately regretted it.

    "Humanity's done more to make me wanna shoot them than Neoseps," Ash shrugged back, seemingly unoffended.

    "Shut up," the Governor told both of them.

    Jair wondered if she was angry at Ash. He got why Ash had shot; the scav guide was clearly hostile, had made an aggressive move, and could have got them all killed if he'd managed to piss off the Neosep enough. Shooting him just made sense. It let the woman know that they weren't hostile to her, that they were actively passive, and might just open the door to cooperation. Jair was suddenly, incredibly certain that the woman knew something that would help. He turned to say so, only to find the Governor was halfway in the room, her rifle dangling from the strap around her shoulders, hands lifted cautiously up.

    "Let's talk," she was saying, peering around the eerie chamber. The soles of her shoes squeaked on the fatty substance that coated every surface of the room, and the thin layer of misty fog on the floor ebbed and flowed like breath. "Let's talk, and let's do it where nobody can try to shoot each other. Plain view, open ground." She glanced back as Jair whispered something, then scowled yet again. "You can take the glove, give it a burial, if that matters to you. And the information you need, take that too. I'll be honest, Neosep, I just wanna see my husband again on the other side of this."
     
  7. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    The young one with the rifle spoke in reply and gave away the folly of their people's oral traditions. Stories of Neosaps painted them as unkillable demigods, worth a thousand soldiers in battle. It was a misconception born of isolation between the two populations over the last decades after the end of the war, one exaggerated and hyperbolized by countless retellings. Neosaps had turned into a replacement for the boogyman, a story to frighten and amaze.

    While it was true that a Neosap in a battle skin was like a walking tank, out of them, they were still flesh and blood. Durable flesh and blood to be sure but not invulnerable by any means. The right ammunition could fell them instantly and enough bullets would kill them just as good. Currently, the two armed humans had her outgunned, the terrain and her speed her only advantages. But the pilons in this room were far from bulletproof and they had automatic weapons.

    Thankfully, with the scavenger dead, the others seemed ready to talk. But it was the woman's mention of her husband that got Jehm to lower her gun and finally holster it. She was married. Did she have children too? The thought plagued Jehm. She had almost blasted the woman. She would not deprive a child of their mother any more than she would a parent of their child. It hit too close to home... or it would if she were capable of having children of her own.

    Neosaps were a young race by relative terms. There hadn't been much time for them to develop traditions and social constructs that didn't relate directly to the war and their lives as slave soldiers. It had been through observing human behavior that much of their society had evolved. They were still trying to understand what worked and what didn't, resulting in a largely libertarian structure. There was no formal marriage, for instance. Some preferred to pair off. Some preferred solitude or casual associations. Others preferred multiple partners. She wondered if any of that would change if they gained the ability to reproduce. As it was, sexual and romantic relationships seemed somewhat like distractions at times. Neosaps were largely a pragmatic and practical people, with little need for sentiment. Other than the obvious pleasure such relationships afforded, they seemed superfluous to any societal goals. And yet, so many of them yearned for the familial bonds they observed in humans. It was all very confusing and frustrating.

    As the woman walked further into the room, Jehm moved forward around the pillars as well to meet her. But she came from a direction no one would expect. It was almost a flanking maneuver. She had thrown her voice, a trick she had picked up over the decades, while she had drawn a bead on them. She hoped her deception wouldn't upset them but she held her hands up in a gesture of peaceful intent nonetheless, all weapons and other weapon-adjacent items among her kit safely holstered or stowed.

    She towered over the other woman at around 8 feet 4 inches. She had the muscular bulk of an average Neo-sapien but with a svelt, lanky build like some jungle predator. Her body was covered in a trim body glove of grey and brown with some orange accents and alien markings in places. Some parts of it looked thicker than others, especially over vital organs, likely more heavily armored but with plenty of flexibility. Her face, behind the oxygen mask, and one arm were uncovered, showing off her grey/blue skin, brown and white dreadlocks falling like a lion's mane, having escaped the small leather tie she normally used when she had vaulted over the core. Her red eyes observed them, flicking to the dead man on the ground, the mist collecting around his body.

    "The body is only meat. The murder of whoever supplied the material for the glove is avenged. I have no need of it," she stated evenly. Religion, specifically death customs, were another aspect of human culture it was hard for her people to grasp. The overlords had never instilled in them the idea that they had any kind of soul or that they really mattered at all. Dead soldiers were left where they lay unless doing so would cause unhygienic conditions which would endanger other soldiers. Only once the war was over did they start to bury their dead but it was more a way of affording closure to their batch-siblings than because they imagined the dead soldier would desire any kind of respect after death. Burials were modest affairs and the graves were rarely marked at all. When you were dead you were dead and Jehm had no way of knowing who the skin of the glove had come from or who their batch-siblings were to return it to them. When they took what they needed from the core, this room would become the scavenger and the skin's owner's tomb. If humans and Neosaps did have souls, at least this was a suitable place for the two enemies to continue their eternal melee against one another.

