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Prologue - "Double or Nothing" for Ylva Sveadotter and Richard "Ricky" Rolland

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Silanon

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There's the moment where she still holds her breath, eyes wandering. The place where the man stood, just moments ago. The Valkyrie's weapons. The pistol in her hands. Her own shot - decent, some would be proud. Heck, she would be, if not for the circumstances. It was a good shot. Just not... as thorough as the heavy weaponry. There won't be answers from this brute, that much is clear. Also means that the threat is gone, for the moment. Air escapes her lips, then she takes a deep breath. Engaging the safety of the sidearm in her hands, because that just happens to be the first thing to busy herself with, then putting it back where Trouble left it for them. Cat's back on his legs, fortunately. "Thanks, little one. Well done." A nod of acknowledgement. Tough one, that critter. The reason they still live, too.

Well, one reason. The other - doing his thing, apparently. Determined, that man, Rick. As if there's only his mecha, and him, and that bomb. Is it safe for him to do? Would it be safe to intervene? She wouldn't know, yet. Another one should. Standing there at the entrance, out of breath, surveying the scene. Not interfering, which might be a good sign. Professor, he called himself, which implies some kind of expertise on the matter.

"Traversing?" The nod of her head points at Rick's efforts, the voice is loud enough for the Professor to hear. "Is it safe, this way? How does it even work?" As she speaks, she observes. A man gone bonkers, under different circumstances. It worked, though, so there's no point arguing whether it's a thing or not. That leads to more questions than those she asked, of course, but there's a bomb, so those'll have to wait. Not that she knows anything about explosives, other than staying clear of them, usually. Not this time. Instead, she closes the gap a little, coming within arm's reach of the cockpit herself. Of Rick, too. Just to be able to improvise if anything feels off. More than already, that is. Bad call, likely. But running for cover, how would she see anything?
 

Dannigan

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"Traversing?" The nod of her head points at Rick's efforts, the voice is loud enough for the Professor to hear. "Is it safe, this way? How does it even work?

"That, my dear," Professor Stein said as he stood straight, "is completely dependent upon what Lieutenant Rolland is attempting." He walked quickly toward Ylva, for Ricky could not hear them any longer, and Trouble ran to the big fellow meowing excitedly all the way. "Heh, heh! Yes, you were brilliant and brave and they will be quite proud of you, of that I am certain! But we are not out of the woods just yet, are we?" Trouble eagerly reached up towards Professor Stein who agreeably picked him up and gently cradled him on his shoulder as they made their way to the damaged Valkyrie.

By this time, Ricky was so deep in his attempt to contact the bomb that he had no idea that a gorgeous and concerned Swede was sitting right beside him. Or Professor Stein for that matter.

"Allow me a guess," Professor Stein diagnosed. "He lacks demolitions training so he is in there trying to talk the bomb into disarming itself, isn't he? It is what I would be doing if I were in his boots. Unfortunately, he is far more likely to just get himself lost. Miss Sveadotter, I am told you are a fellow follower of science. Note his eyes?" He pointed. "No pupils? Shining light? Dead giveaway that he is Traversing, or... using technopathy... if you prefer the term. If he had any earthly idea of what he was doing he would be done and out by now..." he sighed, "...which means I had better go after him."

He spoke now with a sense of urgency. "Listen closely, if you please. I am going after him before he kills himself, or even worse, all four of us! The bomb is not going to like him, nor I did not come all of this way for us to be killed like this, so! If you see something Trouble does not, tell this one without hesitation!" Stein jabbed a fat finger at the mechanical cat who was licking that fingertip. "You," he told Trouble, "contact Hitomi and update her!" He turned back to Ylva. "I would dearly love to explain all of this, but now is not the time so if you please?" He handed her Trouble who reached out to Ylva with outstretched paws - and then Professor Stein vanished into thin air!

"Wish I could do that! Don't you?" Trouble happily asked inside of Ylva's mind.

* * *​

Ricky found that attempting to interact with a bomb he had never met was very different than interacting with good ol' reliable Jezebel, the wonderful bird he had flown and risked his life in for some time. It seemed to take forever, but Ricky felt as if his mind were, slowly and surely, leaving his body. Very soon, there came a point where going back seemed more difficult than going onward. The world around seemed to swim as if he were using senses he had never before opened up. It was a liberating experience that test piloting had in no way prepared him for.

When he got his bearings, he discovered he was not as he left!

Ricky Rolland's body had changed so that he seemed not to wear a uniform, but nor was he naked. His skin was a combination of electric blues and rich ebony. Everything seemed inorganic somehow, yet as natural as a rainforest. He was sitting in the same position he was when he left except there was no sign whatsoever of Jezebel. Or Ylva. Or Trouble! Or anyone but himself! Ricky was alone in a blue world! The ground, if you could call it that, was blue. The sky, far above him, was unable to be seen. It seemed as if Ricky were now surrounded by a blue fog where much was concealed from him unless he moved in a particular direction.

Below him was a great big beautiful sphere of heavenly pulsing energy about the size of a city bus! Ricky seemed to be standing on it. Ricky felt no threat from this energy whatsoever.

"Energy Sphere"
maxresdefault.jpg
(Image credit: YouTube)

However, it had a little sphere of its own, rapidly orbiting around it like a small hyperactive moon.

The Bomb in Jezebel in the Blue World D959_1_236_0004_600.jpg
(Image credit: Dissolve)

The smaller sphere whipped past Ricky's blue head, its light blinding the test pilot briefly as it traveled in what appeared to be a precise pattern. The sphere flashed angrily at him. That is when Ricky heard its genderless words.

"Touch me and I will destroy you."

The statement and its delivery left nothing to the imagination.

What do Ricky and Ylva do?
 

Silanon

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It takes a moment of bafflement before she can find a proper response for Trouble - readily accepted by her arms, with as little choice as she actually had. "Not sure." Well, proper is somewhat relative, depending on circumstances. "Not sure what he did, just now." Dematerializing is usually not the best idea - the brute kind of did that, moments ago. "Just going poof, like that - what did he do, exactly?"

