Jade Imperium - One Small Step

Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-21 16:42:58
It's just a dull grey ring, covered in unintelligible glyphs and symbols. It shouldn't be that impressive. Even knowing that it's hooked up with a direct line to the Redfield Nuclear Power Plant doesn't make it look that impressive. But then the machines whine in the Pit, ten of the fastest servers in the world all whirring away at once. The gantries holding the Gateway in place shudder as unimaginable power gets mainlined right into the thing - a raw-ended heavy cable that's just strapped on its side. The Gateway figures out the rest. Glyphs softly glow blue-white here and there on the ring, the first pattern that worked. The only pattern in over twenty years of research.

The last symbol is added by the Pit and there's a blinding flare of golden light, like a sun rising eight stories underground. When your eyes adjust, a jungle paradise lies on the other side of the Gateway. You can see the probe, the small clearing, even the faint spectre of a crescent moon above the blue-green canopy as an alien dawn approaches thirty light years away. Twenty feet away.

*The Gateway is stable. Receiving probe telemetry. Estimated lifespan is five minutes, 28 seconds and counting. Everything checks out.* The specialist's voice echoes tinny in your ear even as it booms throughout the Pit.

*First squad, you have a green light.* General Sanderson's voice, soft with decades of flying a desk, hits your ears and you can feel his excitement. The old man wants to go with you.

Your breath rasps inside the heavy NBC mask. Your heart pounds. Nobody has done this before. Is this what Neil Armstrong felt? Yuri Gagarin? Columbus? Ten feet now.

You put your hand through. Dr. Kilgore told you it wasn't like stepping into a wall of water, that whatever the Gateway does is all or nothing. Still, you put your hand through. The alien sun doesn't beat down on it, just the cold circulated air of the Pit. You hold your breath and step throu-
Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-21 16:45:04
Mission Time: -00:06:30

Away Team Briefing, Sublevel 7

Dr. Raines's voice meshes well with his horn-rimmed glasses - he looks and sounds every bit the 1950s schoolroom educational film narrator. Dr. Kilgore sits with the rest of the team, having chosen Raines to give the briefing. Max wants to make sure Raines, who in six and a half hours will be the ranking Earthside authority on the Gateway, knows his stuff in case something goes wrong.

"The Gateway, as we're calling it, is a torus 15 feet in diameter, fashioned from a dull blue-gray material that, for the most part, acts like a metal. The "facing surface" of the ring is covered in nodules and writing. The writing is composed of dots, circles, spirals, swirls, and curves. In fact, there is no angle present on the gateway at all. We're sure it's a clue as to the psychology of whoever or whatever built it, which is interesting because-"

A glare from Dr. Kilgore, then Raines aborts his tangent. "Right. The portal created by the gate is one-way for matter, two-ways for energy. That's why, when you look at these recordings from the Pit during the probe missions" - Raines cues up a projector - "you can see the other planet through the portal, and we can remotely control it while the portal remains open. The probe can't travel back here, though, not without engaging the gate on the other side. That brings me to the first phase of your mission."

Now an elevated view of the Gateway pops onto the screen.

"You'll notice there are several nodules placed around the ring. Feeding any kind of energy onto these nodules will 'charge' the gate. The more energy you've got, the faster it'll charge. As you know, our gate takes 28 minutes to charge and can maintain a portal for 5 minutes and 28 seconds. You can use nearly anything to charge the gate - solar power, electricity, open flame, but you'll have two generator trucks. We're bringing them down the silo elevator and they'll be ready at mission time. Use one, keep the other as a backup. One truck should charge the gate in, oh, about six hours or so. You must charge the gate before you can move to the second phase of the mission.

"That'd be, of course, engaging the portal from the other side and coming back. You've all memorized the sequence of glyphs that opens the Gateway. You can simply press the symbols to activate them. If, for any reason, you need to abort, this nodule here we're calling the Big Red Button. Pressing that nodule will reset the glyph and disengage any existing portal. Um, I think that's it. Colonel Paxton, I think, will be briefing you on the terrain."

Paxton's straight as an arrow, whip-smart, and an enormous jackass. He's what you'd get if Captain Verrill never saw combat and went for the fast track to the top, discarding the careers of those around him to do so.

"Let me remind ya'll that this IS an alien planet. We got a clear sky the last few nights, and the probe's telescopes - plus a lot of number-crunchin' - have confirmed that the planet is roughly 30 light years from us. Gravity appears to be point nine-four that of Earth. Atmosphere is primarily nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, trace elements. It should be breathable, but let Dr. Kilgore run his tests on-site before you remove your MOPP gear. It's a fair bet that if there's something in the air we can't detect, it probably will be so alien as to have no effect, but don't take chances. Temperature, in a word, is hellish. 100 degrees plus with over 90% humidity. Stay hydrated - and Captain Verrill, it is your job to make sure the science team stays hydrated. Now here's the interestin' part.

