2017-06-30 Flower Crowns and Underground

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Flower Crowns and Underground
Date 2017/06/30
Location Scapus III
Participants Hunker, Orbitall
Plot Artifacts of the Knights of Cybertron
Scene GM Tez
Summary Hunker and Orbitall hunt a dead planet for an artifact.

So many of the artifacts have been found on planets far from Cybertronian space that it's almost strange when one of the locations comes up as being within the (former) Decepticon Constellate. The planet has been abandoned an age, after battle after battle to reclaim the surface instead rendered it a molten ruin.

The surface of Scapus III has cooled, although it is pocked here and there with craters. A series of rifts are carved across the planet's surface where the crust contracted as it cooled unevenly. Some of those rifts go quite deep, and there are indications that organics have moved in for the harvest, digging mining outposts into the metal.

The spacebridge spits them out on the planet's surface not far from one of those bubbled outposts, although out of sight behind a ridge. The atmosphere is thin and hazy, and radiation levels are higher than normal, but not damaging. The signal of Cybertronian technology that will allow them to find the artifact is swallowed by the background noise of a thousand, thousand signals all singing out into the nights: equipment left when the Decepticons abandoned the planet ... and bodies, melted into the crust to become part of the planet.

His first few steps out of the portal, and Orbitall stumbles a little, having trouble with finding proper footing on the ground despie his relatively large pedes. The solar panels lying down his back flare slightly as he steps forward in the process of finding his balance, until he's finally standing on a relatively smooth patch of the cooled slag that makes up the ground here on this wasteland, the scanner still safe in his hand.

It's then that Orbitall stops looking down at the ground, but instead lifts his helm... and stops. His optics cycle wide as he takes in the damage, the scanner nearly forgotten in his hand as his solar panels droop down against his back again. Preliminary information about Scapus III clearly didn't prepare him for the real thing. "...Where... should we start?" he asks eventually, still staring at the barren surface.

Hunker does not have any experience with the front lines of the war, nor, really, the damage left behind by the battles raged in the name of his faction. He's heard stories, sure, he's read some things, seen some pictures and went, 'Oh my', yet. As he steps out of the space bridge beside Orbitall, his sturdy frame finding balance a bit easier than his companion, Hunker too stalls as he takes in the environment of Scapus III. The absolute mess it has become. For a brief moment, in his shock, the glitch takes hold, and the lines between reality and dreamscape blur. He sees - the slag, beneath it, something moves, reaching, coming, something's there, something's still alive--

Hunker shakes his helm, dismissing the images for what they are: harmless hallucinations. "Not sure." Leaning over, he peers down at the scanner Orbitall holds. "Sure is a lot a signals bouncin' around here think the bridge put us near it? There a way to finetune that device, zero in on the artifact's signal over the rest of 'em?" He's not sure if that's possible, but it's a thought, at least. Scanning the area again, he spots the ridge and points toward it. "Maybe we could get up higher, get a better look at the place." As ghastly as it is that there are once-living beings baked into the crust of the planet, at least it was hot enough that the bodies have melted to no more than mech-colored smears of brighter hue against the background tarnish of the metal planet.

So that's nice.

From the noise of signals, not everything entirely melted before it cooled. There ... probably aren't any signals of living Cybertronians in there, at least.

It takes a few moments for Orbitall's attention to move away from the surroundings and down to the scanner in his hand. Silently, he starts to fiddle with it. Rather than holding it up triumphantly, however, Orbitall lowers it eventually, with the slightest pinched expression on his faceplates. "Not yet," he says. "I can't tell what's what to filter things out." In other words, they're probably going to have to get some readings of those other lost items... and those dead mechs. "...Higher up is a good idea," Orbitall says, latching onto Hunker's suggestion the instant it's made. He even starts to make his slow and steady way toward the ridge.

