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Chapter Six: All Hands on Deck

Psychie

Princess Psychie
With all of the warnings to do nothing, Toph knew it couldn't be good. Seeing that they were in the cryosleep room, she does her best to put on her doctor hat and stand impassively, thinking back to that one day during her residency where there was a factory explosion and the casualties were just pouring in. A part of her mind just wanted to scream in terror at the bloody and broken horrors being brought in, but there was no time. Lives depended on everyone at the hospital doing their part, even the young Dr. Kirin. She had to keep that level of impassioned objectivity in mind, no matter what.

Besides, something in the back of her mind told her what she was about to see.

Once the tube emerged from the floor and the glass warmed up enough to see inside, her heart jumped. She was right. Mom. Looking much older than she remembered, but hell, this ship was from far in the future, right? Marshaling her will, she did not just leap forward to the tube, but instead did her best to calmly step forward, clutching firmly to that doctor's hat. Her eyes dance over the readouts, taking in the overwhelming level of trauma that was done to her. "My God . . . "

Toph felt that her face was wet, but ignored the tears for a moment as she struggled with her emotions. Zyorna was alive. She was alive. And if I do anything right now, I could kill her. I must leave her in the cryotube. Taking a deep breath, she quickly wipes her face and turns to look at Piper and Cera. "Thank you for showing me this. Please, tell me what happened. How did she get hurt?"
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Piper handed MechaKitten to Sam. "Sam, carry Trouble and stay with me."
This, Elinor decided, ought to be MechaKitten's offical callsign. She'd be sure and tell Shirley and the others later.

Wwarlock took every opportunity to sniff and examine you.
Elinor offered her hand, not to pet (she remembered Piper had told them not to) but with the same air she would if she were offering it to a human to shake.

Marshaling her will, she did not just leap forward to the tube, but instead did her best to calmly step forward, clutching firmly to that doctor's hat.
Elinor stayed beside Toph, ready to do whatever was needed, though she thought the half-Meltrandi seemed to have control of herself for the moment. She only glanced at the woman inside the hypersleep tube, just enough to take in the bandaged-but-clearly-horrific injuries, then turned her focus back to her squadmate. Silently she slipped her hand inside Toph's and squeezed, then relaxed enough that if Toph wanted her to let go, all she had to do was twitch her hand away. But if, on the other hand, Toph didn't want her to let go, Elinor was there for her.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Game Master note: Get ready for a Robotech: Broadsword-style history lesson from the future, Gang!)

Elinor offered her hand, not to pet (she remembered Piper had told them not to) but with the same air she would if she were offering it to a human to shake.
Wwarlock's jaws were large enough to swallow the offered hand, but all Elinor got was the cold wet tip of that black nose as Wwarlock snuffled. Then the furry fellow looked back to Piper. Piper nodded and gave a small grin.

* * *​

As Toph took her breath, she found Cera beside her. The Ura-Meltrandi was holding something up to Toph's face. It was the same cloth she had offered to Mario. "Now your face is leaking." Cera began to pad Toph's face dry as if Toph's crying were some kind of mechanical malfunction. Her gaze went from Toph to Mario. "Keep this up and you will dehydrate yourselves..."

Taking a deep breath, she quickly wipes her face and turns to look at Piper and Cera. "Thank you for showing me this. Please, tell me what happened. How did she get hurt?"
Cera thought about Toph's question and replied curtly. "I do not know."

Acting-Captain Piper's voice sounded drained, but she appeared greatly relieved when Toph kept her self-control. "You've got your mother's discipline, that's for sure. Thanks for not going all bonkers." Wwarlock purposely strode over to Toph and sat her hind legs down beside her. She sniffed Toph and then looked back to Piper, his big pink tongue lolling from his toothy mouth. Together, they seemed to communicate silently.

"Um," Piper waved. "You're free to pet Wwarlock now if you want to. He doesn't mind and... petting him helps calm me down."

Because this pupper is cool like that! Just look at that face! =)
dogcoloredpencilsredditdotcom.jpg
(Image credit: Dog Colored Pencils )

""Commander Kirin... Your mom is... well... the last thing I remember was... wait. That's not going to work. Okay. A little backstory, all right?

Piper clasped her hands took a deep breath. She spoke calmly but awkwardly as she tried to explain the impossible. "Okay, here goes. Out in space, there's this place we discovered called the Black Binary. As far as our scientists could figure, long ago, it was a pair of binary stars that collapsed simultaneously under their own weight and formed into two black holes, each mouth facing opposite each other. Unique, right? Well, get this. Between them is a one-of-a-kind vortex that rotates in both directions at once - a third black hole we call 'the Black Binary Vortex.' Now, remember your science classes. In theory, all things change in a black hole, right? Time ceases. Space distorts into something incomprehensible. But Admiral Hunter had some kind of evidence that time travel and folding space were possible at the same time if one survived the journey. So, we set a course. The Invid had feared the Black Binary for reasons we didn't understand, but they found out and sure as hell tried to stop our fleet from entering it. Hence, our battle.

"So... our captain. That's Captain Drake of the Broadsword. Secretly a Traverser. I mean, he told us as his crew and showed us how it all worked, but the rest of the REF has no idea they even exist. Just us on the Broadsword. Kinda makes us feel special, right?

"The battle is going badly for us. Just too many enemies, too many bogies. We're outnumbered at least 16-to-1. We don't have a choice - the SDF-3's main gun has to even the odds, but when they try to fire it, the damn thing fails. Just quits. From all the chatter on the battle network, we realized the SDF-3's computer system had overloaded. So, it's either fire or die, right? What does ol' Captain Drake do? He's onboard that Horizon-class vessel we recovered, floating beside us and alone. So, he says 'you're in charge now, Zyorna' and 'keep fighting the good fight' and flies himself straight to the nose of the SDF-3. Every second counts, right? So, now Commander Zyorna's in charge and we're all shooting and fighting and helplessly watching all this. Traverser Drake doesn't inform High Command; he just goes and does it. He parks the Horizon right at the tip of the SDF-3's main cannon, spaces himself in his mega-suit, and right there in space, he takes off his glove and touches the SDF-3 with his bare skin.

