Fiction written by /tg/, set in the world of CATastrophe.
“So this is it, huh? I don’t see any treasure.” Shansha took off her scuba mask and began scratching aggresively at her ears and wringing out her tail to the best of her ability. Those rubber straps always irritated her ears and the water did her no favors either.
“S’what the wanderer said. Said he didn’t have the gear to go down himself, but he could somethin’ shinin’ down underwater.” Marko stretched, also removing his mask and letting it hang around his neck. Their troupe just hit the air pocket on the old tower. He hopefully wouldn’t need it for a little while now. He liked the taste of this stale air the ruins captured. It tasted like…history.
“You met a guy wandering all alone? Why didn’t you bring him back to town?” J’kai cut in, ears perking up as she suddenly became interested in the conversation.
“Because I'm not evil enough to wish that upon even my most hated enemies.” Quipped, giving her ear a little flick as he walked by her.
“Hey! Meanie! ‘Sides, I never hear YOU complaining.” J’kai countered, rubbing her ear defensively.
“That’s, enough, ladies!” a woman, the only one still wearing her scuba mask, barked at the trio before remembering to add on a “…and Marko. We came here for a reason, so let’s get whatever it is you were looking for and get the hell out of here before any Oldguards show up.”
“You the boss, BB.” Marko shrugged. He seriously doubted there would be any Oldguard in this ruin. They usually only showed up in the ones with real shiny stuff. The only reason this place hadn’t been picked clean by other treasure hunters yet was due to how far off from any settlement it was. They would’ve never bothered to even check if it wasn’t for that tip. Of course, it was Bahi-Bahi’s job to be cautious, that eyepatch of hers was a constant reminder of what happens when you get careless while spelunking. Not that she’s any less aggressive than before. If anything, she got meaner and tougher from the encounter. You know what that say about porcupine dogs…
The quartet wandered around the ruin for a spell, grabbing an energy drink here and some catnip there, but never finding anything to make the trip worthwhile.
“I think that wanderer sold you bad intel, Marko.” Shansha smirked
“Nah, he seemed trustworthy enough. It’s gotta be around here somewhere…”
She only giggled at his denials “Face it. You got scammed, sweetheart.”
“Aha! There it is!” Marko’s face brightened as he ran forward and hugged a strange looking box with a glass panel on one side.
“A box? That’s what we came all this way for?” J’kai raised an eyebrow in confusion.
“None of you have ever stepped foot in the Archives, have you?” Marko sighed
“Reading about all that old stuff is boring when you could be finding it!” J’kai countered cheerily
“That’s men’s work. No reason to bother myself with it.” Shansha shrugged.
“I keep meaning to, but…” Bahi-Bahi offered weakly.
Marko let out another sigh. “Well, if any of you HAD bothered to listen to all the voices captured on the speakyboxes, you would know that the Earless used these things to store information, if I can only get it to–” he plugged a few wires into his portabattery and began pressing buttons seemingly at random until he was finally rewarded with a glimmer of light from the glass panel “–turn on. And there we go. Time to find out what the Earless saved on this one.” After typing on the tablet in front of him and gazing intently at the screen for a few minutes, much to the mystification of the three girls, Marko leaned back and pulled on his ears in frustration, letting them droop flat. “And the thing is locked. It needs a password, I think, but I have no idea how to figure out what, though”
“Well, if I was going to put a password on something, I would make it something easy to remember like ‘password’.” J’kai offered helpfully, entranced by the gentle swaying of a nearby dangling light
J’kai, bless her heart, was virtually every stereotype about her kind rolled into one. She was scatterbrained, as lazy as any of her kind in even the most dire of circumstances, it was damn hard to motivate her to do anything she didn’t want to do, and Bahi-Bahi would NEVER trust her with an arc rifle. And yet, when push came to shove, she was one of the best treasure hunters around. To this day, no one knows how she managed to lift an entire energy drink vending machine, much less swipe one from the middle of a den of kleptomanders without waking a single one of them up. Marko shrugged and decided to try her suggestion anyways. It couldn’t hurt.
“Hah! I'm a genius! In your FACE, Marko!”
Marko just chuckled quietly to himself and got back to work, removing various electronics from their waterproof containers and plugging them into the ancient machine and typing and clicking furiously, pausing occasionally to shoo away J’kai whenever her boredom compelled her to bat at his flitting tail. Finally he let out an exuberant cheer and began packing up his equipment.
“So what’d you find?” Shansha looked up from the rubble she had been occupying herself with, some nondescript object shining in her hand. “Some sorta treasure trove of old words?”
“Nope, something better.”
“Blueprints for some of the mechworks back home?”
“Just tell us already!” J’kai interrupted frustratedly.
“Fine, fine, but only because you asked so nicely.” Marko hit a button on the speakybox he brought with him, prompting it to emit a bizarre noise.
“Is that…music?” Bahi-Bahi eyed him from her defensive point watching the door they came in from, lowering her arc rifle ever so slightly.
“Earless music.” Marko triumphantly corrected her.
“Oh man, this is gonna be the BEST pool party ever when we get back!” J’kai shouted before falling into jubilant gossip and planning with Shansha. Even Bahi broke down and started discussing what she was going do when they got back to town and who she was going to woo with her loot, her tail wagging so fast that Marko could feel a gentle breeze as he walked behind the group, silently praising himself for his decision of career change from mechano-historian to treasure hunter.
(Untitled Writefaggotry), by Inquisitor Fail
'This certainly isn't the way I had been expecting to spend my day. No, I'd wanted to go diving, maybe find one or two of those shiny disks -what'd Juan call 'em? Compackt Diskus? Whatever. Find some cool ass music in the earless ruins, maybe even a guitar down in that old mall!'
Laying back on the towel covered tin roof, Crash let his long brown ears droop sadly over his eyes for shade. A young Usami, the boy was already rambunctious enough that diving and Scuttler hunting came naturally. Also, as with most teenage-males, so did complaining.
"Dude, Juan, when are you gonna be done?" He croaked out, indignant at his plans being foiled. "I told you, my air tank always rattles when I first put it on."
"Mon, if you don't put a cork in it, I'mma put a cork in you!" Wrench in hand, Juan kept his work going. The Corgi-Inumi twitched his ears back down to the tank, which had always angered him with its constant rattling. With a growl, he tightened the air nozzle's seal until he could hardly move it anymore before testing it out. With a satisfactory spray of air, from the nozzle, Juan finally nodded his approval. "Dere, mon, it's done. Ya can quit ya mopin' about now and grab a sandwich from da ice box. 'sides, me sistah was lookin' to see ya today before we set out. She got 'er eyes on you, ya kno?"
"Aw, who cares about Jasmin. She's not even your real sister, bro!" Blunt as always, Crash hopped down onto the deck of their shared beach hut/storage shed and strolled over to the ice box in it's back corner. Judging from the lack of freezing cold air that usually emanated from it, he'd have to peddle some more power back into it's battery before long. His seaweed and Scuttler sandwich was still chilled however, as was Juan's egg salad sandwich. "Man, I still don't see how you eat this stuff. I can't stand eating anything that comes from Waddlers. Too cruel, man. Too cruel."
"Bite me. Oh wait, ya can't 'cuz your a Usami!" Juan smirked at the admittedly terrible joke.
Given their penchant for telling horrible racist jokes about each other, it was par for the course. "Ey. Don't you be talking 'bout my hare-atage, boy." Crash smirked back as he tossed Juan the sandwich. He took a bite of his own, enjoying the sweetness of the Scuttler meat mixed with the bitter seaweed -his mother still didn't understand how he could eat such an abomination. So into their respective sandwiches were the boys that they didn't even notice a third presence until a quiet whisper of "That looks tasty." floated over Crash's shoulder. To say that the Usami jumped out of his skin in fright would be an understatement.
Suddenly finding himself hiding behind Juan, his sandwich sitting on the ground where he'd dropped it, Crash stared wide eyed at the stranger who'd wandered into their shack. Juan shared the stare, though his was noticeably more of a predatory leer after his fear floated away on the afternoon breeze.
Before them stood a rather buxom Nekomi, short black hair sticking to her face and snorkeling gear as her tail swayed in anticipation. Her button nose twitched as her sea blue eyes glued themselves almost reverently to the sandwich on the floor. "Can I have some...?"
A stunned Crash could barely nod at the girl before him. If height were anything to judge by, she might have been a year younger -or did Nekomi grow as fast as Usami? There weren't many on the island, so it was hard for either of the boys to judge. And the view as she bent over... tail swaying in the air, her breasts nudged together in the low-cut one piece swimsuit with a view straight down her cleavage if only for a tantalizing moment. If the bunny boy hadn't already been blushing when she came back up, he would have been when she took a bite right of where he'd been biting previously.
