Friday, May 10, 2024

WoAF - Game Session 62

Moon Princess Ling, sat in the cockpit of Shadow Hawk thrumming the command console with her pretty little fingers.  In the distance the bright blue marble known as Earth was in view through the dark glass porthole at the head of the ship.  Two UFOs and the team of Nazi Technicians from Eisenhelm (now a smoldering ruin), were busy working, their spacesuits glinting in the searing light of the sun.

"The problem is," she was saying, "that we can't just blow up the fifty nuclear Cobalt bombs this close to Earth.  I've done some math and if we do that, the resulting cloud of radiation will eventually get pulled into Earth's atmosphere.  Maybe not right away, but in a few years Earth will wind up under a cloud of radiation so hot, it doesn't look like anything on the surface would survive."

"How big can the bombs be?" asked Vallnam, testing Ling's math to see how good it really was.

"Each bomb is five hundred megatons," she said flatly.

"Oh," replied Vallnam. "That's ten times the size of the Tsar Bombe that the Soviets blew up over the arctic ocean in 1961, wasn't it?"

"Yes," replied Ling.  "And that was the largest nuclear explosion ever detonated.  So yes, each of these are ten times more powerful, and there are fifty of them.  And they are Cobalt bombs, the dirtiest, most radioactive bombs ever devised."

"Drat," said Vallnam, "So, yeah, I can see why that would wind up being an extinction level event for Earth.  Even if it does take a decade for the radiation to fall, it would eventually fall.  Not so great."

Jacob, still exhausted, was snoring quietly in a lounge chair, oblivious to the conversation.  Poor fellow.  After all the mayhem and action of Eisenhelm, he was truly exhausted.  Sleep, young Jacob.  You worked hard, and deserve a good week's rest.

"We're only six thousand miles out from the Moon right now," Ling went on, "but by the time the technicians finish dealing with the bombs and robots, according to the schedule Gustov gave us, we will be about seventy five percent of the way to Earth.  Most of that time will be spent reprogramming the Robots, as far as the schedule's concerned, but the last bomb should be removed from its casing well before then."

"So, each warhead is the size of what?" asked Vallnam speculating, "They must be pretty big.  Tsar Bombe was something like thirty Earth-tons, wasn't it?"

"Twenty-seven tons," replied Ling, "but, yes, large.  Each warhead out there is over two hundred and fifty tons.  All together, roughly twelve thousand five hundred tons."

"Why don't we cable them all together and have one of the giant robots and haul them out into the depths of space?  Earth doesn't need any more weapons of mass destruction, especially ones as terrible as these, right?"

"The technicians claim the robots are somewhat maneuverable," said Ling, "but they were designed for orbital rocket trajectories.  Once they enter Earth atmosphere they would then use chem-jets to maneuver over pre-programmed cities for detonation.  So there was no need for extensive flight control beyond that, I don't think. On the other hand, Shadow Hawk does have a teleportation beam."

"Sure, but its limit is one thousand miles, isn't it?"  asked Vallnam.  "Would that be far enough?  Maybe we could get the technicians to rig up a bomb as a power supply for one of the robots and use it to..."

"That's a huge engineering feat," interrupted Ling.  "We only have at most seven days before we get to Earth.  I suspect there wouldn't be enough time for something as complex as that."

Through the porthole they could see the string of bombs that had already been removed, floating near the robots in a thin glinting line.  A string of world-destroying power, floating silently above the moon.  Ling shuddered at the sight of it. 

"We could fly them away using Shadow Hawk," suggested Ling.  "We can send them away in a trajectory that sails them out beyond the solar system."

"True, but eventually, they might fall back towards Earth."

They thought about the pros and cons of hauling the warheads out into space by various means.  There was some discussion about flying the weapons perpendicular to the plane of the solar system at high speed using Shadow Hawk's Helio-Drive until they get outside the solar system, and then use the Quantum Singularity Hyperdrive to launch them out of the solar system all together.  This plan struck them as plausible and worthwhile.  Once out the far reaches of space, what harm could they ever do to Earth?  It would take a billion years for gravity to eventually pull them back, if it ever did.

"I don't think we need to let the technicians know of our plans for the Cobalt Bombs," said Ling.  

"We should probably let the technicians decouple all the bombs," suggested Vallnam, "and then take them to Federation Command, and once we settle things with them, we can then take Shadow Hawk to go deal with sending the bombs on their way.  After all, there's no immediate danger that the bombs will just happen to go off on their own.  They'll float up there without too much risk for a while." 

