Thursday, June 06, 2024

WoAF - Game Session 63

A second chrome-trimmed blue and white Mech had punched through Earth's upper atmosphere a few minutes ago. It was moving at twenty-five thousand miles per hour, making a graceful arc in the direction of the first Mech which had emerged from the cloud cover an hour or so earlier. 

Ling and Vallnam were observing from Shadow Hawk's cockpit through the forward green-tinted diamond-glass window.  They watched the trailing Mech's futile effort to close the gap separating it from its twin as they blazed their way toward deep space.  The trajectory of the two ships would bring them within a few hundred miles of Shadow Hawk, and the two UFOs attending her.  But they had no fear that their presence would be known by the Mechs. Shadow Hawk was in Modroni Stealth Mode, making it virtually invisible to anything in the galaxy, while two UFOs had also activated their own, primitive yet effective, stealth modes at Jacob's command.  Ling and Vallnam felt confident that there was little to no chance their ensemble would be detected by the Mechs.  Of course, the string of highly radioactive five-hundred megaton Cobalt bombs floating nearby could easily draw their attention, if they happen to be scanning for unexpected radiation sources.  But, frankly, why would they be?  Probably not.  They figured it was likely the two might pass by and never notice them.  Meanwhile, Jacob snored, and turned over in his flight chair, apparently in the throes of a fitful dream.

Ling sat quietly contemplating.  She still partially remembered her experiences on the moon, but those memories had largely dissipated, though some would fade in for a few moments, and then fade out again.  She knew that this was an effect of the Modroni, whose overriding objective was to remain as secret a species within the Galaxy as possible, unknown by anyone, yet knowing a great deal about everything.  That was their goal and they'd taken great pains over the eons to ensure that their presence remained undiscovered.  Thus far, it had been a successful endeavor.  Ling remembered these facts vaguely as if they came to her from within a dream, and in fact she often thought she had dreamed the entire affair.  She was mystified by this, and yet at the same time understood completely.  It was a particularly strange sensation. 

At the moment she was trying to resolve where her duty lay, and to whom exactly she ought to be most loyal.  The Modroni, or Federation Command?  She was not sure she knew the answer.  After all, she had been a Federation Command Captain, and leading Space Pilot in Special Force.  On the other hand she had also become the leader of the Modroni while she and Vallnam had been marooned in the Aristarchus Crater after the Silver Eye I expedition suffered a fatal accident.  The Modroni had rescued the astronauts, and offered them sanctuary, and a lifetime's worth of education, on the condition they agree to never seek to return to Earth.  Later, when the Modroni leader perished in a deep space accident, the Modroni scientists elected Ling as Moon Princess, at her suggestion, since the Modroni are fabulous scientists, but without a member of the Leader Caste to ensure they stayed on track, they tended to wander, lose focus, and eventually die of confusion, essentially.  And so she felt a loyalty to both.  It was difficult to tweeze out what her role should be now.

Shadow Hawk, as we know, was a Modroni vessel, discovered by a team of Nazis Miners adjacent to Eisenhelm's Level C3, enclosed in a secret hanger that opened onto the rim of an unremarkable crater on the edge of Mare Frigoris. Ling considered the fact that the Nazis had seen Shadow Hawk, and had spent at least a month or two since its discovery attempting to learn how to pilot it.  Hanna Schiller, the high ranking Nazi Captain who was one of Eisenhelm's best space pilots, and her rival Melitta Reischt, the highest decorated space pilot in Admiral Ludendorf's UFO fleet, had made some progress in the effort, perhaps enough to launch this ship, but they'd never dared actually attempt it.  They'd planned on studying the vessel for quite a long time before making any attempt to activate it.  Hanna in particular had become afraid of the ship for reasons she never expressed or understood, though Ling understood it quite well.  The Modroni had spent considerable time and effort ensuring that the Nazis remained isolated and afraid of anything that might extend their reach further across the moon's surface.  They insinuated their ideas into the Nazi's dreams with terrifying impressions of an unseen and inimical alien race, and even drove several high ranking Nazis insane with the terror of it over the years.  