"Not two seconds later, the damned main gun fired!

"The first thing it killed was Captain Drake. Then it obliterated such a swath of the Invid to allow us to turn tail and enter the Black Binary Vortex. That's the short of backstory.

Piper paused to get a grip. "Wild Cards, the last thing I remember was our REF fleet heading straight into the Black Binary. We thought hypersleep was the best way for our crew to survive the journey so we were ordered to the cryogenics chamber. The commander was putting us all into hypersleep, especially our wounded. Then she left to the bridge to get the last of the crew. I'm in my tube slowly falling to sleep. I felt the ship shudder. I asked Sam what had happened. He said the Broadsword had been fired upon by enemy vessels. I remembered we were the lead ship. The Invid had scored multiple direct hits on the bridge. There was an explosive decompression warning. Location? Bridge. Sam sealed it up somehow. Next thing I know, I'm falling asleep and there's all of the Sams and Samanthas running all over the place. They open the cryo-chamber next to mine and in goes a badly-damaged crewmate. It's... it's Commander Kirin! Without Drake and without her, we're just so fucked!

"I didn't realize I was in charge until I woke up. Oh yeah. You saw all of that." Piper addressed all of you, especially Toph. "So, look. Even before today, the commander was a superhero on the Broadsword, okay? We love her. She's totally badass. You know she's the First Lisara-Meltrandi to command an REF starship? Ever. And Sam? And Samantha? You know how they act all Asian, right? Know why? The captain wanted a personality for them and the commander - get this - offers for them to take on mannerisms similar to one Hiroshi Kirin! That's your dad, right? The guy you just toasted to? That's why the Sams and Samanthas act the way they do! They're modeled after him!

"But I now have command. So... don't take this the wrong way, but if the commander weren't critically-injured and in hypersleep right now, I'd want to put her in there myself." Piper grinned Toph's way and slumped against the cryogenic machine and stared into memories past. "Fuck if I know what to do. No fleet. No Admiral Hunter. No Vice Admiral Hunter. Not even a Horizon-class vessel to run supplies for us. Which we're critically-low on. In a word - fucked!"

Piper looked up. "So... I understand if you guys want to bail out and go back to the ASC. Go get your lives back."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario looks at Toph with a new appreciation. With a low voice, he says, "Well, that explains how you are such a badass, LT, taking after your mom and dad the way you do. Now, I'm no doctor, but, what is Zyorna's prognosis? She's obviously alive in there, but is there a chance for a recovery?"
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Toph gives Elinor's hand a tight squeeze, and make no effort to pull it free. That simple human touch was something that she needed right now. Then there is Cera and Mario. Between the two of them, it brings a bark of laughter out of her. "Thank you, guys. Thank you for telling me what you can, Commander Piper. It helps to know that my mother was such a stand up member of the crew, that she was respected enough to be in a position to be placed in command of the ship when Captain Drake made his sacrifice for the Fleet."

Taking a closer look at the numbers, Toph continues to wear her doctor hat in her effort to try and answer Mario's question. "I can't really say, Mario. If this were to happen in any emergency room that I know of, she would have already been dead. It is only thanks to the advanced medtech of the Broadsword that is keeping her alive at all. I . . . just don't know what her chances for recovery are."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario nods in understanding. "Well, ma'am, she is alive now, and from what I understand, every moment that she stays that way, the better it is for her. It gives her body a chance to knit back together. Don't worry, ma'am. If she is half as much of a trooper as we have heard, she will come out of this."

Looking over at Piper, Mario says, "Ma'am, I am only a lowly corporal that is probably out of a job, but I didn't volunteer for just the easy days. If the Broadsword needs me, I am here for you. I'm just not one of the big, brainy officer types to know what I can do to make a difference, but hell. If I gotta go down, I'm goin' down swingin' to the outfield with everything I got. Just point me in the right direction, and I'll do the rest!"
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Toph is feeling rather subdued at the sight of her mother lying there in the tube, knowing that soon enough she is going to have to have a good cry. But right now, there is still work to be done. She turns to Elinor and gives her a full on hug, giving her a good squeeze before releasing her before giving Mario a gentle touch to the shoulder in silent thanks for his kind words.

She then looks at Commander Piper. "Ma'am, I had to say goodbye to my mother once before, thinking that I would never see her again. Now that she is back on Earth, I will not be losing her if I have anything to say about it. But, like Mario has said, with as big of a challenge as the Invid sound like they are, I just don't see what a squad of Traversers can do to make a difference, but I will move heaven and earth to do what I can to stop them and save as many people as possible."

"In the meantime, I would like to get up to speed on your medical technology. If there is anything that can be done to help the injured crew here on the Broadsword, I want to be a part of it. Another point of view might just be able to offer up a new approach that your current docs have not tried."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
He parks the Horizon right at the tip of the SDF-3's main cannon, spaces himself in his mega-suit, and right there in space, he takes off his glove and touches the SDF-3 with his bare skin.
Elinor's eyes widen and her jaw drops just a little. That was just too badass. She hoped she could someday be as brave and dedicated as Captain --Traverser -- Drake, and she wished she could have known him.

That's why the Sams and Samanthas act the way they do! They're modeled after him!
Elinor was about to say something, then snapped her mouth shut, eyes narrowing in sudden suspicion of a certain professor in the briefing room who had somehow been unsurprised to find that sake was available. To say nothing of knowing about the Broadsword ahead of time. Just how much did Stein know about all this, anyway? And by all that was holy, how??

She turns to Elinor and gives her a full on hug, giving her a good squeeze before releasing her before giving Mario a gentle touch to the shoulder in silent thanks for his kind words.
Elinor hugged back, just as if Toph was her sister. They might as well have been, after all, between being squadmates, fellow Traversers, and just good people together.