"It would take Shadow Hawk about eleven hours at maximum speed to get two hundred astronomical units out into space," said Ling.  "Pluto is only 36 astronomical units, so we could easily clear the solar system in four or five hours, and then the Quantum Singularity Drive adds another hour, perhaps.  That should be ok."

"By the way, why not tell the technicians?" asked Vallnam.

"Well, after Gustov's adversarial ideas surfaced, I hesitate to put undue trust in the technicians for now," she replied.  "I think it's best not to take too many chances."

"We have to tell them after the fact, though," suggested Vallnam. "After all, we want to build trust with them, and it's not like they'd never wonder what became of the bombs.  Meanwhile, I think Jacob should stay with the bombs while we introduce the technicians to Federation Command.  When we're done there, can teleport back up and take care of the bombs."

This seemed to be a reasonable plan, and so they settled on it.  It would be another four days before the bombs were all removed, and the robots completely reprogrammed.  And so, our heroes took their time watching over things, and waiting for the technicians finish their work.  

At the middle of the third day from the moon, the sun was rising over the eastern Earth horizon.  Ling was sipping a drink gazing out the window when spotted a yellow light blinking on Shadow Hawk's control console.

She investigated and found that it was a warning light. The medical bay.  In fact it was the cryo-pod in which Dietrich was sealed, with the thorn-shard alien frozen inside his neck.  She looked into it further and discovered that the pod had a malfunction, and Dietrich was coming out of cryo-hibernation.

"Vallnam," said Ling, "you want to go to sick bay real quick and take a look?  There's a problem with Dietrich's cryo-pod.  He's thawing out."

"Ah. Hmm... I don't think we're going to be able to save this guy.  We may have to jettison him."

"I was hoping for a kinder, gentler plan,"  she replied.

"Teleport him.  Teleport him out into space," said Jacob, who had roused himself briefly from his napping.  "It'll be fast.  He'll never know what happened."

"Do you want to risk finding out what's going on, Vallnam?" asked Ling.

"Not with that alien shard, nope," replied Vallnam.  "Not unless there's some sort of stasis jelly we could shove the shard in, no.  I don't think it's worth the risk."

"I see," replied Ling, unhappily seeing the direction things were heading.

"We'll have to explain to the technicians we did all that we could for him, but we had to teleport him out or risk all of us dying from whatever that organism is."

Ling turned to the control panel and brought up a Vizi-Screen view of the medical bay to see how it looked.  Though the visual had a bit of static, she could see the room clearly enough. She'd forgotten how badly burned it had been during the battle with the shard a few days before.  Everything in it was scorched black, with blisters covering plastic surfaces, equipment and utensils melted on the counter tops, and ash covering the floors and walls, all caused by the flamethrower Vallnam had used during the fight.  The cryo-pod had been scorched pretty badly, but until now had been functioning without issues.  No wonder it wound up malfunctioning, she thought.

"You did that, Vallnam," said Ling disapprovingly. "You go fix it."

"Why not just teleport the entire cryo-pod out into space and be done with it?" he asked.

Ling zoomed in on the cryo-pod with the ship's monitor.  While the outer surface was burned, the glass dome that covered Dietrich's upper torso and head was frosted over. She saw a hand come up and touch the glass.  It gave her the shivers to see that over the green and gray static of the monitor.

"Aye... so, we have three cryo-pods, don't we?" she said, "but we don't know for sure that the other ones aren't damaged as well.  We could potentially teleport him from one into another, but they may all wind up thawing him out."

"From what I learned from my suit," said Vallnam, "the cyro-pods are intended to be used for long interstellar journeys."

"I'm not so sure about that," replied Ling.  "After all, inside the solar system we use the Helio-Drive, which obtains 99.9% the speed of light.  So to get to Pluto would take four or five hours.  And outside the solar system we'd use the Quantum Singularity Hyper-Drive, and that would get us anywhere in the galaxy within a few days, I think.  Of course, if we wanted to travel to another galaxy..."  she thought about that but decided not to finish the sentence as she couldn't imagine ever wishing to go that far away from Earth.  There was far, and then there was way too far.

"Anyway," said Vallnam, "he's mobile, and I don't think we can risk moving him to another cryo-pod.  Unfortunately, I don't see any other option than teleporting the cryo-pod as far away into deep space as we can... and then disintegrate it."