But Ling's question regarded the secrecy of Shadow Hawk.  After all, if the Nazis had discovered the ship, then that suggested that the vessel was, from the Modroni point of view, perhaps, no longer truly secret.  Or was that not the case?  She was unsure, and trying to assess just how secret they really needed to keep Shadow Hawk.  After all, if the Nazis new about it, then how secret did it really need to be?

Jacab woke up and rolled out of his chair.  "Agggehhh.  What the hell is going on?"

"Oh good, you're up, finally," said Ling.  "There's two vessels that have just punched up through Earth atmosphere into space.  If you look there you can see their plasma trails," she said pointing at the Vizi-Screen.  Jacob took note.

"We've picked up their radio transmissions," she went on. "In the lead vessel is apparently an Android by the name of Lexi.  Following him are Federation Command personnel.  A certain Captain Samwise has been attempting to hail the lead ship, and is demanding that it stop and return to Earth.  Apparently, Lexi has gone AWOL, for a reason that sounds somewhat spurious to me."

"Hmm... for some spurious reason, eh?" asked Jacob groggily.

"Well, it seems Lexi is claiming that he must go investigate a phenomenon in space that could be a threat to Earth.  He says the solar system is moving into a Molecular Cloud.  He appears to be intent on studying the cloud to see what level of threat it poses.  It could, he claims, drastically impact Earth's climate."

Ling was hoping her memory would resolve whether or not the Modroni had ever mentioned a Molecular Cloud in the Solar System's vicinity, but her recollection turned out to be too ethereal and she couldn't decide if she had been made aware of this or not.  She let it go.

"Lexi is going AWOL," said Vallnam, "over a matter that Federation Command had never been concerned about.  Therefore we are thinking about stepping in and detaining Lexi.  After all, we are still Federation Command, and we just heard that a vessel has been commandeered by a renegade Android, against direct orders from a commanding officer."

"And yet," Ling interjected, "I feel it is essential we keep Shadow Hawk a secret, no matter what.  It must always be kept a secret.  And so I am unresolved as to what to do.  And what is puzzling me is how secret Shadow Hawk can really be, given that the Nazi Command had discovered the ship, not to mention the technicians with us now."

"Well, your concern that Shadow Hawk had already been discovered by the Moon Nazis," said Jacob, "and that the technicians with us have all seen it, too is understandable.  However, the fact is, only a few Nazis in Eisenhelm ever knew of its existence, and all but one of them are dead, as far as we know.  As for the technicians, in fact, they don't know about Shadow Hawk, actually.  We left the moon before they did, and from the secret hanger bay that was part of the white tunnel system. I doubt any of them ever even heard of it, let alone saw it.  Note that Shadow Hawk by design is almost invisible in space, and additionally we've been in Stealth Mode.  I don't think any of the technicians know how we are getting around, exactly, except via our space suits, which is the only thing they've actually seen.  Except for poor Dietrich, who was blasted into atoms.  Granted our suits are amazing, but they wouldn't have any clue as to their nature or origins.  To them, they're simply sleek, jet-black space suits that allow us to glide through space unencumbered.  And while they can infer that we have a vessel, they have no idea what it looks like, or anything about it at all, actually.  So as far as I can see, none of the technicians know about Shadow Hawk."

Seeing Ling's furrowed eyebrows, Jacob continued, "From my conversation with Hanna, I found out the only people in Eisenhelm who knew about the ship were Hanna, Melitta, Admiral Ludendorf, and General Hertling. And the fact is, Melitta, Ludendorf and Hertling are all dead.  Vallnam and I took care of that early on, although we didn't realize what we had done at the time.  It was a chance encounter as they tried to make it to Shadow Hawk in which they planned to escape Eisenhelm before it was destroyed by the Obliterator Robots.  And if anyone of lesser rank knew of the ship, which I doubt, there is a good chance they had no idea what it was. Hanna told me the Nazi leaders mistook it for a product of Japanese ingenuity, having concluded that it must have been created by a secret force that had also been embedded on the moon during World War II, just like they were.  It was the Japanese, they believed, who must have built the white tunnel system, and the ship, and they had simply stumbled into it by chance during a routine excavation. That was best they could surmise, and I'm sure that's what Hanna believed. There's extremely little chance that anyone except the three of us know Shadow Hawk's origin, or even of its existence."