'That counts as an indirect kiss, right? Right? I totally just got a kiss, right?!' The thoughts hammered away at the adolescent, completely blocking out the fact that she was slowly devouring his entire lunch.
By the time she finished, Juan had the good sense to get away from his almost drooling friend and closed some of the distance between himself and the luscious Nekomi before him. "Well now, Lady, I'm glad you could stop by, but could ya tell us your name?"
With a flick of her tail, she flung a few droplets of salt water at the Inumi, taking the time to lick her hands clean. Juan, a bit hurt at being ignored, frowned. With a wave of her now clean hand, the girl moved past Juan, dismissing him entirely as she approached Crash. Stopping just before him, her chest scarcely an inch from rubbing up against his, the black haired Nekomi smiled and purred. "You've got good taste. Wanna go to the reef party tonight?"
It took all of Crash's mental control to not let his right leg start tapping from arousal. "Sure. I'd love to, especially with a girl as cute as you." ... is what he wanted to say, though it came out more like, "ohshityesI'dloveto."
"Meet you at the docks at sunset. Don't be late." The sweet, almost whispered instructions followed her out the door, as did both boy's stares.
"Shiiiiit, mon! What was dat? What was dat?!" Juan barked with a little outrage and a lot more teasing than he would have liked. It was almost impossible to be mad at his bro though, especially at a time like this. "Mon, ya already got my sistah. Don't go takin' de rest of the island! Leave some for me, mon!"
A still stunned Crash merely shrugged as he watched her walk down the docks, dem hips swaying like the ocean waves. Juan just laughed and batted his friend upside the head. "Ow! Hey..."
"Look mon, ya wanted ta go divin', eh?" With a grin as big as an extra large Scuttler burger, Juan handed Crash his wet suit from the rack in the back. "Looks like we just got another reason to find da good shit down dere? And maybe she has a sistah to introduce, yah kno, mon?"
The gears in his head finally starting to turn, Crash smirked. "Hell yeah bro. Let's get down there!"
Just a half hour later however, the hormone driven enthusiasm had faded quite a bit, replaced with a gurgle of displeasure in the Usami’s stomach. "...Dude, I'm so hungry..."
Looking back at his companion, Juan heaved a rather dramatic sigh. "I keep telling you, 's what you get, mon. Shoulda gotten something before we set out. Me sistah would'a made you anything if we'da stayed long enough to meet her -she gonna be pissed, by de way."
Stomach rumbling, the brown haired Usami shrugged. "It's not like we haven't gone out without her before. 'sides, didn't you say she was practicing for the surf competition out north? Probably got a little too caught up in that to remember."
With a grimace and his ears laying back in annoyance, Juan shook his head. His sister may not have been the smartest Inumi on the island, but she wouldn’t miss ‘a date’ with her childhood crush for anything. He tried to put his best friends stupidity out of his mind -only another mile out to their usual Dive site. "Dis be true, but it don't fill ya stomach, bro. Just sayin'. Maybe one of de local stores will hav' somtin for ya."
Grunting, Crash just turned to the west and tried to convince his stomach to shut up. The sun was still high in the sky, even though they've been traveling for the better part of an hour. His mind went back to that girl who had eaten his sandwich -her light skin, well-endowed chest, and tight fitting one-piece bouncing around in his mind almost as much as his hunger. 'She said at sunset, so we've got about five hours... well, maybe we'll find something.'
As his thoughts finally turned back to the dive, Crash pondered their ability to find anything of value under the waves. True, their boat could drag anything smaller than a pallet of fish quite effectively, but if it came to getting their catch out of the water it'd be a rough thing. Add to that, their only tools were a pair of flashlights, two knives, some rope, a water flare, and their dive kits. Truth be told, they were amateurs at best -not a great thing to realize when your date might be riding on your success.
The Hare was startled out of his thoughts when Juan smacked his arm. "Ey mon, you see dat?" The dark skinned Inumi pointed toward the horizon, off to the east.
"Eh? See what?" Crash leaned against the edge of the boat, his wet suit and gear slapping against the side with a thunk. At first, all he saw was endless blue, but eventually he picked out something staying absolutely still amidst the ocean waves. "...No idea Juan. The heck is that? Looks like a giant scoop just raised into the air..."
Juan slowed the engine and clutched the tiller. "Should we go check it out, mon? Might be something."
Crash smirked and nodded. Something about this seemed like a lucky stroke -something he never took lightly. "Yeah, let's go for it man."
Gunning the engine, Juan turned their boat in the direction of the scoop, it only took them a minute to reach it, and it became very apparent they were next to some sort of construction machine, and only part of it was breaching the surface.
"I'mma hitch us to dis, make sure da boat don't float off on us, ya?" The Inumi grabbed the rope and cast it around the scoop, reaching out to start pulling it around. "Go ahead and head down mon, I'll be right behind you."
"Right!" Popping in his breather, Crash flipped over the edge and into the ocean, powering himself down into the churning waves with his flippers. The area was shallow enough that he didn't need his flashlight yet -must have been near a mountaintop from the age of the Earless, Crash assumed. In the depths, he could see dozens upon dozens of twisted huks, land vehicles twisted and crushed together, chunks of shrapnel occasionally floating by. Had this been some sort of battle field?!
Slowly, realization dawned on the Usami. While not a genius, Juan had taught him a bit of Earless written language for the area. The words 'Junk Lot' were written large over what looked like a sealed metal container of some fashion. The area was huge, to say the least, and filled to the brim with wrecks that had been partially covered in coral. Fish swam between the wrecks, with a few Electrolotls spread about the general area -none congregating around any obvious Earless tech however… All in all, it would have been an excellent find for the scrap alone -they'd tell the island council next time it met, but what really stuck out to Crash was the fully intact (if slightly barnacle covered) vehicle hanging from some sort of crane.
He swam over, curious as a Nekomi as he peered inside its windows. Much to his surprise and joy, there happened to be a binder with circles that glittered when he shone his light on them. 'Compackt Diskus! Hell yeah! Uh... but how do we get them?'
By some miracle of the ages, the car had somehow remained sealed and wasn't leaking -meaning at least the interior was as dry as the day it had been swallowed up by the ocean. On the other hand, a lot of the car was rusted now, meaning a push or pull in the wrong direction or the wrong spot would flood it and potentially ruin anything of worth inside.
'Damn...' Crash frowned behind his breather, looking up toward where the boat was. Juan was already on his way down, but Crash rose toward the surface and cut him off half way, indicating him toward the surface. Upon breaching the surface, both Kenomi took out their breathers and shook the water from their goggles. "Dude, there's some kinda vehicle down there on a crane. It's not flooded, and it's got some of those awesome Diskus in there, but I'm not sure how we're gonna get in there. Any ideas?"
Juan rolled his eyes. "Well, mon, let me dink on dis. You say it on a crane, right?" Juan was careful to make it clear with his tone that Crash was being an idiot. "Why not find a way to, I don't kno, RAISE DA CRANE?!"
After a moment of Juan's words sinking in, he did feel like an idiot, and his ears sunk down a bit. Sure, the crane looked long enough that it might breach the surface... could that really work? "Alright, I get it, I get it. Let's just get down there and try to find its controls -maybe we'll have to wire some power to it from the boat if it’s not working?"
"Sounds like a plan!" The Inumi took his breather in mouth and dove, quickly followed by his partner. The two swam down, quickly passing the car and following the crane to its base. The cab was flooded, and upon further inspection, non-operational. As best he could, Juan signaled that he was going to have a look at the motor. Maybe they could get it moving again?
Crash checked his air tank. A full hour left until he was out, and longer still for Juan. At the very least, they had time on their side. Pulling himself into the cab and taking a seat, he did his best to translate the controls. Up and down he got, but everything else was less than clear, especially after hundreds of years of salt-water churning on it. He could operate it though -as long as they could get it working.
Juan however was not so sure that would happen however. As far as he could tell, it would take more power than their little boat could manage to get the crane operational. They'd need something magnitudes larger than just solar panels.
Just as Juan was about to signal Crash to get to the surface, he heard something in the water. A 'thump' that was heavy, on the ground he suspected. It was quickly followed by another, and when he turned to face in their direction, a single yellow eye greeted him from the shadow of several wrecks.
From the depths of the junk yard, and Oldguard emerged, bearing a humanoid form with two titanic fists and trunk like legs that flattened the metal scrap beneath them. It let out an electronic wail that both Kenomi heard, Crash almost throwing himself from the cab and drawing his knife -not that it would do much against such a foe.