"This Gateway on the other side is one of several such gates the probe has detected. These photos show some sort of wreckage behind and around the Gateway, and you can see here that there are at least four other rings. The probe hasn't been able to navigate through the debris in the windows we've had to control it. We unfortunately cannot bring these gates back with us, but our long-term intentions are to build a forward base on this planet to study the ruins and the gates over a period of time. To that end, Capt. Verrill's team will secure a perimeter while Dr. Kilgore's team charges and engages the portal back to Earth.

"There is indigenous life. Audio recordings from the probe indicate some form of animal life, as it were, and we've caught some kind of aerial creature on tape. We can't ascertain sentience or diet or anything about the indigenous life, so be careful. Dr. Kilgore'll have specimen containers on Humvee two. Dr. Raines' team would appreciate it if you brought them back something to study. This is historic stuff, gentlemen. You could very well be providing humanity with its next frontier. Tread safely. Are there any questions?"
e of pi 2007-04-21 23:05:08
Luis scans the data that's been provided, then raises a hand. Upon being recognizes he inquires, "Can this 'Gate' hold a stored charge, and if so, for how long? Can we use both trucks to halve the charge time? I realize that it's not the mission specs, but if things go sour, can we use that to get back faster? Also, how long is the expected deployment?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-22 09:14:26
"Yes it can, Sergeant. The portal can be engaged at will as long as it's charged. We've added a simple meter of Dr. Kilgore's design to the trucks - they'll indicate with a red/green light when the gate is ready. We don't have any information on gate energy runoff, so assume one charge will be sufficient for the mission. Two trucks in tandem should - Paxton looks at Raines, who nods - halve the charge time. It's Dr. Kilgore's decision.

Estimated deployment time is as long as it takes to complete your mission. Secure a perimeter, charge the gate, engage a portal back home. Still, we're not taking chances. Humvee one will have food and water for three days, plus we can always send more supplies through the gate."
Gatac 2007-04-22 09:43:03
"Theoretical question," Hugh says, raising his hand. "In your opinion as an expert on the alien tech - if we meet the people who built this thing, what should we expect? Does the tech used in the gate have any obvious applications in building weapons?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-22 16:08:11
"Whoever or whatever built the Gate built it when we were still running around with spears fingerpainting in caves. As for weapons, I- we- don't know. The Gateway transmits matter and energy across astronomical distances. I don't know what I could tell you... it's likely that the builders enjoy a similar atmosphere to Earth, so communication may actually be possible. Try not to start a fight is all I can say - they're likely to be sufficiently advanced, if you're familiar with the term."
Gatac 2007-04-22 17:42:17
"I'm not looking to start a fight, I want to know how to end it. Seeing how we don't know what we're stepping into, I guess we just maximize our firepower and hope for the best."

He turns to address the Colonel.

"Sir, if we do run into a fight, I take it we're to make sure they don't take us alive and find out where we came from?"
Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-22 18:07:17
"Keep the location of Earth a secret, Captain."

Raines interjects. "Um, before we get all War of the Worlds-happy, let's consider the infintestimally small chance of there being sentient life on what looks like a thriving but uncivilized planet. Or the astronomically small chance that, if there IS sentient life, AND it built these gates, that it just left five of them lying around in a jungle.

"We've been monitoring the probe every half-hour for a week now. We haven't seen any macrofauna that's been the slightest bit interested in the probe, the ruins, or the gates. Aside from the bird-thing, we haven't actually SEEN any fauna. Just audio."
Gatac 2007-04-22 18:17:10

Hugh tries to hide his grimace. Rationally, he's 100% behind the Colonel, but the way his hand is clenching underneath the table, he's not so sure if he'd give up his life or his men as long as there's still a chance to salvage things.

Better not to let it get that messed up, he thinks. Earth first, his crew second...rules of engagement a very distant third.
fanchergw 2007-04-22 20:15:04
Most of the briefing is sufficiently technical to go right over Semo's head. However, he shows no sign of boredom as he listens carefully, sitting in an attention posture. Best to take whatever information he can from what's provided.

The officers and scientist banter back and forth a bit. Still, the mission parameters appear sufficiently clear, and that's all Semo really needs. It sounds like they won't encounter hostiles, but best to be prepared anyway.
Dieter 2007-04-23 04:11:20
admiralducksauce wrote:

"We've been monitoring the probe every half-hour for a week now. We haven't seen any macrofauna that's been the slightest bit interested in the probe, the ruins, or the gates. Aside from the bird-thing, we haven't actually SEEN any fauna. Just audio."