Finally, Ling was convinced that she need not worry that Shadow Hawk had already been revealed to the outer world.  If anything, the Modroni themselves would ensure that any loose ends would be tied up, and so any sort of leak would be extremely unlikely.  She relaxed on this point.  And this affirmed in her mind that, yes, they still needed to keep Shadow Hawk an absolute secret.

"I still think we should assist Captain Samwise one way or the other," she said, "Let's think about what we could do to stop the Android, while not revealing ourselves."

"Wait, wait.  We gotta talk about this," said Jacob.  "When we took control of Shadow Hawk, and put on these suits, we went a level above.  We're in possession of technology that utterly dwarfs Federation Command, and frankly, I don't know how else to put this, but, we've ascended."

Ling bit her lip, as Vallnam folded his arms and thought deeply about what Jacob had said.

"We've got a ship that can move at the speed of light, and faster than that outside the solar system.  We have a teleporter, a shrink ray, we can slip through worm holes, and we don't know what else may be laying dormant within. And to boot, Shadow Hawk, if I understand correctly, is the single stealthiest ship in the galaxy.  So, sorry, but we are so far beyond Federation Command right now, we should not, and cannot consider ourselves subject to Federation Command any longer.  For example, what if Lt. Brisbane orders us to tell him about Shadow Hawk because he wants to incorporate it into Federation Command?  Seriously, he's going to have all kinds of questions.  We cannot answer any of those questions."

Ling begrudgingly agreed.  At first she didn't like Jacob's argument, and found it too arrogant.  But his final points were well taken.  They couldn't answer any questions about Shadow Hawk or their experiences with the Modroni.  Vallnam followed her lead and nodded his agreement.

"Yes, I can agree that Shadow Hawk gives us such powers that are far beyond anything Federation Command has available, or will have available in the foreseeable future," said Ling.  "This is true.  But still, our purpose has not become to be Super Beings galivanting around at our own discretion.  Our duty remains to safeguard the people on Earth."

"I think that was our original mission," broke in Vallnam, "but what has been done to us by our elevation to this level gives us powers far beyond what the military of Earth should have.  Power corrupts."

"I don't disagree," said Ling, "but I think Jacob's point is corruption too, just on the other side. What he was getting at is that we're superior to the people of Earth now, and so we're absolved of any duty or constraints."

"Well," retorted Vallnam, "that's just Jacob.  You know how he gets.  I think, anyway, that's what he was getting at."

"No, no," cut in Jacob. "That is not what I was getting at."

Ling smirked.

"I think we have been given a new mission.  Shadow Hawk has given us a new mission. That mission is to explore the galaxy!  That's something no one on Earth can do, except the three of us.  And we can and must do so in absolute secret."

"But how would that benefit Earth?" asked Vallnam.

"It wouldn't," answered Ling.  "This gift for Earth would be used for ourselves."

"Yeah," said Vallnam.  "I don't agree with that."

"Well, no.  That's not what I'm saying," replied Jacob, standing up to gaze out the porthole into space.  "What I mean is that now is our chance to go and explore the galaxy to find out what's actually out there and around us, so that once we find out we can inform Earth of any dangers, or point humanity in the direction of good prospects."

"Ah," replied Vallnam, "So we would explore the galaxy and then come back and let Earth know what we found.  I getch'ya now."

"I'm sorry guys," said Ling, "while the possibility of using Shadow Hawk for galactic exploration is great, I admit, but not while we are witnessing all of the calamities on Earth.  We have the ability to help balance things here.  We know there's terrible powers rampaging across the western half of America, and no idea what's going on elsewhere, like in Europe, South America, Asia or Africa.  We can't just take the ship to go fly around the galaxy to explore.  Not until things on Earth have been settled.  We have to help with that."

"Look," said Jacob, "we will never, ever, ever solve all the problems on Earth.  There's just not enough lifetimes for that.  The people of Earth are going to have to solve these problems as they go."

"Yes, but we can help a lot in the meantime," answered Ling. 