"Hmm." So that idea was a bust. Hunker isn't bothered by it; sometimes ideas just don't work. Thankfully his second suggestion still just might. "Alright. After you." In another place, Hunker would have smiled, tipped his helm as if he wore a hat to touch in gesture at Orbitall. Here, he falls in just behind the satellite, walking about as slowly - if not slower - as they make their way to the ridge. He wants to keep his optics glued to it so that he doesn't start looking at the planet's surface and seeing things that aren't there again, but it's hard to look anywhere without seeing something unpleasant. It's playing hell with his mind, frankly, and he hopes they manage to find this artifact soon. 'Not dwelling on it' can only go so far when the nightmares in your helm have such a convenient backdrop set up for them.

As they crest the ridge, they can see the mining settlement in the distance, where small organics cluster beneath a dome that traps a comfortable atmosphere and keeps the radiation back, allowing them to work in minimal protective gear. They mine a particularly brightly colored streak of metal, notably rich in Cybertronian signal tech.

Orbitall is focusing on the ground beneath his feet. The uneven surface requires his attention, for one, and making sure he keeps his balance when he walks takes up a lot of his focus. He finds it easier, too, than staring at the charred surface. Staring down at the ground, it's a lot easier to think of the ground as some abstract form, and not remember the sheer extent of the damage. For that reason, Orbitall's feet drag some, as they get close to the top of the ridge. He's not much looking forward to looking up again.

A sudden burst in activity from the scanner is what finally makes Orbitall look up again-- first to the scanner, then toward the source of the readings. He stops, blinking, when he sees the settlement, alive and bustling. It makes him pause, then look to Hunker. It's possible that going down to the settlement will give them an opportunity to find more information, but actually making the decision, and saying so, apparently has him paralyzed.

Hunker is grateful when they finally reach the ridge, having taken a cue from Orbitall after glancing over at the mech to just keep his attention on the ground beneath his pedes. Better than trying to look at the landscape without actually seeing it. As he's not carrying the scanner, when they're higher up and can see past the ridge, lifting his helm means he spots the mining settlement first, and he's already begun mulling over what they should do when Orbitall looks to him.

Not used to taking any cues on leading the charge, so to speak, it's another moment before Hunker realizes that's what Orbitall wants him to do. "It's the best lead we've got," he says aloud, watching the organics in their work. "If we come in careful, we can get a better look at what they're up to without drawing their attention." He'd suggest just asking them, polite as can be, about this operation and any information they could give, if that didn't seem like it could end up with Orbitall getting hurt. Naive he may be, he did know that organics weren't exactly fond of Cybertronians. "If we're closer, and the artifact's nearby, maybe it'll be easier to tune that scanner." He's already making his way down the other side of the ridge as he speaks, slowly and quietly as he can manage, one arm held slightly diagonal from his frame in a gesture for Orbitall to stay behind him.

There's no activity in the mining settlement to suggest that they've spotted them yet, and activity continues as they make their decisions, with chunks of bright metal carved from the planet's surface.

It's enough of a decision for Orbitall, who nods, quietly grateful for the other mech taking charge. Hunker is the one with guns, after all. He should know better than Orbitall does how to deal with aggressive organics. With that in mind, Orbitall obeys the silent instruction without protest, holding back to let Hunker take the lead in sending them down the other side of the ridge. This time, he can't just focus on the ground underneath him. There's the organics to pay attention to, and Hunker, and the scanner. The bad thing is, it means the tension in his frame is slowly ramping up. The good thing is it means he doesn't have the attention to spare for wishing that other, more tactically oriented and commanding bots were here with them. "... Look for some of the metal they're mining," he adds belatedly. "If we scan that we can cut down the background signal, I think."