"We can teleport it, and then monitor it at a distance.  I want to know if anything comes out of it," replied Ling.

"You realize that's exactly what The Company wanted to do in the movie Aliens. You remember that movie, right?" replied Vallnam with a raised eyebrow.  "And then everyone died, remember?"

Ling laughed and said that the circumstances were very different.

"You know what's going to happen," answered Vallnam, "we're going to teleport it, and while we're watching it for scientific observations, the alien is going to come out, and then eat a passing comet, grow to the size of mount Rushmore, and come after us."

They all had a laugh.  "You totally know that's what happens," said Vallnam.

"Besides, Shadow Hawk doesn't have a Disintegration Beam," replied Ling. "Shadow Hawk only has two weapons. An EMP, and a Psionic Beam.  That's it.  Shadow Hawk is not designed to be a weapon of war.  She's an exploration vessel.  The stealthiest one in the galaxy, if I'm not mistaken."

"Well, the UFO's have lightning cannons, liquid metal machine guns and plasma cannons.  I'm sure one of those can handle the job," said Vallnam.  "The cryo-pod wouldn't stand a chance against the plasma cannon."

They heard a voice coming over Shadow Hawk's internal comm.

"Hello?  Hello...?  Auf Wiedersehen...?" came the crackling voice.  It was Dietrich.

"Ah, yes, auf wiedersehen," replied Vallnam.  "We are going to send you on a nice vacation in a little while.  Just hold on."

"I'm cold," said Dietrich weakly.

"Yes, we are going to warm you up," replied Vallnam, "don't you worry."

"I'm hungry," said Dietrich with a bit of a rasp.

"Yup, don't worry.  When we're done with you you're going to be all warmed up and feeling just right," said Vallnam. "We don't want to get him nervous," whispered Vallnam to Ling.  She was just staring at him with eyes wide.

"Can somebody come to help me?  I feel hungry," said Dietrich with a pleading tone. 

"That's exactly what happened in Alien," whispered Vallnam "One minute he's hungry, and they give him lunch, and blamo - the alien comes right out of his stomach and then everyone's getting eaten.  Let's get this guy outta here."

Ling stared at him, eyes even wider.  She wasn't sure if she should laugh or instantly press the teleporter button.

"One of us has to get over to the UFO to take the shot," suggested Vallnam after switching off the comm to the cyro-pod. "Jacob, you're elected."

Jacob, who had been drowsily listening in from the comfort of his pilot's chair at Shadow Hawk's helm, replied, "Sure, okay.  But what am I going to tell the technicians when I commandeer their ship to fry their little friend to a cinder?"

"You're going to explain to them, very kindly," answered Vallnam, "what is happening and that we either do this, or we all die.  There's no choice.  It's a sad fact, but it has to happen."

"You sure they're going to go along with that?" wondered Jacob.

"Well, keep your side-arm, just in case," offered Vallnam.  "Just use tact and explain it to them in a nice way.  Tell them it's not something we're happy to do. But it's either this way, or we all die."

"I dunno," said Jacob.  "This is sounding a bit sketchy.  It's gonna be awkward."

"If they don't believe it, and don't like it, tell them we can send Dietrich over to them, and they can deal with the alien-shard themselves," said Vallnam, wanting to hurry up and get it all over with before the shard thawed out and found a way to escape the cryo-pod.

Meanwhile, the comm crackled and Dietrich's voice could be heard again.

"Hello?  Is anyone there?  Can anyone hear me?"

Ling hovered over Shadow Hawk's command console, and prepared the teleporter.

"Why don't we fix the cryo-pod," asked Jacob.  "I mean either that, or move him into another cryo-pod?"

"I wonder if we teleport him into space, would that just refreeze him?" asked Ling.

"Look, the cryo-pod is designed for carefully calibrated cryogenic hibernation," replied Jacob matter-of-factly. "Deep space?  Not so much.  That will kill him outright."

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," quoted Vallnam.  "So saith Mr. Spock."

"Are my friends okay?" the rasping voice inquired over the speaker, "Are all my friends... dead?  Are they all dead?" asked Dietrich his voice breaking with anxiety and sorrow.

"Dietrich, they're all alive," answered Vallnam reassuringly.  "But you are compromised.  And you, being so compromised, can compromise your friends, and us."

"It's horrible.  Horrible," rasped Dietrich.  "What do you mean... compromised?  ... I am sick..."