"Okay," replied Jacob, "but remember, Shadow Hawk is not a weapon.  All it can do, at best, is mess with the psyches of crew members in another space ship, put them to sleep, or shoot off a EMP Ray to disable the controls of other space ships, when necessary.  And those, I might add, are to be used as sparingly as possible so that we don't accidently reveal Shadow Hawk's existence."

"Well, ok," put in Vallnam, "but we could use Shadow Hawk to slip around Earth and find out what's going on everywhere that we don't know about, right?"

"Ah, well, yeah," admitted Jacob. "That's true.  And I'm not saying we need to dash off into space immediately.  All I'm saying is that we should not, and cannot be under Federation Command.  We may want to help the Federation, sure.  We may want to give advice, or information about the Earth or the moon, or whatever, but ultimately, the Shadow Hawk mission is to explore the galaxy.  That's what I'm saying."

"So I think we're agreed then," offered Vallnam, "that we no longer fit under Federation Command, but we also don't want to just leave Earth in the lurch.  We want to help out before we do anything else, right?"

"Yes," said Jacob, "but I want to point out that we need to be very careful how we deal with Earth.  It's a somewhat delicate matter, departing from Federation Command without getting court martialed, or causing all kinds of problems. And besides, we still have the situation up here in space that needs to be handled.  For example, there's a string of incredibly dangerous five hundred megaton Cobalt bombs floating around up here.  We need to take care of that immediately."

"And the molecular cloud," added Ling.

"Right," agreed Jacob.  "That's the kind of thing that makes Shadow Hawk of real value to Earth."

"Okay," interrupted Vallnam, "but that doesn't answer the question of what do we do about Lexi and Captain Samwise?"

There was a pause as they turned their attention back to the subject at hand.

"I suggest," went on Vallnam, "that we teleport Lexi into Samwise's ship.  No one will be the wiser, and then we can skedaddle off and do the next thing."

"I'm not sure about that idea," said Ling.  "Teleporting a powerful Android into Captain Samwise's ship might cause chaos there.  I mean, as an Android he's going to at the least be very physically strong."

"Yeah, but Androids are programmed not to hurt humans.  He won't do anything to jeopardize anyone's life."

"That's probably true," replied Ling, "but then again, he's already gone AWOL, hasn't he?  Even if he is not willing to hurt Sam, he might not go peacefully."

"Okay, why don't we use the EMP to put him to sleep first, and then teleport him over?" asked Vallnam.

They thought this over.  While an EMP would disable the Mech, it could also potentially destroy Lexi.  In the end Ling was not willing to take that risk.  It would be completely counter productive to destroy Lexi in an effort to help Samwise return him to Earth.  Presumably, Samwise would not be satisfied with that conclusion at all.

Yet, Ling still wanted to stop Lexi.  Jacob was ambivalent about it. 

"After all," he said, "Lexi wants to go find out if the Molecular Cloud is a danger to Earth.  Why not let him go?  I mean, what's he doing on Earth that's so great right now?  I don't know.  Maybe his trip to the Molecular Cloud would be of real help to the planet in the long run, as he claims."

"Well," replied Ling, "it's the way he is doing it that troubles me.  I mean, did he really need to go AWOL for this?  Doesn't quite make sense."

"Yeah, ok, that seems a little suspicious," said Jacob. "I buy that.  You think there's more to the picture than meets the eye."

"Yeah, it feels suspicious," replied Ling.  

However, in the end, she realized that she really didn't know enough about Lexi to make a determination as to the validity of his behavior, and her concern was that teleporting Lexi could potentially reveal Shadow Hawk's existence, if not directly, then perhaps by inference, and also risk destroying Lexi.  She also felt that Jacob had a pretty good point regarding his mission to the Molecular Cloud.  What if it would actually help the planet in the event the cloud is an imminent threat?

She also began thinking about the other point Jacob made regarding exploring the other planets in the solar system for alien species, and perhaps the local star systems, too.  After all, there could be Galactic Empires out there that Earth should definitely know about.  

"I think we're going to find amazing things out there," Jacob was saying.  "I think it's going to be awesome.  And besides," he added, "you realize that we have Telepathy, and Telepathy has no range limit whatsoever.  We can be exploring another star system 50 light years away, and communicate what we are seeing in real time with Telepathic contacts back on Earth."