Juan's legs worked overtime as he tried to surface, but the Old Guard jumped and wrapped its hands around the Inumi's waist like a heavy steel lasso, dragging him back down and into the dark of the junkyard proper. Crash madly swam after them, flicking on his chest mounted flashlight as he sank deeper. When he spotted the Oldguard walking back toward him, struggling Juan still in hand, the Usami quickly took cover behind several of the crushed vehicles, being careful not to ring his air tank like a gong against the vehicles. The slow, steady clomping of the Oldguard's metal feet on the ocean floor didn't change in pace as it slowly lumbered back toward the crane, walking uphill amongst the seaweed.
'Crap! Gotta think, gotta think... how can I beat this thing? I gotta get Juan outta there!' The panicking Usami gripped his knife firmly as the Oldguard passed, Juan reaching out for him when he saw the flashlight in the depths.
That's when Crash noticed the jagged tear in the back of the Oldguard's armor - just above its power unit from the looks of it. Thankfully, whatever wiring inside that was exposed was apparently insulated since the machine was still moving and Juan hadn't been toasted to a crisp yet.
The crack itself was minor, but it ran over the top two bolts that would have held the seal shut in the first place. With a little leverage...
'That's it!' If he could have smiled around his breather, Crash would have. He looked around quickly, setting his knife back in it's sheath gingerly as he spotted a long rod that looked just thin enough. Taking it in both hands, he started after the Oldguard. 'Let's see how you like THIS!'
Kicking his feet wildly, ears flat against his head from the speed, Crash jammed the rod into the crack and flipped over it, bracing himself against the Oldguard's chest as he began to pull and wrench it. His efforts were rewarded with a squeal that made his ears hurt, the bar flying out of his hands as it popped free from the ruined metal. Undaunted, and now very much aware of the Usami in front of it, the Oldguard almost lazily grabbed Crash by his arm, dragging him down to it's side much like it had been holding Juan.
'Well... that didn't work out like I expected it to.'
Juan almost wanted to slap himself in the face at how big of a mess Crash had just gotten them into. Who knew where this Oldguard was taking them?! Still, that wrenching sound might have done something...
As Juan finally calmed down and turned on his own flashlight, he saw that it had indeed. A black plastic power cell of some sort the size of an Air tank was dragging behind the Oldguard, only attached to the mechanical monstrosity by two large black wires. Waving to his friend, the Inumi pointed and drew his knife. Was it as dumb an idea as what Crash had just attempted? Yeah. 'But,' Juan rationalized, 'dis might save our bacon AND get us just wat we need!'
With an awkward slash, which resulted in a rather powerful shock being sent through his body that burned his hand and set his nerves on fire, Juan cut the cable. Immediately, the Oldguard twitched, its eye flickering as it shuddered and slowly stopped moving.
'Yes!' Crash wanted to cry out, only to notice Juan holding his gloved hand like it was on fire - knife floating free and slowly falling to the ocean floor. The Oldguard slowly released them both in its death spasms, and the two raced to the surface.
Juan flopped into the boat wearily and began trying to take his wetsuit off even before Crash had managed to make it into the boat. Finally ripping it off of his burnt flesh, Juan hissed and grimaced as fresh air and salt water ran over his hand. It was not a pretty sight.
"Shhhiiiit mon, my 'and! My fuckin' 'and!" Juan cried out hysterically, his dusky skin turning paler by the second as Crash pulled out the first aid kit.
"Hang on man, hang on." Crash soothed as he pulled out some burn ointment. He wasn't some merc field medic, but he knew how to treat a burn well enough. "Now, just hold still. This is probably gonna sting, and you can punch me for it later."
It stung. And Juan didn't wait.
Painkillers are a miraculous thing, even more so when not many people know how to make them properly anymore, so taking a single dose of aspirin -regardless of it's actual effectiveness- helped to calm the injured diver immensely. Wrapping the burns, while painful, also helped a bit since the sea breeze wasn't constantly running across it. Juan, for his part, managed to convey the proper instructions for how to reset the breaker and hook the battery up once he'd calmed. Though a bit leery about going down by himself, Crash managed to get the crane working again and raised their prize to the surface. Sparkling in the sunlight, its hood slowly drooping downward as gravity took its toll, the car was still in one piece.
"Damn it!" And unfortunately, locked, as Crash found out when he tried the doors.
"Break de damn window, ya fool!" Juan grunted as he cradled his arm. Some of the wrapping had blood on it, but it wasn't enough to be worrisome just yet. They were most certainly going to be hurrying back home after this though.
Taking up his knife, Crash folded his ears back and tensed up his body, slamming the knife into the window with an awesome crack as the glass grew a spiderweb of fractures. A second, third, and finally a fourth strike followed, the last shattering it. Hands and body sore from the day's exertions, Crash sheathed his knife with a huff and reached into the car, unlocking the door and opening it. "This better be some cool ass music."
The binder, unharmed but now covered in glass shards, was easily retrieved, as was a backpack and two large bottles of dark colored liquid -what looked to be some sort of Earless caricature standing with one foot upon a barrel. As Crash moved about the car, looking for anything else of value, Juan carefully nudged open the backpack with his good hand. His eyes widened at the sight of what was inside.
Cables, several boxes with cables attached, and what appeared to be a portable glass box.
"Dude, Crash mah mon, we've hit da mothalode! It's a glass box! We'll be de hit of de island!"
"You serious?!" Crash ducked out of the car -it was clean of anything worthwhile. "That's awesome! I've never even seen one before!"
"Yah mon, I know a glass box when I see one! My Dad take's care of de Island's water plant wit one of 'em!"
Crash saddled himself at the back of the boat, setting the flare on the truck of the car and setting it off. It'd last until night hit, letting the Island patrol teams pick out its location for later once they reported it.
Both wearing smiles (though Juan's trembled when he moved his bad hand), the two divers set course for home. The sun was still several hours away from setting, and the skies were clear. By the time they arrived at their shack however, cool clouds had rolled in, almost to match the feelings of the girl waiting for them at the dock. Golden furred ears hung low, and long tail twitching pathetically, Jasmin huffed again as the boys pulled up.
“Hey, guys. It’s not very nice to just leave me here. I wanted to come too!” She whined, hazel eyes drifting first to Crash, who did his best to ignore her, and then to Juan, who was acting funny to her eyes. “Hey, Juan, what happened. Your ear’s twitching like crazy.”
“Hah?! No, no its not! Ya must be crazy!” Juan’s ear continued twitching, as he tried to put his burned hand further out of Jasmin’s line of sight. ‘Oh man, if Jasmin tells momma about dis, I won’t hear da end of it!’ He eyed Crash, begging him in a meeting of the minds which can only exist between true bros to not say a word.
For his part, Crash didn’t. He was too busy tying off the boat and doing his best to ignore the annoying Retriever on the docks. The flexing of the Hare’s muscles easily captured Jasmin’s attention fully, as he strained to make sure the knot that would keep their boat from floating away in the night was as tight as could be. When she blushed, Juan knew to make his escape. He would apologize later, if he felt the need. A quick jaunt to the house, explaining the whole mess before his adopted sister could make it any worse, and a trip to the local doctor were in order.
“Hey, Crash… um…” She shivered as the breeze swam through her blonde hair, scattering her waist length locks around her. Inwardly, she chided herself for wearing a two piece instead of a full when night was falling, and bemoaned her lack of chest –something she knew Crash liked in a woman. Well, a girl had to work with what she had, and her other assets were well shaped indeed. It didn’t help her be any less nervous though when he stepped off the boat and started stripping out of his wetsuit. “…Do you need any help, Crash? I mean, uh, I can…”
She reached out tentatively, putting a hand on his shoulder that slid off as he walked past, deeper into their hut as he rolled the sleeves off. “Well, if you want, I think Juan left two bottles of somethin’ in the back of the boat. Seems like he took the backpack with ‘em though.”
Things suddenly clicked into place for Jasmin as she turned and saw Juan’s retreating back cresting the hill toward the village proper. “… I’m gonna murder that dog.” She whispered.
“Wouldn’t be the first time somebody tried.” Crash chuckled in a bit of dark humor. “I know he didn’t want me to tell you with him there, but we ran into an Oldguard out in the ruins we found today. I managed to damage it, and Juan finished it off but burnt his hand pretty bad in the process. I don’t think-”
And suddenly Crash was pinned to the wall by a slightly hyper-active Jasmine, who was looking over his body with little to no restraint as she pulled him out of his wetsuit as she rambled, “Oh-my-god-are-you-okay-did-it-hurt-you-oh-please-be-okay-I-don’t-wanna-cry-but-if-it-hurt-you-I-might-oh-god-oh-god-oh-god!” By the time he’d been stripped down to his swim trunks, Crash had finally recovered his wits enough to put the brakes on the situation. It wasn’t fast enough to avoid the sheer awkwardness of it all however, with her on her knees and hands on his hips with his back against the wall, desperately holding her off by the shoulders. Had anybody been passing by, they might have thought themselves in for a show until Jasmine scrambled back, face redder than a male Tankcrab. “Ah, I… I…”
Crash too blushed heavily and stammered out, “I-I-I’m fine, really. Its okay!” His mind, however, was running at the speed of plaid. ‘She’s my bro’s sister; that she’s adopted doesn’t matter it would still be a dick move and I’m not a dick, I’m not going to do anything with her other than be a friend. That’s right, we’re nothing but friends, even if it did look like she was… NO, YOU STOP THAT RIGHT THERE, BRAIN.’ With a huff, the Usami quickly gathered up his wetsuit and began shaking it off and hanging it up.
