Jericho’s bot is… not looking well. It is laid out on an elevated platform in the Trent manufacturing facilities in Dogwood, now being rebuilt under ‘new management.” Not far from it is the Puma that had been pacified by Natsuki and Stella earlier. It is mercifully currently offline.
Natsuki goes where she pleases on Trent grounds, but Stella had been invited partly because of her general involvement with these Pumas and partly because of her scrap computer annoyance she carries with her. Or that never lets her out of it’s ‘sight’. Whichever.
At present the Factor is standing atop the Puma above an open hatch, watching some technicians and waiting for the two women to show. Things have gotten… interesting.
Stella is by no means free of guilt over what happened with Trent’s bot, and because of this, she’s brought a truckload of parts back with her when she answered the invitation. She has no way to know if any of them will even be of any use, but she can hope, right?
Arriving and leaving her truck to be unloaded by the techs, she approaches and looks up at where Jericho is standing on the deactivated Puma. And she hopes he’s not expecting her to climb up there. “Do I want to know why I’m here?” No, she really doesn’t. But she asked anyway.
Natsuki has been busy in Dogwood today. There were meetings with her Actuaries and of course, shopping. When the part-elf arrives, it’s just after Stella and she’s laden with bags from Goulet Fine Pens and Paper. That might make Jericho roll his eyes just a little bit.
“Sorry I’m late …” she says with a smile to Stella “Hello Miss Bridger. I hope you’re well…” She looks up at Jericho on top of the mechanical cat “And how is your other lady today?”
She’s teasing him. Again.
“Natsuki.” Jericho smiles when the elf arrives, and nods to Stella. “Miss Bridger.” He glances behind her at the truckload of parts. Varied and various manufacturers. Nice of her, though.
“We’ve been going over this thing with a fine toothed comb trying to figure out why it’s been marauding without a pilot and how.” And probably also trying to unlock golden age tech secrets while they’re at it. “The computer override Natsuki input allowed you to shut it down but at the moment its blocking out all our attempts to access its database, which is frustrating to say the least. However…”
The hacker hands Stella a pad. “While we were going over the cockpit we found this. See the indentatio on the wall next to the pilot’s seat. It looks like those slots are designed to fit something in them.” Something like, say, an H shaped piece of metal?
“I wanted you and Natsuki here for that, since Natsuki was in the cockpit last and she has some experience with these machines.” Indirect, through her cousin, but experience all the same.
Stella accepts the pad and looks at the image, and frowns. Well, shit. She pulls her obnoxious piece of scrap out of a pocket — because she’s long since given up on trying to LEAVE it anywhere — and holds it up by the image. “That, makes a rather awful amount of sense.” Of course, it doesn’t even begin to explain WHY.
“I have to go inside that thing, don’t I?” She sounds at best reticent about the thought. And there is NO way in hell she’s going to ask something stupid like ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’. Because she doesn’t even want to guess.
Joining Jericho on the landing at the top of the Puma, Natsu presses a kiss to the Factors cheek before peering into the cockpit and then at Stella. “The override was just an override if I recall the parts of the manual we found. ” she murmurs looking between the two with her. Why Jericho had asked for her to be here, she’s no idea…
“I was in the cockpit for minutes, Jericho.” she murmurs again, letting out a long slow breath. “And my experience is limited to being shaken up in the navigators chair … while Zelda does her thing … What is it you want me to do?”
And then to Stella “It’s rather roomy inside. These things were made to seat more than two … It’s not that bad, really.”
“Yeah. As she says, cockpit is pretty roomy. We’ll all go in. I want to see what happens.”
The technicians clear out and Jericho descends the ladder into the Puma’s head. He steps to one side to let the other two in.
“I want you to point out what controls do what in the event that something goes horribly wrong, or horribly right.” Either is a possibility. There are, as Natsuki said, two seats. The former Factor gestures to the women to take them.
“In your own time, Miss Bridger.”
The H slot does look perfectly sized for the bit of scrap in Stella’s hand. AND it looks like it’s a lock of some kind. Designed to be… turned.
Stella stares at them both for a moment. She’s driven racecars where the crash frame and door had to be bolted on AFTER she got in. It’s not the amount of room in there that’s making her hesitate. But, she can’t exactly get away with being a scardey cat. So, here goes nothing.
She climbs in after Natsuki and looks around before moving to the seat that corresponds to where the driver’s seat is in her truck. She knows a few other Transporters that — for reasons she still doens’t understand — prefer to drive sitting on the OTHER side of the vehicle. Weirdos. Settling into the seat a bit uneasily, she looks at the others before putting the piece of scrap into the H slot that seems perfectly sized.
