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Austin's Box

Posted: Thu Jan 31, 2019 4:46 pm
by ninja_bait
I was going to make pictures for this and make it a real soap but I have too many projects.

This is set in Trattoria, shortly after the events of So Long and Thanks for All the Bricks. Written without Colette's permission.

Austin's Box
Part One: A message from the past




It was five hours after Dr. Ong had killed Quantumsurfer Colette. Three hours after the pink slip arrived under the door. Seven hundred and sixteen files shredded, three thousand, four hundred and eighty-two to go. Chief Science Inspector Carlson placed the last datatape from the box in the atomic shredder and listened to the machine efficiently separate the molecules of the tape. Hours had been spent collecting information, recording it, preserving it in this form. In one point one-five seconds it was random molecular noise again.


Carlson paused in the middle of flattening up the banker's box, his mind wandering off. The inevitability of entropy. The strangeness of nostalgia. The fact that he had accumulated four thousand, one hundred and ninety-eight physical pieces of information over the course of his career as a science inspector before the department moved to digital storage. The intimacy with which he had catalogued each one in his head. A small beep from his desktop computer informed him that the nine thousand, two hundred and forty-three reports he had saved to the main database were now wiped clean from the banks of hard disks buried deep under Conselia City. The beep awoke him from his reverie, and he rose to grab the next box from his shelves.

As he carried the box to his shredder, the office door slowly creaked open and a young man stepped in, carrying a tray of pastries.

"Takuya?" Carlson asked. "What are you doing here? Surely your responsibilities are complete and you've been sent home already?"

Takuya shrugged, his head and arms loose and casual. Ever since Takuya had joined the department as a post-grad, he had been the model child of quiet and discipline. Now the collar of his sterile shirt was open wide and his hair was mussed. "I noticed that your office light was still on, Dr. Carlson. I thought perhaps you'd enjoy some company for the end of the world."

Carlson stopped and stared for a moment. This kind of sentimentality from a young, up-and-coming career Trattorian - but then again, much had changed in the last five hours. Carlson smiled.

"Your company is indeed welcome, Takuya." Carlson set his box down by the shredder and walked toward his desk chair. With an open hand, he offered the guest chair to his aide. "I have a lot of things to finish still, but I suppose there's time to spare for a friend."

Takuya set the tray down on the desk, put his feet up next to it, and ran his fingers through his hair. "Why do we have to shred all this stuff anyway? I heard the city's getting nuked later tonight as a precaution." He picked up one of the two coffee mugs on the tray and sipped from it.

Carlson chuckled. As far as he knew, that wasn't a part of the Pink Slip Protocol - was it? "There's so much precious information here. More even, than the published journals have. Every failed experiment, every successful one, all the dirty ways people cheated their ways to their solutions. If even a piece of that was left..." Carlson trailed off as he nibbled on a biscuit. What did it matter? All his life had been spent inspecting the works of other scientists and engineers. His peers had achieved great things, and some base things, but he simply observed. What had he really done himself? And what did he really owe to a bureaucracy that no longer existed?

"This biscuit is excellent. Where did you get it, Takuya?"

"One of the few businesses still open. The baker's pink slip was sent to his personal address. He said that as long as he didn't go home, he could keep the bakery open as long as people needed."

"A kindness." Carlson stood, looked out the window at the market square below. "What will you do after tonight? Were you able to secure a seat on the refugee transports?"

Takuya took his feet off the desk and held his coffee in both hands. "I thought I might stay until it's literally impossible to do so anymore. I have nothing waiting for me outside Conselia, but I've always wanted to see more of the city." He smiled wryly. "What will you do? I heard some of the other Chief Inspectors negotiated good administrative jobs in Lietuva."

"That's true," Carlson said. "Halleck tipped off the other chiefs, but I was too skeptical to bother making a backup plan. And I suppose I've been so focused on these files that I haven't even thought about it today. I suppose the company shuttle might still be waiting for me if it hasn't been ransacked by some panicked citizens." Carlson finished off the last of his biscuit and sat back down. "To be honest, after I finish up here, I'd like to go home and take a bath. I'm not a young man anymore, game for exploration and adventure like you. I'll happily sleep through the apocalypse."