    She should have simply taken the information she needed and left, tried to forget this whole experience and make her way out of human territory as quickly as she could. But she was curious, always had been, beyond the point where her batch-siblings had become jaded and resigned to the status quo. "I seek similar information to you, about the compound you call Multifuel. Like so many other aspects of Overlord technology, it was used to create Neo-Sapiens. We believe it is the reason for certain... health concerns among our population. Are you seeing problems as well?" She was already pushing the envelope of what it would be acceptable to tell them. Prejudiced minds would try to capitalize on the idea that Argent could hurt Neosaps. She didn't want to tell them it was related to reproduction. She was sure it would make a great number of humans uneasy if they learned the supersoldiers they had only barely managed to hold out against years ago during the war were trying to breed.
     
  8. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    Jair stepped out of cover to join the Governor. He couldn't look away from the dead guide at first--he had seen corpses before, death was part of everyday living in this world, but he had rarely known the person at all when he saw them dead. He hadn't known the Scav very well, either, but he had spoken with him, shared bread and water on the trek to the 'Former. His death was hardly unexpected, but definitely made Jair feel... conflicted, perhaps. His attention moved immediately to the Neosep when she emerged, though, and who could blame him?

    He wasn't a diminutive sort of person. Physically, he was a fairly standard six-foot-two, which put him squarely on average for human men. His bulk left something to be desired, having led more of a researcher's life than a warrior's. The Neosep's size was utterly daunting. Two feet taller than him, at least, and who knew how much more mass. He swallowed heavily, but took another step toward her to put himself in her focus. "Health concerns?" Somehow he didn't think that someone that big could even have health issues, but anything was possible. "That's our problem, too. Used to be, we didn't think that the Multifuel had any negative effects on the lands beneath its streams, not even on us, unless we drank it raw.

    "But I think that it's actually causing low-level mutation, even refined. Especially under the streams. Some crops have begun to malform, we actually lost an entire field of wheat this season, and it was right under a pair of streams." He ignored the look the Governor gave him, keeping his eyes on the towering warrior. "My name is Jair. Maybe... maybe we could compare what we know. Help each other out. You guys are all stuck on the planet for good now, right? We may as well start to cooperate."
     
  9. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    Jehm was first and foremost a soldier. Her aptitude earned her a place as a member of a force recon group during the war. It made her suited to solo operations and had required a certain amount of creative thinking and problem solving to accomplish her objectives. Such skills had served her well in the decades after the war's end. She had no formal command experience and was no student of science in any form but she had been around long enough and observed enough to make some conclusions about why her people, an obviously superior force, had lost to humans. Of course, she couldn't be sure and it was likely far more complicated than she had boiled it down to but she had come to the conclusion that it had to do with a combination of numbers and desperation. Earth was not home to the Neosaps nor their alien overlords. Humans had the home field advantage and there were far more of them. But it was their willingness to sacrifice in order to survive which had truly done in the overlords.

    Jehm didn't like to advertise her service record. She was proud to say that she had never personally participated in the acts of genocide which had occurred during the height of the war but she had been involved in some operations which had devastated large portions of the human war effort. One such operation was the destruction of a Russian satalite launching facility at Drostnaya humans had been attempting to use to send an explosive payload into orbit to destroy an overlord ship. Jehm had pressed the button to set off the charges herself, likely extending the length of the war a full month until another similar facility succeeded in their launch, disrupting the mental control network the overlords used to command their slaves. That gap in the net had broken the coordination of Neosap forces on the ground and allowed humans to deal with the rest of the overlords. It was the bloodiest part of the war but humans had come out on top. Even so, she didn't like to tell people about Drostnaya and she wondered how these humans would look at her if they knew the extent of her activities during the war.

    It gnawed at her as one of the young men spoke, seemingly without any kind of prejudice in his expression or body language as he approached her, eager to share information. This was how it should be. She knew her people still had to bear the weight of their destruction of human society but they had been victims too. The overlords had been the true enemy. She knew she was on the fringes as far as her own people were concerned. They wanted to remain neutral and isolated but she was certain things would only get better if they cooperated with humans.

    She tried to guess Jair's age. Twenties, maybe? It was hard for her to tell with humans. Her own people didn't age the same way, after all. Had his parents witnessed the war? No. It would have had to have been his grandparents. He wasn't weighed down by the memories the way she was. The sins of the parents could fade away after only a generation or two in the minds of their children and grandchildren. Oh how she envied that in humans. Although in many cases, those sins had been told and retold, changing with each person who described them. Children weren't free of those sins. Not really.

    She considered his offer. She didn't know if she should reveal the nature of the health concerns she had brought up. Not just yet. It would be smart simply to part ways with them. But she knew that was her commander talking. He didn't want to get involved, wanted to minimize contact with humanity. If they kept to themselves, conflict could be avoided. And with human numbers replenishing and Neosaps unable to reproduce, their long term survival as a species was not going to last much longer, especially if they antagonized their neighbors.

    Jehm had to believe she could do something to make up for her actions during the war. So many humans hated her kind but she didn't blame them for it. Neosaps had torn down their societies and if she could do anything to help build them back up, even a little, she felt obligated to do it.

    She hadn't been commanded to come here. She had begged Commander Virs and he had given her leave. There was no one to report to. It was her decision. The neosap drew herself up as if bracing for something, fixing the three humans with one last discerning gaze.

    "If I can help you, I will..." she said, her voice strong but still holding a bit of uncertainty.
     