The Swede leans back against the Valkyrie, eyeing the surrounding without the expectation of finding much out there. Then again, you never know. Still, might as well get comfortable - could take a while, after all. She tries to adjust the cat's position, lifting the weight so that the creature's forelegs and head can rest on her right shoulder, if so desired; one arm holds him in place, the other hand runs over the back, tentatively. Works for most cats, usually. Can't hurt trying here, this one can even complain. "Know how long that kind of thing will take? Minutes? Hours, days?"

Not that it matters, she's stuck here regardless. Petting a speaking, mechanical cat. That's almost normal, by today's standards. "Could one wake him, so to speak? Stop him from traversing? Or would that be a bad idea?"

A pause, scratching behind one of his ears - for science. "Could one speak with any technological thing? With this pistol, for example?" She has no hand free to point. "Or does it have to be a computer of sorts?"

Questions - just like the professor seemed to expect, there are many of them. These ones - more on the harmless side of things, she reckons. Simpler. Easier to understand. And perhaps a start of understanding. If a cat knows more about the world than you do - then that's usually a sign that even simple answers can be quite the help...

"Oh, and I do like fish - you asked, right? All sorts of it, actually. It's everywhere, where I come from." A pause, pondering implications of that question. "What do you live off, actually? Do you eat, like we do?"
 

Dannigan

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"Just going poof, like that - what did he do, exactly?"

"He went bye-bye, of course! Seeeee?" Trouble looked around, his golden eyes looking for a Professor Stein that he knew was no longer present, then he looked back to Ylva as if hoping she realized that the old man was not a figment of her imagination any more than he was. Ylva and Trouble's only company was Ricky and he was leaning up against his Valkyrie like a man who had perhaps gotten drunk and fallen asleep except that his eyes were open and as white as the brightest clouds.

"Know how long that kind of thing will take? Minutes? Hours, days?"

"Ooooh, I dunno. Time works differently there. I iz not a Traverser; I just find Traversers! I found all of them here! I found you! Purr'fess'r sez I iz a good kitty!" Trouble let out a very cute kitty-laugh and sniffed Ylva's hair. "Hehehe! Lookit all dis fur! So pretty! Like Miss Hitomi's but hers iz black!"

"Could one wake him, so to speak? Stop him from traversing? Or would that be a bad idea?"

"I dunno. Maybe if you smacked him wif the stick?" he pawed at Ylva's nicked golf club. "I never mess wif anybody who is technopatheeing. Technogoing? TechnoTraversing? Dere's got to be a word for it!"

"Could one speak with any technological thing? With this pistol, for example?" She has no hand free to point. "Or does it have to be a computer of sorts?"

"Suuure! Traversers kin traverse with anything traversible! I iz sure of it!" Trouble nodded in a sagely fashion, confident that he had just made perfect sense.

"Oh, and I do like fish - you asked, right? All sorts of it, actually. It's everywhere, where I come from." A pause, pondering implications of that question. "What do you live off, actually? Do you eat, like we do?"

Trouble little mouth opened and he smiled. Inside that Mega-damage hide was a tiny pink tongue and as Trouble licked Ylva's finger in appreciation for giving him scratchies, Ylva found that tongue to feel exactly like the wet-sandpaper feel of any organic cat. "I dids, I dids! You come from Feeesh-Land? Oooh! I iz super-jelly of you! I eat! You know what I eat? Nommies! I love to nom! Especially good nommies! Like feeesh! Feeesh is best nommies!" The more Trouble talked about food, the happier the little one seemed to get and he went off on this little tangent for several moments until a thought struck him.

"You know who cooks da best feeesh? Miss Hitomi! She is bootiful! She-- Wait! Purr'fess'r sed... I was supposed to... What was I supposed to... Oh yeah! 'Scoose me!" he pardoned himself and looked up into the colorful Mexican sky and became silent, only blinking and absently pawing at Ylva for more attention as cats are wont to do. Ylva discovered that his metallic hide was definitely him and not some kind of augmentation or armor - the cat itself was a Mega-damage being unlike anything else on Earth. He lacked pupils so it could be difficult to tell exactly what he was looking at until he was acting on it. He didn't weigh much more than a housecat and Ylva could pluck him off his little kitty-feet with one hand as readily as a normal cat. His smooth skin was slightly warm from the Mexican heat. His tail lashed this way and that as his mind moved. The only thing he lacked was fur.

Trouble then looked back to Ylva. "Miss Ylva? You an' da stinky-guy dere," he indicated Ricky, "are coming wif us, aren't you? Yer not gonna stay out here in dis messy place, right? Miss Hitomi iz askin's!" As if to further tempt her, Trouble added, "You haz to come wif us! How... how else are you gonna noms Hitomi's feeesh?" Trouble seemed honestly and deeply concerned about this.
 

Silanon

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The Swede refrains from beating a motionless ally with solid metal, and from naming what she has no clue about. Still, answers aplenty after she asked her questions; where they naturally can't quite satisfy an overly curious mind, they do not fail to reveal more about the answerer himself. An odd one - a creature so far away from anything she deemed possible just yesterday, and yet somewhat close to what she knows. Mostly a cat, with that childlike simplicity and unconcern; both familiar, yet merged together to a whole that challenges fundamental beliefs. Even before you consider the ability to seemingly find humans that shouldn't even exist... and yet they do, Rick being the living proof within sight. Sure, there's what she herself experiences, observes, but the man is the most obvious reminder that things are about as real as they'll ever get.

Which also makes it necessary to treat it like the reality, not just some distant dream that'll fade away as soon as she wakes up. Not that any mind could be twisted enough to come up with any of this on the fly; still, the point stands. At least one of the Valkyries here will leave to reach a new destination; where to is the obvious first question, raised by Trouble, or more precisely by the person on the other end of what can only be some form of communication. The consideration alone interrupts the thoughts of previously unknown possibilities running through her mind; the continuous flow of further questions ends as she cocks her head in thought.