Takuya laughed as he reached for a perfectly flaky croissant. "A hot bath and a soft bed sounds just as good to me, Dr. Carlson. To be honest, I'm quite afraid that I'll die unfulfilled now. We used to have our lives set in stone, guaranteed by the order imposed by society. Now we're all just so much flotsam," he said as he waved the croissant in the air, "waiting for the tide to take us somewhere. But the moon's gone. There's no tides anymore."

"You'll learn to swim," Carlson said to Takuya, resting a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "I've seen the best and brightest of the galaxy and you young Trattorians have nothing to fear."

The desk computer began to make static. "I suppose the core databases have been fully wiped now," Carlson said, reaching for the monitor's power switch.

"Wait," Takuya said, leaning in toward the speaker. "I hear something. Adjust the gamma frequency."

Carlson frowned, but turned the knob. Surely enough, the static started to turn to signal. The two men scrambled to adjust the various receiver settings - "it's an older signal, switch to the VGA band" - "Turn up the gain but don't forget the mid-band-pass-buttplug" - and eventually got the monitor to display the looping video broadcasting from deep within Trattoria's archives.




"Hello. My name is President Austin."

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Fri Feb 01, 2019 11:08 am
by ninja_bait
Part Two: Trap Music

Takuya quietly went through the pre-flight checks on the company shuttle. In a way, it was just business as usual, preparing just as though it was any other routine inspection they were going out on. But the mission parameters Carlson was entering into the shuttle's drones were quite unique. Overriding the shutdown and storage protocols was simple enough, but adjusting the violence tolerances and keying the command systems to his identity were more challenging for a man with rusty computer engineering skills.

"Are we ready to go, Takuya?" Carlson asked as he settled into the copilot's seat.

Takuya had combed his hair and straightened his collar and was sitting stiffly in the pilot's seat, tapping touchscreen buttons with digital precision. "We are nominal, Dr. Carlson."

"I'll finish with the drones on the way. Is our flight plan set?"

"Yes." Takuya paused with his finger over the screen. "No one to log it with, of course." For a moment, Takuya slouched, but quickly straightened. "No matter. Lifting off."

As the shuttle took off from the spaceport, Carlson fiddled with a datatape he had left on the dashboard.

"Hello. My name is President Austin."

Carlson and Takuya had let the recording play several times, just to be sure.

"If you are hearing this, then the catastrophe is only just beginning. You may remember me as a bumbling fool, but history was not ready for my vision of the future. Now, that vision may be your best hope against the coming dangers. I buried my legacy on New York, hoping that someone worthy will find it. The time has come. Everything will change when you open my box. Choose your path wisely."

Austin's Box. A wild goose chase of a quest, given by a looping recording playing constantly in the low noise frequencies of Trattoria's daily life, exposed only now by the shutdown of the entire nation. And yet, if it was true, that such a box existed and that the power within was as he said...

The datatape Carlson held in his hands was nothing but a hunch - an inspection of an antimortallium lab conducted and filed away. Nothing of note, until today. But now, maybe a clue laid in that cold, cold, lab.

The trip to Isnyn took only a few hours. Takuya skillfully glided the shuttle into place on the lab's landing pad. A light dusting of snow swirled through the air. The pad was covered in an inch of snow, though a rectangle of black showed through where the lab's own shuttle once sat. Takuya and Carlson hopped out of the shuttle. Carlson hit a button on a remote, and the two large Interdimensionoid drones clanked out of their holding bays.

"Hold this location," Carlson commanded the drones, "and alert me if anyone shows up."

The drones confirmed the command and began pacing the landing pad. Carlson checked the fit of his blue gloves and smoothed his uniform, shivering slightly in the cold. If Takuya was affected by the weather, he showed no sign of it. Takuya strode to the lab's door, a heavy grey one, sunken into a snowbank.

"Dr. Carlson, the door to the lab is open. Seems the research team left things in poor condition." Carlson followed Takuya into the entryway. The hall was lit dimly by orange emergency lights and extended at a incline deeper into the frozen earth. Here, researchers had been excavating and examining rare minerals and transparent materials, trying to synthesize antimortallium. There were dozens of these labs in Trattoria, all working illegally. None had been even close to successful to date, so the government decided there was no risk of outside observers discovering the breach of international sanctions. Even if no one found antimortallium, there were dozens of useful new compounds being discovered in these labs.