  10. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    The Governor looked half furious, half hopeful, and entirely confused. She turned to fully glower at Jair and closed in with him, dropping her voice to a whisper. "You want us to take that thing back to Glaston? Do you even realize what you're asking for?"

    Jair took a deep breath, keeping his eyes on the Neosap, and nodded once. "I'm asking her to trust us. We need to trust her, too--our guide is dead and we still need to get out of the badlands surrounding this 'former. As far as we know she got in without a guide, and she can get us back out. We need that much help, at the very least." He finally looked back and met the Governor's gaze. "You trusted me enough to come here in the first place. You want to stop now?"

    Behind him Ash stepped closer and offered up a shrug. "Dunno about you, Gov, but I have no idea how to get through the badlands. Jair's got a point."

    In the wake of the Invasion War, when the last human bombers and saboteurs had targeted the 'formers and brought them crumbling low, much of the transformative energies had been unleashed in deadly and destructive explosions. The results of such blasts were chaotic and haphazard and utterly unpredictable. Some few 'formers had simply flattened the landscape for thousands of feet around them, but most had shredded the landscape, twisting earth and stone and tree into mazelike ridges and valleys. Over the decades since, between rain and erosion and the nature of the destruction, the badlands had become full of sinkholes, bottomless bogs, and abrupt landslides that could strike out of nowhere. It made approaching the 'formers quite dangerous, unless a guide was hired, and guides were almost universally half-feral scavengers in their own right.

    The Governor knew it as well as the other two, and swore under her breath. She took the strap of her rifle and slung it over her shoulder, throwing one last suspicious glance back at the Neosap before she brushed past Jair and went to scavenge what she could from the guide's corpse. Jair took it for all the acceptance she would give for the current situation. He took a deep breath and smiled up at the towering semihuman warrior. "I'm glad to know that you're willing to help. What's your name? And, er... how do you plan on getting information out of anything here?" He glanced around, his eyes settling on the brain-like core in the middle of the room. "Is there a way to interface with that?"
     
  11. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    Jehm watched the woman argue with the young man for a moment, eyes following her as she eventually agreed to led the neosap accompany them. She got so few chances to interact with humans. She wanted to ask the woman if she had children, learn about her life. Jehm knew it would seem odd but somehow it would be like living vicariously. She wasn't sure if a human-style family unit would ever be her preference but it was still of interest. She wanted to know how it worked. If her mission succeeded, it was very possible she would be one of the first Neosaps to have such a familial relationship among her kind.

    The young man got her attention again, asking her name and how she planned on extracting data from the core. "My name is Jehm," she stated, drawing the menacing looking data spike from her satchel. Without really meaning to, she brandished it as if about to stab it into his chest but she easily reached past him to jam the metal spike deep into the gelatinous surface of the core. "How did YOU plan to get the data?" she asked interestedly. To her knowledge, there was no other way of doing it. A data spike was a common way of interfacing with overlord semi-biological tech. The core's material would reform and regenerate immediately upon removal of the device.

    The swirling lights within the half spheroid began accumulating around the data spike's blade and a cable attached to the hilt fed the data from the collector to a tablet Jehm produced, files and other information scrolling on the screen in an alien language. It didn't take long for her to finish the data accumulation and she removed the spike. The lights in the spheroid returned to their languid circuit of the inside of the core. She slid a data stick into the side of the tablet and copied the data she had collected before removing the stick and handing it to Jair as a sign of trust.

    She liked this kid. He had an uncommon optimism and curiosity which she had been quite sure was throroughly beaten out of most humans. To be fair, her people were far from carefree either.

    "That is what you needed, yes?" she confirmed, pointing to the data stick in his hand.
     
  12. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    Oddly enough when the knife flashed out of its sheath he didn't feel terribly threatened, even when it was poised to enter his chest. Ash tensed, the rifle in their arms lifting halfway before the device hit its true target, but Jair only watched with a wide-eyed curiosity. Ash forced the gun back down and their body into relaxation, though one grey eye stayed close on the alien warrior. Maybe Jair was oblivious, but Ash had survived more than long enough to figure out danger from happenstance. Or so they had thought.

    The question got him to grin self-consciously. Jair had always had a knack for ... well, he liked to call it tinkering with alien hardware, but other people had less flattering descriptions. His favorite ones implied he was somehow related to the aliens, or was in fact one of the invaders lying low after being abandoned after the war. It was absurd, really. The truth was that for some inexplicable reason he just saw how the devices were meant to work. He had convinced the Governor to hire a guide, convinced Ash to come with them as extra muscle, and all without really knowing what it is he'd do once he got there. He had counted on his natural ability to suss out alien tech.

    It was lucky, really, that a friendly Nepsapient had just happened to be there.

    "Truth be told I wasn't really sure what I was going to do," he confessed. "But I thought with enough determined poking I'd get something to turn up. Maybe some glyphs, a readout of the current power generation status or something. I sort of figured I'd know what I was looking for once I saw it." He looked down at his hand once Jehm had planted the stick there, and turned the strange object over in his fingers.