"Oh, that's right!" said Ling, suddenly realizing what an incredible advantage that was.  "I could set up a Telepathic Link to Linda, and no matter how far we go, we can stay in contact.  The mission to gather intel about what's going on in the galaxy would actually really be worthwhile in that case.  That's great."

"As far as Lexi is concerned," said Vallnam, "I'm ok with leaving him to go out there.  Maybe Jacob could tag along with Lexi and see what he gets up to?  In the meantime, Ling and I can take care of the bombs.  That situation is extremely precarious, and I agree we need to deal with it sooner rather than later."

"Yeah, we got bigger fish to fry," said Jacob. "I don't know, but I've been having some seriously bad dreams.  Somehow I keep dreaming bizarre evil disgusting entities from the moon land up on Earth and wrecking havoc everywhere.  It's like an ongoing nightmare.  I dream they're on Shadow Hawk, they take over the technicians, and they make their way down to Earth, and then all hell breaks loose.  Kinda weird. And I don't like it."

"Yes, that sounds horrible," said Ling, concerned.

"Hey, you guys," said Jacob, "let's go to the medical bay.  We should take a look and start thinking about how to clean up all that fire damage.  Let's take a look together, okay?  Like right now. Okay?"

And so they took a walk down to the medical bay, and stepped inside.  When they did Jacob explained.

"Okay, I put up a Mind Shield around us and we're far enough from the Hermit Jar so that it's on the outside.  We can talk, and think, freely now."

Jacob had been using a special Mentarian Power known as Compartmentalization which allowed him to keep separate parts of his mind in different places, and the part that he wanted to talk about now was regarding the Shards.  He set up a Telepathic Link between the three of them, inside the Mind Shield, and so their conversation was completely protected.

"The Shard that is in the Hermit Jar cannot hear us, now.  And to be honest, I'm worried.  That thing in the Jar... do you remember Vallnam when you were attacked, and you got that sharp pain in your arm?"

"Vaguely," replied Vallnam.  "Yeah, I tried to pick the new Shard up off the floor and it shocked me."

"Yeah, except it couldn't shock you. You were in your Shadow Hawk Armor at the time, right?  And you realized that had to have been a psychic attack, remember?"

"Uh huh," replied Vallnam.

"Yeah, these things are psychic," said Jacob.

"Yes," agreed Ling, "that makes sense."

"So, I realized something.  If those things have psychic powers, then it's likely they have Telepathy.  Which means they can communicate with each other.  Which means that they could also be in contact with the Entity back on the moon.  If so, this is really bad.  We need to take care of this situation."

"Hmm..." said Ling and Vallnam in unison.

"Well," said Vallnam, "We are going to tug those bombs outside the solar system.  Why don't we take the Shard and leave it out there?"

"uhhh," said Jacob.

"No," interjected Ling, "he wants to blow up the moon."

"Well, we can't just blow up the moon," replied Vallnam.  "But we can leave the shards out in deep space."

"No, you don't understand," said Ling, "he means the major threat is on the moon.  The Shards are just like seeds or something.  I agree this entity is too powerful.  Even a tiny thorn had the ability to shock Vallnam, and regrow itself, and it was able to reactivate inside the Cryo-Pod.  I agree this is an extremely dangerous entity.  And maybe we should not keep the Shard.  Too dangerous."

"Right," agreed Jacob. "But think about it.  If the Shard thawed out in the Cryo-Pod, wouldn't that mean that while we were talking to Dietrich as he was dying with the Shard in him, that the damn thing could have been controlling him?"

"It's a possibility," admitted Ling.

"So if it was controlling him, and let's assume it was, what was it trying to accomplish?"

"The fact that it was making him very ill wasn't very good," offered Vallnam hesitantly.

"Wait," said Ling, "Jacob are you saying it wanted us to get it out of the spaceship and destroy it, along with Dietrich?"

"No, that wouldn't make sense.  Why would it want us to destroy it?  That's not it," answered Jacob impatiently.  "I think that was a byproduct of their plan. It was a sacrifice the entity made to accomplish its goal."

"Ohh," replied Ling and Vallnam at the same time.