Piper looked up. "So... I understand if you guys want to bail out and go back to the ASC. Go get your lives back."
Fuck that. Elinor paused a moment to reply with a somewhat edited (and more explanatory) version of her initial thought. "Ma'am, I -- we -- didn't sign up for just the easy times. Sam says you need Traversers. Well, here we are, plus the guys and gals waiting in the briefing room. Everyone's got their own reasons for joining the military, but me, I did it because Earth needed me, and I had skills and abilities not a lot of people had that could be put to use defending our home. So, this week I find out I've got an extra one I didn't know about before. Traversing. And that's way rarer than being a Valkyrie test pilot. How can I not help? How can I live with myself knowing I had what was needed and just walked away?" She shook her head. "I can't. You need me, you've got me. And when you 'n Toph are ready, we can head down and you can meet the part of the team that ain't Wild Cards, but are here to help all the same."
 
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Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Now, I'm no doctor, but, what is Zyorna's prognosis? She's obviously alive in there, but is there a chance for a recovery?"
Acting-Captain Piper shrugged and gave the machine a dark mournful look. "Hell, I don't know." Piper put her hand on the unit. "Sam wouldn't have put her in there if she were a corpse. So... she's got a fighting chance. Sure as hell better than the chance Captain Drake got." Without looking away, she ordered. "Sam?"

Sam approached and showed her "his" tablet. This time, Piper was calm enough to read it. As her forest-green eyes examined the text, she nodded and the screen went blank. Piper said, "If she wasn't full-blooded Lisara-Meltrandi, she'd probably be dead. Most humans can't take the kind of punishment she did. Apparently, she was caught in an explosion that penetrated the bulkhead. Sam saved her life by sealing it and getting her down here on time. Now... What were you saying about--" she looked back at the tablet. "Her best shot is... probably just staying in there. There's a special serum derived from a special brand of isotope called "Ice 9" or "Isotope 9. It's main function is to put a Zentraedi's immune system and healing factor on overdrive for a short time. The big problem?" Piper looked at Toph and frowned. "The year is 2025 and it hasn't been invented yet in this time."

Piper sighed. "So for now, she stays."

Piper raised her chin. The cryogenic tube slowly slid back into its mechanical housing, safe, secure, and stable. Shirley, Cera, Piper, and Wwarlock silently watched the tube sheathe itself while MechaKitten watched all of you. Then it closed and Commander Zyorna Kirin was out of sight in hypersleep.

Shirley took one more look at the cryogenic chamber and gave a troubled sigh. She approached Toph and took her aside for a moment, just the two of them. "Hey," the Californian patted Toph on the arm and spoke with the utmost sincerity, "this can't be easy for you. If you need time off... for anything... just let me know and I'll make it happen. Okay?"

"But, like Mario has said, with as big of a challenge as the Invid sound like they are, I just don't see what a squad of Traversers can do to make a difference, but I will move heaven and earth to do what I can to stop them and save as many people as possible."
"That's exactly what Traversers do..." Piper said. "They move heaven and earth in ways no one else can."

Cera nodded humorlessly. "Even the Ura-Meltrandi knew of Captain Horatio Drake. He was a strong part of the Broadsword's success for he seemed to know the ship like no one else. In the history of the Ura-Meltrandi, there has never been a recording of our number of Traversers being together at one time."

"THE TIME WAS PERFECT," Sam displayed on "his" tablet.

"In the meantime, I would like to get up to speed on your medical technology. If there is anything that can be done to help the injured crew here on the Broadsword, I want to be a part of it. Another point of view might just be able to offer up a new approach that your current docs have not tried."
Piper raised her hands as Wwarlock returned to her side and pushed his big snout up against her hip. "Look, I appreciate what you Wild Cards are trying to do, but I've got a hell of a lot on my plate right now, okay? Everyone's on ice so medical isn't required, but I have to thaw them. You want to help out? Let's start with survival. Sam says we're critically low on all resources - and that includes food. We have to solve that first." Piper immediately spun and turned in the direction of observation room. "Come on," she said downcast, but with a motivated stride.
Shirley asked. "Where are we headed, ma'am?"

"Call me Piper or... Captain." Piper croaked the last word while Wwarlock kept within arm's reach of her at all times. "We're headed to the central hangar bay. Sam? Have everyone from the briefing room pack up what they're doing and meet us there. Wild Cards, you mentioned other Traversers and people on board, right? Including a Scrath? Well, Scrath are hunters. You Wild Cards call this timeline home. Hopefully we're also in or near a place with natural resources..." She glanced at Sam. "Where'd you say we were again?"

"WE ARE NOW NEAR THE CENTER OF THE GULF OF MEXICO."

"Where?" Piper shook her head.

"A GIGANTIC SALT WATER BASIN CONNECTED TO THE ATLANTIC OCEAN, LOCATED OFF OF THE SOUTHEASTERN COAST OF NORTH AMERICA AND EASTERLY OF CENTRAL AMERICA."

"Uh, yeah. A whole lot of water." You found yourselves on the elevator going down again. "So," Piper glanced around at you, "while we figure out how we're going to eat, what else is on your agenda, Wild Cards?"
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Elinor let the others go ahead, taking the rear as they left the room. For some reason, Piper's words had suddenly irritated the heck out of her. What we're "trying to do"? What we're "trying to do" is your mission, missy! And since we hardly know the half of it yet, we're offering whatever help we know how to do! She shook her head, trying to calm down. Probably it was just the Jameson talking. Or maybe the accumulated frustration of a mission where their CO was apparently trying to sabotage them, all the shocks of Ura-Meltrandi, Zeki-Zentraedi, Scrath, and Wargoths along the way, not to mention Booty's death, plus the whole "life as we know it is threatened, but You Can Save Us" thing, on top of being a Traverser -- hell, knowing Traversing was even a thing -- for less than 48 hours. All of which she might've informed Piper of, if she hadn't been able to keep in mind that the acting-captain's day had been even worse.