    He'd seen things like it before. Nothing exactly alike--alien tech wasn't that commonplace--but he at least had some notion of what it was for. "I think so," he murmured. There were similar slots on his pet project back at Glaston, ports that he had always assumed must be for input of information of some kind. He had spent a very long year or two deciphering the alien characters around them, studying and extrapolating and doing his level best to translate approximate equivocations. He looked up at her and nodded. "If this is all the information the core has to offer, then I doubt anything I can do would actually get us more. I know you've already agreed to help us, and that's great, but I'd like to ask for one more thing.

    "Would you be willing to guide us back out of the area around the 'former? After that, we can lead you back to Glaston and I can show you firsthand what we know about the crop situation." His grin faltered a little. "I'd be lying if I said we aren't counting on your saying yes to this. Our guide is, um..." He glanced at the corpse even as the Governor straightened, tucking away the small purse of coin she'd paid the man with. "... very, very dead."
     
  13. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    So polite, he was. She smiled as she tucked away the tablet and followed his gaze to the dead guide. "I confess I am not used to working with humans. Paths that might be safe for me would be perilous for you. But I will do my best. Do you at least remember the way out of this mechanical corpse? The path I took would be far too hazardous for you. I assume the one your guide led you through would be easier."

    While a Neosap's skeleton, muscles, organs and skin were reinforced, cybernetically and genetically, delicate places like eyes, nose, mouth, ears and genitals were weak points. They weren't immune to all toxins or radiation and there were plenty of hazards out there that would be just as deadly or debilitating to them as they would to humans. She couldn't take them on paths that were only traversible to someone with her abilities. But she was confident she could lead them, as long as they coordinated.

    The Neosap's red eyes fell on the other human of the group whome she hadn't really assessed until now. He had been the one to down the guide when he attacked her. He.... She wasn't actually sure if this one was male. There was something very androgenous about them. Quite curious.

    Neosapiens were largely unconcerned with gender in the early days of their development. Their approach to life was completely utilitarian. Since birth, they were drilled to make every action and thought serve the overall goals of the overlords. For the most part, gender didn't affect such things. Sex did in some cases. It was simply fact that male Neosaps were larger and stronger. But size and strength wasn't the deciding factor in war and the difference between male and female abilities proved to be so marginal that it didn't really affect deployments or unit assignments. Some even questioned why the overlords created them to have two sexes if they didn't plan for them to reproduce. It was still a mystery but one that was very low on the priority list of things to solve. But Jehm knew that some humans didn't identify gender with sex. It was a point of contention within their own species. Jehm didn't really understand it but this other human--Ash she thought their name was--seemed capable and levelheaded. That was really all that mattered to Jehm at the moment. Even so, she was rather fascinated.

    As they made for the exit, she got Ash's attention. "I do hope it does not cause you offense if I ask: are you male or female?" She knew some humans were sensitive about the whole thing and she was unsure what would be insulting. She was hoping her alien nature would allow her some leway. She was eager to learn. Perhaps Ash would forgive her blunders in such a case.
     
  14. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    Of the remaining humans, Ash had the slightest frame. They were between Jair and the Governor in height, they were also the leanest, the body under the padded armor all lean muscle and wiry strength. As a guardian-scout, Ash had spent plenty of time in the uncivilized lands between settlements, and of the group they were the most familiar with what it took to survive. That was why they'd been quickest to shoot the scavenger, that was why they had even been prepared for such potential duplicity in the first place. Ash was a survivor, and survivors learned quick to shoot before thinking. Most of the time, anyway.

    They glanced at Jehm as the quartet began to move, still holding the rifle at ease in both hands. A series of notches on the stock extended all the way from the base near the top rail and back to the butt end, with a fresh mark at the very end of the line. "I guess Neosaps wouldn't really think about that sort of thing," Ash muttered. No humans had ever been allowed in Neosap settlements alive, but Ash was one of the few who had ever scouted them from a distance undetected--so far as the scout knew, anyway. They adjusted the rifle to scratch lightly at their jaw.

    "To answer your question, I don't identify as one or the other. I'm what's called gender neutral, or gender-fluid, as the mood strikes." Ash shrugged. "I never felt particularly comfortable as one or the other. The way I see it, most people like to put others into roles. Men are expected to be strong and brave, women are supposed to be resourceful and intelligent. Bah. I would rather define my own role. Fit whatever shape I like. So I don't make any claim to one or the other." They gave Jehm a glance and a half-cocked smirk, more rueful than anything. "I hope that makes sense. From what I've seen of your people, gender barely matters. You're all warriors, and the only important identifer is rank. Right?"
     
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  15. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    Jehm expected Ash to describe a third gender when they said they didn't identify as either male or female. The prospect was intrigueing: for a species with only two sexes to develop three genders. But no. Ash described a state of in between or neither. It only made Jehm more curious.

    "You are not wrong," she replied thoughtfully as they walked, avoiding hazards on their way to the outside, doing her best to ignore the distinct impression that this great dead thing was actually just sleeping. "Rank matters in many cases. We still run our society like we did our military. But we are all equals, males and females alike. I outperform males in many respects and they outperform me in others. Of course, it is unclear how much of that has to do with experience and how much is to do with biology. The overlords seemed to overlook sex and gender as well. I suppose we have never given it much thought. I wonder if there are any among my kind like you and simply have not said anything or have not realized. But I would be among the minority in my wonderings. As long as you perform your duties, it does not really matter one way or the other. I am just naturally more curious than the others in my settlement."