Well, not anymore, Carlson thought to himself, sadly. Pausing over a spectrometer, he considered the opportunity here - if he were to take over this lab, perhaps with his background in material science, he could make a small fortune developing exotic materials for foreign militaries. Maybe Carlson Chemicals would become a household name, even long after his death. This lab certainly had the smell of a certain auspiciousness. Takuya sent a pile of bottles clattering to the ground as he gingerly lifted a pair of panties, his mind clearly on a different matter.

"Looks like the researchers let loose after the pink slips arrived," Takuya said. "Thank goodness we don't have to write this one up."

Carlson shook the fantasies from his head. They were on a different mission now, and the lab would be waiting for him when he returned. "Their lack of discipline will be our good luck, I hope. Looks like they didn't bother to destroy any of their research per protocol."

"That's all well and good," Takuya said as he dug through piles of pizza boxes and graph notebooks, "but you haven't said what I'm looking for yet, let alone how to find it in this mess."

"What we really need to find," Carlson replied, "is the main power. It should be in this front lab, and then we should be able to activate the deep labs. This facility has some of the oldest research equipment in Trattoria, some of it dating back to the days of Nyphilis. If we're lucky, they still have the antimortallium detector here."

As Takuya found his way through confetti and cocaine lines toward the mainframe access point, he looked to Carlson in confusion. "How can there be an antimortallium detector if there's never been antimortallium?"

"How did we find the Bozon before it was isolated?" Carlson chuckled. He was gathering small instruments from the various workstations around him. "That clown particle was devishly hard to detect but it was easy enough to detect its absence. A similar principle applies here."

Takuya keyed in an access code and hit a large green button. A generator surged to life somewhere behind one of the thick ice walls and the lights flickered on, cold and white. Party music slowly wound up over the PA system. "Ugh, trap music," Takuya said.

The doorframes of three doors on the far wall lit up with a soft blue glow.

"I wish you wouldn't use such foreshadowing language in the middle of our adventure," Carlson said with a wag of his finger. "Come on, I know where the detector should be stored."

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:49 am
by ninja_bait
Part Three: Getting A Head

"That's it?" Takuya asked, arms crossed.

"I'm amazed that it's in such perfect condition after all these years of use," Carlson said, ignoring the question. His hands hovered over the detector in reverence.

"Does it work, though?" Takuya asked.

"Well, as of the last inspection, it had a perfect record of identifying things that weren't antimortallium. Of course, there's no way to make sure it would positively identify antimortallium. But theoretically..."

"Hey! Stop talking about me as an 'it!'" shouted the detector. "You can call me Warhead, conqueror of worlds and layer of moms! Make that Lord Warhead, you slimy Nyphilians!"

Carlson shook his head sadly. "As you can see, Takuya, there were kinks that couldn't be worked out in the design, but overall it should be quite effective for us."

"Kinks?! Being just a head isn't a kink that I consented to, and I've consented to just about every kind there is!"

Carlson grabbed the detector by its handle. The head of a Warhead Shard hung from the handle like a lantern, eyes glowing. Some small pieces of circuitry were attached to the stud on the top of the head. A long cable extended out of the head into the stand. Carlson gave the head a sharp tug to disconnect it from the cable.


"Should be enough charge in the detector for several days," Carlson said.

"Now what?" Takuya asked. "We just walk around New York with the antimortallium detector until it starts to beep loudly? You seemed to imply a better plan."

"We don't even know if Austin's Box contains antimortallium, though it seems the most logical thing, let alone if this," Carlson shook the detector, "will lead us to it. There's no sense in searching the whole damn planet for buried treasure. I've been thinking of where to find more clues, but I'm beginning to think anywhere else in Trattoria will just give us more of the same. After all, we're scientists, not historians."

"What the hell's an Austin's Box?" shouted the detector. "What kind of stupid crap are you trying to put me through here?"

Takuya scratched his head thoughtfully. "I mean, President Austin disappeared during the peak of the Immortal War. No one really knows what happened to him. No one bothered to find out."

"PRESIDENT AUSTIN?! WHERE?! LEMME AT 'IM!" shouted the detector, violently swaying in Carlson's hands.

Carlson held the detector just below eye level, acknowledging the shard for the first time. "What do you know about President Austin," Carlson asked, "and what he might have hidden on New York?"

"I know way too much about President Austin," said Warhead, spitting on the ground as he said the name. "Plus, I killed him. That was years ago on Orsa Maxii."

"The mining planet?" asked Takuya incredulously. "There's nothing of note there. I think we'd know if Austin died there."