"Don't touch anything until I give the all-clear." replies Kilgore, rather matter-of-factly.

The Doctor looks up from his PDA long enough for his point to get across to both the civilian and military representatives before going back to last-minute calculations.
Gatac 2007-04-23 07:44:25
Hugh turns to his Sergeants.

"That means 'Don't shit in the woods'."
Dieter 2007-04-23 19:00:04
Gatac wrote:

Hugh turns to his Sergeants.

"That means 'Don't shit in the woods'."

"You could afford a little more respect to the guy who's going to tell you whether or not some horrible alien pathogen is present in the air you're breathing, Captain."
Gatac 2007-04-23 19:16:46
Hugh tries to look reassuring, but he can't help smiling a bit at making the scientists twitch.

"No disrespect intended, Doc, I'm just telling it like it is. We could probably cause some horrible ecological disaster if we leave our bacteria and waste products behind."

He clears his throat.

"Plus, you guys all heard about the Candiru, right? Little fish, hooks into your peter if you piss into the Amazon? For all we know, their candiru is a little frog-thing, lives close to trees and really digs the smell of methane."

Another cough.

"Just saying. Let's not expose ourselves more than we have to."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-23 19:47:27
"Now that we've settled into dick jokes, let's wrap this thing up," Colonel Paxton interjects. "You all know where the armory is. Get some chow, get some sleep, get your gear. I want you in the Pit at 1400 hours. Now get the hell out of my briefing room."

"That's 2 o'clock, nerds." That'd be Junior - Sergeant Dietrich, that is. The Carolina native shark-grins at Dr. Kilgore and his team, Drs. Cavanaugh ('Kitty') and Tupolev ('Andy').
Dieter 2007-04-23 19:56:07
admiralducksauce wrote:

"Now that we've settled into dick jokes, let's wrap this thing up," Colonel Paxton interjects. "You all know where the armory is. Get some chow, get some sleep, get your gear. I want you in the Pit at 1400 hours. Now get the hell out of my briefing room."

"That's 2 o'clock, nerds." That'd be Junior - Sergeant Dietrich, that is. The Carolina native shark-grins at Dr. Kilgore and his team, Drs. Cavanaugh ('Kitty') and Tupolev ('Andy').

Max leans over to Kitty and Andy.

"Did I ever express just how much I hate the regular military? Let's go before they start throwing feces at eachother.", giving the nod for the nerd herd to exit with him.
fanchergw 2007-04-23 20:11:20
Semo does his best to ignore the various jokes and taunts; not very good military discipline in his mind. Still, a bit of a snicker escapes his lips at one point.

1400 hours. That gives him time to eat, take a nap, eat again and collect his gear. Good enough. Semo heads out directly for the mess hall.
Gatac 2007-04-23 20:13:13
Hugh collects his men and walks with them for a bit.

"Now, soldiers, I expect you all cleaned up, squared away and ready to roll in six hours. That said, if you've been meaning to try out a new steak- or whorehouse, now's the time."
Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-23 20:36:57
"Copy that, sir." Specialist Mellish, Sumo's counterpart for fireteam 2. The rest of the squad - Taylor, Dietrich, Mellish, Riviera, and Greene - split up, each with their own pre-mission rituals.
Admiral Duck Sauce 2007-04-23 20:37:19
Mission Time 00:00:01

-gh the alien gate onto soft blue-tinted green moss. As your body completely passes over the threshold, your insides let you know just how different 'point nine four Earth gravity' with '100-plus degrees and 90% humidity' really is.

Max, Specialist Greene, and Kitty manage to willpower their way through the shift. Capt. Verrill and Sgt. Stanhill immediately double over, their stomachs churning, their eyes streaming. The heat hits you like a charging rhinocerous and the murder the passing does to your inner ear is like doing fourteen shots of Hazzard County moonshine all at once.

Sumo and Dr. Tupolev have to puke. The NBC gas mask, of course, is a barrier to that instinct.

Max sees Andy Tupolev and the big Samoan gunner hit the ground hard. They're going to puke - the question is, are they going to let it simmer in their face masks?

Hugh sees two blurry figures scrabbling at their masks. Doc Kilgore hasn't tested shit yet.

You can still see the Pit through the portal. The second fireteam is standing there outside their Humvees and trucks. You can see SFC Chuck Taylor mouth the words "Holy shit."

Taylor shouts something else, then remembers you can only see through the Gate. He grabs his radio: *Captain! Are you all right? What's your status?!*