"If they have Telepathy, then maybe," Jacob went on, "just maybe, they are in a kind of hive-mind, and they don't care if one or two die, so long as the greater entity achieves its goal.  I think this may have been what happened.  It made a sacrifice play.  It accomplished something.  But what? Why?  What was the objective?"

"That we ignored the rest of it?" suggested Ling.  "That we lowered our guard after that?"

"That could be, and I'd say if that was it, then it worked.  But, let's think about what happened, exactly," pushed Jacob.

"Hmm... well, Dietrich talked to the other technicians on the UFOs," answered Ling. 

"That's right," said Jacob emphatically.

"So, Jacob, you want to incinerate all the technicians now, eh?" asked Vallnam.  "You think we should kill them all?"

"I'm not saying what we should do," answered Jacob.  "I'm saying we need to think about what happened, and figure out what's going on.  And then decide what to do. Here's another fact.  We had two Shards.  If there were other Shards, I'm pretty sure Shadow Hawk would alert us.  So we are dealing with two Shards.  One was in Dietrich, and it's been obliterated.  The other is in the Hermit Jar.  It's still there.  When Dietrich spoke to Johann... well, we know how Telepathy works... you need a bridge to establish the link.  What if the Shard in Dietrich's neck used the radio connection, the hearing of Johan's voice, to create the bridge?  At that moment, the Shard could have established a Telepathic Link to Johann, without the technician even knowing it.  Then, as we were preparing to send poor Dietrich to his doom, the Shard transferred the link to the other Shard in the Hermit Jar before I blasted Dietrich with the Plasma Cannon!  That would leave the Shard in the jar with a telepathic link to Johann, right?  It could have done that.  Right?  Now they have Johan in their orbit."

"Oh wow," replied Ling and Vallnam.

"There's one more thing I want draw to your attention," went on Jacob.  "In my dream this came up several times. Take a look out the porthole.  You see that string of bombs out there?  Gustov, who is my real concern, said that all of the bombs have been removed, remember?  That was this morning.  I happen to overhear him tell you that."

"Yes," replied Ling, "that's what he said.  'The work is completed,' he said."  

"Okay, well, look out the window.  How many bombs do you see?"

Ling and Vallnam counted the long string of bombs floating like tiny glinting diamonds out in the darkness of space.  

"Forty-nine," said Ling.

"Forty-nine," said Vallnam.

"Right.  Where's the damn fiftieth bomb?" asked Jacob pointedly.  There was a pause as each of them thought about the sequence of events that lead up to the current situation.  It was dire.

"Anyway, I'm exhausted," said Jacob finally.  "I really can't stay awake any longer.  It took all my will power just to get this out, really.  So, I'm going to lay down over here to take a nap, and hope I don't have more freaky dreams.  I have to leave this to you guys to figure out from here."  And with that Jacob dusted off the black soot from one of the infirmary beds with a half scorched towel, laid down and closed his eyes.  "There's not a lot of time," he said as he drifted off to sleep.  As his Mind Shield began to dissipate, Ling brought up one of her own.

Vallnam looked at Ling, and said, "If we get together with the technicians and put up a mind shield around the UFOs, would that cut off any Telepathic Links?"

"Yes, it should," replied Ling, as she also began working out what they could do. "No Mind-Waves can pass through a Mind Shield."

"And then we could Mind Read the technicians and find out who, if any, have been in contact with the Entity."

"Yes," replied Ling. "Shadow Hawk herself has powers, as well, right?"

"I do believe so," replied Vallnam, "but they're not exactly like ours.  I sensed earlier there was some unique powers within her, but whatever they are, we must first discover them, and then activate via commands.  Shadow Hawk won't do anything on her own.  We have to provide her instructions."

They started thinking about what powers they could bring to bear.  Mind Shields seemed like they would be very useful in this scenario.  They reviewed how Mind Shields work.  A Mentarian can activate a Mind Shield at a certain radius around themselves.  It acts like a shell, and within the shell, minds can communicate, but nothing can penetrate the shell's surface, going in, or going out.  It contains Mind-Waves and shields against them, both.  Now, interestingly, Mind Shields can intersect each other, and overlap, without being disrupted.  This means that two Mentarians can be at sixty feet distance from each other, and each activate a 40' Mind Shield.  There would be an overlapping area between the two of them at the center point for twenty feet that would be covered by both, into which no mental phenomenon could penetrate, or escape.