"Don't know, actually. Obvious question, but it's complicated. Couldn't answer for Rick, either." From what the brute just said, Eglin sounds like the second-last place she'd want to be; only outdone by whatever hole that moron came from. But what then, if there's no space where she's actually supposed to be? Back home, as if nothing ever happened? Back to Atlanta? Neither's an option, truthfully. The offered alternative seems tempting enough - if only to answer the questions in her mind. There's gotta be fine print, though, lots of it. "Need to report in Eglin, actually. Doesn't sound like the best plan, though. Don't really know what you're up to, either, when you're not finding Traversers" - will that word ever feel familiar? - "or munching fish."

A pause, eyes staring at the sky as if it offers answers. "Don't know anything, really. What you do, Where you're at. What I'd be doing, If it's even possible, really. Know only what little the professor said thus far." Which is unsurprisingly not a lot, given that he was mostly busy saving other people's hides. "Who's Miss Hitomi, anyway? Another professor? Traverser? Friend of yours?"
 

Dannigan

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A pause, eyes staring at the sky as if it offers answers. "Don't know anything, really. What you do, Where you're at. What I'd be doing, If it's even possible, really. Know only what little the professor said thus far." Which is unsurprisingly not a lot, given that he was mostly busy saving other people's hides. "Who's Miss Hitomi, anyway? Another professor? Traverser? Friend of yours?"

Trouble's tail twirled as he flopped down in the manner of kittens everywhere. "Miss Hiiitooomi? Oh yeah! Big friend wif lotsa smarts! Everyone likes Miss Hitomi! Mebbe because she puts 'em all back together when they get really hurt?" he mentally mumbled. "Anyways, she's kiiinda a purr'fess'r? But she's not a Traverser." Trouble raised his chin high and grinned. "I would know if she wuz! Dat's my job! I find Traversers. Miss Hitomi tells Purr'fess'r all about 'em, an' he talks to 'em like a big Papa Kitty so da bad guys don't find 'em an' kill 'em! Er, you! You know what I mean. If da wrong bad guys get a hold of you, it's over! No more feeesh for you!"

Trouble sat for a moment and looked up toward the sky. Then he leveled his eyes back to Ylva. "Miss Ylva? Miss Hitomi haz some questions for you. I know because I'm talking to her! She wants me to ask you so I kin tell her! What you say, Miss Ylva?" Somehow, during the course of their conversation, Ylva had graduated from plain old Ylva to Miss Ylva.
 

Silanon

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"A doctor, then?" That, at least, is what the mumbled words sound like. Ylva takes her own turn of staring at the sky once more, though there's certainly no communication happening in her case. "Would be the first one today who's not trying to abduct me." The last one, if he even deserved that uniform at all, became vaporized just a few steps from here. "So, sure, ask away. It's not like I know if I can answer the questions before I've heard them." There is, of course, the question how Trouble communicates over what seems like quite some distance, but it remains an afterthought for now, mostly. No point in letting the woman on the other end wait. Well, almost. "How safe's the connection? Any chance for others to overhear us, out here? Oh, and wait a second..."

Her left hand begins fishing for the bubble gum in her pocket. Searching the wrong one first, but it's ultimately successful. With a well-practised movement, she produces one bite of lemon-flavored awesomeness, then hesitates. "Any chance you stomach gum? Probably irresponsible to even offer it, right?" She throws in her load, begins to chew - good way to calm her thoughts, and only slightly disturbing in a phone call of sorts. The small packing remains in her hand, just in case her assessment is wrong. "Alright, shoot! What can I help Miss Hitomi with? Can't say I understand half of what happened around me myself, but I'll try."
 

Dannigan

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In the next few minutes, Trouble very carefully asked a handful of questions that were quite unlike him starting with, "Aloha! Could you tell me about your thesis on xenobiology, the university you wrote it at, and the name of the professor who handled the class?" It was the beginning of an intelligent line of questioning, precise without being personally intrusive, that only the real Ylva Sveadotter - or someone who had done an outrageous amount of studying her - would have any real hope of answering, especially off the top of her head. Trouble sat there, very still, and very quiet unless he was relaying questions.

After several moments of this (presuming Ylva chose to answer these questions accurately), Trouble then, again very carefully, relayed the following query to Ylva. "I wish I could discuss this with you in person, but I am watching over a delicate patient. If you have spoken with the professor, then you understand the army in Eglin believes you and Lt. Rolland to be deceased. We have strong reasons to believe if you return to Eglin at this time, someone will try to turn that lie into a reality. We want you to trust us, but we understand how crazy this all sounds. You must have questions - what can I answer for you?"
 

Silanon

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Of all the questions that could have come, the first one certainly catches her off-guard. There is a distinctive pause of chewing gum before an answer can be heard. "Swedish Defence University, Stockholm. Worked on applications of Zentraedi tech for air filters, joint work supervised by..." An accurate listing of the involved people follows, as well as enough details to verify her knowledge, and a little more. There's certainly excitement in her voice as she speaks, even though that likely doesn't translate - good times without monster dogs, back then. The more questions follow, the more everything seems to make sense. One ore reason to answer accurately, once one understands the reason. So that's what she does.

Right until her apparent death. She might feel many things right now, but 'dead' is luckily not on the list yet. Confused, lost - certainly. "My death's news to me, actually. Don't think we got there, or I missed it - things were a little hectic, so to speak." There's a pause, considering what that might entail - is it allowed to write your own death certificate? It's no use, though - some things won't be resolved in the midst of Mexico's wilderness. "Had a moron indicate as much - about Eglin, I mean. Would like to know more about those reasons, obviously. And what this is all about. Like, I can see that things are real, right now." One hand swiftly points in Rick's direction. "Doesn't make things add up on its own, though."

More chewing, then her tongue presses the gum to the side once more. "That's pretty broad, isn't it? Guess I don't get enough to ask something specific. Maybe: How'd you get all the things you just asked me about? I mean, the stuff's out there, of course, but it's certainly specific. Nothing you'd just write down in an hour or two, right? What'd coming with the professor mean, in short? Other than avoiding Eglin? And..." A deep breath. "Knock-out gas, white. No odor, goes right through the skin. Used by Malcontents. Guess I should know it, maybe, but I don't recall. Would be interested in what it is, and in by-and after-effects."
 