Warhead spat again. "I kept him in captivity there for months, and he kept blathering on about how he was on LSD. Every time we took away one of his propaganda recording devices, he'd pull out another one from some cavity on his body or another. Anyway, it got boring fast, so we just killed him quietly."

"I know what you're thinking," Takuya said to Carlson. "But there's nothing on Orsa Maxii but radiation and dirt. Not to mention it's in No-Man's-Land, stripped clean by raiders and scavs."

"We'll need more help. I wonder if this lab had guard drones installed in one of the other wings. We could easily fit a few more drones aboard the shuttle."

"Alright! Field trip! I'm only going if there's hot babes though."

"Dr. Carlson, maybe we should reconsider - even with an army of drones at our disposal, Orsa Maxii is a dangerous place. We could die!"

"It wasn't a whole day ago you were considering letting yourself get nuked in Conselia City, Takuya. And now you're suddenly worried for your life?"

"That was a joke. Orsa Maxii isn't!"

"Damn it, Takuya!" Carlson shouted. "This is all I have! I didn't publish a paper, I didn't win a war or head a corporation! I didn't leave behind a son! If you or I die, who will know our names?"

"I won't," said Warhead. "Losers."

"Austin's Box is out there, and even if it isn't antimortallium, it could guarantee our immortality as heroes of the Brikverse! If I'm going to die, I'll die a legend!"

"That's a damn grandiose idea," Takuya said softly, "and you're an old fool. You can drop me off on the way."

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 10:39 am
by Kommander Ken
Very entertaining read so far. :omnom:

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 10:41 am
by ninja_bait
Kommander Ken wrote:Very entertaining read so far. :omnom:

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 2:24 pm
by Falk
Poor Warhead shard

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2019 10:13 am
by ninja_bait
Part Four: The Man Who Delivers

"Welcome to Rivet Dell Station, the last homely stop before wild space... for now."

The sign had been put up in cheerier days, by pioneers high on the promise of the Allied Nations and modern technology. Nowadays, its bright colors and optimistic words were largely obscured by soot and grease that had wafted out of the dirty food stands and machine shops that crowded the main concourse. The smell of heavy bone broth mixed with that of fry oil and engine coolant and cleaning solvents. Sentient beings from every world in Nehellenium pushed their way through the narrow alleyways, their belongings held closely to their chests or hidden under heavy cloaks. You could tell which ones were the Trattorians, breathing through their mouths and holding their noses. Many spacers were pungent, either by virtue of biology or cheap hygiene, and the best of them were represented here, their odors mingling with the already thick air.

To Sam Porter Bridges, Rivet Dell really did smell like home. He could tell you which shops kept their tools sharp and which ones filled parts with sawdust to cheat customers, just by the smell of them. Sam had finished delivery of several tonnes of ordinance to a local black market arms dealer. The money from the sales would keep the TLA running for a few more months, maybe fund another ship to make up for the constant losses to the Britannians and their accursed allies, the Immortals.

Sam took a small commission for himself, of course, spent this afternoon on a hot coffee and a bagel with a shmear in one of the few delis with tables and chairs and a view of the station exterior. He watched as technicians in spacesuits floated past little tugboats and bits of detritus.

The quiet moment was suddenly interrupted by an explosion at the far side of the station. Sam jumped to his feet and ran to the deli exit - good, his ship was on the other side of the station. Screams and laser blasts echoed off the high ceilings of the station and the orange glow of raging fires slowly grew closer. The hordes of spacers pushed Sam against the deli wall as they fled toward the safety of their ships in the west hangars. Sam could make out one word from the fighting, echoing louder and longer and stronger than any other.


Sam had heard of the Brootalz, of course, though never from a firsthand account since they left no survivors. Horrible ork hordes from another galaxy or dimension, depending on who you asked, that were practically invincible. Some thought they were a Trattorian experiment gone wrong, others that they were a punishment from the gods. Kill one, and two more would rise in its place, even more berserk than the last. Their guns shattered Terrorkhan armor and their chainsaws shredded through Assyrian hull plating. They even augmented themselves with mechanical armor - some said their generals stood twenty bricks tall and wielded mighty warhammers that cratered the earth. Sam wanted to see this for himself.

Sam pressed his way against the tide of bodies, cutting through abandoned stalls and shouldering in between families. He unlocked the safety on his positron rifle as he began to feel the heat from the fires. In the distance, green skinned orks fired lasers through civilians and security forces as they jumped from roof to roof and ran through the spaces between stands.