"The thing is," said Ling, "once a Telepathic Bridge is created, it can be re-established once the Mind Shield goes down.  So if we isolate the technicians, as soon as the Mind Shield comes down, they'd be exposed again."

"Right," agreed Vallnam.  "after a bridge to a subject has been established, from that point on, you can always recreated the link.  The thing we can't do with Telepathy is to establish bridges to unknown subjects.  Which would explain why, even if there are Telepathic races all over the Galaxy, links aren't being formed between them spontaneously.  You must have a bridge first."

"True," said Ling thoughtfully, "So we can definitely break contact between any affected technicians, and the Entity, using Mind Shields.  We can put one around the Hermit Jar to break that connection.  Second, we Mind Read through the technicians to uncover which of them have been linked to by the Shard, if any.  Now Vallnam, you mentioned you infiltrated Gustov and his team's dreams to dissuade them from rebellion a few days ago, yes?"

"Indeed, I used Psychic Persuasion to do so.  Through their dreams I was able to convince Gustov and the other three in league with him to abandon any idea of rebelling against Federation.  As afterwards the technicians continued to work to complete the dismantling of the bombs and reprogramming the robots, and did so on schedule, I take it that the persuasion was successful."

"Yes," said Ling, "and a few days later, during the work, that's when Dietrich began to thaw out, and that's when the Telepathic Link could have been made.  So halfway through the work, the Shard may have been influencing one or more of the technicians, and most likely Johann, who was the one technician Dietrich actually spoke to."

"We also need to find out where the other bomb is," said Vallnam.  "But what's next?"

"Well, actually," said Ling, "we need to answer three questions.  Who took the bomb?  Where did they put it?  How do we secure it?  I want to find that out before doing anything else."

"Sure," said Vallnam, "but after that?  What do we do?  The problem is not finding the bomb.  Shadow Hawk can detect the radiation of the the bomb, wherever it is.   It is probably hidden in one of the Giant Nuclear Missile Robots out there."

"Good point. That's probably the best hiding place for it... they simply didn't remove it.  But the immediate concern is finding and securing the bomb.  After all, it could detonate any moment, and that would be the end right there.  After that, we can deal with the Entity."

"Yeah, that's right.  We don't want to tip them off before we can secure the bomb, or the Entity might cause its man to blow the bomb, and that, by the way, would probably detonate all of the bombs. And now that we're this close to Earth, the effect of that would be utterly catastrophic.  Total extinction within a year."

"The point is," said Jacob, still with one eyelid half open, "what are we going to do about the Entity that I believe is trying invade Earth, however it can.  That's a major threat.  What are we going to do about that?"

"Yes, that's probably the primary threat," agreed Ling.  "I think Jacob is right. We could use one of the bombs to destroy the Entity on the moon."

"You literally want to blow up the moon?" asked Vallnam.

"Well, the bombs wouldn't likely blow up the moon," responded Ling.

"Think about it," retorted Vallnam. "The Obliterator Robots were using plasma cannons to bore into the moon and create giant lava pools.  After all that, could a five hundred megaton bomb... crack the moon open?"

"I doubt it," said Ling.  "The lava pools were relatively shallow, maybe at most a dozen meters thick.  It wouldn't have disturbed the integrity of the lunar crust to such a degree as that."

"I was under the impression the Obliterators were trying to destroy the moon," said Vallnam.  

"No, I don't think they could do that," said Jacob, rousing himself temporarily.  "At the very worst, the Obliterators could have bored a couple of hundred meters, given enough time and energy.  But their goal was to destroy Eisenhelm, not the entire moon.  I'm pretty sure that even if they had that in mind, the Obliterators wouldn't have had the ability to do anything close to that.  From what I understood, their goal was to melt the lunar rock beneath Eisenhelm's foundations enough to cause it to sink into the lava.  But destroy the moon itself?  I don't think even the Nazis could have been that ambitious."