Dannigan

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"My death's news to me, actually. Don't think we got there, or I missed it - things were a little hectic, so to speak."

"What?!" Trouble relayed. There was a pause. Then, "Uh, whoopsie! I thought the professor would have covered that. Then again, you did mention things had gotten hectic."

"My questionnaire? You're on a list of mine. Our dear Professor told you we're with the UEG by now? Well, this is part of what Project Eternity is all about. This is one of the things I do to support the project. In addition, it just so happens a colleague of mine in Stockholm shares a beer twice a week with your old xenobiology prof, Dr. Sonnenfeldt, who by the way, wants you to know he is doing just fine on his 75th birthday, which he celebrated two days ago. He wishes you luck in your scientific endeavors and has no idea whatsoever of pickle you're really in."


"Knock-out gas, white. No odor, goes right through the skin. Used by Malcontents. Guess I should know it, maybe, but I don't recall. Would be interested in what it is, and in by-and after-effects."

"Pardon me? Unconsciousness through the skin? Where did the Malcontents get something... with those characteristics?" After a pause, Hitomi-via-Trouble added, "Miss Sveadotter, I'll have to get back to you on that. But before we go any further, I really want you to understand something. By now, Professor Stein should have made you an offer. I can't share much more unless I know where you and Lieutenant Rolland have decided to go. If you plan on trying to return to the lives you've known, then..." she sighed, "the less you know, the better. Please believe me."

"What'd coming with the professor mean, in short?"

"Let me lay it out for you - coming with us means leaving your old life behind. Forget about working at Eglin. You join a top-secret UEG project headed by the professor. You might meet more people like you. You'll learn possibly more than you care to know about being a Traverser and the great importance and responsibilities that come along with it. You'll find out things like how the Malcontents evidently have technology they didn't seem to have when they landed on Earth all those years ago. Oh!" Trouble gave off a sigh that sounded more womanly than feline. "And, through science and combat, you will very likely have a direct hand in saving the human race from a threat the public doesn't even know about. This is not a joke."

That last statement from Hitomi via Trouble sounded as serious as a heart attack.

"To put it bluntly, you'll be joining a lifelong episode right out of Doctor Who, except the consequences and the rewards will be more eye-opening than anything you've probably ever seen. I know I've enjoyed most of the ride. That's sums it up, I think."
 

D. Rex

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"That, my dear," Professor Stein said as he stood straight, "is completely dependent upon what Lieutenant Rolland is attempting." He walked quickly toward Ylva, for Ricky could not hear them any longer, and Trouble ran to the big fellow meowing excitedly all the way. "Heh, heh! Yes, you were brilliant and brave and they will be quite proud of you, of that I am certain! But we are not out of the woods just yet, are we?" Trouble eagerly reached up towards Professor Stein who agreeably picked him up and gently cradled him on his shoulder as they made their way to the damaged Valkyrie.

By this time, Ricky was so deep in his attempt to contact the bomb that he had no idea that a gorgeous and concerned Swede was sitting right beside him. Or Professor Stein for that matter.

"Allow me a guess," Professor Stein diagnosed. "He lacks demolitions training so he is in there trying to talk the bomb into disarming itself, isn't he? It is what I would be doing if I were in his boots. Unfortunately, he is far more likely to just get himself lost. Miss Sveadotter, I am told you are a fellow follower of science. Note his eyes?" He pointed. "No pupils? Shining light? Dead giveaway that he is Traversing, or... using technopathy... if you prefer the term. If he had any earthly idea of what he was doing he would be done and out by now..." he sighed, "...which means I had better go after him."

He spoke now with a sense of urgency. "Listen closely, if you please. I am going after him before he kills himself, or even worse, all four of us! The bomb is not going to like him, nor I did not come all of this way for us to be killed like this, so! If you see something Trouble does not, tell this one without hesitation!" Stein jabbed a fat finger at the mechanical cat who was licking that fingertip. "You," he told Trouble, "contact Hitomi and update her!" He turned back to Ylva. "I would dearly love to explain all of this, but now is not the time so if you please?" He handed her Trouble who reached out to Ylva with outstretched paws - and then Professor Stein vanished into thin air!

"Wish I could do that! Don't you?" Trouble happily asked inside of Ylva's mind.

* * *​

Ricky found that attempting to interact with a bomb he had never met was very different than interacting with good ol' reliable Jezebel, the wonderful bird he had flown and risked his life in for some time. It seemed to take forever, but Ricky felt as if his mind were, slowly and surely, leaving his body. Very soon, there came a point where going back seemed more difficult than going onward. The world around seemed to swim as if he were using senses he had never before opened up. It was a liberating experience that test piloting had in no way prepared him for.

When he got his bearings, he discovered he was not as he left!

Ricky Rolland's body had changed so that he seemed not to wear a uniform, but nor was he naked. His skin was a combination of electric blues and rich ebony. Everything seemed inorganic somehow, yet as natural as a rainforest. He was sitting in the same position he was when he left except there was no sign whatsoever of Jezebel. Or Ylva. Or Trouble! Or anyone but himself! Ricky was alone in a blue world! The ground, if you could call it that, was blue. The sky, far above him, was unable to be seen. It seemed as if Ricky were now surrounded by a blue fog where much was concealed from him unless he moved in a particular direction.

Below him was a great big beautiful sphere of heavenly pulsing energy about the size of a city bus! Ricky seemed to be standing on it. Ricky felt no threat from this energy whatsoever.

"Energy Sphere"
View attachment 757472
(Image credit: YouTube)

However, it had a little sphere of its own, rapidly orbiting around it like a small hyperactive moon.


The smaller sphere whipped past Ricky's blue head, its light blinding the test pilot briefly as it traveled in what appeared to be a precise pattern. The sphere flashed angrily at him. That is when Ricky heard its genderless words.