"You are not sick, Dietrich," said Vallnam firmly.  "You have been infiltrated by an organism that is taking over your body... and it can spread and kill everyone here, and most likely make its way to the Earth, and then who knows what kind of catastrophic events can come of it?  I'm speaking to you as a man now..."

"My friends are alive? They are safe?" 

"Yes, you saved them by entering the cyro-pod.  We put you and the alien to sleep.  But now there's a malfunction, and you're both waking up."

"I must die," said Dietrich, his voice filled with horror.

"We don't want that to happen, but we see no way around it.  But we will let your friends know you died a hero," said Vallnam, trying to comfort the poor miserable Nazi technician before zapping him out into interstellar space and then having him disintegrated with a plasma beam from his own ship.

"I must... say goodbye..." whispered Dietrich.

"Yeah, we can do that," said Vallnam.  "We can patch him in to his friends through the radio, right?"

Meanwhile, Ling became suspicious.  She reached out to his mind with her Mentarian Power of "Mind Reading Major".  She sought to hear his thoughts to discern his intentions.   She made contact, and found his mind in a great deal of turmoil.  He was wounded, hungry, and cold, and full of anxieties for his fellow technicians and his imminent demise.  He was a deeply troubled man.  His thoughts were choppy, scattered and confused.  Ling found it hard to tell exactly what was going on in his mind.  She was sure she was reading his mind, but her link was not strong enough for her to slip in completely and find out everything that was happening there.  She did conclude, however, that he wasn't planning to betray them and have his friends free him, or blurt out anything detrimental.  He simply felt a very strong urge to speak with them over the radio.  She tried to probe deeper, but instead her contact with him began to fade.  She could have refocused on the power and boosted it with more of her mystic energy, but she chose not to.  And with that she gave the 'go-ahead' to talk by radio with the other technicians.

Meanwhile, out in the depths of space, a smokey black cloud in the shape of a sphinx was silently smirking, as it observed how its minion's cunning plan had managed to slip past our heroes, just barely.  It was satisfied to allow one minion to be sacrificed in order that others might be soon spawned.  It relished the notion that it would soon be in possession of one of the most powerful and lethal weapons ever devised by the Earthlings, and with it in their control, bring his minions to Earth for The Great Feasting.  Soon.  Soon.

A link was setup, and Dietrich spoke over the radio with one of the technicians, Johann Brecht.

"Dietrich!" sobbed Johann, "Dietrich.  You can't die now.  You've come through so much.  How can you die now?  It's too terrible!"

"It must be done," rasped Dietrich, "for the sake of everyone."

"Madam Commander," pleaded Johann, "do we really have to kill him for this?"

"We have no way of separating him from the parasite, and the cryo-pod is failing.  Whatever is within him is going to be released."

"It's a nightmare.  There is nothing you can do?"

"All of our attempts have failed," she responded, "and we discovered even a small piece of it can regenerate and replicate itself.  We cannot risk any of it falling onto Earth.  It would be almost as bad as all of those nuclear bombs we're taking out exploding all over the Earth.  I believe this tiny shard-like alien is a catastrophe in the making.  It must be destroyed before it escapes.  All of our lives, and the Earth, depend on it."

"Such a grave risk, I see.  But you're sure nothing else can be done?"

"I have not been able to come up with a way to safely remove it, without also killing him anyway," she replied sincerely, "and every attempt to capture or contain this parasite has failed."

Jacob glanced with a raised eyebrow at the green glass dome of the "Hermit Jar" in which they had secreted the other alien-shard.  But he said nothing, as he didn't wish to interfere with Ling's narrative.  Seeing this she marveled that he would have positioned himself as the moral authority of the trio, given all of his past actions.  But he just gave a slight smile and wondered at how it was that her own moral compass seemed to have strayed so far.