"Ah, well, in that case, I guess the Cobalt bombs wouldn't destroy the moon," concluded Vallnam.  "I thought they had been boring into the core of the moon."

"Right," said Jacob as he drifted back toward sleep.

"The threat the Entity poses is extraordinary," said Vallnam.  "I mean what if it got its hooks into Brain V?"

"That's a nasty thought," replied Ling. "But chances are, there is no way for the Entity to attack Brain V, or anyone else other than us, at least thus far.  We're the only target of opportunity it has at this point.  Remember, it has to have a bridge to link to others.  It can't just reach out and find random targets."

"We could take the Shard outside the solar system and send it off into space," suggested Vallnam again.  "That would protect our little corner of the universe."

"Why not just destroy the Shard, and the Entity, and eliminate the entire threat at once?" asked Ling, curious why Vallnam seemed to have forgotten that they'd already refuted his suggestion the first time.

"To be honest, I'm wary of going back to the moon.  Something just doesn't seem right about it, you know?" answered Vallnam sheepishly.  Something about the idea of returning to the moon had deeply disturbed him, but he didn't know why.

"The main threat is the Entity on the moon," repeated Ling.  "The Shard is like just a tiny piece of the thing.  The real threat is crawling around in the ruins of Eisenhelm.  That's the real threat.  Even if we get rid of the Shard, sending it off into space, to whatever destiny it has out there, the Entity on the moon would still be trying to find ways to get to Earth, right?  Don't we have to deal with that?"

"I guess.  But isn't it beyond us?" asked Vallnam.  "I mean what about all of our exploring the galaxy and stuff?  Doesn't that make the issue with the Entity a bit trivial by comparison?"

"I don't see how," rasped Jacob, roused again with great effort.  "If the Entity does find its way to Earth, the results will not be trivial at all.  I can guarantee that."

"Are we sure a bomb would incinerate the Entity?" asked Vallnam. 

Jacob replied with difficulty. "You remember that movie Aliens?  Remember when she said 'I say we nuke the site from orbit.  It's the only way to be sure.'?  Well, now's our chance to make good on that point.  This creature is too dangerous to leave alive."

"Ok, if everyone else wants to blow up the moon," Vallnam replied at last, "I'm ok with it.  But I'm not sure this would destroy it.  What if it blows shards of it out into space and it survives, and winds up raining thousands of tiny Entities down onto the Earth?"

"I'll tell you my opinion." said Jacob, "A five hundred megaton bomb over Eisenhelm would melt the entire site down to slag, and no matter how resilient the Entity is, it will be completely incinerated.  Nothing will be left of it but a few ashes submerged in radioactive lava.  I think it's the only way to ensure this thing doesn't escape.  I say use the bomb.  Use all the bombs."

"Well," replied Vallnam, "that may be true, but it would also mean killing your girlfriend, Hanna, and other survivors there."

"Ah, yeah," said Jacob as he faded back toward sleep, "that's the hard part for me.  I actually admired Hanna, a lot, and for a moment, well... ah, damn.  Never mind that.  But yes, maybe, we could rescue her first, and then nuke the site."

"For all we know, she's already defeated the damn thing," replied Vallnam.

"Hard to imagine," whispered Jacob as his eyes closed.

"Well, with all those killer robots, and everything, who knows?" asked Vallnam rhetorically.  "She does have that Duridium suit.  Maybe we should reach out to her first.  But once we go down that rabbit hole, well, that's a hell of a rabbit hole, isn't it?"

"Yeah," sighed Ling. "Is it better to nuke them all, and eliminate the risk, or try to rescue a handful of enemies first, and then risk that somehow the Entity winds up escaping before we can destroy it?  And don't forget, they still may have some UFOs remaining in Eisenhelm.  Oh god."

"That's a good point," said Jacob with a shudder.  "It's is a tough moral dilemma.  I'm sure that we could nuke the site, and eliminate the threat of the Entity once and for all.  But at the cost of murdering Hanna, and whomever else may have survived the destruction of Eisenhelm?  I'm too tired to think any more about it.  I really can't decide anything.  That's why I'm leaving it to you guys.  I'm going to sleep."

And with that Jacob closed his eyes and slipped back into dreamland...

And that is where we left things that evening.

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