Hunker moves in a wide circle toward the settlement, keeping out of sight as best he can, which isn't very easy on a barren slagheap of a planet without much cover, and also when he's big and bulky and not exactly the quietest mech around. It seems to be working regardless, even as Hunker keeps himself between Orbitall and the organics. Orb's right; he does have the gun, and he has dealt with hostile creatures before. "Alright," he says softly, over his shoulder. "They might have the only unearthed section of it...let's move in a little closer, see if there's any exposed outside of the settlement for us to scan." Hopefully there is, so they don't have to figure out a way to get inside the dome without alerting these organics to their presence.

<FS3> Orbitall rolls Reaction+Reaction: Success. (3 8 6 4) <FS3> Hunker rolls Reaction+reaction: Failure. (6 3 5 3)

As the ... giant ... robots ... attempt to tiptoe around, they do, you know. Okay. I mean, they are giant robots. At some point someone is eventually going to look up and--

A thin, high sound pierces the quiet: a shriek of surprise, followed by an outburst of panicked babbling. The busy bustle of activity becomes a panicked hum of organics frantically racing behind cover before the Cybertronians brutally slaughter them all.

<FS3> Hunker rolls Crafty: Good Success. (4 3 2 5 8 4 7)

It's hard to tell if the organics have noticed them at first... until it's really, really not. The sudden explosion of noise and movement is enough to startle Orbitall, who freezes in place, staring at the creatures as they run to hide. There's no ducking for cover, no holding the datapad over his chassis, no bristling of his solar panels. He just stops midstride, staring with bright, startled optics at the sudden activity.

Hunker winces when the scream rents through the night, armor cinching tightly against him in reaction to his startling. Well, so much for trying to get closer without being seen...this was an inevitability, really, considering the two of them. Neither are small or sneaky or stealthy at all. Unsure of what to do now, he watches the organics run around in panic, trying to hide from the two of them. Hunker remembers his guns, which remain unactivated at his shoulders, his cannon still and unmoving on his back. They're not onlined but that's not exactly the best image regardless...

Chewing his cheek, Hunker gets an idea - sort of - and reaches into his subspace. What he extracts are two completed flower crowns, one of which he holds out for Orbitall. "It ain't no white flag or peace treaty," he says, shoulders hunching upward in a sheepish shrug. "But it's better'n nothin'." At least he doesn't put it on, instead walking toward the dome with both hands held up, flower crown hanging off of one. "Uh," he calls, awkwardly. This is absolutely above his pay grade. "We ain't here to hurt none of ya...just lookin' for something of ours, and then we'll be on our way."

That's a very nice flower crown, although very big to the knee-high (or smaller, really; mostly smaller) organics behind cover. They chatter each other in a brief exchange, which from what they can hear, is not in the trade language that Hunker used. But one of them -- lucky fellow -- gets pushed forward, speaking in accented trade tongue: "What are you doing? We have nothing of value!"

Orbitall blinks when the flower crown is held out to him. There's a moment of lag, as he has to process what exactly is being held out to him and why. Then there's another delay as he has to fumble with the datapad to free up a hand to take the flower crown. He lets it dangle off his hand in the same way that Hunker's is, watching silently as Hunker steps forward to talk for the both of them. It's only when one of the organics is forced forward to talk to them that Orbitall finally seems to find his voice. "We don't need anything of yours. We're just looking for a..." here he has to pause. "A thing."

While the organics talk it over in a language Hunker doesn't know, he stays where he is, waiting. He's still positioned between them and Orbitall, still ready to take any shots that come their way in case these organics decide to fight. His armor's tough, he can handle it. He's relieved when, instead of that, they send someone forward to talk, instead.

"As my friend said, we don't want nothin' from you, an' we didn't mean to interrupt the operation you've got going here." Really, they didn't. It would've been a lot easier if you hadn't been here. "We're lookin' for an artifact, that's all. We've got a scanner to find it, but there's a lot a interference...if we could use our scanner on that metal you're diggin' up, it might help us find what we're looking for, an' we can leave you in peace."