A stray thought reminded her of the Nexus, or was that Nexuses (Nexusi?) that she was part of, and she gave in to the impulse to make use of it. She thought of Professor Stein, forming his image in her mind, then thought at him directly. "Professor, Broadsword's acting captain has asked that you all meet us in the central hangar bay. One of Sam's fellows will probably be there in a moment to guide you." For whatever reason, she didn't feel the need to mention this out loud. She wasn't sure whether it was residual "Attitude," as her mother would have termed it, or not wanting to bother Piper (after all, she was just duplicating via the Nexus what Samantha or someone was probably already saying). Or just not wanting to enter into another round of explanations. This one could wait.

As could her reply to Piper's last question. Elinor, personally, didn't have an agenda at the moment other than seeing what the briefing room thinkers had come up with, and they were already on their way to meet them.

"Fishing's probably best to start with," she said finally. "I'm not up on ocean techniques, but some of the freshwater experience I've got should translate."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Quick as a flash, Elinor heard Professor Stein's voice come through the binary nexus and into in her mind and hers alone. His baritone English-accented voice was every bit as smooth, confident, and motivated as it was when they had met at the Assembly. "Yes, yes indeed and I dearly thank you for the communication," he mused. "Samantha just displayed the order and we are on the move to you. Elinor, you will be pleased to know we have come up with a number of solutions on our end involving food and your families. But a few words of warning. Do trod carefully with this Acting-Captain Bethany Piper. Handle like eggs. I imagine the girl will be a bit... fragile... ready to crack due to emotional strain. I recommend keeping her Wwarlock within reach until she has settled in, give her lots of reassurance sprinkled with facts, and like Murphy before his morning coffee, do not take anything Captain Piper says personally while we figure out just what kind of 'coffee' she takes."

Einor felt Professor Stein display to her the unmistakable feeling of his confidence in her coupled with a feeling of happiness and total readiness for the challenges that lie ahead of them. Elinor heard amusement in his voice as he asked her, "Tall orders these, but nothing out of the reach of a daring, death-defying farm girl of your experience, are they?"

* * *​

"Fishing's probably best to start with," she said finally. "I'm not up on ocean techniques, but some of the freshwater experience I've got should translate."
The lines on Piper's face made her look more weary than she was attempting to put on. She paused and reached a shaky hands toward MechaKitten's steely hide and Wwarlock's thick and beautiful fur. "'Fishing?'" It was almost as if the word were something she had heard out of a fairy tale. "We're over a big, big body of water, yeah, I guess that's a good start, but..." Piper looked at all of you except Cera, "...any of you have any idea how to go about it?"

Shirley replied. "Sure! First you use line and bait and if that doesn't work," Shirley grinned, "you use grenades!"

Piper's eyes got wide and she stopped stroking Wwarlock.

"Uh, that was my attempt at lightening the mood around here," she added sheepishly. The leaders then shared a nervous laugh and resumed.

Piper asked. "I take it you're new to leadership too?"

"Hey, after going face-to-face with the Zeki-Zentraedi, Ura-Meltrandi, General Steele, all topped off with nuclear explosions (yes, that's plural!), we've survived two whole days under my command! I can't wait to see what happens next!" Shirley gave a half-frown, half-smile of complete uncertainty. She raised her hands in mock-exuberance and then let them fall as if deeply tired. This little show got Piper to laugh a little. The lines in her face receded and Wwarlock wagged his tail while MechaKitten hopped down from Piper's shoulder and batted at it.

"Thanks, all of you." Piper smiled. "I think I needed that. So... uh... these other people I'm about to meet... and the scrath... what can you tell me about them? I mean, who are they and why are they on board my ship?"

Cera looked as if she were about to make some smart-aleck comment, but she remembered Shirley Mackenzie's order and wisely remained silent.
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Elinor felt Professor Stein display to her the unmistakable feeling of his confidence in her coupled with a feeling of happiness and total readiness for the challenges that lie ahead of them. Elinor heard amusement in his voice as he asked her, "Tall orders these, but nothing out of the reach of a daring, death-defying farm girl of your experience, are they?"
Elinor wondered if she'd let some of her own (rather less pleasant) feelings leak out, but the advice was good and not far from what her own better self would have said, if she'd listened to it. Besides which, the humor helped her feel a lot better, as did his clear trust in her. Smiling, she replied on that direct-to-Stein "channel," "Yessir. I do feel for the poor girl. I'll do my best. See you soon."

Her smile widened into a grin at Shirley's antics. "I'll hold some lessons in proper fishing if need be," she said. "Don't think y'all need any instructions on grenades, though." She winked, then got a little more serious (but not too much). "Well, first I'll mention Colonel Sharp. He is, or maybe was, Eglin base's second in command, before he got put under house arrest on our behalf." She paused, then added, "Um, let me know if you have any questions? I'm starting with the short version so a lot is getting skipped over. It's been awfully busy the past couple days." She waited to see if Piper had any questions, or if any of the others wanted to speak up too.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Captain Piper's face took on a look of disbelief. "This Colonel Sharp of yours got busted on your behalf? But... aren't you dead?" Then she shook her red mane. "Wait. Sorry. That's your business and I've no right to pry. What I'm asking you is... are there any other surprises I should know about before we meet?

Piper opened up a little to Elinor. "I have to admit to you - when I asked for your agenda, I was half-expecting something like, 'go beat up this douchebag General Steele and restore our rightful names.' I guess I want to help you all too. But I sure wasn't expecting fishing. You Wild Cards are more laid-back than I thought.

Piper held her forehead. "Everything is just so confusing right now. I don't know how the... remaining crew... is going to react to all of this. All I know is that I have to gather all the information I can before I confront them with it." She sighed the sigh of the soul-weary. "They will deal with it a lot better if they hear it all from me.