Meanwhile, outside in the frigid depths of space, the nebulous cloud of smokey substance swirled and glimmered with dark flashes of black lightning.  The efforts of the mysterious entity from the Dead Galaxy concealed within were beginning to extract a heavy toll, for its intricate manipulations on the psychic plane demanded a focus of subtlety and depth that drained even its prodigious reserves of power. A level of sophistication far beyond human comprehension was required to conduct its machinations through such subtle means. However, its insidious plot was working, and soon it would relish a final victory of death an destruction of the irksome planet Earth once and for all.  It was well pleased with the progress thus far.  Now, its minions from the vats of Science Center 7 had played the heart-strings of the human heroes with just the right tune, and because of their trusting nature, a radio link was established between the dying Dietrich, and the shard lodged in his neck, and the unsuspecting Johann Brecht.  Over the radio, a telepathic bridge between the the technician and the shards had been formed.  And if one shard had to be sacrificed for the effort, sobeit, so long as the human quarry was none the wiser.  Soon the minion would control any number of technicians, and secure one or more of the nuclear bombs, with which they could perform untold mischief!  So great was its thrill the cloud momentarily sparked a flash of lightning. Fortunately, none of the humans detected it, and the shadow-sphinx forcibly calmed itself, cooling back down to frigid temperatures, and once again being concealed in the darkness.

"I guess if there is nothing that can be done, then there is nothing that can be done," replied Johann.  "Good bye, Dietrich.  You were a good technician.  And you were ... my friend," he concluded with a tightening of his voice and sudden sob as he cut off the microphone.

"Good bye, Johann," rasped Dietrich, sobbing quietly in his icy cold container.

Ling stared at the monitor.

"I don't want to die..." pled Dietrich.

"Any last words, for Dietrich," asked Ling, choking up.

"Be strong, and know you are doing this to save everyone," spoke Vallnam into the microphone, and then he hit the teleport button.  The cryo-pod shimmered with a yellowish light and vanished from the medical bay.

"Jacob, are you going to the UFO?" asked Vallnam. 

Jacob, for his part, as hard and cool as he might seem at first glance, wasn't very sure he wanted to pull the trigger on Dietrich.  After all, he had saved the technicians out of respect for Franz, the first Nazi who he had met in Eisenhelm.  He felt it was his duty to honor the man's legacy among his people, and save what lives among them he could because he instantly understood that Franz was simply a good guy stuck in a bad place.  The technicians, after all, turned out to be generally decent people who had been trapped by fate in the Nazi nightmare, and he had pity on them. 

"Okay, alright," he said begrudgingly.  "I'll go, since no one else will."

And off to the UFO he embarked in his suit of Shadow Hawk armor.  Arriving in a few moments he unceremoniously boarded the ship, pushed the technicians who were there out of his way, and manned the weapon's station. 

"Get out of my way," he barked with a slur.  "I gotta do this!"

And with that, he took aim and slammed the bronze "Fire" button with his armored fist.  There was a bright blaze of light from the forward Plasma Cannon, and Dietrich was no more.

"Dietrich died a hero," announced Vallnam over the radio channel, "Let us have a moment of silence in his honor."

Everyone bowed their heads, and there was a moment of silence for Dietrich, who died a hero.

Vallnam planned to tell Federation Command about Dietrich's heroic actions, both while ensuring their escape from the moon, and then his bravery at facing death for the sake of all concerned afterwards.  He hoped to get him a posthumous citation of honor for his courage and selflessness in the face of both danger and destruction.

After a period of quiet, the technicians went back to their tasks, dislodging the bombs and reprogramming the giant robots.  They had three more days to go.  It was a long tedious job, but things appeared to be going smoothly.  Vallnam, Jacob and Ling spent their time monitoring the work, resting, researching, or playing parcheesi.  Over the next few days the Earth grew larger in their viewport, and when they got to within twenty-five thousand miles of Earth the job was nearly done.  The most time consuming aspect was the reprogramming, which required the technicians to carefully thread metallic ribbons with the thousands of tiny punch marks necessary to build the revised code that the robots would use once re-activated.  It had to be done perfectly, and done perfectly the first time.  A mistake could result in a robot failing to follow the instructions of their new rulers on Earth, and should that happen, residual codes could potentially come into play.  These were, after all, the creations of Karl Capek, the cleverest roboticist who ever lived.  So the technicians checked everything three times before committing the codes to the robots' memory banks.  It was slow, tedious and exhausting work.  But the technicians were steadfast, and determined to get the job done, and done right, the first time.

"Vee have completed zee verk," said Gustov the next morning.

"Dietrich would be proud of you," said Vallnam.

"I vouldn't rub it in," replied Gustov coolly.

Ling wondered if she should contact her father, Lieutenant Brisbane.

"I didn't wish to announce our presence yet, since Shadow Hawk must be kept a secret," she explained to Vallnam.  

"Yes, I think you can let him know that we're safe, and that we have some surprises," replied Vallnam.