Natsu glances at Jericho as he gestures for her to take the navigators seat. It’s on her mind to refuse and make him take it but she thinks better of it. So she takes the seat, the one on the right hand side of the cat “Put the harness on, Miss Bridger. Jericho, there should be a jump seat back there, pull it out and put the harness on as well… ”
The light glints off the chains on her bracelets as she moves and it seems that she’s not worried about this at all. Jericho knows her well enough to see the small tells to know that’s not true, though.
When Stella inserts the ‘H’ shaped object and turns it, the Estate Manager draws in a deep breath as the displays on the Cat spring to life. “That control there is acceleration and deceleration.” she explains to Stella, though the Transporter can likely work out most of it. “Jericho, you’ll get Heads Up display when the Puma is on the move. That’s the weapons system…”
The puma rumbles to life. All the panels light up and the first thing Natsuki will notice is that the displays are in English. Which is odd. Zelda’s family Puma has the displays in… what did they say the language was? French?
So far as anyone knew they were all like that.
Then a light comes on in the center console and scans both the women.
“Identify. Bridger. Stella. Lieutenant. Identify. Passenger. Out of regulation hairstyle. Unknown ear modifications. Recommend grooming counseling.”
Jericho snickers behind them.
“Unlocking computers. Welcome back, Lieutenant. Do you wish to recieve the latest briefings? Please request the passneger submit to DNA verification.” A panel slides open on Nat’s chair. Looks like a… hand scanner?
Uh… this thing has a LOT more lights and controls than her truck, or even a top of the line racecar. Stella looks a bit lost as Natsuki points things out, though she does put on the harness. That much seems almost like muscle memory, even if the attachment points are not the same as she’s used to.
Then the thing ‘wakes up’. She squints at the scanner light, and closes her eyes for a second at the ‘Lieutenant’ identification as if trying to gather her patience. “No. No briefings.” She looks at Nat again in surprise when the stupid thing actually asks for DNA verification. “No,” she repeats. “Passenger identification is not necessary.”
Thank the powers that be that her truck doesn’t backtalk her like this. Damn.
It is English but Natsu had noticed that when she was in here last time. And yes, Zelda’s bot seems to be in French. How that happened, Natsu supposes someone lost the instruction manual at one point.
“I do not need grooming counselling …” Natsu sighs, brushing a strand of hair back behind her ear self consciously anyway. “I’m surprised it didn’t tell me I was out of uniform as well…” The snicker from behind her gets a dark look.
As the panel slides out, the look changes to one of concern. She’s not sure about this. “DNA?” She has to think because that’s not a term that’s used much at all. Then she recalls “It’s about cellular identification, I believe. At least the books I’ve read on it indicate that much. I … would be surprised if it can verify me. Maybe you should do it, Jericho.” Elf genes and all might confuse it.
“I think we should, Miss Bridger. Both the briefings and the identification. We want to know what … it knows. Or it’s superiors know.” Depending on Jericho’s answers, she places her palm on the scanner and sends a silent prayer to a deity for nothing to go wrong.
“Understood. Identity verification cancelled. Unlocking primary computer banks. Warning. Locomotion offline. Warning. Weapons offline.”
“Computer banks unlocked is good.” Jericho leans past Natsuki and punches a few things, then sighs. “Can you…?”
He hates to ask her to work the computers but he’s just not familiar with these systems. “See if there’s anything we can do to find out it’s last data logs.”
Stella might be unpleasantly surprised when something jabs her in the back. Something sharp. “Pilot sustenance and drug regimen underway.”
Uh, what? Zedla’s Puma doesn’t do that.
Stella gasps and arches away from her seat, reaching to unfasten the harness with the speed of someone who might have actually practiced doing so. Putting one hand to her back where she felt the jab, she stands and looks at the seat like it somehow betrayed her.
“No. I’m done.” She stands to try and escape this thing before it does something else that’ll haunt her nightmares.
With Jericho leaning over her, Natsu smiles a bit. At least she didn’t have to try to explain why her DNA wasn’t a match … or different to the metal contraption. “You only have to ask, Jericho …” she murmurs. “The controls are a little different and in English but …”
Her concentration is all on the interface as she stabs at the screen, working her way through the menus to find the logs that were asked for. “Pilot … what?” she blinks over to Stella. “Oh, that’s new … or different. Let me see if I can disable that …” More buttons are pressed.