    She wondered if that had to do with being basically mind controlled for most of their formative years. They were formidable soldiers, resiliant and resourceful, but there was always a pull toward subserviance. It was why the chain of command had endured so long. Those not bred for independent or officer's roles were naturally more in need of orders to follow in order to be productive. Such thinking didn't lend itself well to speculative thought. Jehm was one of the rare defects who had been born an infantry grunt but had developed independence on her own. The overlords likely saw it as a flaw in her design but it had served her well in the new world once they were dealt with and the war ended. Jehm hoped those genetically assigned roles they had been given, to lead or to follow and the thousands of other variations, would be even more diversified if they were to reproduce. She didn't like the idea of their children having their roles chosen before they were old enough to understand them.

    "Thank you for telling me," she said to Ash. "I would be happy to learn more if you would be willing to tell me. But this area is perilous. I passed through here on my way in. Navigation will require concentration...."

    The first leg had been fairly easy and Jehm silently congratulated the dead guide on finding such a safe path. The next part was more tricky and they had to don their breathing gear again. Jehm was loath to admit that if the terraformer didn't actually have human bowels, this part of it was the closest thing.

    A large crack in the outer hull afforded them an exit after a long slog and they were in daylight again. Jehm removed her breathing mask and looked up at the open sky. It was a wash of orange and yellow clouds, the sky beyond not much different but with a filmy-green tone that she knew was the result of foreign toxins in the upper atmosphere from the war. Cutting through the warm colors of the afternoon sky were the lines of the silver blue rivers crisscrossing in the air. Such a sight was beautiful to her at one time. Now it was a constant reminder her people's plight. And now it seemed those energy rich deposits were hurting the humans and the rest of the planet as well. The overlords had done so much to spoil this paradise and now there was yet another layer to it. She hated them more than ever...

    The landscape around the 'former was churned and broken, a veritable maze, not unlike the inside of the great beast itself, perilous and confining. It would be another long journey.
     
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  16. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    Ash shrugged. "Honestly, it's sort of nice to be able to talk about it with someone who doesn't judge me for it. I'd be happy to tell you more--but please, focus on getting us out of here. I've come too far to die in a 'former's shadow."

    The trip out into the badlands was just as grueling as the entry into the titanic, dead machine had been. Jair was breathing hard by the time they made it outside, though both the Governor and Ash seemed nonplussed. Either did Jehm. He had been watching the giant Neosap on the trek, paying attention to her careful pace, to the almost gentle way she had with the old technology as they circumvented long-dead plasma conduits and insular wiring. He couldn't help but feel deeply curious about her.

    Once or twice a year, Glaston saw a Neosap. They never came very close or caused any overt trouble, but it was a big deal when the alert spread. Most people would lock themselves away in their homes, terrified. Some would go looking to spot it. The guard would break out the heavy-duty rifles. Jair had never cared one way or another, either too immersed in his studies to notice or too far afield to hear about it until after the fact. But he had always asked, and he had always been told how terrifying the Neosaps were, how destructive, how mindlessly evil they behaved.

    Jehm, at least to him, was none of those things.

    "Well, part one's done," he said, chipper as he removed his air mask. Nobody answered. Ash smiled weakly. The Governor just scowled. They both knew the second part was the worse of the two. They had just come this way less than two hours ago. Jair knew it, too, but saw no reason to be so glum over it. "Come now, Governor, it's just some exercise," he teased as they traded their lighter combat-ready gloves for clawed gauntlets that would let them cling to almost anything that wasn't mud or sand.

    "Shut up," she growled back.

    The journey back through the 'former had been at least somewhat familiar. They had seen the same pathway markers, the same doorways, the same patterns. The way back out through the Badlands was entirely the opposite. Even if they had come this exact route to get in, Jair would never have guessed. The steep bank they climbed, stone with a loose cover of earthen debris, seemed more like a huge ripple to him than any sort of hill. The other side dipped down sharply, almost vertically, into a muddy pit between ridges that was almost definitely deep and thick enough to drown even Jehm if they were foolish enough to get caught in it.

    Instead they walked carefully along the top of the ridge, the path so narrow they had to crawl on all fours as much as they walked upright, until it began to taper down into a flat space that dovetailed between two more ridges. Their guide paused there long enough to decide which path to take, then opted for the more southern one, again sticking to the high ground as much as possible, though this time it necessitated climbing across a sheer cliff face above another deceivingly placid-looking mud pit.

    Jair lost track of time quickly, focusing more on willing his trembling arms to reach for the next handhold or his throbbing legs to take the next step. Somehow the scav-guide's route hadn't seemed as torturous, or as long, but he had a feeling that it had more to do with Jehm's natural inclination than any sort of conscious decision on either her or the dead man's part. What he did know was that when they went into the badlands earlier it had been morning, and they'd come to the 'former a bit before noon. They'd then emerged and started out just a bit after noon, and when the ground finally leveled and firmed and became safe the sun was still only halfway down the sky.

    "I don't believe it," he panted. "We got through it in half the time... but it feels like it took so much longer."