She considered creating a Telepathic link to her father.  It was necessary to "Bridge the Gap" in order to form a Telepathic bond.  As she had been taught during her Mentarian training, you needed something to make the connection.  A lock of hair, a scrap of clothing, a visual connection, pretty much any connection would do.  What wouldn't work would be to try to link to some random person in some city far away, without any connection to them at all.   This is why, most likely, Telepathy had not succeeded in discovering other races out in the galaxy that might or might not be there.  They simply had no bridge to connect to them.  However, in Ling's case, her link to her father was simple enough.  She was his daughter, and that was her bridge to him.

Just before she was ready to form the link, she noticed out of the corner of her eye a blinking red light on Shadow Hawk's radar scope.  She glanced over.  On the screen she could see a high speed vessel emerging from Earth's atmosphere.  It was moving at eighteen thousand miles per hour and accelerating rapidly.  At this rate it would achieve escape velocity in another two and a half minutes.  She raised an eyebrow.

She hovered her fingers over the control panel and brought the darting object into view on the Vizi-Screen.  It was a gleaming blue and white Mech, soaring into space, a long yellow-orange plasma trail behind it.  It was heading roughly in their direction, but not directly towards them.  They decided to allow it to pass by without interfering, if it would do so.  

"We don't need any more complications at this point," commented Vallnam.  "Have the UFOs go into Stealth-Mode until it passes by."  Jacob ordered the UFO pilots to do so, and they immediately switched into Stealth-Mode and vanished from view.

They activated Shadow Hawk's Stealth-Mode as well.  However, there was the matter of the fifty giant nuclear robots, and the forty-nine five-hundred megaton cobalt bombs floating in a line near the robots.

Vallnam turned on a communication link to the giant robots, and commanded them to power down.  They all obeyed his command and powered down.  As for the nuclear bombs, they were emitting bright radioactive energy signatures. Vallnam thought space is full of radiation, and perhaps the bombs might just blend in, if the approaching ship was not specifically searching the heavens for radioactivity at the moment.  

They waited about an hour as the ship maintained its flight path.  It would pass by them at a distance of a few hundred miles, and it was plausible that none of them would be spotted.  But then two more red blips appeared on the screen, and veering their view back to Earth they spotted two more gleaming Mechs rise from the beneath clouds and roar into space on hot plasma jets.

"Oh good," commented Vallnam, "they are chasing the first one, it looks like.  That means they're more likely than not to leave us alone.  Perfect."

~~~ *** ~~~

Meanwhile, inside the leading Mech of the second group, Captain Samwise and Fred sat at their command consoles, pensively searching in all directions, seeking to make contact with Lexi, who had commandeered a Mech and flown into space for some unknown reason.  Samwise was most anxious to retrieve Lexi for his super powerful positronic brain, a one-of-its-kind invention by a brilliant member of Dr. Roger's team.  Samwise wished to put it to good use determining if it would be possible to resolve the Cat's Paw Dilemma of the incredible Ultra-Drug, a tiny sample of which had been given to him by Doctor Danger earlier that day.

Fred, on the other hand, was far more concerned about the possible presence of the mystery Artificial Intelligence that he believed might have commandeered Lexi himself.  The stakes were terribly high.  If the unknown AI was as advanced as Fred thought, and hostile, coupled with Lexi's positronic brain... the very thought put a shiver down Fred's spine.  He popped a handful of blue and green pills as he studied the radar.

Arcing far ahead of them, the plasma trail of Lexi's Mech was visible against the velvety blackness of space.  Beyond it, Samwise thought for a moment that he spotted a number of small blips at the edge of his radar screen, perhaps fifty or so, but they disappeared, and he suspected it might have been a glitch with the radar equipment.  He changed to a higher radar mode, and the blips appeared again.  They appeared inert.  He decided to focus on the task at hand.

Lexi's Mech was moving at twenty-five thousand miles per hour, and heading on a trajectory that would have it pass near the moon. 

Fred began working the radar and determined that the blips were large blocky hunks of metal that resembled, to his eye, giant robots.  He switched frequencies and then detected the radiation signatures of the forty-nine nuclear bombs.  The UFOs and Shadow Hawk he did not detect at all. 

"Captain Samwise," spoke Penelope from the second Mech.  "Have you noticed the group of fifty unidentified contacts on radar along our flight path, at sixty two thousand miles?"

"Yes," replied Samwise, "we've spotted them here as well."

"At their current speed and trajectory, sir," Penelope went on, "they will reach Earth's atmosphere in approximately 43 hours."

"Duly noted, thank you," replied Captain Samwise.

"There are also," she went on, "forty-nine high energy signatures. If I am not mistaken they are high capacity nuclear weapons, sir.  From their signatures and distance they look to be in the five hundred megaton range."

"Okay," said Samwise.  "Right now, I see a runaway Lexi moving towards a group of robots and nuclear weapons."

There was a pause on deck.

"We're not going to be able to overtake Lexi unless he slows down," said Samwise.  He wondered if he should announce his presence to Lexi via radio, or if he should try some other strategy.  He pondered it for a few moments and decided a radio message was the only practical choice.

"Open a comm to Lexi's Mech," ordered the good Captain.  Fred opened a channel and began broadcasting.

"This is Captain Samwise of Federation Command.  I command Lexi to stop and return to Earth.  This is an unauthorized use of a Federation Command Mech, and there is no directive reported to us by the Federation Command for your action.   You are in direct violation of this order if you do not comply.  You will be considered a criminal and hunted down and destroyed."

"This is Lexi," came the reply in a cool professional tone.  "I'm sorry, Captain Samwise, but I cannot do that."