Two nearly surprised him as they jumped off a roof toward him, their red eyes and skewed grins peeking out of their light grey helmets, their arms bared, and huge chipped scimitars in their hands. Had it not been for their shrieking battle cry, Sam might have pulled up the barrel of his positron rifle too late, but as it were, he activated the beam just in time to vaporize both in one sweep.

"So," Sam said to himself, "they die like anyone else." It would be good information to deliver back to President Bob.

"Hey!" shouted a voice from a nearby shop. "Get over here!"

Sam scurried over to the shop, one with heavy metal walls and jumped in through the opened door. A station security officer slammed the door shut behind him, then ran back to the partially shuttered windows where he and his compatriots were locked in a firefight with a band of Brootalz.

As Sam's eyes adjusted to the dark shop, he was surprised to see a Trattorian science officer commanding a pair of heavy drones with gold accents and large blasters. He held a large globe-sized object under a cloth in his hands. Sam's eyes met the officer's, and he quickly turned away to hide the object with his body.

One of the security officers approached Sam. "Our weapons aren't making enough of a dent in these monsters. We need your help to hold the station. If we can hold the line here, reinforcements will reach us and repel these invaders."

"I can't help you with that. I make deliveries. That's all." Sam replied as he got to his feet and checked his gun. "I just had to see the Brootalz for myself. I've seen it, I don't like it, and I'm out of here."

"Thank you, finally someone with some sense," said the Trattorian officer. "If we work together, we might make it out of here alive."

"Like I said, I make deliveries and that's it."

The Trattorian signaled to the two drones, and they stopped shooting through the windows and flanked him. "Once we get to the hangars on the far side I don't care what you do. But together, we might have a better chance of escaping." The Trattorian extended a hand. "I'm Dr. Scott Carlson, former Chief Science Inspector. These drones are my personal guards. I suppose you already recognize the station security."

Sam hesitated, then shook the hand. A firmer grip than he was used to from a Trattorian. "I'm Sam Porter Bridges."

Carlson tucked the fabric around the device he was holding and cradled it in one arm. "Alright, Sam Porter Bridges. I'm ready when you are."

"Please," shouted the security officers. "Dr. Carlson, the safest thing to do is wait for the reinforcements!"

"You're a fool if you think reinforcements are coming now!" barked Carlson. "Besides," he said to Sam, "I'm no longer interested in doing the safest thing." He signaled to the drones with his free hand, and they raised their heavy rifles toward the back wall of the shop. With a bright blue blast, they blew a hole through the thick metal.

"Well," Sam said in quiet surprise, "never seen a Trattorian do that before."

"Haven't you heard?" Carlson asked with a grim smile as he followed the drones through the hole. "There's no Trattoria anymore."

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2019 1:58 pm
by Theblackdog

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2019 2:05 pm
by Falk
This just gets better and better

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Tue Feb 05, 2019 3:27 pm
by Kommander Ken
Oh hell friggin' yeah dude.


Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:09 am
by ninja_bait

Dr. Scott Carlson, former Chief Science Inspector, and Sam Porter Bridges, the man who delivers, leave Rivet Dell Station. Carlson carries his Antimortallium Detector and is escorted by two Interdimensionoid Drones, while Sam has only his knapsack and the positron rifle gifted to him by TLA President Bob.

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:36 am
by Falk
RIP the assistant guy

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:27 am
by ninja_bait
Part Five: The Assistant Guy is Back Already

Sam and Carlson entered the hangar bay. The Brootalz had pillaged their way through most of the station, and only a few stragglers remained in the hangars - some would-be heroes ushering survivors onto their ships, station security setting up tripod guns and hoping for the evac shuttles to show up. A few more people pushed into the hangar, then the guards slammed the doors shut.

"Everyone to your ships!" yelled the commanding officer. "These doors won't hold for long!"

"That's me," Sam said, gesturing toward a grey and yellow cargo ship. A single man stood at the loading ramp, pushing people away with the muzzle of a heavy smart gun.

As he locked his positron rifle to his pack and turned toward the ship, an explosion ripped through the heavy hangar doors, launching both him and Carlson to the ground. Carlson's strange globe-device tumbled from his hands, fell out of the cloth cover, and rolled toward Sam. It looked him in the eyes.