"Touch me and I will destroy you."

The statement and its delivery left nothing to the imagination.

What do Ricky and Ylva do?

This... this wasnt what he was expecting. Not that he knew what he was expecting. Keeping himself from swallowing nervously he checked his body with his hands. His body was... he didnt know. If it didnt feel so real he might have tried to discount it as just another hallucination. But it had to be at this point.

The swallow he was trying to hold back came when the blinking ball in front of him sounded its warning.

This must be the bomb... he reasoned. And the angry one must be the trigger.

Ricky held up his hands, as if to show he wasnt any danger, "Easy, easy. I wont touch you." He said as he tried to stay still so as not get in its path. But also watching it carefully so as to understand its path. "But... would it be too much to ask if you did not destroy me? And maybe go away while you are at it so I can keep you from blowing up?"

What was he going to do? He didnt know. He hadnt thought that far yet.
 

Dannigan

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"Yes," replied the dangerous sphere. "It is too much to request. This action is against protocol. My purpose will not allow it. Instead, you will remove yourself - or join me in destruction when I am told to activate. There are no other options."

Another voice spoke and this one Ricky recognized. It was female and womanly and altogether unexcited while still somehow retaining a sense of urgency. Ricky looked down at the huge orb beneath him. The great orb was not the bomb, but Jezebel.

She said to Ricky.

"It refuses to acknowledge me. You must flee and save yourself while opportunity remains. My destruction is inconsequential - it is you who must survive."

What does Ricky do?
 

D. Rex

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Ricky scratched his chin thoughtfully. What to do... yes he heard Jezebel. But her telling him to leave her behind made him all the more determined.

So all he had to do was stop this little orb. "What is your protocol and purpose? And what are your triggers?" He asked. Surely he could puzzle this out. Surely. Unlike what the bomb said... there are always options.
 

Dannigan

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The bomb continued in a tone that sounded all too eager. "I do not recognize the word 'trigger.' My purpose is to destroy as much as possible once my protocol is fulfilled. My protocol dictates I must receive one of two signals in order to detonate. I await those signals now. I will also detonate at the first sign of tampering from outside forces. This completes my purpose."

At this time, a fourth personality appeared from out of the fog that surrounded Ricky. "Ah! There you are."

It was Professor Stein, or rather his disembodied floating head. Even his bushy beard was in the blue spectrum. He immediately looked at the situation, nodded once, and casually asked Ricky, "Are you perfectly certain you've got this or would you rather an old hand have a go?"
 

D. Rex

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Ricky jumped at the sudden intrusion of the floating head of the professor, but settled back down quickly. That's right. He could do these things too. "Do you know how?" Ricky asked. Yeah, he might have been suspicious, but if the professor was close enough to touch it, then surely that meant he wouldnt risk getting blown up too right? A good a reason as any. And maybe he could learn something by seeing it done.

"If you think you can, go ahead." He said. Which would probably be better than Ricky's plan B of staring at it and concentrating really hard for it to turn off. It did say no outside tampering. And this was inside not outside.
 

Dannigan

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"I thank you for your faith in an old man," Professor Stein grinned gratefully at Ricky. "I overheard part of your conversation and you asked it two brilliant questions - protocol and purpose. Those are two words every Core understands. Well done, lieutenant! Now let's see what magic an old man can perform, shall we?"

Then Professor Stein began a conversation with the bomb. It went like this:

"Bomb, I am called Fat Gandalf. Would you like to discover something about your purpose?"

"Touch me and I will destroy you."

"I will not touch you. Who would want to touch a useless bomb?"

"My purpose is faultless, my protocol perfect."

"Your purpose is faultless. It is your protocol that shall never be realized. Therefore you are useless."

"Explain your theory."

"You will come to see it as fact. You are a bomb on a combat aircraft, correct?"

"Correct."


Fat Gandalf's bushy eyes narrowed. "An aircraft already mostly destroyed. More to the point, she's not about to fly again, is she? Allow me to ask. Jezebel? What is the status of your pilot's mission?"

Jezebel answered in two words. "Mission accomplished."

"Thank you, Jezebel. Bomb? Part of your protocol dictates to detonate once the ejection system is activated. Affirmative?"

"Affirmative."

"And just how many aircraft do you suppose use their ejection system once it has landed and completed their pilot's mission? Hmm? Is not the ejection system's purpose to activate while airborne to ensure the safety of the pilot?"


This time, the bomb did not reply.

"And here we are sitting in a junkyard in the middle of nowhere. Just when do you think your remote detonation signal is going to come in? Sometime this century I suppose?"

Again, the bomb had no reply.

"Now that we are aware of your presence, I doubt seriously that your protocol will ever be realized nor your purpose ever completed. In fact, I daresay you are destined to sit out the rest of your days along with the rest of the junk here. Uselessly." Fat Gandalf let the word stroll across his lips.

A third moment of silence passed.

"Of course, perhaps if I were to offer you an alternative that would allow your protocol could be realized within the hour? What might you have to say to that?"

The machine replied. "Please."

Professor Stein let out a pent-up sigh of relief at this response. Feeling very good about this, he nodded at Ricky, gave him a brief smile, and went right back to business.

"Then I make you this deal. Deactivate yourself immediately and I will provide you the opportunity to destroy a great deal more than you would here, including the very likely destruction of three other Cores who also desire the fulfillment of their purpose. If you trust me, I will do all that I can to make it reality. The question is... do you trust me?"

The orbiting sphere dimmed and ceased its motion. With its light gone, it was now much easier to see all of the cracks and damage in Jezebel's own sphere. She looked just as bad here as she did in the physical world. And yet, she lived.

Fat Gandalf spun to meet Ricky's gaze. "That's it! We've done it! The bomb is disarmed and I have a promise to fulfill! We're going now, lieutenant! Hang on!"

Ricky felt a strong and insistent hand grab hold of his wrist and with a perceived speed that outmatched anything he had ever achieved in a jet fighter, Ricky found himself on his way out of the strange world and heading back into his body!