"Will it kill us?" they ask, frankly evaluating the armaments they both carry. As small as they are, it would be easy to miss the quiver of their legs if not for the all the more obvious unsteadiness of their voice. KIND OF SCARY, GUYS.

"...No." Orbitall has to exchange a look with Hunker, seeking confirmation from the other crew member. The ship has been abuzz with stories about the artifacts that have thus far been retrieved, and the missions that have gone awry in attempts to get them back, but as far as he's heard they aren't particularly dangerous, or even weapon-shaped. "No, they aren't," he adds again. "It might not even be close to here. Don't know until the scanner is calibrated, though."

Hunker can't say for certain that the artifact won't hurt anyone, as they seem to come in all shapes and sizes. He thinks back on Nightshade's flower, however, and backs up Orbitall. "It won't harm ya in any way, we'll make sure a that," he promises, trying to keep his voice gentle, hoping that would help soften the edges of him being enormous and heavy and loaded with huge guns. "All we need to calibrate our scanners is check a sample of what you're mining, to help cut out some of the background signals." Maybe if he says it enough they'll believe him.

In the end, they seem more resigned than else as they agree, "Fine."

The mining camp basically deserts itself, with organics fleeing to hide inside. Their eyes peer from every window, every door as Orbitall and Hunker are left on their own move through the camp toward the metal outcrops.

It's hard to get a read on the organics, other than 'terrified.' Orbitall watches the messenger patiently, waiting for the verdict. If he's worried that the organics might turn on them in some last-ditch effort to try and drive them out, he hasn't changed his posture any. He's still just holding the datapad, as he stares down at the relatively tiny organics. When they finally say yes... Orbitall waits, for a moment, as the camp seems to pack up and vanishes. Only when it's clear that no one is going to stop them, or show them further into the camp, does he step forward, heading toward the nearest brightly-colored outcrop, walking slowly as he fiddles with the scanner. "This should cut down the background. Mostly," he says to Hunker.

That went...easier than he expected. Hunker's frame, which had tensed up immensely in the interim between what he'd been saying and waiting for what the organics decided to do, eases. It no longer feels like his plating is trying to forcibly shrink him a few feet by squeezing him hard. Dropping his hands now that the organics are gone, he carefully replaces the flower crown in his subspace. He'll let Orbitall keep the other one.

"Let's hope so." Hunker keeps panning his gaze as he walks with Orbitall, glancing every so often at the scanner. "I'd like to get outta here quick as we me a bad feeling." Wow, I wonder why.

<FS3> Orbitall rolls Hacking: Good Success. (6 8 2 2 3 4 3 1 7)

As Orbitall gets close to the exposed vein of bright metal, the signals become more distinct: they are coming from within the cleft in the ground, signaling from deeper within. He's able to tune out the signals, one by one. It's clear that this was once a Decepticon base, turned molten in the conflict, with perhaps sixty extinguished sparks melted to bright streaks of metal -- now being mined for materials by the organics on the planet. Orbitall peels the other signals back one by one until all that remains is a single Cybertronian source calling them down.

Orbitall doesn't respond to Hunker, other than what could be a brief nod, if he weren't so distracted by the scanner. His flower crown hangs around his wrist, all but forgotten, while his pace slows until he's simply standing in the middle of the path, slowly fiddling with the scanner. With the proximity, it's easier to read the signals, easier to tell what's what, and why it's registering. At first, he thinks it's just old technology. Then, the bright specks become clear, and Orbitall's hands still. He stares at the scanner, at the nearly sixty bright spots marked out on the reading. There's a buzzing growing in the back of his helm the longer he looks, one that his audials don't seem to register, and his optics shift without his input from the scanner to the cracked and melted ground beneath him, his optics dimming.

There's a long minute of silence, before the buzzing fades, and Orbitall slowly, stolidly casts away those signals one by one, until there's nothing left. He stares at it on the screen, before slowly turning toward Hunker. "It's down below."