"Sup?" it asked.

Sam had no time to answer. He scrambled to his feet and wrestled the gun back off his pack. Two of the ship's crew had gotten closer, laying down cover fire with their guns and shouting for Sam to run like hell. Sam fired a few massive blasts into the melee as he backed up. As soon as he neared his companions, they turned and sprinted into the ship, jumping onto the ramp as the ship took off.

Carlson's ears rang, but he was vaguely aware of one of his drones standing at his feet, mowing down the Brootalz pouring in, and the other shot to pieces by his side, but still providing cover. A hand grabbed his arm and brusquely shook him to his feet. As Carlson's eyes focused on the man picking him up, he recognized the youthful face. "Takuya?" he asked, weakly.

"I was worried you hadn't made it!" Takuya fired his pistol constantly into the fray, dragging Carlson back toward their shuttle. The living drone backed up with them, continuing to fire as well as swinging its club into the heads of berserkers that got too close. Carlson stumbled to his feet and drew his own pistol, then froze.

"Dr. Carlson, please!"

Carlson dashed across the floor, then dove for the antimortallium detector. Takuya ordered the drone to provide cover fire and ran to help Carlson back to his feet. A few lucky shots hit the drone in its sensor clusters and its fusion generator, and it sparked and staggered before blowing bricks up to the ceiling. Takuya and Carlson sprinted behind the explosion to their shuttle. It was already warmed up, humming at peak efficiency, and as soon as Takuya was in his seat, he punched the reverse thrusters and launched them out of the station.

The chaos and cacophony suddenly gave way to the silence of space. Carlson settled into his seat and buckled the seatbelts. Looking out the windshield, he could see other ships at full burn, trying to get out of the station's gravity well to make the lightspeed jump to safety. Blinding beams of energy shot out from the port side, some racing off into the distance, others impacting on the civilian ships. The cratered ships sputtered for a single moment, then exploded.

Takuya veered the shuttle to dodge the next volley, and Carlson caught a glimpse of the ugly Brootal ships that it came from. Grey and boxy, and bristling with huge weapons. Where was the defense fleet, he thought to himself. What a time for Trattoria to dissolve its military!

Takuya veered the shuttle again and began plugging in the calculations for the lightspeed jump. Beads of sweat hung on his forehead, but his eyes stared intensely forward as his fingers hit the touchscreen controls with a precise rhythm.

Carlson let out the breath he was holding as Takuya activated the faster-than-light drive and the violence turned into plaid streaks across the blackness of space.

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Thu Feb 21, 2019 12:01 pm
by ninja_bait
Part Six: Behind Enemy Lines

Takuya and Carlson flew to Orsa Maxii in silence. Takuya had thought this adventure was over for him, and had been searching for passage off Rivet Dell Station when the Brootalz arrived. The cargo freighters and passenger liners quickly vanished in an act of self-preservation, and Takuya had to run back to the only ship that would still be waiting for him - this small Trattorian shuttle. What had possessed him to wait the extra minute for Dr. Carlson?

They landed near the outskirts of the settlements on Orsa Maxii and put on their radiation suits. Takuya saw Carlson watching him, a question forming on his face. Takuya quickly turned away and zipped up the suit. Carlson recognized the professionalism in the gesture and followed suit, signaling with his hand to exit the craft. Carlson and Takuya stepped out of the shuttle onto the gravelly earth. Geiger counters in their wrist computers clicked quietly as their feet crunched on the ground. In the distance, they could see the flat slab buildings of the mining settlement, heavy machinery trundling around.

Carlson motioned for quiet as they neared the first building, and crouched down in the shadows. Takuya crouched behind him.

"What are we doing here?" he asked.

"We've got to get to President Austin's cell," Carlson replied. "I spent quite a bit of time and money on Rivet Dell to find out where he was held on Orsa Maxii. There were a lot of stories of how he really died, and all of them were mostly made up. And now that there's no Trattorian Mosaic Multiplex Computor to buttplug out the noise, I've had to analyze the data myself. Years of filtering garbage from corrupt researchers has made me quite good at it. There's only one place Austin would have been kept here, but there's one problem - if anyone sees us here, they'll shoot us on sight."

"We'll have to steal uniforms from the miners," Takuya said.

"That was my thought as well. But no matter what, our presence won't go unnoticed."

"Seems like a lot of risk considering we don't even know what we'll find here."