Natsuki might be able to disable it. However when she starts pressing buttons something else happens. The dashboard lights up again and the holo light starts up. Stella might be forgiven for thinking that something else inconvenient is going to happen.
“This will be the final log of Colonel Robert A Bridger, United States Army…” A tired sounding man’s voice comes on from the dash. The man who greets them on the transmission is perhaps 50, but looks like he’s aged a lifetime. It’s something in the eyes. Something from someone who has seen too much.
“The world has gone to hell, perhaps literally. God knows if we had known we’d have a hundred of these Pumas and not just five. The civillians, my family included, have been ordered to fall back to the rally point north of Richmond, but it won’t matter if we don’t hold. If anyone human hears this, it means we won and hopefully our families are safe. If the bot still works, the master override code is Alpha One Seven Three Niner Tango. Do some good with this thing. And do an old soldier a favor, go to Virginia, find my wife Estelle and tell her I love her very much.”
There’s a short pause. “If you’re not human and you’re listening to this… fuck you.”
The log goes dead and Jericho blinks.
“That was… unexpected.” Bridger? Could be a coincidence but then Stella has never said much of her family and Jericho has never asked.
Stella is well and truly done with the surprises in here, and when the holo lights up she visibly startles. But when the image resolves into the message from the past, she just stares. A good few seconds after the log ends she says faintly, “He looked like my uncle. Is that even possible?”
And there it is, that little voice in the back of her mind trying to convince her that this is some kind of ridiculously elaborate prank.
Nat was being careful when she poked at the system, she really was! When the message starts to play, she startles as well “I … uh …” but falls silent as the man starts to speak.
She just stares at the screen after the message finishes, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. It’s not till Stella speaks that she answers “More than possible, Miss Bridger. Most of the people in this area are descended from Golden Age and before families. When the rifts came, those that survived banded together … and much was lost. So it doesn’t surprise me you’re asking the question.”
So much was lost.
Looking back to screen, she finds the log that just played and shakes her head. “The date is near the end of what we would call the Golden Age, Jericho. North of Richmond – do you think he means what we call Dogwood? Or further North in the mountains?”
They have an override key now and Natsu leans to side, letting Jericho do those honours.
“He would have said ‘Washington’ if he meant the ruins of the old capital. So north of Richmond must be north of there but south of the old state border.” Jericho responds, clearly thinking. “It could be Dogwood. Or it could be some failed outpost or colony, or one of the outlier communities. Hard to say.” Dogwood is most likely, though.
“It’s possible Miss Bridger. I don’t know how likely it is. You’d be in a better position to know your family history.”
The Factor pauses again. “Well, shall we try that override code then?” He clears his throat and recites the code.
“Command functions transferred.” The computer recites. “Welcome, pilot.”
“This should be interesting. Well, we’ll leave a full breakdown for later. I need to let the techs look at this more. Can we offer you some lunch, Miss Bridger? Natsuki and I were going to take some in the Corporate offices.”
Stella tries to think back of anything her family might have said about their ancestors. She’s not kept in touch with them, so those memories are very, very old. She absently rubs at her back where the thing jabbed her, and watches as Jericho and Natsuki poke at the Puma’s controls much more confidently than she could ever exepect to feel
Then Jericho transfers the controls with the override code and she finds herself wondering if that’s it, if that annoying piece of scrap will stop hounding her. The offer of lunch interrupts her reminations. “Uh, yeah. Sure. Should I…?” She gestures vaguely to the H-shaped piece now locked into the control panel.
“Congratulations … Pilot.” Natsu teases, unstrapping herself from her seat and standing. “If you would like the medics to look at your neck, Miss Bridger, we can arrange that as well but we would be honoured to be your hosts for lunch. You’ve done us a great service.”
“I think …” there’s a glance to Jericho as Stella gestures to the locking mechanism “That it’s supposed to remain there and the Cat was only trying to get back what was its … ” or something like anyway.
When they’re ready, the part-elf lets herself out of the Puma and loops her arm through Jerichos as they walk back into the facility.
“If it appears in your pocket again, we’ll know.” Jericho says gesturing. “Mean time come on. I’ll have the cook whip up something suited to your tastes, Miss Bridger.”
Meaning she doesn’t have to endure overly fancy food if she doesn’t want it. Not that Jericho is necessarily fancy. His idea of high dining is a good turkey club.
Then again turkey isn’t as easy to get as it used to be.
Jericho has been working on the disabled Puma. Now he needs help - only help that Stella can provide.
May 20, 2411
Trent Factory - Dogwood