“I’ll, I’ll go get those bottles out of the boat…” Jasmine whimpered weakly, walking out of the shack and dropping into the hull. As she was told, there were two rather large jugs of Captain Morgan in the back, but heavy as they were with rum, they weren’t much of a burden for the active girl. As she hefted both the bottles, she considered her situation carefully; seventeen, one of the best surfers of her generation, and the most athletic of the girls in her circle of friends. Jasmine was certainly looked upon favorably –to say it politely– by most of the males she met both on the island and in the inter-chain competitions she attended.
So why was this stupid rabbit not reacting like every other male his age?! Sure, she didn’t mean to put herself right in his crotch, and she only had B-cups by Earless standards, and she wasn’t a slut like some of the other girls on the island, but still! A bit indignant at being pushed to the side, though still completely embarrassed, she lugged the bottles back in and waited as the boy changed in the back room of the shack. When he finally came out dressed in a heavy t-shirt, long-shorts and flip flops, she knew they were going to the party at the reef. Why, she couldn’t fathom –Crash wasn’t a party bunny at all.
“Hey, uh… thanks for…” Crash hesitated, finding it hard to look at the girl who’d been by his side since they learned to surf together. Finally, he almost spat out the words he’d been trying to say before baking a beeline for the door. “Thanks for worrying about me, Jasmine.”
He scratched his ears as Jasmine sat in a stunned silence. Yeah, he didn’t want to ‘want’ her because of the whole sister-of-my-bro concept, but that didn’t mean he had to be a dick about it. When she stammered a quiet “Your welcome,” he nodded and went to the ice box. It was still out of power, but the frozen bottles of water had kept everything perishable from going bad including the sandwiches he’d prepared to spread around that evening –a triple portion of his Scuttler and seaweed sandwich specially set aside for his still nameless date. After he finished packing up everything he would need, the two set out for the village, quietly striding toward the slowly lowering sun.
By the time Juan had gotten his arm fixed up, the sun was finally preparing to set. Along with a small gaggle of other youths, the trio moved toward the docks at a good pace. It was only when the reached the docks proper that Crash saw the black haired Nekomi waiting for him to arrive, but his heart had been hammering faster and faster in his chest the entire way. Now, it seemed like he would keel over from nervousness as she noticed him, swaying her hips gently as she approached the group of partygoers. Gone was the one piece swimsuit and in its place a black two-piece string bikini (with ties in the front, Crash noticed with great interest) that greatly accentuated her curves, and a soft grey coat that draped around her shoulders for additional warmth. She stopped, again just scant inches from contact with the Usami as Juan pulled a rather reluctant Jasmine toward the party boat.
“Hey.” Her voice was soft and sweet, barely audible over the evening breeze, but her smile made up for the lack of volume in Crash’s mind.
“Heya…” He smiled right back, “You ready for this? Me and Juan found some music on our dive earlier … uh, I hope it’s good, since we really didn’t have a chance to listen to it.”
She nodded, and crash noticed that her tail was, yes, slowly and torturously tickling its way up his left leg. Before she could excite the poor boy any more than she already had, a rather indignant cry went up from the boat. “CRASH! YOU AND DA LADY COMIN’, OR WE GOT TO START DIS PARTY WITHOUT YOU?!”
Flipping Juan the bird, he shrugged. “Guess we’d better be going, uh…?”
“Lilly.” She took his hand and started running for the boat, grinning the whole way.
The Reef Party –a hot spot for young and restless Kenomi set several miles away from the closest village- had been running strong for the past twenty years. It was said that when Kenomi first began scouting the area for good diving locations and islands to settle upon, the coral reef and the lagoon nearby had been purposefully left off the maps and set aside specifically for the party needs of the soon to be locals. When Divers from the Kitty-Hawk Clan dredged up an old dance floor, it didn’t take long for Kenomi from the various islands to start setting up more and more equipment, eventually creating a veritable party island in the middle of nowhere with strobe lights, colored lanterns, speakers, and even a functioning turntable and stage for those with instruments to perform on.
The smell of boiling crab pots drifted over the lagoon –an expensive but delicious treat after the bad corn season Port West had suffered. Thankfully, Juan noted with a smirk, they wouldn’t have to worry about prices if they decided to partake. Standing tradition was that whoever brought in new music (be it homemade or recovered) had the night free of charge from anything and everything within reason. All he needed was a sympathetic girl who wouldn’t mind helping him out for the night…
Crash however was in over his head. The sun had almost completely set, sending temperatures spiraling down. It wouldn’t be as bad when the boat stopped and the wind chill faded, but for the moment both Jasmine and Lilly were huddled against him for warmth. Lilly’s hand was casually intertwined with his own, shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh as she snuggled with him. Not to be outdone, Jasmine had as much of her chest as possible rubbing up against Crash’s opposite shoulder, ‘casually’ rubbing her outer thigh against him.
‘Is this heaven, or hell?’ At this rate, the poor boy was going to have a heart attack. ‘I mean, seriously, my first real date! FIRST! And then this happens! Oh God, please don’t let my leg start thumping, please, please, please, Lilly’s gonna freak if it starts going like I’m some pervbunny!!’
Much to the Usami’s joy, the boat pulled in none too soon. Not even bothering to wait for the boat to be tied down, Crash was up and ready to go almost immediately. “Come on, everybody, it’s time to party!”
The sun was coming up. And it hurt his eyes something fierce, but not quite as much as the heavy feeling on his chest did. Just where was he? Crash tried to sit up, but found himself pinned. Besides, the motion had set his head to spinning. Just what had happened last night?
“Mmmm… Lilly…” Wait, was that Jasmine’s voice? Finally prying his eyes open against the morning light, Crash found himself staring at a mess of black hair –Lilly’s he presumed, and a head of long blonde hair that appeared to be snoring between the Nekomi’s breasts. Which were missing their bikini top, he noticed. At a time like this, there was no holding back from the old instincts, especially with Lilly’s rear strategically positioned on his crotch, tail curled around his leg. His leg began to twitch violently, to the point where he had to hold it down physically to try and not wake the girls sleeping on him.
At that point, when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, he suddenly remembered what had led to this rather interesting position. Lilly had snuck off with him to the outskirts of the lagoon, away from all the lights and observers before cornering him against a tree. She had asked him all sorts of questions once they were alone –his parents, his habits, where he learned to make his sandwiches, if he liked her, if he wanted her… It was easy to see where it was going when she straddled his lap and started nibbling on his neck.
And then Jasmine, drunk off the rum punch, had found them and began crying and she sank to her knees. Of course Crash would be with somebody else, even though she loved him. Of course somebody else had beaten her. Being a sobbing mess, of course Crash wanted to help her out, but a worried glance at Lilly made him wonder what he was supposed to do.
Lilly had plans of her own though.
The quiet, and still quite unknown girl had walked over to Jasmine, knelt down in front of her, and performed a mouth to mouth maneuver that Crash was at first awed by, then quite jealous of. He remembered, vividly, the two girls parting after a minute straight of making out with tongue action included. A strand of saliva hung between them for a moment before it flew away in the night wind. And yes, that was Lilly’s hand on the curve of Jasmine’s rear getting a good handful. When Jasmine had finally caught her breath and a bit of her sanity, she could barely bring herself to stutter out a confused “Wah…?!”
Lilly had just smiled rather innocently. “You have good taste, too. Wanna play with us?”
…Hence the two girls sleeping on his chest, and the lipstick all over his face. But what had happened to Juan? ‘Wait, he’d met up with that Usami chick, what was her name? Mary-ann? I thought they were headed to the other side of the Island, last I remember, and Juan was grinning like a manic. Ah well. Doesn’t help me out at all, anyway. Maybe what they say about Usami’s being extra lucky when born in the Year of the Rabbit is true?’
Either way, life was now officially complicated. …Maybe he could go diving with them, once they found another wet suit for Lilly?