"I asked about something else on Rivet Dell," Carlson said. "Do you realize that we're the only people looking for Austin's Box?"

Takuya just shook his head, waiting for Carlson to continue.

"If we don't find it, then it will disappear forever. If we don't find more clues, we could spend our lives looking for it and find nothing. That's why we have to take this risk."

To Carlson's surprise, Takuya stood up and pointed. "Look, there's two men standing there. We should be able to get the jump on them."

"Good, let's go."

Carlson and Takuya snuck up on the pair of miners and each grabbed one by the throat. After significant struggle, they subdued the miners and dragged them into a nearby building. As they shut the door behind them, they heard a voice in the dimly lit room.

"Hey, what the fuck are you doing here?"

Carlson and Takuya looked at each other and then back at the group of miners standing in the room.

"I guess this wasn't a shed," Carlson said, as he pulled his pistol from its holster. Takuya did the same and they quickly murdered the group.

"I'm surprised at how good we're getting at this," Takuya said. "They didn't set off any alarms so we should still have time to get to the cell."

"Let's get these suits on and move, then. We'll have to get to the central complex. Maybe they've got a rover in this building we can borrow."

* * *

Takuya stood at the door of the cell, pistol drawn, as Carlson carefully examined the room. It had been a trivial task to get into the complex and work their way down to the deep levels where President Austin had been held. After all, the workers here had better things to do than bother two of their own, and Carlson had said as little as possible to avoid slipping back into his haughty, precise Trattorian accent. An accent he was using now, as he narrated his examination of the cell.

"Room contains an operating table and two observation chairs. Medical tools scattered on floor. Bar 1L with Clip Mechanical Claw. Minifigure, Utensil Tool Chainsaw Blade. Tools are clean but chemical analysis indicates date of last use was several years ago. Holo-recording droid at head of operating table is in good condition but internal batteries are dead. Extracting memory core for later examination."

"Do you think we can move faster?" Takuya whispered through his teeth. "That patrol will eventually come back around and we'll be toast." Takuya shuddered to think what kind of bounty the Immortal Empire had put on snooping Trattorian heads.

"I need to memorize everything in this scene," Carlson said as he swabbed a bloodstain on the wall. The Trattorian accent had been specially designed for ease of memorization and scientific precision. It also allowed the speaker to suppress his fear or disgust for situations like these. Carlson took a deep breath. "Body is on the ground, cut in half at the waist. Flesh has disintegrated completely. Skeletal remains match build of an average Nyphilian male. Male was wearing a black suit with gold epaulets. Burn marks indicate that primary injury was inflicted by a laser sword. Wrists were shackled during scuffle."

"It's Austin, we know that already!" Takuya said as he watched the hallway tensely.

Carlson searched the pockets of the suit, turning up nothing but lint and dried bugs. Then, he tore the suit apart to expose the skeleton. "Aha! A datatape is in the remains. Probably surgically inserted into the victim before time of death. Carlson tucked the tape into a pocket. He took a final eidetic scan of the room and stood up. "No further data to report," he said, securing the information in his memory.

"Alright, let's go," Takuya said, waving with his gun as he turned down into the hallway. The two of them walked through the facility, retracing their steps toward the surface as inconspicuously as possible. They reached one of the sealed staircases, and Carlson stopped Takuya with a hand on his arm.

"Weren't there more miners before?"

"I guess so. They must have a union break or something. Look, let's just use this as an opportunity to get off this planet alive. We have the data we need, that's the only thing that matters."

Carlson fiddled with the datatape in his pocket. "Right, okay. Let's move then."

They made it out of the complex, finding their rover in the lot still humming idly. The quiet, which should have been welcome, had been made eerie by Carlson's concerns. Still, there was no time to ask questions. They drove the rover as fast as possible to the shuttle, and when they got inside, both let out huge sighs of relief. Takuya entered the liftoff sequence into the pilot's console and the shuttle took off to the skies.

As it reached the outer atmosphere, it exploded violently and completely.

* * *

Elsewhere, a mysterious figure watches the shuttle explode on a monitor and chuckles. "I love watching Trattorians explode. I knew one of those loser scientists would come for that datatape eventually. Well, this story's over, back to work everyone!"

Re: Austin's Box

Posted: Fri Feb 22, 2019 12:49 am
by Kommander Ken
Wait, holy shit, what?!