"So yeah. Any other surprises I ought to know?"
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario thinks about what has been going on in the past few days, and is at a loss as to what to say. "Well, ma'am, I may not have much to offer you, but I can say that my dad, Drill Staff Sergeant Kevin Zuko, is a skilled Destroid pilot stationed up at Monument City. I don't think that he's a Traverser like I am, at least, I have never seen any evidence of it, but he could be a valuable help to us, even without his Tomahawk. If you need a skilled mecha handler, even one used to 'out dated' equipment, all I need to do is give him a call and let him know the sitch of what is going on. He may just decide to jump ship and sign up with us, to be a part of something bigger than just himself."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Thinking further on it, Mario says, "I can tell you this much, though. If you are looking for a top-notch officer to place your trust in, Colonel Sharp is that man. This may seem strange, but ever since I first met him, I have had the feeling of being . . . connected . . . to him. Somehow. As if in a past life we served together in another military, facing off together against some unknown foe. I place my utter trust in him, and that is a rare thing. Ma'am, he can be of a major help to you if you give him the chance to do so."
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Sam approached and showed her "his" tablet. This time, Piper was calm enough to read it. As her forest-green eyes examined the text, she nodded and the screen went blank. Piper said, "If she wasn't full-blooded Lisara-Meltrandi, she'd probably be dead. Most humans can't take the kind of punishment she did. Apparently, she was caught in an explosion that penetrated the bulkhead. Sam saved her life by sealing it and getting her down here on time. Now... What were you saying about--" she looked back at the tablet. "Her best shot is... probably just staying in there. There's a special serum derived from a special brand of isotope called "Ice 9" or "Isotope 9. It's main function is to put a Zentraedi's immune system and healing factor on overdrive for a short time. The big problem?" Piper looked at Toph and frowned. "The year is 2025 and it hasn't been invented yet in this time."
Toph is deep in thought at this. "Captain? What can you tell me of this Ice 9? Do your computers have data on it? If so, there may be a way for us to synthesize some of it in order to bring my mother back from the brink. From what I've seen of this ship, it has to be possible for us to make some sort of strides in this direction, especially with the knowledge of its existence."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
"I can tell you this much, though. If you are looking for a top-notch officer to place your trust in, Colonel Sharp is that man."
Piper seemed to take Mario's words to heart. "Sounds like one heck of a guy. I can't wait to meet him."

Toph is deep in thought at this. "Captain? What can you tell me of this Ice 9? Do your computers have data on it? If so, there may be a way for us to synthesize some of it in order to bring my mother back from the brink. From what I've seen of this ship, it has to be possible for us to make some sort of strides in this direction, especially with the knowledge of its existence."
Piper folded her arms. It was clear she dearly missed Commander Kirin, especially right now. "I gave you everything Sam has on the serum. Ice 9 is the one component we need to make it; we have everything else in medbay.

"The only other things I know about it are it's not of human design. Ice 9 is our name for it; we don't know its proper name. Either the Zeki-Zentraedi made it, Taniya's people did, or they got the isotope from the Robotech Masters. Again, Ice 9 comes from our time, not yours. Damned if I know how we're going to get our hands on any. But If any of you come up with any ideas, don't keep it to yourselves." Piper gazed at Toph. "Right now, I imagine I want my commander back about as much as you want your mom - pretty darned bad."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Elinor nodded. "We'll keep it in mind. Maybe some of the others have an idea about it? And on that note..."

Since no one else had offered to continue the roster, and Piper hadn't asked any specific questions about them (just the one about surprises), she resumed the list herself.

"When we picked up Colonel Sharp, we also got Master Sergeant Murphy, one of the other Traversers. He's got PTSD where Meltrandi are concerned, but he's trying to work on it. He seems pretty solid otherwise. Colonel Sharp seems to rely on him. That's it for military.

"Moving on to the civilians: Professor Stein is another Traverser, a really nice guy, and head of Project Eternity, a civilian United Earth Government group. I don't know a lot about them, but they're clearly on our side, and have a lot of brain power to call on. Like Dr. Hitomi Yashida. She isn't a Traverser, but she knows a lot about technopathy all the same.

"Then there's Reggie, our seventh Traverser, though he's just a kid." Her expression grew more serious. "His dad was the Booty we just toasted to up on the bridge. I don't know much more about him than that, although I think he's got some kind of medical condition, so that and his age oughta keep him out of combat as much as we can help.

"Finally there's Iris, the scrath. Her actual designation was "Unit One," but we call her Iris because it's more friendly. She's, well, very motherly. We didn't know what scrath were when we met, so I didn't have any preconceptions except "that's a great big bug!", but we've gotten along real well. She's also able to link us Traversers in something called a Nexus that allows us to speak to each other telepathically, which has come in real handy."

Elinor smiled. "Professor Stein can do that too. And speaking of, he says they've come up with several ideas for food and about reassuring our families that we aren't really dead, so there's that. Also, I don't know who came up with it -- might even have been Professor Stein, he's a gadgeteer -- but they've got earpieces that let non-Traversers in on the mental Nexus." She thought for a moment, searching her brain for the aforementioned surprises. "MechaKitten you know about already, somehow. Or maybe it's weirder that we had him before we found Broadsword, I dunno. Anyway, we've made him an official Wild Card, but none of the others are, just us that you've got with you right now. We're all on the same team, though."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Piper took a deep breath and tried to digest all of this news. "Are you an Intelligence Officer?" she asked. "That was the best laid-out briefing I've ever seen! I'm going to need a moment."

Captain Piper reached over and touched the emergency stop button on the elevator. The elevator obeyed immediately and came to a calm halt.

"When we picked up Colonel Sharp, we also got Master Sergeant Murphy, one of the other Traversers. He's got PTSD where Meltrandi are concerned, but he's trying to work on it. He seems pretty solid otherwise. Colonel Sharp seems to rely on him. That's it for military.
"He is welcome to join the club. There are a number of us who have horrors in our souls put there by the Invid."