A Writefag Moment by That Damn Catfolk Pilot
Katrina looked around on the beach, she was curious as to why the sand had an odd pattern to it... she had been an expert at finding old, abandoned human settlements by looking at the odd wear and tear. But the color of the sand and rock was black. They weren't near any volcanos as far as she knew. Particularly the yellow specks. She sat there in her wetsuit and life vest, and waited. Thought. Remembering the first time she dived and found her life vest still folded up neatly and still in a vacuum seal under the seat of a abandoned airliner. She wagered it had to be inflated somehow, probably through the red tubes attached to the vest or those odd-red pull tabs. Useful in an emergency she thought. The wetsuit she found in a sporting goods store... well it looked like the description of one from what she was told by her elders, but it felt hotter and water didn't make her wet wearing it. She still loved her finds though.
A friend surfaces near the shore with a odd looking helmet. "Looks like we found another flying machine town! This one has helmets and odder looking stuff."
"That's Airport, Mitsuki. And what sort of odd stuff?"
"Oh... how do you know that?"
Sometimes she wondered how she knew. "I read a book." was her usual excuse.
In fact she wondered why she knew what an airplane was and even how to use it... she brushed those thoughts out of her head as she walks over and eventually swims up to her friend.
"Let me see that... See any of those "flying machines"?"
"Yeah, they had sharp features like an angry bird."
Katrina's eyes lit up... could this be the place of rare military aircraft that her Mother told stories of?
"Katrina... come on!" Mitsuki whined.
Katrina crouched, squeezing out as much trapped air in her suit as she could, then buckling a weight belt around her waist. In moments they dived in. After about 20 feet they saw it... it wasn't an airport, it was a Airbase! A fairly resent one at that. As they swam towards the front gate, Mitsuki stopped, with a look of distress. Katrina looked her over and saw a trail of red coming from her tail and she saw the source... her tail was caught on some rusted out barbed wire. Katrina thanked the maker that she remembered to give Mitsuki a old family preventative that kept Tetanus at bay.
She consoled Mitsuki and started bandaging the tail up with a shred of an old flag that had somehow weathered the passage of time, it's red and blue faded to near white like the white stripes on it.
She decided to help Mitsuki to the surface to catch a breath.
"Owwwww.... I hurt my tail."
Katrina's ears flicked with an agitated awareness.
"What's wrong, Kat?"
"Sharks... they love blood... and we're a good 500 strokes from land."
Katrina always remembered to use the measurements the folk of this island used. She was used to the world that was' Metric system... living near an earless' library helped that education along.
"Don't worry... if we start swimming now maybe we'll..."
She sees fins off about a good football pitch away.
"SWIM FOR YOUR LIFE!"
The two catgirls swam as fast as their arms could take them, but Mitsuki wasn't as good at endurance swimming as Katrina was... eventually Katrina had to abandon her weight belt to help carry Mitsuki to shore. Just 100 meters from the shore, Mitsuki let out a scream and is ripped from Katrina's hands!
Katrina couldn't go under to help her beleagured friend. Then Mitsuki surfaced.
Katrina grabbed her friend and made another mad dash... Mitsuki felt like dead weight, and Katrina didn't want to simply inflate her vest unless it was a dire emergency for her... so with every exhale she blew into her suit for a few breaths as she struggled on with her injured friend, until the swim was a bit easier. Once they got to shore.
Katrina saw the extent of Mitsuki's injuries... to both her legs from the knee down, and her tail was amputated already.
Katrina hugged her wounded friend. "I'm heading to our tent to get my first aid gear... hold on!"
Katrina runs off as Mitsuki starts to fade...
Katrina gets back, pulling out clean cloths and rubbing alcohol. But it was of no use as the sand around Mitsuki was turned blood red.
Katrina clutshed Mitsuki's hand, then another piece of memory came to her. Katrina clasped both her hands and started compressing into Mitsuki's chest with force.
"Dammit girl! Come back to me!"
She kept going for what felt like an eternity, until she heard a weak... "Kat.... I don't want to go to school today... I... Don't..."
Kat started feverishly working on her friend, binding her wounds after sanitizing them, then wrapping Mitsuki in a blanket.
"Stay with me, Mitsuki!"
Katrina gently moved her friend to the tent they set up on the beach. The nearest medic was miles away, and they didn't have any conveyance. No beasts of burden or even a old vehicle.
Katrina held Mitsuki's hand. "Dammit girl... you always have to keep your wits about you."
Mitsuki was in pain, and Katrina knew it, and the bloodloss... her mind knew the triage code... Black.
She laid with her, still holding Mitsuki's hand. "Please... forgive..."
"Now talking to her like that isn't going to save her, young lady."
A calico pattern catwoman stood at the flap of her tent, wearing a red flightsuit and gear that looked like something from an old book on the "coast guard" of the area.
"How many times have I told you little cats to stay away from here! The waters are dangerous!"
Katrina looks over. "Who... who are you?"
The mysterious calico motions over for a couple more women dressed like her to bring a stretcher.
"Someone who is good at this, that's who. The name is Anne..."
-- 1 Day Later --
Mitsuki's legs were bandaged up and what looked like hoses led from the casts, draining off fluids, while Mitsuki almost needed daily blood transfusions for a few hours. But the stitches now were holding.
Katrina kept a vigil next to her friend when Anne showed herself again.
"Mitsuki will be okay, we can save her legs but she is going to lose a couple toes."
"T... Thank you."
"You owe me one, kid..."
"Then... perhaps... I want to join your group."
Anne smiled. "It's hard work."
"I... I think I know what that is, Anne..."
Anne smiled. "We'll talk about that when Mitsuki is better."
-- One Month Later --
Katrina pushed Mitsuki around in her wheelchair. She had gotten better from her attack, but her legs still needed to heal. Katrina was now wearing a full flight vest with her suit. Seems that Anne has found working aircraft to help in watching over the area.
"So... save anyone recently?"
"Yeah there were a couple girls that got caught under a tipped boat and their air was running out... so we sent a experienced rescue diver in and brought them back to shore."
"That was... pretty cool."
Katrina smiled, putting on her old vest over Mizuki's head. "This is yours... I sorta don't need it anymore."
Mizuki smiled. "I'll try not to get you into trouble again."
Katrina smiled. "Sure. I like being bored." she said with a toothy grin.
"But... I hate these uniforms..." Mitsuki complained. Katrina had the most experience with scuba gear and rescue swimming, Mitsuki... she was nothing more than an enlisted trainee in the OSAR. Mitsuki was more embarrased by her naval sailor uniform, the only thing that gave her pride about it was the medic armband on her left arm.
Katrina smiled. "You look good in it. It suits you."
The commander of the watch for Katrina and Mitsuki's shift was a gruff Inumi named Grumif. He was a stocky, muscular individual. Strong jaws and a razorsharp temper compared to the normal stereotype of the happy, loyal Inumi.
"Alright Lieutenant. You have rescue swimmer duty, report to helicopter #3, and take the nugget with ya." He said with a snarl. He was only a captain, but he was the XO on their ship.
The USS Noble Endeavor was a aircraft carrier that somehow stayed well maintained right to the Fall. She was a good ship, and had the latest ZPG technology. But she always had a target on her hull because of that advanced technology.
"You... you mean I'm taking station with Katrina?"
"Did I stutter, Nugget! Now get your gear on and get ready, lives'll depend on ya bein' on call and fully ready!"
Mitsuki put on a red drysuit stored near the helicopter pads and a helmet before putting on her medic's vest which was nothing more than a over-glorified pilot's survival vest with pouches for first aid kits.
Katrina sat on the floor of Helicopter #3, called "Angel 3", waiting for the call to action. She had her drysuit, life preserver and goggles on with a snorkel if needed. She adjusted her helmet and looked over at her nervous friend. "Mitsuki... there's nothing to really worry about."
"I've... I've just never been on anything that's flown." Mitsuki said, taking her station on the helicopter... thus began that long wait...
It didn't take long. The warning klaxon went off, and the pilot, a Usami, and a hoist operator, a odd looking black-furred Neko with one blue eye and one green.
He smiled and nodded to Katrina. "Alright... time for the business..."
Katrina put her swim fins on as the helicopter went airborn. The pilot briefs everyone. "Okay gang, here's the deal. Just recieved a report that a diver boat hasn't made it back at the allotted time, and the next of kin reported in to their village constable. 4 souls on board."
Katrina nodded. "Alright... time to do what we do."
Down below, things were dire. the fore Usami were barely treading water, huddled next to each other wearing naught but their padded wetsuits and holding to the wreckage of their boat. They had foundered on a reef and the boat broke up immediately. One of the four had gashed her leg very bad, and the breached suit and exposed leg lowered her body temperature faster than the others.
"Rigel, how is Stella?"
"Not good, she seems pale on the lips."
The injured one, Stella barely clung on to consciousness. She called out to her brother. "Altair... Don't let go of... me..."
They had been prospecting in the area and they had a good haul, until they found an odd, oblong object made of a black metal. When they took it on board, they thought it was a chest, until a wrench hit the tip of it, and it exploded. Stella was the closest to it.
