Act I - It came from the desert

The crew of the hovership Windwalker:

Damon as Squeek (Mutant Squirrel)

Sander as Brutus (Mutant Hamster)

Max as Jingles (Mutant Ferret)

Roderick as Nameless a.k.a. Fox (Mutant Desert Fox)

Serge as Leaf (Mutant Venus Flytrap)

and Captain Ralor (Mutant Venus Flytrap) as himself.

 

The Windwalker, its cargobays filled to capacity, heads across the desert sands towards Tolag, the largest community and trade centre on the western border of the Great Desert. Upon arrival late that evening, the crew is shocked to discover that the once prosperous town has turned into a warzone. The corpses of dead monsters and their victims litter the streets. Of the surviving townspeople, few are uninjured.

The crewmembers ask around, and soon learn that Tolag has been attacked several times in the past few months by hordes of flying monsters coming from the Great Desert. Since the desert is the territory of the sub-terran predators known as landsharks, it has been impossible for the townspeople to locate the origin of the threat. The people of Tolag have bravely defended themselves with every weapon and mutation at their disposal, but they fear that the next attack may break them.

Later that evening the town leader, Merric Carter, visits the Windwalker. He discusses the situation with the crew and asks for their aid. The next day, the crewmembers go out investigating. They search the remains of a ruined library, and discover an old map that indicates the existence of an oasis somewhere in the desert. Unfortunately, the map isn't very specific about the exact location. The librarians recall getting the information from a man who passed through Tolag many years ago. This man claimed to have crossed the Great Desert but no-one believed him. Apparently, the stranger now lives somewhere in the mesas, near one of the caravan routes. He must still be alive because the caravans still occasionally report doing business with him.

The Windwalker sets out for the mesas. After two days of flight, the ship is nearing its goal and something is spotted flying in the air up ahead. It turns out to be an old man, hovering in mid-air, waving his scrawny arms and trying to attract the crew's attention. As it turns out, this is the man the crew was looking for. The old hermit is more than willing to help the crew with their mission, but the only map he made of the location of the oasis is still in his cave, which he has recently been kicked out of by mutant badgers.

The hermit leads the crew to the entrance to his cave, high up in the side of one of the mesas. The hermit's cave is connected to the tunnel complex of the badgers. Brutus decides to scout ahead. He enters the caves and soon comes to an area where the tunnel is covered with green glowing moss. The intrepid mutant hamster tries to jump across, but doesn't quite make it. He falls into the moss just inches from clear ground, after which a spore cloud paralyses him. Small, green glowing tendrils burrow into his flesh and start devouring him. The other crewmembers, after retrieving the body of their fallen comrade, manage to get past the moss by throwing on some of the rotten meat they found lying around, thus keeping the moss-creature occupied while they pass.

Not long after, the crew encounters the first of the badgers. Fox's blinding bursts of light take away the badgers' night vision and the crewmembers fight their way past them, heading deeper into the tunnels. In one of the side-chambers from the main tunnel, the crew discovers a bound and gagged birdman. After being freed, the creature introduces himself as Drabor Triokanock. He joins the group and together they continue their exploration.

After passing through the central hall, where the female badgers nest with their cubs, the group discovers a tunnel made completely of metal. When they pass through the steel doors at the end, the leader of the badgers drops from his hiding place above the door and attacks. For a few moments it looks as if the vicious badger's spiked club is going to claim a few victims, but Leaf's mental powers overwhelm the attacker, allowing the others to dispatch him with ease.

No longer distracted by worries about having a spiked club buried in their cranium, the crewmembers take a look around in the strange, two-storied metal room, the likes of which they have never seen before. In the middle of the lower floor stands a large manlike figure made completely of metal. Surrounding it are what appear to be offerings left by the badgers, such as skulls, miscellaneous items and also idols carved from sentient plants. The crewmembers discover the map they're looking for lying among the offerings, as well as an ancient artifact which Jingles suspects to be a weapon of the kind he once saw a picture of in a book.

Leaf takes the carved idols in order to give them a proper burial. In the meantime, the others have discovered an alcove right beneath a high shaft that disappears into the darkness. When someone steps into the alcove, rings light up on the inner wall. When three rings are glowing, the person standing inside is launched upwards though the (now open) shaft and into the clear blue sky of the outside world. A few of the crewmembers decide to leave the mesa this way, using their ability to fly or glide to see them down safely.