"Moving on to the civilians: Professor Stein is another Traverser, a really nice guy, and head of Project Eternity, a civilian United Earth Government group. I don't know a lot about them, but they're clearly on our side, and have a lot of brain power to call on. Like Dr. Hitomi Yashida. She isn't a Traverser, but she knows a lot about technopathy all the same.
Piper scratched her head. "Project Eternity? What's that? I hope your Dr. Yashida is open to questions about Traversing because I have a lot myself."

"Then there's Reggie, our seventh Traverser, though he's just a kid." Her expression grew more serious. "His dad was the Booty we just toasted to up on the bridge. I don't know much more about him than that, although I think he's got some kind of medical condition, so that and his age oughta keep him out of combat as much as we can help.
"Another orphan, huh? He's in the right place too. As long as he's old enough to behave, we'll be all right."

"Finally there's Iris, the scrath. Her actual designation was "Unit One," but we call her Iris because it's more friendly. She's, well, very motherly. We didn't know what scrath were when we met, so I didn't have any preconceptions except "that's a great big bug!", but we've gotten along real well. She's also able to link us Traversers in something called a Nexus that allows us to speak to each other telepathically, which has come in real handy."
Piper blanched at this news. "They're telepathic?! No wonder! Are you saying you've talked with a scrath? And she's motherly?" Piper didn't seem to know what to make of that.

Elinor smiled. "Professor Stein can do that too. And speaking of, he says they've come up with several ideas for food and about reassuring our families that we aren't really dead, so there's that. Also, I don't know who came up with it -- might even have been Professor Stein, he's a gadgeteer -- but they've got earpieces that let non-Traversers in on the mental Nexus."
Piper suddenly brightened at this news. "Gadgeteer? Is that anything like a micro-engineer?" Elinor, being an engineer herself, knew the terms were synonymous. "Boy," Captain Piper grinned dreamily, "wouldn't that be something?"

Shirley couldn't help but ask. "What's up?"

"Oh, so totally wonderful if he were in any way related to Fat Gandalf." Piper chuckled and rubbed on Wwarlock while MechaKitten made jealous faces at her. "Crazy name, right? Captain Drake adores... er... adored an engineer named Albert Stein and his many books on microtechnology. We wouldn't have the Sams or Samanthas without his works."

Behind Piper, Sam stiffened as if absolutely stunned. Mack gawked and Cera simply grinned the Ura-Meltrandi do when they are confident of something, but Piper missed all of this.

She thought for a moment, searching her brain for the aforementioned surprises. "MechaKitten you know about already, somehow. Or maybe it's weirder that we had him before we found Broadsword, I dunno. Anyway, we've made him an official Wild Card, but none of the others are, just us that you've got with you right now. We're all on the same team, though."
"'MechaKitten??'"

Piper looked down at the metallic feline. MechaKitten's ears and tail flew up in surprise. The next thing you knew, he was trying to hide himself behind his fellow squadmates, Toph and Mario.

"Is that the name you're trying to go by now?" Bending down to look at his face, Piper's hands were on her hips now. "Just what have you been telling these people, Trouble?"

But for once the feline fellow was quiet.

"Seriously, you have no idea the amount of chaos this little guy has caused us. Thanks a bunch for the intel," Piper said, especially to Elinor. She motioned behind her to Sam and the elevator resumed its smooth descent.
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
"Are you an Intelligence Officer?" she asked. "That was the best laid-out briefing I've ever seen! I'm going to need a moment."
Elinor chuckled. "Nah, just an engineer. We try to be concise."

Piper suddenly brightened at this news. "Gadgeteer? Is that anything like a micro-engineer?"
"Same thing," Elinor confirmed.

"Oh, so totally wonderful if he were in any way related to Fat Gandalf." Piper chuckled and rubbed on Wwarlock while MechaKitten made jealous faces at her. "Crazy name, right? Captain Drake adores... er... adored an engineer named Albert Stein and his many books on microtechnology.
Elinor stared for a moment, then burst out laughing. "That's him! You'll be meeting him yourself in just a few." I wish I could read his books, she thought to herself. Wonder if he brought any? Then her eyes widened slightly as an even more strange thought occurred to her. Hmm, wonder if Broadsword has any? Not Captain Drake's copies, though I'm sure he had some. That's just... I don't know, weird. Maybe if Piper offers sometime, but I don't want to just spring it on her. Feels like grave-robbing.

Thanks a bunch for the intel," Piper said, especially to Elinor.
"No problem," Elinor replied. "Anytime you want the long version, just say the word." She bent down to scoop up Trouble and cuddle him. Upside-down, of course, so that belly tickles could be a thing. "His name's Trouble, you say? Seems appropriate, though he has made himself useful here and there. In unexpected ways, but that's cats for you."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
O.K. We're going with the "Let's Learn About Technopathy!" path. This is a three-parter so let's get to it!

When Elinor lifted him up, Trouble mock-complained for the entire ride. Until she finally stopped cuddling him. Then he looked back at her with big eyes as if to say, "You don't have to stop!" If she resumed, he just mock-complained some more.

As the elevator cruised on, Captain Piper's eyes were about as green as any of you had ever seen them when Elinor brought up the facts about Fat Gandalf. "You-- You're pulling my leg! He's here? HERE?!"

Shirley smoothed back her curly black hair and grinned. "Elinor wouldn't kid about something like that. At least, I'm willing to bet she wouldn't."

"This is wild!" Captain Piper said. "A scrath, an Ura-Meltrandi, some civilians, and more Traversers than I thought existed all at once!" She sighed in worry. "I... just hope you'll get along with the crew."

As if on cue, the elevator opened revealing quite an unusual sight in the Broadsword's central hangar bay. The first thing you heard was rock and roll from someone's smartphone and bluetooth speakers. It was good and it was loud. But the scene was nothing any normal person could have expected.

You walk in during this song. "Foreplay/Long Time by Boston" Right about at this mark...

