Act II - The Grav Station
Although Tula couldn't tell the crew much about the other levels of the Warden, she did know a few likely entry points. Since one of those was supposedly located near the mesas, the crew thinks it likely that the metal room in which they found the map has something to do with the entrance. The Windwalker sets out for the mesas once more.
Upon arrival, the crewmembers discover that the badgers have abandoned the tunnels, allowing them to return to the metal room unopposed. They examine the instrument panels and end up pushing buttons at random until they hear a rumbling sound in the distance. When they search the caves, they discover that a room which was previously filled with bones has now emptied through a large hole that opened in the floor. They enter the hole and slide down the tunnel, which deposits them in a huge, dark hall and then closes behind them. Off to the sides of the hall, large steps lead up to giant promenades which stretch off into the distance. The only light comes from glowing balls that hover along the promenades and in the middle of the hall, where they illuminate a large desk with a huge dark screen hanging over it. Humanoid skeletons litter the floor in various places.
The buildings lining the promenades contain many things, including a displayroom that shows animated holographic projections of many different scenes. While some of the crewmembers watch, the images suddenly start changing into scenes of carnage and destruction. A large projection in the back of the room shows what appears to be a statue of a woman holding a torch and a book. The statue suddenly lowers it torch and points it at the watching crewmembers. Then a very real needle shoots out of the image, ricocheting off the floor. A large droid carrying a needle-gun steps out of the image and attacks.
After a pitched battle, the group manages to bring the droid down. They discover a small card has been welded to the droid's forehead. Puzzled about this, the group continues their exploration of the cavernous hall. The discovery of a glass-walled room containing vehicles leads to much excitement. Having seen Tula's hovercar, a few crewmembers decide to go for a test-drive. They manage to get one of the cars moving and drive it around the hall. Finding the brakes seems to be something a problem however. In the end they simply abandon ship, and the car ploughs into the desk in the centre of the hall.
At that moment, the large screen hovering over the desk comes alive, displaying a stylized human face. In a thundering voice, the face announces itself to be a god, and demands payment in blood for the damage the crew has done. Alternatively, they must pass a test to prove their worthiness. The crew decides to go for the test. The mad god tells them they have to collect a number of keycards in order to regain its favor. Then it orders them to enter the grav-ring (a tube shaped like a flattened hexagon that runs from side to side through the hall, passing over the promenades). The crewmembers step in and immediately find themselves falling sideways down the grav-ring, as if gravity had been turned 90 degrees. They continue to fall in this way until they reach another opening. The ring unceremoniously dumps them into the treetops of what appears to be a large forest. The gravity directly below the ring is much lower then normal and thus everyone manages to get to the ground safely.
The new surroundings are a strong contrast to the entrance hall. A forest stretches into the distance for as far as the eye can see. Likewise, the blue sky looks never-ending, even though the crew knows that they must still be underground. The climate is warm and pleasant, apparently late summer. The crew decides to investigate the lake they saw. During their trek through the woods, they stumble upon small clusters of houses which they investigate, grabbing anything of value. The only house systems that are still active are the kitchen replicators. The crewmembers experiment with the controls. Most of what they get appears to be food, but one time the replicator produces a small fourlimbed creature, which is alive. Leaf decides to eat it, swallowing it whole between his venus-flytrap jaws. Later, the crew encounters the adult versions of the creature. One of the small, bulbous, spindly limbed, fanged, red-eyed critters bites Drabor on the leg and then vanishes into thin air.
After dispatching the last of the critters, the crew continues towards the lake. There they find a small boat floating by a pier. They row out onto the lake and try to catch something with the fishing rods they found in one of the houses. The first fish they catch is not quite what they expected. It's the skeleton of a fish inside a wriggling blob of transparent slime. They throw it back and row to shore, worried by their strange catch.
That night, they discover that fish skeletons aren't the only things that have been grabbed by the slime. Humanoid skeletons, many still in the uniforms they wore upon their death, start coming up out of the lake in great numbers. The crewmembers barricade themselves into one of the houses and start making torches. The battle goes on all night, but the crew have the advantage of flight and attack the slime-zombies from above with fire. When the sun finally rises the next morning, only charred skeletons are left. Among the burned remains is the keycard the crew was looking for, unscathed by the fire.
The crewmembers re-enter the grav-ring and find themselves falling once again. At first there is only darkness, but then they see light up ahead. Soon after, they're falling through a transparent part of the grav-ring. Lights mounted on the outside show water all around them, as far as the eye can see. A few moments later, the crew is deposited into a large module attached to the grav-ring. Half of the module is transparent and shows the underwater scenery outside. Consoles line the back of the long room, while what appear to be hatches are located on the floor in the front.
The crew manages to open one of the hatches and discovers a small vehicle hanging beneath it. The small submarine consists of a transparent bubble which has some machinery attached to it. In front are two manipulator arms. After some experimenting, the crewmembers pilot their new toys out into the ocean. After a while they come upon an enormous metal grid. Inside the grid hang several cylindrical modules, with docking ports below them. The crew enters and investigates.
After some searching, they discover what appears to be the main control room. A holographic display on one of the tables shows the image of a large exotic fish. Unreadable data scrolls past in the display, including one symbol that the crew has learned to recognize from their lessons from Tula: a radiation warning. The display occasionally switches to a cross-section of the fish, showing a keycard in its stomach. The crewmembers climb back into their subs and go out looking for the fish. They capture it (after dodging some of the radiation blasts it was capable of generating) and retrieve the keycard.