With the map now in their possession, the crew (which now includes Drabor) pilots the Windwalker into the Great Desert. The first few hours the journey are uneventful, but then a sentry spots a glint of light in the distance. The ship changes course to investigate. The reflection is coming from a cylindrical metal object half-buried in the sand. The crew manages to attach some rope to the object. While the sand beneath distorts with the passage of landsharks, the metal object is safely hoisted aboard.

Jingles and Drabor try to pry the thing open, but to their shock it suddenly floats upward and rights itself. While the crew watches in alarm, a strange glow snaps into being around the object. Then it extends a small tube, which starts spitting fiery missiles. Most of the crew dive for cover, but Jingles and Drabor bravely throw themselves at the enemy. When they discover their weapons have little effect, Jingles jams his spear into the small tube. The resulting explosion rips the metal foe to pieces. Moments later, both Jingles and Drabor begin to feel ill for no apparent reason. They squirm on the ground in agony while their bodies mutate. After the other crewmembers have dragged their two stricken friends to safety, they throw the remains of the metal thing overboard using the longest poles they can find. Strangely enough, after their recovery both Jingles and Drabor discover that they have beneficial new abilities. Feeling better, the two start mumbling something about a kill-list.

The journey continues. Apart from a brief encounter with giant sandlike slug which was scraping its way through the hull until Jingles removed it with his newfound mutant gas-power, and a swarm of birdlike creatures from which everyone simply hid until it went away, the rest of the trip is fairly uneventful. After a few days the ship arrives in the approximate area where the oasis should be. It only takes a few hours of searching before the crew spots green on the horizon.

The trees of the large oasis are filled with swarms of the birdlike creatures the crew encountered earlier. Strangely, the oasis turns out to be perfectly round. A reconnaissance flight reveals a small clearing in the middle of the oasis. The clearing has a large object standing in it. The flight-capable members of the group carry the others to the centre of the oasis. The object in the clearing turns out to be a vinecovered metal cylinder the size of a small hut. After removing some of the vines, a door suddenly opens in the side.

Drabor and Jingles step into the little room and study the glowing lights in the walls. Then suddenly the door closes. They feel the small room shake while the lights in the wall start blinking on and off. The two friends nervously tighten their grip on their weapons. Then suddenly the shaking stops and the door slides open again. The oasis has vanished. In its place, a large, dimly lit room has appeared. In some sections, the steel walls of the room are illuminated by hundreds of small lights. In other places, the wall panels have been removed, revealing the underlying chaos of wires, tubes and other strange things, none of which makes much sense to Drabor and Jingles.

However, the most unexpected sight is that of the beautiful human female sitting in lotus position on the raised platform in the middle of the chamber. She is surrounded by heaps of cable that seem to be connected to every wall in this chamber. The woman smiles at them and asks a question in a language that they have never heard before but which has a familiar ring to it nevertheless. Only then do Drabor and Jingles notice that some of the cables that lie on the platform are apparently connected to the woman's back and neck.

Both Drabor and Jingles try using drawings to communicate with the woman, with limited success. Then a droid enters the room. It floats up to the woman and she connects some cables to it. After that, her language skills start to improve rapidly. The more Drabor and Jingles talk, the better the woman's language becomes. The other crewmembers are brought down, and the woman introduces herself as Tula. She explains that the room is part of a large underground bio-lab facility. She also explains how she came to be here.

The first thing she remembers about her life was awakening in a small outpost. She hacked into the inoperational computer systems (of course she tells all this in somewhat simpler terms for the crew's benefit) and discovered that she was created as an emergency backup system in case the ship's other backups failed. The ship being the colonyship Warden, which left from Earth long ago on a mission to colonize the planet around which it is currently in orbit.

The crew has a bit of trouble digesting this news, especially after they learn that the world as they know it occupies only one of the decks of this huge ship, and that there are other worlds just beyond the sky. Since this is the first time she has ever been activated Tula doesn't know much about the other decks, except for a few possible entrance points to them. On activation, the ship's Master Computer should have informed her about her mission. Her attempts to contact the Master Computer failed. She then ran checks to discover the ship's status and the reason for her activation. Many systems weren't functioning and her attempts to contact the Warden's crew failed, but she did manage to trace the emergency signal which activated her back to these biolabs. She travelled here using a hovercar which she found in a small hangar bay, along with a defence droid.

When she arrived, she discovered that the station was swarming with monsters. With the help of the defence droid she managed to clear and secure the upper two levels but new hordes kept coming from the lower levels where the lab's generation pods were located. She tried to use the station computers to shut down the pods, but most of the systems were either inaccessible or downright hostile. She had to use manual controls to lock the doors to the lower decks and then had the defence droid weld them shut.