<FS3> Hunker rolls Real Or Not? -1: Success. (1 6 8 5 2 1 4 6 5)

Hunker falls quiet, mirroring Orbitall's pace and direction as the latter works with the scanner to pinpoint their artifact's location. He can feel the eyes of the organics on them, watching them to see if they'll truly hold up to their promise. Hunker plans on it, of course; when he says he won't hurt the organics, or let the artifact hurt them (if it's even capable of it), he means it. The problem is that this attention is stressing him further in a situation that's already been quite stressful, and the energy he would have to keep the edges of reality from blurring again is sapping away from him much more quickly than he'd like.

It doesn't help at all when Orbitall stops and Hunker leans over to look at the scanner. It doesn't help when he sees the sixty spots below them, sixty lights that Orbitall is slowly siphoning out, sixty sparks that were once Decepticons, just like him...the buzzing is mutual, at this point, Hunker's optics brightened to the point of where they're clearly visible beneath his visor. He stares at the cleft in the ground, seeing something much different than Orbitall. He reaches for the mech, then stalls halfway through, his hand left hovering in the air.

For one terrifying moment, Hunker's cannon moves, lifting off his back and up on its arm, pointing straight down into the ground. It hums quietly as it onlines, warming up to blast those lurching, climbing creatures back to the hell they're trying to escape from--until Orbitall speaks. The fog lifts, the buzzing subsides, for now, and Hunker slowly shakes his head as his cannon returns to its resting position, the hum of power fading to nothing.

"Okay." There's a click as Hunker resets his vocalizer. "Okay. I'll, uh. Lead the way." Time to crawl into this hole before Orbitall, too, runs away from the mech crazy enough to try and blow up a bunch of long-dead metal.

If it helps, at least they are dead. Now, please take a moment to imagine what it would be like to be one living buried spark, lost and alone, trapped far beneath the ground unable to move for uncounted, uncountable years--

It's really too cruel a fate.

As Hunker leads the way into the dark, the small opening swiftly widens. The organics have not made it very far past the surface layer. That is rich enough to keep the mining for years a thousand years. Down here, in the caverns and tunnels that were once beneath the base, there's signs of older buildings yet. Buried as they are, they weren't quite melted as thoroughly, although it's difficult to tell what they once were. They were old. Very old. And once that was enough to make them a subject of Decepticon interest. There's mining equipment here, long lost.

The signal calls to them from beyond a crack in the wall, a crack that was once a door and has now widened to a hole. There's a suggestion to either side of the opening of carvings that look like halves of the Matrix.

There's a pause, as Orbitall finally looks at Hunker, and connects what the movement of the cannon means, even as the weaponry folds into position and the whine fades away. There's a moment, where anything could happen.

The moment ends when Orbitall simply nods, and lets Hunker start leading the way into the pit in front of them. He gives Hunker the space to start moving forward and follows, moving slowly when his solar panels make maneuvering awkard. Again, he's forced to divide his attention between the scanner and the path, and keeping from doing something like walking into Hunker as they continue through the levels. The remnants of buildings they pass through earn the occasional interested glance, but only a glance. Someone else can be interested in ruins. Orbitall doesn't know enough about them to be bothered. Instead, the opening of the doorway is what catches his attention. "It's through here," he says, beginning to step forward and past Hunker.

Ordinarily, Hunker would be extremely interested in the ruins of this Decepticon base. He'd want to see as much as he could, learn as much as he could about what this place had once been, who had once worked here, what had happened to bury it like this (well, the latter was pretty obvious, but you get the picture). Now, however, he doesn't take his optics off of what's in front of him. He doesn't look anywhere except where he's going, picking his way down, deeper into the ground and past layers upon layers of history. He'll report it when they get back, of course - and someone else can look into it, so that when Hunker does finally learn about it, he can do so from a book.

A safe, distant, book.