    "That," Ash answered, their face slick with sweat and flush with the exercise, "is because the Neosap doesn't fuck around with the easy route. Just as well--the longer we spend in the badlands the more our chances go up of succumbing to them."
     
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  17. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    Jehm's interest in Ash was only slightly more than in the other two. All three of them were so different. She had never had the chance to interact at length with a diverse group of humans in close proximity before and even as they traversed the many hazards on their path away from the 'former, she took time to observe each of them.

    Jair seemed not to be as physically fit as the other two despite being much younger than the woman, who she knew now was called the Governor for whatever reason. Ash and the Governor favored their weapons and she could tell by the way they dressed that combat seemed to be their main concern when equipping themselves. Jair, too, was outfitted for a grueling journey but given his interest in 'former technology and the data within, she guessed his aptitude was far more academic. It was likely him that had motivated this excursion in the first place, eager to get ouside knowledge that could aide his people against the threat of the Argent pollution. Jehm felt a sense of comeraderie with him in that sense and she genuinely hoped the data she had given him would help.

    Interestingly, despite having it a bit harder than the other two, Jair seemed the most positive about the whole trek, even trying to cheer up the other two as Jehm led them on a path that was perhaps a bit more physically taxing than they would like but was also faster. The humans used some interesting climbing gear to aid them but Jehm had no such thing, free climbing alongside or underneath them to be sure they didn't fall or to catch them if they did. She wondered how they might react to see her climb without such consideration. She could have climbed the cliff three times and had a nice long rest at the top by the time the humans made it on their own. She wondered if Jair would look at her differently. No matter how kind and tolerant a person he might be, humans always got a little jittery when they saw a Neosap's true physical ability in person.

    The Neosap became increasingly aware of a foreign smell after they cleared the worst of the obstacles in their way. At first, she couldn't figure out what it was, senses searching for any signs of some sort of toxic hazard on their path. The humans were breathing heavily and their steps had become loud and irregular, likely from fatigue. It was as they crested a dune, her steps sure and graceful on the uneven surface, when she realized that the odor was coming from the humans following her. She turned to look, concerned that they were injured or sick and noted the perseperation on their faces and other exposed skin. She felt rather foolish for not realizing earlier and was even a little self conscious. The level of physical exertion of the journey so far hadn't been enough to make her sweat like that...

    Ash's quip made her scowl, wondering if she had pushed them too hard. "We can rest if you want," she suggested with concern. "Or I could carry you?" She offered, looking at Jair for some reason. Her tone was matter of fact, only realizing a moment too late that such a suggestion might be seen as an offense.

    "In any case," she hurried ahead, hoping to cover her blunder, "perhaps one of you should take the lead. I think we are past the worst hazards and I do not know the way to your settlement."
     
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  18. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    Jehm's offer was met with total silence at first. It could be unnerving, especially to someone who didn't really get humans, when a single innocuous statement could make three of them stop cold in what they were doing and turn to stare at the statee with emotions that weren't immediately obvious. Then all at once they broke; the Governor allowed herself a little guffaw. Jair looked mildly affronted, but much more by the way Ash was grabbing his shoulder and struggling to breathe through gales of laughter.

    "Oh, please, please say yes," Ash begged, gasping for air. "I want to tell, everyone, about you getting carried home, oh, oh please Jair..."

    "Get off of me you ass," Jair said, forced to grin, the words lacking any sort of real venom. He shoved Ash toward the front of the line even as his friend attempted to get control of the giggles.

    "I'll t-take the lead here, Jehm," Ash managed to say through the last few chuckles and snorts. The tracker took another glance at the Neosap, though, and began laughing all over again as they led the way forward, staggering up a short rise and taking a south-western tack from the edge of the badlands.

    They walked across land that got more and more level and steady as it went, descending into a wider plain. From a distance it was obvious that the 'former they had just left behind had lifted a near-mountain-size chunk of land around itself, but by and large the landscape for miles around was comparatively tame. Ash's path took them southeast and into the plains, moving in a mostly straight line until they hit a river coursing down a broad gulley with a broad path next to it, after which Ash took that route. They made it to a pond sheltered by a huge weeping willow and camped just outside its boughs, Ash doubling back to the river to try their hand at fishing for some fresh dinner.

    Jair, who was properly exhausted, didn't bother staying awake long enough to see. He set his pack on the ground next to the fire the Governor tended, lay down with his head on it, and was asleep in minutes. The Governor glanced at the Neosap briefly, masking her distaste, then back at the flames. "Tomorrow morning we'll reach Glaston. It's my town--that's why the other two call me the Governor. It's what I'm known as there. My intent is to have you hide on the outskirts, out of sight of the commoners, while Jair retrieves his research. Then he can bring it out to you and show you the crop fields we lost to the Multifuel."

    At the mention of the stuff her eyes went skyward. It was almost impossible to go anywhere that one of the streams didn't cross the sky, and this place was no exception. High above them it twisted and churned gracefully, like a 3D model of rapids without the rocks or earth around them, glowing against the night sky. "You know, I hear stories about how the night sky looked before the war," she said quietly. "That before the Multifuel broke out and wrapped itself in the atmosphere, you could see out into space. You could see other stars, even other planets, like little lights dotting the sky." She broke off as she realized that, of anyone, the Neosap might actually remember a time like that. She cleared her throat and looked back down at the alien soldier, steeling her expression once more.