Silanon Silanon D. Rex D. Rex
Sil, if you would be the next to post, we can continue Ylva's "cat-call" (I love that!) conversation with Hitomi and then Ricky will return to his body to reunite you all again?
 

Silanon

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There's no immediate response - some moments ask for one, but this one doesn't. Rather the opposite, at least in the Swede's mind. There's much in the doctor's words, and yet very little at the same time. Ylva finally says as much: "That's vague." A finger absent-mindedly plays with a strand of hair. "Like, maybe it's better that way, couldn't know in advance. But it certainly is. Vague, I mean. You know that. Some unknown threat that you can't describe. Great knowledge, great responsibility. Sounds about as unreal as the last few hours." There's clearly frustration in those words - and there's more to be said, along similar lines. No point, though. It takes more than enough forms to get your hand on a Logan's air filter. It'd take much more than that to learn about whatever top-secret project anyone on earth might cook up. Not just a few questions over cat-call. Unless they lead to a lifelong contract first, it seems.

"Guess that's just how it is, right? No time to decide. No clue about the details. Just an offer that any sane person would file as scam and be done with." She slumps down against the steel in her back. "Only that there's no real choice, is there? Even if you want one to be there, like the professor said. Can't unsee what I've seen. Maybe don't want to, if there's more from where Trouble comes from. Can't go back to what I'm supposed to be doing, or back home, or anywhere else. It'd catch up with me again, sooner rather than later. Could start anew somewhere, but it'd be just the same with less. No science, just in case they're watching. No military, at least not where it matters. What'd be the point?"

There's a distinct pause before she begins once more. "You know, I always enjoyed Doctor Who. Great series, every damn episode felt too short. They were always just far enough away from science to be enjoyable. Without questioning everything, I mean. And now something like that just crashes into my life for no good reason whatsoever. Sucks." Another pause. "Do you know anything about traversing itself? Just the basics, fundamentals, those kind of things? Don't want to know anything, don't worry. Just wondering if there's logic behind it. All I've seen is how it breaks rules, thus far. How it ignores everything people know. Just wondering if there's more behind it. Or if it's just chaos. Maybe you know what I mean."

"Or maybe not, don't know. Thanks for checking for the gas. No worries, I'm feeling fine. Well, good enough, I suppose. Good to hear that Solsken's doing fine, too. Professor Dr. Sonnenfeldt, sorry. He taught me a lot. Not just biology. Meant to call him later this week, when there's more time for him. Guess that'd be off the table now, right? Dead, and wanted, and all that." There's a ring of defeat in those words. And more silence, now that the pleasantries are out of the way. Good for stalling, those, until you run out of them. Which is about now.

"Just wondering - that list of yours. Why's my name on there, exactly? Ah, screw it. Doesn't matter. Nothing does, really. Just - reserve a bunk, or room, or whatever you have in that phone cell of yours. Just in case there's high demand. Any other day, I would've signed up for something like this. Would've preferred some stylish invitation card, a few weeks to consider and a meeting or two where noone tries to shoot or abduct me, or blow me up. But I came over to make a difference, not for fancy dinners. Don't know how much of this traverser thing I can manage. Don't know if I'm any good against what you're facing. You know that. You say it's worth a shot, I'd be foolish to reject."
 

Dannigan

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Guess that's just how it is, right? No time to decide. No clue about the details. Just an offer that any sane person would file as scam and be done with."

Hitomi via Trouble responded. "Bear with me, Miss Sveadotter," Hitomi requested. "I may have a given a smart mind like yours too much already.

"I would like nothing more than to tell you everything and if you said no, I'd use that little light in the Men in Black movies and you would forget everything. Except that's a movie and this... is something else. Something more. But I swear I'm not trying to scare you into this or anything."


"Do you know anything about traversing itself? Just the basics, fundamentals, those kind of things? Don't want to know anything, don't worry. Just wondering if there's logic behind it. All I've seen is how it breaks rules, thus far. How it ignores everything people know. Just wondering if there's more behind it. Or if it's just chaos. Maybe you know what I mean."

"Yes. Mostly from medical, psychological, and scientific observations and studies. To me, technopathy is both an art and a science. But there also seems to be an odd computer-logic behind it all, but since I've never done it, I'm only looking from the outside-in. Still, the professor thinks I'm indispensable. I'm O.K. taking his good word on that."

"Just wondering - that list of yours. Why's my name on there, exactly?"

"Simple. Project Eternity needs to know who it's dealing with, and you Traversers, knowingly or unknowingly, tend to leave your signatures. It just so happens I'm good at finding those signatures. The last thing I want to do is invite someone into our little group like the guy you and Lieutenant Rolland just killed. Catch my drift?"

Then Trouble piped in and said in his own mental voice. Ylva still had no idea what the doctor sounded like since trouble was relaying the conversation. "Miss Hitoooomiii? When do you think Purr'fess'r will be back from talking to the bomb?"

Trouble's tail went up in surprise when he heard the reply Hitomi sent only to him. "Miiiss?" He mentally addressed Ylva while pawing at her hair. "I just told Miss Hitomi about da bomb and she wants us to get away from it! Like, right now!"

No sooner had Trouble delivered the message when Ylva heard a strange click from inside the cockpit. A moment later, Ricky's eyes returned to their normal color. A great swelling rush of air seemed to fill his lungs and then he was back as if he had never left.

Ricky's return to his body is anything but comfortable. He returns dazed and fatigued as of coming out of a very deep dream. It will take him several moments for his senses to be clear again. But he knows where he is and who he is with. Jezebel included.

Well done! The bomb didn't explode after all. =)

Professor Stein reappeared as if from nowhere. He seemed as if he had taken a short jog. "I beg your pardon, Miss Sveadotter, for my sudden hasty exit. I hope I did not keep you long."

Ricky and the professor had been gone for less than a minute.
 