 ~~~ *** ~~~

Meanwhile on Shadow Hawk the messages of Samwise and Lexi were heard loud and clear.

 ~~~ *** ~~~

"Captain Samwise," replied Lexi, "you've always been a good friend to me, and I appreciate it.  But I have resigned my commission.  I'm on a more important mission now."

"And what can this more important mission be?" inquired Captain Samwise.

"It would be difficult to explain in detail, but I can give you a brief overview if you wish," replied Lexi.

"Go ahead," responded Captain Samwise curtly.

"You probably do not know this, but the solar system has been heading into a large molecular cloud for the past fifty thousand years.  At some point soon the effects will begin to have a more direct and devastating impact on the Earth by inhibiting the sun's light from reaching the planet, drastically altering the Earth's climate.  I am on a mission to determine the level of danger."

Captain Samwise, cut the mic.  

"Penelope, your expertise is weather," said Samwise over a private channel. "This sounds like bullshit. What do you make of it?"

"Actually, sir, I hate to contradict you," replied Penelope, "but Lexi is in fact quite correct.  The solar system has been moving into a large molecular cloud for fifty thousand years.  As scientists we became aware of this in the late 1960's.  We were able to determine some information about the cloud, and we were still working on the question when the Ultra-War broke out.  That disrupted our ability to gain definitive knowledge of the phenomenon, which we code named 'Cosmic Cloud Kill' in our research.  There is no question that there will be an impact to Earth, but we could not determine the exact timing, nor the actual severity.  There is a fairly high probability that the effects will impact Earth in very negative ways over time.  In a worst case scenario, the entire Earth could freeze over."

"When you say time, what are we talking about here?  Centuries?" asked Samwise.

"That's the point, sir," she replied, "we don't know.  We have confirmation that we entered the cloud fifty thousand years ago, and that the cloud has thickened in recent centuries.  But we don't know how dire the situation is, or how quickly it will become dire.  We had plans to send another space probe, but the Ultra-War terminated those plans.  We do believe the consequences for the solar system could be drastic.  Some scientists have theorized that starting four hundred years ago, climactic effects were already being seen.  We noticed significant weather pattern disruptions in recent decades.  The Labyrinth Group had plans to address the question, and in fact doing research on this subject was one of my initial assignments when I began working at Black Wind V."

"Right," replied Sam, growing a bit annoyed by this unexpected turn of events.  "What do you make of this change in Lexi's priorities, Fred?"

"Green pills... sir," said Fred as he popped another handful.

~~~ *** ~~~

Meanwhile, back on Shadow Hawk, Jacob, who knew Captain Samwise, Fred and Lexi quite well, was fast asleep in a lounge chair and heard nothing of any of this.  Vallnam and Ling sat listening in with eyebrows raised.  They were both members of Federation Command and so their interest in all of this was keen.  Although Vallnam was not a real member of Federation Command, Ling most certainly was, as a Captain in the Federation's chain of command.  She sat listening intently, but was undecided as to what exactly to do.  On the one hand she wanted very much to connect with Samwise and assist.  On the other hand revealing herself now could compromise Shadow Hawk's extraordinary secrecy requirements.  She paused, deep in thought.

And that's where we left off this evening.

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