"I don't think anyone knows we're out here, guys." Altair said, losing hope.
A searchlight broke the dark... Katrina's sharp eyes saw the white fur of the 4 Usamis. "I think I see them, pilot! Take us down so I can get down there... Mitsuki, get ready. I think someone is injured among them!
Mitsuki took attention and held on to the side of the aircraft as Katrina looked down and at the proper height, she jumped into the night after turning on a flashlight on her vest.
The Usami heard the splash as the searchlight shone on the location where Katrina landed.
"Okay get the injured one ready for transport! That one'll be first!"
The hoist operator was already lowering down the stretcher. "Thank you, thank you... what is your name?"
"I'm Katrina... you're safe now, we're the OSAR."
The other Usami's eyes went wide. Among the Kemomomimi, those that serve in the OSAR were held in the highest regard.
Eventually everyone were aboard. Mitsuki stabilized and warmed the injured Stella, and the rest huddled under blankets until the helicopter arrived back to the Noble Endeavor.
The Captain and CO of the ship, Anne, greeted Angel #3. "Good work!" She shouted, getting the medics to the helicopter and picking up the injured girl.
"Another successful mission... thank the maker."
The Lady of the Lab, by Maestro
Author's Notes: The story is also a thinly veiled proposal for a "dungeon" run. It can probably be fleshed out as needed from the details I provide, but this will tell you what happens when you go in through the front door. It's also a (hopefully rare) case of the party finding a completely unbroken piece of advanced Earless tech.
Here's my party again, this time labelled with the names I'm going to be using.
Allec made a hand signal and pointed. Right there, that's it.
Renner and Mata followed the direction of his finger, while Bean swam down beneath them to get a better view. The giant building they were hovering over did not quite have the look of the Earless' usual constructions; it seemed to have been built actually in the water, or with the knowledge that the site it stood upon would be underwater some day. The old Inumi on the island had been right about that. What made Bean nervous (and Mata too, though she was too much the stoic to show it) was what else the Inumi had told them:
"We haven't been back down there in years, not since I was a pup. There's no Oldguard in the area, but there's something else inside -- something whose nature I can't even begin to guess. My sister heard it calling out once, the last time we were down… and to this day, she says it sounded like a ghost."
Ghost indeed! Renner would have snorted, had the scuba mask permitted it. There was fear of the Oldguard, and there was fear of the outright supernatural; one was just natural caution against a proven threat, and the other was an overreaction to the unknown. They'd just have to be extra careful, that was all.
If this counted as careful. They were doing something that the superstitious islander had warned against: "We think that it, whatever it really is, is confined to the main entry. That's why we stuck to using the alternate entrances around the back." Thanks to the design of the place, it was impossible to mistake which of the entrances was the actual front door; it was a gargantuan hatch, its seam running horizontally across the middle. And they were swimming straight towards it.
As they arrived, Renner gave a few hand signals of his own, and the other three members of his diving party began examining the edges of the door frame, looking for some kind of way in. Allec dove down to investigate the bottom edge, his fox tail rippling behind him like a banner in a high wind; the two girls moved to the sides, and Renner himself to the top.
It was Bean who found a panel, off to her side of the door; there was no knob or handle on it, but it swung gently open when she pushed hard against it. She waved to the others (shaking her head to get her oversized ears in on the action), and Mata floated over to help her examine it. Mata's knowledge of the Earless' devices, though rudimentary, promptly inspired her course of action -- her hand ran down the array of buttons and levers the panel had concealed, found a lever with traces of red paint still on it, and pulled it.
An alarm went off, the horn bleating loudly and repetitively even underwater, and a series of small but very bright red lights suddenly switched on all around the perimeter of the door. The power was still on? Well, so much for the possibility of making their entrance without drawing the attention of the unknown thing that lived here.
The two doors of the hatch hissed and began to open outward, one rising and the other swinging downward. A passing school of fish scattered and fled at the noise and movement; Renner and Allec kicked off the side of the building and paddled furiously to get out of the way. The doors continued to swing until they stood out horizontal, perpendicular to the wall. Mata and Bean, staring through the doorway, could see nothing at first; all was dark within -- and then the lights came on, a brilliant and almost blinding white. The divers took this as an invitation, and moved in as one.
The walls and floor of the inner chamber appeared to be of metal and concrete, but there was no trace of any natural growth on them: no kelp, no coral, and nowhere near the amount of algae it should have had. Some of the lights were affixed to the ceiling, but a great many of them were embedded in the walls. The divers floated in the middle of the chamber, uncertain as to how to proceed.
The sound of the alarm suddenly changed from a loud, blatting horn to a quieter beeping tone. A loud creak of metal came from behind, and Bean spun around in the water to see the hatch beginning to swing closed; she began swimming nervously back toward the entrance, but Allec grabbed hold of her leg and shook his head. He gave another signal: Wait.
The hatch clanged shut, hissing loudly as it did so. For the first time, the adventurers noticed the green lights lining the inside of the door frame; as they watched, these lights went out and were replaced by red ones. The lights in the walls began to dim, while the ones in the ceiling grew brighter. There was a loud gurgling and whooshing noise -- and the divers looked up to see that air was beginning to fill the uppermost part of the chamber as the ocean water receded. The room appeared to have two separate levels, and they settled down in the lower one, among a set of metallic rails jutting up from the floor; Renner had time to wonder: What are those doing there? It looks as though some sort of vehicle's supposed to land here… It would certainly explain the gantry that extended over one side of the lower level -- evidently a walkway.
The water level continued to drop, surprisingly fast, and they soon found themselves seated or standing on a relatively dry and slip-proof floor. Mata made a quick gesture to everyone, then removed the rebreather mouthpiece from her mouth and slowly inhaled.
"Well?" Allec asked, severely muffled by his own mask.
"A little stale, but it's okay," Mata said. "I don't think we'll have any problem breathing this."
This pronouncement was met with sighs of relief, as her companions began to shrug off their diving kits; they stripped off their masks, swim fins, and the harnesses of their air supplies, and stacked them against the nearest wall. Allec wrung his long hair out, then moved on to trying to squeeze the water out of his sodden tail; Renner and Mata did the same with theirs. Bean didn't have a tail long enough to make this necessary, but she did run her hands over her long ears, sweeping excess water out of the fur.
Allec was examining their surroundings closely. "So," he said, "what's our first move?"
Renner pointed. "Up that ladder, I think, and examine the rest of this room first. Then we'll move on to exploring the rest of the joint."
"Well, duh." Mata shrugged. "I mean, what else can we do?"
The ladder was a series of rails, like giant staples, built into the wall. Bean was the closest, and the first up. "Ah… Now this looks like it needs investigation!"
The others heard the sound of Shiny in her voice, and followed her up the ladder with enthusiasm; by the time they had all reached the upper level, Bean was already across the room, examining a row of lockers against the wall that appeared to be watertight. One was already open, and still slightly wet inside like the floor. I'm guessing that one wasn't sealed properly, thought Renner.
The Usami tried the latches of all the lockers, finding one or two unlocked. Her ears drooped in disappointment. "Sorry, guys," she said. "No shiny here. The lockers themselves might float if they weren't stuck to the wall, but that's about it."
"Wonder if someone already searched this room," said Allec, examining a lifebuoy held by clamps to the nearest wall. Stylized letters in the Earless fashion were printed around its circumference; reading them, he wondered what SCRIPPS meant, or whether it might be someone's name.
There was a hiss from the opposite wall, and Mata's voice spoke up. "Hey! Found these!" Allec and Renner turned; a watertight panel had opened at Mata's touch, and the black-haired Nekomi was holding two handfuls of uninflated life jackets. "It could come in handy in an emergency… You never know, right?"
"Could probably make a little dosh back on the island, sellin'em," Allec grinned.
"We'll consider it," said Renner. "In the meantime, let's go exploring. Who knows, maybe we'll get some actual shiny out of this -- the old guy did say there were parts of this place nobody ever went into."
"Yeah, including the front entrance." Bean shivered a little, and her tail twitched anxiously. "Let's do this quick and quiet, okay? I don't wanna run into… whatever's down here."
"Probably just superstition," Allec said. "Nothing could live down here that long."
Another door, this one closer to Kemomimi proportions, was set in the far wall. There was a ring of red lights around this one as well. "How do we open this thing, then?" said Bean.
"I'm guessing this has something to do with it." Mata pointed to a softly glowing panel positioned by the door. It was colored red, but when she placed her hand against it, the color cycled from red, through blue, to green. The lights around the door turned green simultaneously with the panel; a soft chime rang out, and the door hissed open loudly, withdrawing straight up into the wall.
"So is anybody else freaked out by the fact that everything still works down here?" said Allec.