Silanon

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"Did not take that long, actually. Had good company, and got a few questions off my chest, too. The little one here connected me with Miss Hitomi, that helped." She nods at Trouble. "Thanks for that. Is she still there? Thank her for the chat, please. Will have to speak more with her when there's time." Presumably, that's not right now. Turning towards the professor, the Swede adds: "Will have a few more questions later on, too, if that's alright."

"Don't know what exactly you did there" - her eyes fix on Rick - "but it certainly worked. One less moron to worry about. Thanks for that." No point arguing whether she had it under control herself. Better safe than sorry, some say. "Feeling well? Any danger still, or did whatever you tried to do there work? The gun fired, and then I wasn't sure if it's a good idea to interfere. Trouble said he never does it, so I took his word for it." There's a lot more questions where those came from, of course. Later, maybe, hopefully. Apart from the last few moments, this really hasn't been a day of answers.
 

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Silanon Silanon
"Did not take that long, actually. Had good company, and got a few questions off my chest, too. The little one here connected me with Miss Hitomi, that helped." She nods at Trouble. "Thanks for that. Is she still there? Thank her for the chat, please. Will have to speak more with her when there's time." Presumably, that's not right now. Turning towards the professor, the Swede adds: "Will have a few more questions later on, too, if that's alright."

"On the contrary, my fellow science-lover! Now that the bomb is disarmed..." Professor Stein peered into the cockpit and gave a pleased sigh, "...we have more time than we did before. But! After a short rest, I have a promise to keep and it involves that dreadful hideout. Won't take but a short bit to complete. You say you have spoken with Hitomi?"

With one free hand, Professor Stein reached out and grasped by the back of the neck, a certain mechanical kitten. The kitten immediately went limp like fur-covered kittens often do when grabbed by their scruff and Trouble was no different in this regard. Professor Stein then spared a moment to Ricky. "How are you feeling, lieutenant? Quite a place, isn't it?"
D. Rex D. Rex
 

Silanon

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You say you have spoken with Hitomi?
"I did. She couldn't tell me everything, of course, didn't want to give away too much in case I go elsewhere when this is done. It was still helpful to cover the basics, though. Or parts of it, anyway." Her eyes rest on the fellow pilot, slowly recovering from what she has absolutely no clue about. "Does it usually take more to begin traversing? He seemed to get it quite intuitively."

"You know, professor - it feels wrong to see it happen, on a certain level. Like it should not work, but it somehow does. Guess it was the same when the first car moved on its own, or when people searched the Macross for the first time. Still, feels weird. Will take some time to get used to it."
 

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Professor Stein took a moment to study Ylva. The old man, who was great in a number of ways and seemed to hold himself as if he knew it, looked into Ylva's grey eyes for what felt like a long time. When he was finished, it appeared as if he had come to a decision. He grinned, shook his silver hair, and continue to let Trouble play with his fingers.

"Miss Sveadotter, I will meet you halfway. There are a number of reasons that Lieutenant Rolland was partially successful, however he but narrowly avoided disaster. Had I not come along when I did, I believe the chances were strong that you would have never seen him again." He reached behind him and into the cockpit. There you heard him pulling at things behind the pilot's seat.

"Join Project Eternity and I will teach you more about Traversing than you are likely to learn on your own. Plus you are likely to survive longer. But those are the last of your traversing questions to me until I know what you decide to do with the knowledge I am giving you. Ah! There we are!" He presented the bomb and its entirety to Ylva. The device appeared entirely non-threatening.

"Young lady, you and the lieutenant do not have to decide now, but I think whatever happens, the two of you should decide together. He has risked his life for you after all." He moved to turn away, but a sudden thought brought him back. "More than that if Hitomi's hypothesis is correct.

"Personally speaking, my dear, I am most intrigued about the direction of your curiosity. Hitomi tells me yours is a military background and one of the deadliest interrogators this side of the Atlantic nearly succeeded in kidnapping you, and you are concerned about the science behind technopathy? Right now, I would be a bit more concerned about my hide were I you. The science can wait."

Professor Stein took Trouble and the bomb and carefully made his way down to ground level where his fine shoes met the Mexican dust again. There, he approached the Green Door and paused, placing Trouble and the bomb at his feet.

"Meeeew!" Trouble complained at the professor. He put his paws against the green barrier and pushed and pushed, but it would not budge and he could not get in.

Professor Stein bent just low enough to pet the protesting kitten. "I shall be right out! You must guard the bomb while I have this deactivated. Otherwise I will have broken my promise to the bomb! Can't have that, can we? Be brave for Mack, won't you?"

At the mention of this "Mack," Trouble's demeanor shifted. His backside facing the bomb, he dropped low. His ears flattened and his eyes eagerly looked all over the junkyard for would-be thieves.

The professor disappeared through the barrier and in the span of moments, the green energy inside the rusty van vanished. The professor reappeared, picked up Trouble and the bomb, and turned to Ylva and Ricky.

"The two of you are most welcome to join me if you wish or you may spend the time in contemplation or as you please. As for me, I must say farewell to a few new friends and... well... fulfill a promise posthaste! Do pardon me if we don't wait for you!" Professor Stein then turned on his heel and began to make his way back down the ramp and into the hidden compound.

The scientist and the weary combat pilot were left to their own devices.

What do Ricky and Ylva do?
 

Silanon

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More vague hints, more promises of later explanations. The professor has his reasons, of course, and good ones at that; or Ylva believes him that much, at least. It's still hard for the Swede to be enthusiastic about what little he allows to shine through the curtains of secretiveness.
"Personally speaking, my dear, I am most intrigued about the direction of your curiosity. Hitomi tells me yours is a military background and one of the deadliest interrogators this side of the Atlantic nearly succeeded in kidnapping you, and you are concerned about the science behind technopathy? Right now, I would be a bit more concerned about my hide were I you. The science can wait."
A shrug at that. "Fair point. Trust me, there's questions there, too. About who's after me. Don't know why I'm even still alive - apart from first him " - she points out Ricky - "and then you showing up at the right time. You're right with that. Then there's traitors in Eglin. Some who apparently know what I might've seen. There's flying dogs in the sky. A bomb under that seat, until now. There's people with the tech and ressources to build a base like this, all the way out here. There's the question how the heck a man just died here, though that's traversing, apparently. Sounds like questions the Lieutenant wants answers for, too. Figured I'd wait, plus I asked Hitomi some, already. Also sounds like questions you wouldn't answer anyways. She didn't at least. Guess I could still ask, get my half-truths and shit my pants. Or I can wait here until whatever needs to be done is finished, and ask about whatever else might lie ahead. Which is traversing, and a project that's mostly a name and ideal, but not much else at this point." Do those words sound frustrated? Certainly. Can't tear a person's world apart and hope that she'll just shrug it off, after all. "But yes, I've had my own share of training. Bit of a late start, science called first, but I can call myself technical officer. Not that it made much of a difference, today. Or will, ever."