Hunker falls back closer to Orbitall as the signal gets stronger, considering that Orbitall is the one with the scanner that will lead them to the artifact. Yet when Orbitall begins to move past him, Hunker doesn't allow it, gently but firmly putting that arm out again. "Allow me," he insists, leveling his visor on Orbitall's optics. "My armor's thicker, just in case somethin's in there that ain't friendly." His expression hints at another reason, one layered in with this, before he's stepping through the hole and into the area beyond.

The dark welcomes Hunker with a thick and dusty silence that suggests a room undisturbed for--

Well, judging by the dust, a very, very, very long time. There's a delicate almost prickle over their exterior as they are scanned heavily. A mechanism in the center of the room unfolds, blossoming to reveal a projector that fills the dark space with a view of the night's sky. The signal pings clear and strong from the projector.

There's nothing that will draw Orbitall in faster than the stars. The flash of that projector has Orbitall's optics jerking into the room, but it's the view that it provides that has Orbitall stepping forward. The pinpricks of stars is what really has him abandoning the safety of the spacec behind Hunker, to try and examine them up close, whereas before he was perfectly willing to hang back where it was safe. He very nearly reaches out to touch parts of the projected view, his attention distracted for a moment from the scanner. It's only when it buzzes with proximity that he finally, reluctantly, looks down at it again. "It's here," he notes.

Hunker stands still for the scan, and waits for the other shoe to drop - when it doesn't, and instead a projector is revealed that blankets the walls and ceiling with a starscape, Hunker relaxes. Slightly. He even lets Orbitall move ahead of him toward the projector, though he stays close behind, ready to act lest something go wrong. Or, well, try. With that reaction, who's to say if he'd be fast enough.

"I think this is it," Hunker murmurs, peering at the projector. "If the scanner says the signal is coming from here...I think it's this." He looks up to Orbitall, then adds, "You should take it. It's yours. But be careful, it might trigger something." Nightshade told him about her artifact, he knows what happened there.

As Orbitall reaches for the projector, the stars go dark. For a moment -- just a moment -- the room fills instead with the projection of a great, horned mechanical planet looming on the horizon and then swiftly moving toward them with a churning maw recycling everything in its path and then--

The projector folds up, folds apart, and lying within is revealed an elegant sextant -- a device to chart the stars, rather than create them.

The flickering of the projector is what causes Orbitall to jerk in surprise. The surprise from the organics up above was one thing, but this-- Orbitall actually jerks his hand back in surprise and draws his helm back as the spectre of a monster fills the space where a gently cycling view of stars once was. He even takes a step back, as the great, terrible trash compactor of a thing seems to come closer-- and then stops. It takes him a good few moments to actually step toward the pedastal, and reach carefully for the sextant resting there. "....I guess this is it," he says, picking it up in his free hand (with the flower crown still dangling from it.) "Are you ready to leave?"

<FS3> Hunker rolls Real Or Not? -1: Good Success. (3 3 3 4 4 2 6 8 7)

Hunker braces himself when Orbitall reaches, thinking that the place might start trying to collapse around them. What happens instead is the projector changes, sending an image of something else at them, something far less pleasant and calming than starscapes. Hunker's optics go wide beneath his visor, spark stuttering in its casing. It's the creature they fought near Earth, it's Unicron - Hunker stumbles back a step himself, but maybe that experience with the 'zombies' helped prepare him some for facing another hallucination. This one may not be provided by his own brain; that doesn't mean it's any more harmful. Because it's not real.

When the projector shuts itself off, Hunker straightens. His guns remain offlined. He doesn't try to shoot anything else. "Guess so." It's an interesting little thing, for all the trouble it took to find it. "Yeah. I'll call in the bridge." Time to get the hell out of Dodge and do something relaxing...maybe he'll find Nightshade, sit with her a bit.

The dust settles in the quiet that follows. Mission Accomplished. Above and around them, the organics slowly creep out of their hiding places to go back to the grim work of harvesting the dead.

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