"Yeah, I know," Renner replied. "Everybody keep your eyes and ears open, you dig?"
"Aw, shit!" Bean quickly reached up to her own ears and pulled out her waterproof earplugs; she smiled bashfully, tucking them away in her bikini top. "Sorry about that. Thanks for reminding me."
The door was wide enough for them to proceed through, two by two. Mata and Renner went first, with the others following close behind. Perhaps they followed a little too closely -- when the pair in front came to a sudden stop at the other end of the short corridor, Bean and Allec almost walked straight into them.
"What are you doing?!" spluttered Allec.
"Dude…" Renner said. "Shut up and look at this." He stepped forward, allowing the Kemomimi behind him a better look, and Allec's jaw dropped open.
The corridor opened up into a large entrance hall, roughly the shape of a cylinder, with a gently rising domed ceiling. At the apex of the dome was a massive skylight, crisscrossed with a tracery of steelwork, that bathed the interior in a shimmering blue; the blue was enhanced by a series of wall sconces, giving off a pale bluish-white light. Two larger corridors forked off, leading out of the room into other parts of the building. Of the remaining wall space, one portion was taken up by a massive map of the facility, while another portion bore two massive circular logos, mounted to the wall; one appeared to be a symbolic representation of a kelp forest, while the other seemed to be a globe. (Not a very accurate globe, of course; the outlines of the continents were ludicrously oversized.) Beneath them, in stylized lettering, again appeared the mysterious name SCRIPPS. There was a large hemispherical alcove at the opposite end of the room from where the divers stood, with what appeared to be a desk or a wide, semicircular podium in front of it; the back wall was covered with screens, all of them either turned off or glowing a dull gray.
"What is this place, anyhow?" said Mata, with a definite touch of awe in her voice. "What'd they use it for?"
"Maybe this'll tell us," Allec said; he maneuvered around Mata and walked over to peruse the map.
"One thing's for sure," Bean said, following him. "These folks certainly liked circles."
Renner's eyes passed over the room's contents again, then moved down to the floor. "Man, look at all this dust. When they said nobody's been down here in ages, they weren't kidding."
Bean lifted a foot to brush off the gray film that had accumulated on its wet sole; Allec did likewise.
"What do you suppose that is?" Mata asked, waving a hand in the direction of the darkened alcove.
"Well, let's investigate," said Renner, moving to do just that. "We can cover this room, then move on to the rest of the building."
"Not till I'm done memorizing this," Allec interjected, his eyes still fixed on the map. "Just for safety's sake."
The podium standing before the alcove, Renner saw, had a word written across it in one of the old Earless scripts, but it wasn't any word he was familiar with:
NFORM TI N
At the foot of the desk, an I, an A, and an O lay on the floor; that was enough to enable him to reconstruct the word. "Information?" he said aloud, then looked up. He knew what that meant, but nothing here looked as though it would be capable of providing much information. The screens, as in most Earless ruins, were dead, and behind the desk (the surface of which, he now noticed, was covered in buttons) there was no chair, just a small circular pedestal, of the kind you'd usually set a vase or something on. The topmost surface of it, though a little dusty, was unusually white and reflective, and upon it rested several strange gadgets; they looked more like gloves or gauntlets than anything else, mechanical hands that retained a dull, dusty polish -- golden hands with silver fingers.
A single button was flashing, bright blue, on the top panel of the desk. Mata pointed it out: "What do you think?"
"…Yeah," said Renner. "We might as well--" Before he could say anything, Mata had reached out and pressed it. "What'd you do that for?!" he said indignantly.
"I thought you said we might as well," retorted Mata. "Make up your mind!"
A loud humming arose from the pedestal behind the desk, causing all four of the adventurers to prick up their ears. There came a flash of light from the wall of screens in the alcove as they all simultaneously turned on; the screens began to cycle through pastel colors -- soft blue, soft purple, soft green, and back to blue -- and the logos from the other wall appeared on each of them, somehow appearing to orbit each other.
"Hey," said Bean unsteadily, "what's going o--"
The uppermost surface of the pedestal suddenly turned a radiant white, and the humming increased in volume for a few seconds, as though there was some old machinery turning on beneath the floor. The humming quickly grew quieter, the surface of the pedestal ceased to be blindingly bright (though the light did not die out entirely) -- and an image began to appear, impossibly, in the air above it.
The Kemomimi gaped as the image wavered blurrily before them. At first its shape was hard to make out; in a matter of seconds, though, it resolved itself into a translucent picture of what seemed to be the head and limbless torso of an Earless. It glowed a warm orange all over, except for two shining points of silver at each of the shoulders (where the arms should have been), two more on the sides of the head, and an alternating blue and green pulse of light at the neck.
Allec, who had been approaching the desk, leapt back in an instant and shrieked in a most un-Allec-like voice: "What the f-- Look out, they're MOVING!" Renner and Mata blinked, staring mutely down at the pedestal, then gasped and jumped back as well. Bean, who had not bothered to look before jumping away, peered timidly around Renner's shoulder.
The six gauntlets rose gracefully from the podium and hovered in the air before the blurred, armless image. The fingers on each hand flexed, slowly curling and uncurling, as if shaking out the soreness of long disuse.
The head of the image came into sharp focus as the hands worked off their stiffness. It was a woman's head, but almost a cartoonish simplification of the real thing: there was a gentle protrusion in the middle of her face, but no actual nose to speak of; the eyes, though closed, were just a little too large to be credible; the eyebrows and the point of the chin were too neatly drawn; and the thing's long bangs were blatantly unreal, for they hung before the face in solid, flat wings of hair. It -- she -- appeared to be an Earless, judging by the lack of ears atop her head, but the glimmer to either side of her face revealed itself as a shining silver pair of earphones, with what looked like a radio antenna sticking out the back of each cup.
Now the rest of the thing came out of the blur. It was definitely intended to be female, but you could only tell by the general shape -- as with the face and hair, there was a distinct lack of realistic detail to it. The hands changed their position: one pair moved down to the rows of buttons covering the desk and waited there patiently; the other two pairs clasped themselves together politely, even primly, at about the chest level of the translucent woman-thing. The creature's eyes opened, sclera glowing a mellower, lighter yellow-orange behind the deep orange of the irises. It examined each of the divers briefly, then abruptly broke into a cheerful smile and spoke, its lips moving in synchronization with a voice that emanated from within the pedestal itself:
"Good afternoon! My name is Arachne Forty-Seven, and I'm delighted to welcome you to the Scripps Oceanographic Institution's Mid-North Pacific Offshore Laboratory and Museum! I hope the submersible ride down today was a pleasant one…" As the thing spoke, it swept two of the hands, no, she swept her hands out in a magnanimous arc that took in the entire room; the movement of her shoulders made it seem as though the hands were connected to her by invisible arms. "I'm afraid none of the staff are available at the moment to give you a tour of our facility, but I would be pleased to assist you with any inquiries which you may happen to have. Is there anything you would like to ask me about today?"
The divers were fairly shocked (not to mention confused) by the voice's smooth, rapid-fire spiel, but not too shocked to self-consciously glance at each other, asking with their eyes which of them would be first to speak up and address the thing. As if by arrangement, the eyes of the other three rested hopefully on Renner, who sighed and stepped forward. The face of the woman-thing -- of Arachne -- bore a wide and endearingly confident grin as he began to ask his first question…
(See also: CATastrophe/Arachne Scripps)
Kim and Aggy in "High Rollers"
"Mmm... I don't know if this is such a good idea, Kim..."
"Hmm? What's the matter now?"
"Well... it's just that we went through a lot of trouble to get these shinies..."
"Trouble? Haha! That was nothing!"
"I don't know, that jelly zapped you pretty hard..."
"Aggy, please! What good is a sack full of shinies if they're just sitting around?"
"Well... we could... um... spend them? Our boat does have that giant hole in the..."
"Our boat! Haha! We won't be needing that hunk of junk after tonight! We'll be able to afford something really kick-butt! Maybe a seaplane! No, no, wait. Submarine. Those are cooler."
"Kimmy! Look, there it is!"
"Ooooh! 'The Cat's Meow' -- the largest casino in the Endless Blue!"
"Yep yep! They say it used to be a cruise ship."
"Mmm... why is half of it missing?"
"Ah, well, when they tried to move it, it accidentally crashed into a reef, haha."
"Is that why it's tilted to the side?"
"Yep yep! It's also why part of it looks like it was engulfed in flames."
"Oh... is this place really safe...?"
"Don't be such a baby! We're almost there!"
"D-don't call me a baby!!"
"Ah, hello, mademoiselle. Where will you be gaming tonight? Perhaps you would like me to escort you to our entry-level slot machines...?"
"Haha no! Show us to the high-stakes Boker tables."
"I am afraid that players require one thousand of our chips just to place a single wager there."