There they were. All jamming and dancing. Living it up to its fullest. Professor Stein was grinning under his beard and playing "air-drums." Murph the Smurf with his bushy moustache was jamming too with an air guitar, but it was Hiram Sharp playing an air guitar of his own as he sang along, albeit one octave lower. Hitomi danced and rocked out with Reggie and Iris. Spacewoman Samantha and six other of the Broadsword's metallic crew were surrounding them, clapping and stepping similarly to Hitomi who could move like few people alive. In the recent sad times, this was quite the sight. As they jammed and sang along, for most of them knew the chorus, none of them noticed you. Captain Piper's face slowly blossomed into one big smile.

"Yeah," she told you. "I think we're going to get along... just fine!"

Cera stood against the back of the elevator more stiff and insecure than any metal Broadsword member, her face frozen in surprise with her hands over her ears. Mack glanced at all of you especially Elinor. "Music! We never brought up music to Cera! Go into the hangar, Wild Cards. This one's on me." Then Shirley began to explain in simple terms the concept of music to Cera who looked at her as if she had lost her mind.

"Whoa!" Hiram Sharp spun and paused in surprise. "Samantha! You were supposed to tell us when their elevator resumed!" Samantha put her hands to her mouth in shock and bowed in deep apology. Evidently even machines can forget when in the throes of good rock and roll. "Captain on deck!" Colonel Sharp proclaimed. The music stopped and people all turned toward you. The military stood in respectful attention while the civilians except Stein looked around wondering if they were supposed to do the same.

"At ease!" Captain Piper said. She crossed the distance between her and Colonel Sharp met her halfway, both of them smiling. They saluted one another then shook hands heartily. "Welcome aboard the Broadsword, colonel." Piper indicated the same for everyone present. "We have a lot to discuss, sir. You and I especially."

"Aye aye, ma'am," Colonel Sharp responded with his usual charm. "That we do!"

* * *​

(I won't bore you with the further details but instead move us along now. Do forgive the showing instead of telling here.)

Sooner or later, the Wild Cards were ordered to bed after yet another long day. You went to sleep with the following knowledge (per Captain Piper):

1. Come to find out, "Critical resources" when it came to food on an exploratory military space vessel like the UEEF Broadsword meant less than two weeks of food left for all active crew members (those not in hypersleep). Sharp and Stein agreed that this was not a problem if they moved soon.

2. Captain Piper informed all of you that she was going to wake the rest of the crew, get them up to speed with their heavy situation, and come dawn, serve a private memorial toward Captain Drake, Flight Nine, the rest of the Broadsword crew, and the UEEF fleet that had died in combat. There was a Ship Chaplain who would lead the service.

3. Spaceman Sam requested permission from Captain Piper to adjust course to pick up what he called a "retrieval crew" from somewhere off the coastline between Texas and Louisiana. Piper agreed and seemed not to think to question what Sam had meant by a retrieval crew.

4. At some point, after you had cleaned up and drifted off to sleep in the temporary quarters you slept in before (this time with Mario and Shirley in different rooms), you heard Captain Piper's voice over what appeared to be all of the ship's intercoms. "Dive, dive, dive," she said calmly. Then you drifted off into well-earned rest.

5. You sensed you were no longer in a polyphonic nexus when you woke.

* * *​

You awoke the next morning to another "delightful" meal composed of M.R.E.s and various juices. Your breakfast was held on an observation on the port (that's left) side of the Broadsword. The long, wide portholes provided a fantastic view of the watery world that was the Gulf of Mexico. Professor Stein, Hitomi, Shirley, Reggie, Murphy, Cera, Iris, and Trouble were present and sitting around the tables provided. It promised to be an informative and entertaining time for the eight Traversers and three non-Traversers. Everyone save for Trouble and Iris were dressed in UEEF uniforms with sturdy footwear. For the first time since all of you had met, your uniforms matched one another. Borrowed though they might be, they were very comfortable and easy to move in.

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(Image credit: Zerochan.net)

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(Image credit: Pinterest)

Professor Stein checked his watch, sighed, and rose from his chair. Being easily the largest person in the room, his presence was greater than his girth. He strolled as he gave the class, every bit as at ease as any of you in your mecha cockpits. Professor Stein set the stage like a teacher used to addressing academically-inclined audiences. He expressed himself in a manner that promoted respectful discussion and open-minded learning, but you always knew who was in charge. With his English and American-mixed accent, he began the class with, "Good morning, class! It is 0730 hours and we are going to spend the next few hours or so discussing technopathy. I do hope you brought your brains along; you will not get much out of this time without them.

"Let us start with the basics, shall we? Hitomi, give us the scientific definition of technopathy, would you?"

With her silky black hair and graceful poise, Hitomi looked fabulous in any uniform but she appeared downright natural in this one and her bright smile seemed to imply that she knew it. "Technopathy is 'the ability to control mechanical or electronic objects via direct touch and concentration.'"

"There you have it. Class dismissed." Stein nodded, keeping the mood light. "Of course, there is a lot more to 'mind riding' than that like the creation of nexuses, seeing through another's senses, and going into a strange new world no one else but us can enter to talk with machines who often could not care less." Professor Stein smirked. "Wild Cards. You have used technopathy on live battlefields."

"Mrooowr!" Trouble exclaimed and raised his paw.

"And what do you want, you feline miscreant?"

Shirley raised her hand and used the other to pet him. "He's just telling you he's a Wild Card."

"Oh, bother! Whose grand idea was that?" Professor Stein chuckled and put his hand to his forehead. "Now then. Provide to the class your impressions of what technopathy means to each of you."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Mario is both glad and, he must admit, a bit disappointed, that he has a bed to himself instead of sharing it with Mack. As much as he is interested in her, and despite the fact that it would appear that they are no longer affiliated with the ASC to worry about the strict rules on fraternization, he is still stuck in his mind that Shirley is an officer and he is a corporal, and she is his commanding officer to boot. Perhaps someday that will change, but today is not that day.