    "I trust you won't make any problems, or try to force your way into my town?"
     
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  19. OklahomaBattleRabbit

    OklahomaBattleRabbit Active Member Member

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    The humans' reactions were not what Jehm had expected and the expression on her face was somewhat adjacent to alarm as they broke out laughing. Neosaps didn't laugh. Ever. They didn't cry either. Jehm was pretty sure they were incapable of the latter but the former seemed simply to do with developmental differences. Military discipline and a culture that saw most emotional displays as a hindrance to efficiency, coupled with being born to distant, alien parents with no human-based developmental learning programs to teach their genetically superior, slave race children meant that Neosaps had never been exposed to laughter until much later in their lives. Humor was a relatively new concept to them, not to mention irony. For such a long lived species, there were areas of their social development that hadn't gotten past the stage of a small human child. But where Jehm had thought she was being offensive, the humans had taken it as a joke. It put them in good spirits at least and she tried to construct a facial expression that suggested that was her intent all along.

    Jehm followed as Ash took point, eyes scanning left and right while the Governor took the rear as they moved. She found herself walking with Jair and contemplated him between glances at the horizon. To suggest a subordinate was incapable of walking on their own by offering to carry them when they weren't injured would most certainly have been looked down upon if she had been with her own. You relied on fellow soldiers but you also had to be self sufficient. Things were slowly changing after the war's end but the militant mindset of the past was still prevalent in Neosap society. Asking if he needed carrying had just slipped out and despite the fact that he hadn't gotten upset with her, she still felt a little mortified. The impulse had been one of concern and she had to admit to herself with a bit of regret that it was born of an unconscious belief that she was superior to these people. Facts didn't lie: she was constructed differently, suited for more strenuous activity. But willpower could be just as important as physical ability. And despite Ash and the Governor being more accustomed to this kind of thing, Jair still seemed to be the most upbeat among them as they made the hard journey. Muscle wasn't everything and if what she had learned about humans pre and post invasion was all true, they had accomplished things her species could barely dream of.

    There were no scientists or engineers among her people. Specialized tasks had been performed by mechanical constructs when needed or they had coopted human fortifications and technology when needed. Tactics and more creative tasks had all been taken care of by the overloards aboard their ships, instructions communicated to their troops depending on operational necesity. After all these decades, Neosaps were still learning how to exist independantly. Her group was of the few that attempted to do most of it alone or to reach out to human populations that would be amenable to trade goods and knowledge for protection. But she knew of some that raided humans or captured them as slaves. Others didn't attempt to construct their own society at all, still waging their versions of the war in places, adopting an almost zealous doctrine that it was their right to control humans and the earth itself. Such groups in particular were troubling. Neosaps disgruntled with their efforts to live apart or in peace with humans were prime targets for recruitment to such causes. They were growing in numbers far to the west. Her people were made for war but they had been given minds as well. Jehm lamented the fact that so few of them used them effectively. She admired humans in that way. They could be violent and zealous as well--and there were more of them--but they could build and work the land. And they had been contemplating their existence for thousands of years on a level Neosaps were only just beginning to discover.

    Jehm's thoughts wandered rather aimlessly as they went on, still alert in this unfamiliar landscape. She had never ventured this far since settling with her battalion about 180 miles from here. During the war, she had been all over the world, mostly in Eastern Europe. Different theaters of war were accessible with a few rides in a bevvikk dropship. Now there were few of those to be found, the remaining overlord military hardware predominantly controled by the larger Neosap nations and enclaves mostly clustered in what had once been North Africa. Her group had a small amount of ordinance and goodly amount of human and overlord vehicles but there was little need for air-cav without any open conflicts in the area and human raiders and tribals didn't want to mess with a hardened unit of soldiers with over ninety years of combat experience in one form or another apiece.

    Jehm wished she had a rifle as they went. She made do with binoculars and her own exceptional eyesight to watch for threats but a scope would have been nice. She had lost hers in the badlands, escaping a pack of ursics, one of several mutated abominations which had resulted from the effects of terraforming. She hadn't been allowed to take anything from the armory given that her mission was largely unsanctioned so it had been her personal rifle, one that she had carried decades ago in the offensives in Russia. The rifle had given her a unique understanding of the human ability to identify emotionally with inanimate objects, especially now that it was gone.

    The humans found a place to make camp as the sun sank low. It was actually rather idyllic but Jehm was most preoccupied with its defensibility. It was idyllic in that sense as well, the pond bordered on one side by a steep ridge. If they set up on that side, they could see the landscape around pretty well while having a barrier to their backs.

    Jehm watched Jair lay down to sleep, mentally counting how long it had been since she had done the same. Three days if her watch was right and it definitely was. About time she got some rest as well. But there was little hurry at the moment and she wasn't as fatigued as the humans seemed to be.

    The neosap was still caked in the greasy residue of whatever had sprayed over her as she had hacked her way through the terraformer's guts. Her body glove was largely non-absorbant though so it didn't make her too uncomfortable. Even so, it was drilled into her to keep her kit clean and despite not perspiring the same way humans did, she could still use a bath.