With difficulty, she managed to retrieve some of the stationlogs from the computers. It turned out that the AI that should have overseen the station had begun to malfunction. The original purpose of the station was to create genetically engineered creatures that could be used to quickly populate new worlds. It was also used to maintain the population levels of the flora and fauna on this part of the deck. The station's rogue AI had started pouring out a steady stream of mutants, constantly varying the biological parameters and thus creating a monstrous army. The AI was releasing this horde through the upper decks of the station until Tula had them sealed. After that, it started to pour them into the underground transport tunnels.

Tula tried using the available computer equipment to close the tunnels, but the AI kept countering her instructions. She came to the conclusion that the only way to fight the AI was to connect herself directly to the computer system. Even after she had accomplished that, she had to battle the AI every step of the way in order to gain control. After two days, she gained the upper hand and managed to isolate an area of about fifty kilometers. Monsters were still being poured in, but now they could no longer spread. However, she knew that her orders would be countered the moment she lost her direct link with the system and thus was forced to stay and wait. That was 3 years ago and in that time the tunnels gradually filled up and formed an eco-system of their own.

A few months ago, another problem showed up. The tunnels all have an emergency override that activates when a certain level of air-pollution is reached. When that happens, large vents to the surface are opened. Tula managed to erase all the overrides, except for one. She could not gain control over it since the local computer was damaged. Now, once a month the pollution level is reached, and for a few hours the creatures can leave the tunnels.

Tula asks the crew for help. There is only one way to shut down the emergency exit, and that's through the use of a manual override inside a small console room near the malfunctioning air-vent. Unfortunately, in order to get there they will have to walk along a maintenance shaft for the last few hundred meters. This is a problem because that shaft runs directly over the tunnel and is only separated from it by a metal grate. The creatures living in the tunnel will be able to see anyone passing that way. It is unlikely that the thin barrier will provide much protection.

The crew agrees to help. The defence droid will accompany them to provide a distraction for the larger creatures. Tula instructs them on how to operate the controls of the console room. She also asks them to take a green diode from one of the consoles once they have complete their task. She needs this diode to create a communicator so she can start searching for an operational repair droid.

Before leaving, Tula suggests that the crew stay a while to recover from the wounds they suffered in their journey to get here. The biolab's top level contains livingquarters that they can use. The level below that consists of a large garden that still bears the scars of the fighting that took place there. The crewmembers use their time to search the two levels and discover some items that may be of later use. Jingles discovers a strange device with a lot of blunt pins. The device is vaguely head shaped. Jingles decides to try it out, but not on his head. He presses it to his side and winds up with a neatly permed section of fur.

The crew spends the rest of the time learning about the ship that is their world. Tula also teaches them a bit of the old language and some basic scientific facts. When the crew is finally ready, Tula's remote controlled hovercar brings them to an ancient sub-station in the deep desert from where they can reach the infested tunnels. They walk through the layers of dust that cover the ancient metal surfaces of the sub-station until they come to the loading platforms. From there they enter the maintenance walkway. The stench that drifts up to them is overpowering. However, there's no time to get used to it since something is already starting to stir in the darkness of the tunnel below. The defence droid opens fire. The crewmembers don't need much more encouragement and start legging it down the walkway, their footsteps echoing up from the flimsy metal grate that serves as a floor. They see large shapes move below them, but most appear to be heading towards the sounds of the battle behind them.

Almost halfway across, the console-room already in sight, a portion of the walkway suddenly buckles up ahead. The crewmembers race forward and manage to get past the bulge in the walkway before it is hit again and a giant moss-covered snout comes through, lashing out with a large purple spiked tongue. Drabor and Jingles attack while the others run on. When their attacks yield little success, they quickly continue down the tunnel, dodging the slashing tongue. They come to another hole in the walkway, which the rest of the crew has already passed. Seconds after they cross it themselves, they hear the sound of grinding metal. Looking back, they see a large two-headed beast clawing its way up through the hole. They sprint towards the console room where the others are already waiting. They run inside and one of the others immediately hits the door-controls, causing the doors to slam shut just before the creature reaches them.

The crewmembers permanently seal the air-vents as Tula instructed them, after which they open a small exit tunnel to the surface where the Tula's hovercar is already waiting for them. Back in the labs, Tula thanks them for their heroic efforts. A few days later, the Windwalker once again departs for Tolag, where the crewmembers are welcomed as heroes. They receive the rewards promised to them and spent the next three days in the celebrations.

To be continued...

 

 

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