"Oh yeah?" [THWACK] "How many chips will this get me?"
"Hmm... very well. Please follow me."
"Psst, Kimmy! This place is so ritzy... I feel like like we're a little under-dressed..."
"Haha, don't be silly, Aggy! Bikinis are always appropriate!"
"You shall be playing here, at table number four. Your, um... sack... will buy you three of our 1000 credit chips."
"Most excellent! Thank you very much!" [Leaping into her seat] "Hello everyone! My name is Agatha Montpelier McKraken the Third, also known as "The Crimson Lightning", "The Lurking Terror" or 'Aggy' for short." [Stunned silence] "Well go on! Deal the tiles!"
"Pst, Aggy! I don't even know the rules to this game. Could you explain?"
"Eh!? You call yourself an adventurer and you don't even know how to play Boker!? So shameful..."
"I'm sorry... but what's happening now?"
"Ah! The dealer just put the tiles into that bag. He's going to shake them around so that he shuffles them up really good."
"Yep yep! 20 tiles, to be exact. Cheap ones are made from wood, but it looks like these are whalebone. Each one is marked with a color and a number. The colors are red, blue, yellow, and black, and the numbers are one through five."
"So... how do you win?"
"You get the best hand, obviously! Here, you'll see in a second..."
"See? Now the dealer gives five tiles to each of the players. The tiles are dealt face-down, that way no one can see what you have."
"Okay, that makes sense."
"Then you show two of your tiles to your opponents."
"That... doesn't make sense."
"Haha, how should I explain this... well everyone picks a combination of three tiles that is a strong hand. Once you pick the three you want to keep, you discard the two that you don't want."
"But this isn't just luck! It's about skill too. By looking at the tiles you were dealt, and by looking at the tiles that your opponents get rid of, you can make a guess about what they have."
"That sounds kinda complicated..."
"Well, it takes a while to get good at it. Unless you're a natural like me, of course! Haha!"
"Um... Did you get dealt a good hand, Aggy?"
"Hmm... Kimmy, lean in close, this is private."
"Oh, right! Yes ma'am."
"I'm going to try bluffing. That's when you pretend to have a very good hand, in order to make your opponents drop out."
"Oh! So tactical!"
"See? My strongest hand is this pair of fives. But let's see what happens when I do this!"
"Eh! But Aggy! You just discarded those fives! Ahhh, all that money wasted. We could have bought so much tuna with that money..."
"Haha, look closer!"
"Eh! They're all dropping out!"
"That's right. They know that normally the only reason you would discard a pair of cards like that is if you had an even stronger hand."
"Oh! You're brilliant!"
"Haha, I know. So now we get all of the antes. That's 3000 chips! We've all ready doubled our funds!"
"Wow! Great work! Let's quit while we're ahead then."
"Haha, are you nuts! We're just getting started! We won't be able to bluff anymore. They're on to us. Now the match is really starting!"
"That's amazing, Aggy! Twenty thousand! I can't even imagine how much that is worth! We're rich!"
"Yep yep! We did it! But I'm a little tired. Dealer! Please cash us out."
"Yes, certainly. We have several payment options, would you like your earnings to be paid in the form of... hmm..."
"Hmm? Go on, go on man! I don't have all day!"
"Ma'am, what is that in your sleeve?"
"Eh... Haha! Nothing, nothing! It's a good luck charm. What business is that of yours?"
"Ma'am, is that a tile?"
"It, ah... um... I must have... misplaced... ah... KIM! RUN FOR IT!"
[Tables being turned over]
"H-hey wait! Aggy! You were just making all that stuff about strategy up!? You've been cheating the whole time!"
"Haha, well... I mean... cheating is a kind of strategy, when you think about it..."
"Now we can probably never come back here!"
"Who cares! I don't like these snooty jerks anyways!"
"And we lost all of our shinies! I hope you're happy!"
"Whatever! We'll get more! Run faster, dummy! They're gaining on us!"
"Ah! Oh no! Dead end! What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?"
"Pssh, there's no such thing as a dead end! JUMP!"
"WHAT? You can't be serious!"
"Ahhh... happiness is always fleeting..."
"Don't worry, don't worry! It's fine, it's fine! We're still alive and we still have each other! There will be plenty more shinies where that came from!"
"I guess. Um... Aggy?"
"Where did we park the boat?"
Beachy, by Luy22
Lilly had always called the Nomad Isles home. She had grown up across the bridge in the local farming community, but came over to what she had always dubbed the "civilized zone" for her schooling. Since then, she had left school, worked in a seaside shack built from the shell of a long-deceased washed-up giant turtle and lived in one of the beach-side tower blocks. The setting sun bathed the beach-goers in twilight, and Lilly sat upon the half-buried cooler, popping open a can of soda and taking a sip and listening to the sounds of the waves licking the yellow shoreline.
"You on break?" she turned to see Leo, the muscular cat guy was the one who ran the Turtleshack. The neon lights he had just activated started to flicker. The catgirl groaned, tired. "Lil, you've got to pull some weight around here. It's like my father said," he started as he turned to unplug and replug in the lights. "What's the point of doing anything if you don't do anything? These people need refreshments, so I'm ordering you to go to the local market and buy us another box of soda." he harrumphed.
"It's almost bed time!" she protested. Leo crossed his arms. "It will be for you if you like, don't want me to pay for some of your rent?" her eyes went wide. "That was you? Wow, gee, I don't know what to say boss..." "Get on your bike and get us that soda," he waved around to the beach, "these people need your help, will you let them down?" "No," she replied, slamming the soda can upon the cooler. "I cannot hear you," the boss protested. "NO!" "Good then go, kid. Hurry before sundown," as he said this, the sun was now just peeking a last goodbye on the horizon. "Er, never mind, just go get em. I'll be in here," he gave her some paper money, and walked back to the shack.
Lilly made her way over to her bike, picking it up from the tree it was propped against earlier in the afternoon. She closed her eyes, listening to the sounds of the waves once more.
Home, by AnonVIII
Once, my apartment would have been fifty stories above the ground, and miles from the sea. As I swiped my keycard into the reader and let the driftwood door slide open, I could smell the ocean and hear its waves crash a few metres away. It was a three room affair, my home. To my left as I entered the door was a bathroom, with a working toilet, sink and archaic-looking gravity shower. To my right was my bedroom, which held a large plush bed covering in blankets, a cabinet for my old armour with drawers below for my trusted weapons of war, a battered wooden writing desk, a chest of drawers salvaged from a sunken English stately home and a dented metal trunk full of knick-knacks and mementos.
The rest of the apartment was the living area. A large map table served as a general flat surface for anything and everything, while its charts and old topographical survey maps shared drawer space with scouting reports, photographs of unknown objects and crude treasure maps. There was no sofa, the one that had been in here at the time of the impact had long since rotted away. The only chair in the apartment, with the exception of a metal stool tucked under the table, was a well-worn armchair sat against the left wall. Facing it on the right was a pair of tottering bookshelves, filled with the work of writers most had forgotten about centuries ago. Stephen King, Walter M.Miller Jr, Ray Bradbury, Dmitry Glukhovsky, J.R.R Tolkien, Charles Dickens, Thomas Paine, all there with more besides. Some of my favourites sat in a pile by my chair, too often read to put back. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a Ciaphas Cain anthology, The Drawing of the Three, World War Z, V For Vendetta, Rum Punch, Catch-22. All of them with creased covers and yellowed pages.
No kitchen made its home in mine, for the simple reason that I couldn't cook for toffee. A coffee pot and brewer stood on the table, but that was the extent of food preparation appliances. Besides, I preferred to eat out anyway. Likewise, a lot of things you might have expected in a home just weren't there. No carpet, for one, unless you counted an old burgundy throw rug over a particularity splintery part of the floorboards. I had opted for a decent workbench beside the bookshelves instead of a television, since I preferred to keep my equipment in good order rather that fill up space with old entertainment equipment. However, beside my chair was an object that made be a bit of a hypocrite. A rather large fish tank stood there, populated by fish I'd caught from the sea, plants I had plucked from the ocean bottom and decorated with the flotsam I had found on salvage jobs. It was a mishmash, but I was proud of it, even if some of the objects were a little strange. By that, I mean that the model Easter Island head made sense, but the .45 shell casing was not something you usually saw in a fish tank.
I slid open the curtains and patio doors at the end of the room to reveal what was once a glass and steel balcony providing views of a sprawling urban metropolis. Now, it was my deck. The glass floor was a bit scratched and cloudy, but I could still see the shoals of fish swimming underneath. The railing had long since lost its glass, but, now it had a series of fishing lines running down into the deep. The only two objects on there were a parasol and an old deck chair, both of which I promptly put to use under the brilliant blue cloudless sky. This was paradise.