    Jehm didn't say anything when the Governor informed her of her plan to keep Jehm out of site once they got to Gladston. Jehm didn't know why she thought it woudl be otherwise. For some reason she had imagined they would let her in, albeit after disarming her or something to placate the human residents. It would be more convenient and she couldn't deny she was eager to get the chance to spend time in a human settlement up close. But she was guest here and it wasn't for her to question. There was still a lot of common ground that needed finding before relationships between huamns and neosapiens were more stable. She would adhere to the Governor's wishes. Her response was a nod though she was obviously a little put out.

    The Governor seemed preoccupied with the argent rivers for a moment and Jehm recalled the times she spoke of, when the war had only just begun and the sky was unmarred by pollution, fallout and whatever else. Night sky had been the first sky Jehm had ever seen, having never been outside an overlord ship before that. She didn't say anything though, imagining her recollections might simply upset the Governor who seemed to like her the least of the three humans.

    The neosap began removing her gear, piling it tidily on a rock before stripping out of her body glove. If she considered her nudity at all, she didn't show it, moving over to the pond and lowering herself into the blue-green water. The pond was barely deep enough to reach her ribcage when she stood on the bottom. She stooped to scoop up a handful of coarse sand from the bottom and scrubbed it over her arms and torso, getting off any grime from her journey or her trek through the 'former.

    Aside from a myriad of scars sustained in battlefield situations, Jehm sported a good amount of surgical scars as well, mostly on her joints or where major muscle groups connected to her skeleton. One knee in particular seemed somewhat misshapen. It was no less functional but an intensive surgery after a mishap with a battle skin left it pitted on one side, the skin over the whole joint textured from a sub-dermal scaffold. Just one more piece of tech to add to the collection of cybernetic components that were dotted throughout the bodies of every generation three neosap.

    When she was done scrubbing herself down, Jehm dunked her head under the water and came up wiping water from her eyes as she made her way back to her discarded clothes. She let the dwindling rays of the sun dry her as she squatted by the water and dipped her body glove and undergarments into the pond, using more sand to scrub them as well. When that was done, she tossed the body glove over a branch of the willow and donned the still wet undergarments. They were functional to be sure, matte gray, a pair of shorts and a cross between a bra and a tank top, the color slightly darker than her skin.

    Clothes taken care off, Jehm sat by the Governor's fire and drew her pistol from its sheath, beginning to take it apart with practiced ease, a long knife sitting beside her on the ground in case she had the need to defend herself while still maintaining the firearm. She didn't have the best tools to clean the weapon but she made do, making sure the gook that had covered her suit hadn't got into the major components at the very least. She looked up at the Governor as she worked, red eyes contemplating her before asking: "What is your name, then, if I may ask?"
     
  20. Nyctibius

    Nyctibius Militant Owl Admin Administrator

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    Once, the Governor thought, humankind had been very private and reserved about things like sex and nudity. Her grandparents had lived through the wars, her parents born near the end of it, and the values they upheld had always confused her to no end. Why did modesty matter? Who cared who you slept with? Why was it anyone's business? Why did any of it matter when survival itself wasn't even guaranteed? Thus, to the Governor's mind, the Neosap stripping provided little more than casual curiosity rather than any sort of revulsion or aversion.

    It struck her that very little was wasted in terms of muscle. The Neosaps had been terrifying adversaries during the wars, and seeing one bereft of armor and weapons did very little to detract from that knowledge. If the Governor moved to attack she had no doubt that Jehm would make very short work of her and whatever childish aspiration she had toward ending the mutant. Next to her Jair grunted and shifted where he lay, and the new angle brought soft snores out of his mouth.

    When Jehm settled in the Governor sighed softly, turning her eyes to the coals. It was a long moment before she responded to the question. "When I was born, I went by the name Sasha Mirakova. Great granddaughter of the famous General Mirakova, who lost almost every battle he took part in until his last one. The shame on the family was so great that my grandparents fled Russia, when there still WAS a Russia, and I decided to take it a step farther by abandoning the name and the legacy entirely. It isn't good for a leader to be associated with one of the worst failures in mankind's history."

    The crunch of footsteps alerted them to Ash's return, and the scout soon had four nice, fat fish spitted and roasting over the open flames. Ash used the time they cooked to do some bathing of their own, dunking their head in the lake and scrubbing the sweat and grime from their face. Ash removed the upper layer of their clothing and scrubbed under each arm and at their torso, and left the bodysuit tied around their waist when they returned to the fireplace. Ash's body was slender and tanned, with scars crossing the exposed skin of their shoulders and arms. They wore a light binder that kept their breasts mostly flat, colored a black that stuck out against their skin.

    "Don't stop talking on my account," Ash said, digging through their pouch to retrieve a clean, fresh cloth. They laid it out on the ground so the fire lit it, then began to disassemble and clean their rifle, moving with speed and precision born of years of experience. Jair stirred where he lay but didn't wake, and the Governor reached out to turn the fish as they cooked, glancing at Jehm.

    "Where is it you're from? You don't have to be precise--I just didn't know of any Neosap settlements within ten miles of Gladston. It's got me curious if I missed something obvious."
     

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