Once more the crew rides the grav-ring, this time ending up in a long winding hallway that twists into the distance. The transparent walls and ceiling show blue sky and sunny weather. Not far down the hallway, the crew passes some burnt-out buildings. Soon after, they see three large disc-shaped flying droids in a cavernous room at the end of the hallway. The droids spot the crewmembers and immediately come flying towards them. The central body of each droid is transparent and shows a humanoid-shaped indentation in the middle, as if someone is supposed to lie in there. Strange devices surround the indentation. On the outside the droids have several appendages which they use to attack. The crew quickly seeks shelter inside the burned buildings.
Drabor, cloaked by his mutant power, sneaks back out with a vibro-knife hidden beneath his wing. He manages to even the odds a little by taking out one of the droids. In the meantime, Jingles has gone on to the large transparent dome that lies at the end of the hallway. The ground beneath the dome is filled with waist-high yellow flowers. Inside, the sky shows only a raging thunderstorm instead of the calm skies that can be seen in the outer hallway. Jingles examines the spot where he saw the droids hovering before. Here he finds a crying little girl hiding amid the flowers. With some effort, he manages to calm her down. The girl doesn't say anything but she does show him and the rest of the crewmembers (who come running into the dome not long after, pursued by the remaining droids) to a ventilation grid that leads further into the complex. After a few minutes of crawling through the grid, the group comes upon a huge cylindrical hall. Floating everywhere are discs with frosted coffins lining the sides. One low-hanging disc has one of its coffins standing open. The blackened skeleton of a human lies in front of it, amidst wrecked and scorched equipment. A strange-looking gun lies here also, as do vials containing a glowing substance. The items are taken for later inspection.
The crewmembers discover another entrance to the grav-ring further down the hall. Above the entrance is a screen, from which the mad god orders them to find the disc that holds the command personnel. These are the most likely to posses a black keycard. Their disc is quite high up however, and this poses a problem since all the higher discs have huge insect nests build onto them, with small work drones crawling all over. The coffins in the sides of those discs all have holes in them.
Drabor and Jingles, in their usual adventurous spirit, go up and encounter one of the large hive-queens. Drabor, with Jingles on his back, has to do some fancy maneuvering to avoid her sonic blasts. Fortunately, the hive-queen isn't very inclined to go near the ground and finally gives up pursuit.
After a period of more cautious and stealthy searching, the crew manages to locate the disc of the command personnel. They also discover that the hive-queen who has built her nest there is quite intelligent and willing to bargain. The crew trades an antiquated shotgun and some gunpowder for the black keycard.
With the card in their possession, they once more step into the grav-ring. It takes them past a large production facility and into what appears to be a hangar bay. Here, another floating screen displaying the face of the mad god appears. He demands that the crew enter the black keycard into a module build into the wall next to a large set of doors. The crewmembers are distrustful and refuse. A couple of droids with nail-guns float down out of the darkness above to back up the AI's demands. Squeek threatens to destroy the card. This makes the mad god a bit more co-operative. It tells the group that it has been trapped in the station for thousands of years and needs the codes on the keycard to leave. It also explains to them that the station they are on is a gravity-station.
Grav-stations are what hold the different levels of the colonyship Warden together. Each level has a number of them and floats in their gravitational fields. This eliminates the need for surfaces on which the ground would have to rest. The grav-stations would also play a large roll in the final colonization of the planet around which the Warden is currently in orbit. Once the colonization process is started, the outer hull will be disassembled and the grav-stations will take their spheres of influence down to the surface, complete with part of the atmosphere.
The AI bargains for the keycard and promises the group to use the station's construction facilities to provide them with whatever they may need. The crewmembers demand that some of them be allowed outside to go to the Windwalker, to which the AI agrees. Once the group has split up this way the AI attacks the remaining crewmembers, Fox and Squeek, for the keycard. Dodging nails, Squeek destroys a red keycard to show he's serious about his threat, but the AI still presses the attack. Both Fox and Squeek are forced to flee into a tunnel that leads deeper into the centre of the grav-station.
The tunnel exits into a huge spherical hall where no gravity exists. In the middle floats a sphere that has a diameter of about 4 meters and which seems to be constructed entirely from electronic circuits. Fox and Squeek damage the sphere and a couple of repair droids are launched from holes in the distant walls. Squeek goes through one of these holes and enters the space between the inner sphere and a second, outer sphere. Going up, he discovers a controlroom located between the two spheres. He enters the room and is immediately caught in a grav-field. The station's main computer questions Squeek. He lies to it, which it discovers. The computer threatens him with termination if he doesn't state his real identity and purpose. After the second lie, the grav-field constricts and Squeek winds up as squashed red pulp.
In the meantime, the others have reached the Windwalker and have found Ralor, their friend and captain, dead. He died horribly, nailed to the deck by one of the AI's droids.
Fox enters the controlroom and is caught in the same way Squeek was. After he spills his guts (in the non-terminal way), the main computer spends the next hour purging the hostile AI from the station's systems. The remaining crewmembers are reunited and offered basic necessities and transport to a location of their choice. The crew argues that weapons and an upgrade of their ship are necessary for survival and the main computer grants their request. They also receive some medical supplies. As for the location of their choice, they ask to be taken to the next level of the Warden.
Weightlessly the rebuild Windwalker floats up into the sky, carried by invisible forces amidst a storm of dislocated sand and rocks. Joining the crew is the little girl, who still doesn't speak, and Vzzzbx, a dragonfly who has arrived from Tolag to provide help after being called with the help of Leaf's telepathic powers. The crewmembers decide to call the little girl Denna.
To be continued...
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