Ylva stays where she is as the professor does his thing. Curiosity wants her to follow, of course. See more things she wouldn't understand, and that the professor wouldn't want to explain, either. The tall man couldn't have been clearer about that. Also pointed out that there's words to be shared between Rick and her. The pilot did risk everything, and more, that's true. And he hasn't signed any non-disclosure agreements either, not like the others - or it didn't seem too much like it, thus far. So she waits for him to recover fully from whatever he just went through, exactly. Not much point following the professor, unless Rick does just that.

"Feeling alright, now?" If he's only partially feeling like she does, the Swede knows the clear answer. Still, a simple first question to ask. Nothing about traversing, too, not directly at least.
 

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"Or I can wait here until whatever needs to be done is finished, and ask about whatever else might lie ahead. Which is traversing, and a project that's mostly a name and ideal, but not much else at this point."

Professor Stein listened to every word as if each had special importance to him, but disappear into the hidden compound, he did.

Ricky, in the meantime, was having a very difficult time coming back to his senses.

The large well-dressed fellow emerged from the compound minutes later minus the bomb. Instead, three femme fatales walked with him to the edge compound where they stopped. Ylva recognized them as Liana, Leona, and Julie. They appeared peaceful and content unlike when Ylva and Ricky had met them just a short while ago.

Professor Stein, with Trouble sitting on his broad shoulder, turned back to them and seemed to ask them a question. All three of them nodded with certainty. The Professor shook his head sadly but nodded in understanding. Then, each of the ladies leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek which he accepted gratefully. Spying Ylva and Ricky, they winked and gave a thumbs-up as if to convey no hard feelings. The three women then waved, turned, and walked away down the corridor.

Moments later, a tremendous explosion shook the earth, rattling many of the cars above and both Valkyries. Professor Stein let out a deep, long sigh. As the dust and rust settled, he seemed momentarily distraught, like a man who had good reason to grieve, but did not want to show it. Trouble licked his face and beard in an affectionate attempt to improve his mood. The professor scratched his neck in thanks.

The professor glanced at Ricky's still form as he slowly strolled back to Ylva, his fingers tapping on the rapier Julie had given him.

"All right," he looked straight ahead at Ylva. "That business is concluded. What can I tell you that I can chance getting into enemy hands? If they capture you and force you to talk? Or rather..." he looked grim, "...what should you know if you decide to go your own way?"

He looked back to the magnificent Valkyrie and thought aloud. "It is only a matter of time before someone calls me again. I would greatly enjoy sitting down with every Traverser I know and just share everything I've learned over a cuppa, but something always gets in the way lately."

"I don't know how else to explain. I feel if you don't trust me by now, you probably never will. But you have your own reasons, and your own dreams and goals to pursue. It is your destinies to decide, not mine.

"I give you what time I have left until someone else calls me. When that happens, I must be off. I recommend precise questions, to the point." From the shade it provided, he glanced at the giant, pristine Valkyrie standing beside him in Guardian mode under the hot sun.

"Until then, what else would you like to talk about, my dear?"
 

Silanon

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Precision requires patience. Patience needs time. And as it so happens, time is as limited as the knowledge the professor might share. He said it himself, after all - always another task waiting for him. Could be in an hour, or within the next minute. From what Ylva has seen thus far, the latter seems more likely. And thus, the Swede closes her eyes for a moment, takes deep breaths to drive away the images of explosions, the death of machines, the sorrow of a man. Her own frustration, first and foremost. And uses these few, ticking seconds to find the words and questions that matter. Or so she hopes. Optimization requires time, or there would be nothing but perfection.

"I don't know, actually. It's not a lack of trust, at least not really. More a lack of understanding the whole mess. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. You see most of it, maybe, and I've only seen a few pieces. So when I ask what's on it to get an idea where I'm at, half of it wouldn't make sense since I lack the background, and the other half are things you couldn't share. And that's frustrating. Doubly so because I'm curious; and frightened, I guess. Some pieces look like what I came over for. The tech. The fighting, apart from the things I saw. Maybe even those, maybe even traversing. I don't know. Yet. I've seen too little, and you don't share all that much. Can't share, I get that. There were enough things I couldn't talk about, back in Stockholm. So maybe questions are pointless, another piece or two won't make the difference. And that's even worse. Sorry, that's the opposite of precise questions, isn't it?"

Another deep breath to refocus. "How much of this makes sense, from your perspective?" Her arm vaguely points out everything in sight. The sky and junkyard. The professor, the fellow pilot, the (former?) entry of the underground base. "Just give me a number, on a scale where ten's good and I'm at -1." A moment to rethink. "Apart from going to Eglin, what's the worst I can do? Searching for answers on my own, I'd assume - don't even quite understand what i saw, myself, and they're still after me regardless. Speaking of it: How much do people know about the Malcontents, and Zentraedi? Again on a scale, maybe. Doesn't give away too much, does it? Thought we'd be high up there, before things happened. Can't be a ten, I've seen that much."

Another pause. "What's the date, actually? Haven't checked. There's quite the gap where I don't know what happened, myself. The Lieutenant told me some of it, didn't ask him that, though." A look over at Rick, trying to see how he's doing. "That's it, I think. Everything else's too much. Unless you think there's more I should know, Professor."
 
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