Waking up to a new day, feeling refreshed and ready to go, Mario joins the rest of the team in the meeting room for breakfast and the first of many lessons on Technopathy.
""Now then. Provide to the class your impressions of what technopathy means to each of you."
Mario thinks for a moment, then says, "Well, Technopathy has given us all a significant edge in multiple situations where a non-Traverser would have been left out in the cold. It has opened up a whole new world of possibilities both inside and outside of combat that I am excited to explore. Being able to be 'one with my mecha', especially one that has been especially designed to be operated by Traversers like the Mjolnir tanks, is huge. I can't wait to get in the thick of it again and show off just what I can do in Toothgrinder."
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Before morning would come around, Toph would be having a restless night. No matter how hard she tried to sleep, all she could think about was her mother lying in the cryotube so close to death. After several hours of useless effort, she finally gets up and dresses in her newly acquired uniform, and heads out into the hall. Looking for some sign of a Samantha or a Sam, she would approach one and ask, "If I promise to not do anything stupid to harm any of the crew down in the cryotubes, would it be ok if you were to escort me down to see my mother again? I really need to say a few things to her. I know that she can't hear me, but I still need to see her, if its ok, that is."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
One thing that had not changed on the Broadsword was that the Sams and Samanthas were never hard to find. Toph only had to travel down a corridor a short way to find three of them standing at attention. One of them activated and came to her and heard her request.

There was a silly moment as the Sam whipped out its trusty tablet to reply to Toph only to find the screen was malfunctioning. In a mild panic, the Sam whirled to the other two units and pointed at its tablet. They held up their empty hands. No tablets. But every move they made was reminiscent of her father's own humble and sometimes comical body language.

After a few apologetic bows and signs with their hands requesting patience, the Sams turned toward one another and waited with Toph. Not long afterward, Toph heard the sounds of clawed feet tapping down the corridor.

She turned to find Wwarlock with a tablet in his huge mouth and a yawning Trouble sitting atop his huge head. Sam knelt down, picked up the tablet, and pet Wwarlock appreciatively. Then the tablet was shown to Toph.

"CAPTAIN PIPER HAS BEEN NOTIFIED OF YOUR REQUEST." This, at 3:43 a.m.. "YOUR REQUEST IS APPROVED UNDER TWO CONDITIONS.

"1. YOU AGREE NOT TO TOUCH THE CRYOGENIC PODS.

2. YOU WILL BE ESCORTED BY BROADSWORD CREWMATES."

If Toph agreed to this, Sam along with two suits just like him, along with Wwarlock and Trouble, all escorted Toph to the cryogenic chamber. Once there, the suits stood in such a way as to be between her and the tube without blocking her view. Wwarlock and Trouble sat beside Toph, there if she needed them.

The cryogenic tube emerged, Sam heated part of the glass, and once again Commander Zyorna Kirin lay still in the gentle grasp of hypersleep. All of the machinery and electronics around her did nothing to dispel her age and beauty. It seemed as if she were simply sleeping and might awake any moment. But the bandages were present too, reminding Toph that her mother would not be waking anytime soon.
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Toph agrees to all the conditions, knowing that if she does not, or if she tries to do anything underhanded, it would not only get back to Piper with a quickness, but to the rest of the team. Probably end up ruining what level of trust that they had been able to establish if she did so, and get her banned from the cryosleep room for good. Not to mention getting my mom killed in the process. Lets not go there. I will be the perfect guest here, and will behave myself completely.

Following along with the Sams and Samanthas that are her guides through the ship, Toph starts to wonder just what this great vessel would be like with the corridors filled with its normal crew, coming and going about their business at all hours of the day. After all, a ship like this doesn't just come to a stop at 2100 hours; it is active all around the clock.

In the cryosleep room, she stands silently as the coffin-like device is brought out of the deck and the glass is warmed up for her to be able to see in side a bit. Once more, the kid in her lets out a scream of primal horror and wants to charge forward and claw at the glass and try to get her mother out. But that would be the death of her, and the responsible adult in her knows it. Toph takes a step forward but doesn't try to push past the Sams guarding her.

"Hey mom. Its me again. Guess what? You guys made it back to Earth, traveling through time. The first part of your mission was a success. And there is more good news. I'm what you guys are calling a Traverser. Yup, I can talk to machines in a way that no one else can. Well, besides other Traversers, I guess."

She falls silent for a moment, then says, "Do you remember way back when I was six and I fell off my bicycle and skinned my knee when dad was trying to teach me how to ride? I started to cry, and dad was there, trying to kiss it better, but you, you stepped forward and told me, 'Toph! You are Lisara-Meltrand! Such small injuries do not stop us, we only get stronger with the pain! Embrace the pain, because it is how you know you are truly alive.' It was only after that when I stopped crying that you pulled me into a big hug and gave me a kiss, calling me your brave little warrior. Do you remember that? Well, I need you to embrace your pain and remember that you are still alive too, mom. Don't you dare give up. Do you hear me? Don't ever give up! I love you so much, and now that I have you back, I am not going to lose you again."

With the back of her hand, Toph wipes her eyes, then says to her escorts, "Ok, I'm done. You can return her, and help me find my way back to my room. Please, let Captain Piper know that I thank her for letting me do this, and that I owe her one, big time."

With that, she scoops up Trouble, ruffles Wwarlocks ears a bit, and tries to let out a smile, but it turns into more of a grimace. Don't lose it here, girl. Keep it together until you get back to bed. "Thank you."

With that, she returns to bed and gives herself a good cry on her way to sleep.


The next morning, the hot shower and industrial strength coffee is the only thing keeping Toph going at full steam, thanks to her insomnia. At least with the emotional release it was enough to let her get at least a few hours of sleep. She hopes that Piper doesn't say anything about her late night trip in front of the others; it might get kinda emotional again if they knew she was having a hard time with her mom being hurt like that and not being able to do anything to help her.

With another sip of paint thinner (IE POWERFUL Army coffee), Toph tries to put her own spin on what being a Traverser means. "I would have to say, that this is a way to unlock any bit of information from any computer we come into contact with. I don't believe that there will be a electronic security system out there that will ever be the same, now that Traversers exist."
 

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