Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Crossing Over Again

With all the data in hand, it's finally time to enact the last step of the plan. The ship jumps forward, this time only about a couple hundred years - the trip isn't nearly as rough. They arrive 10 months from their intended date (May of the year 2022), which actually works in their favor. Heading deep into the outer edge of the solar system gives them plenty of time to practice for their next assault, and repair and restock, as well as upgrade their capabilities. Nix grabs a head-full of tech to help him pilot, shoot, and fight; Rodney grabs some cybernetic upgrades as well, slowly turning himself into a literal tank.

The Biothanata is obviously taking hold - while there are a few hotspots on the surfaces of the three planets, it's not fully dug in, but the tell-tale signs of red blobs floating through space shows that the planets don't have more than a few years left before being eaten by the red goo.

Meanwhile, on the planet closest to the sun, power readings are off the charts; the frequencies are similar to the portal used to journey here, but far, far less stable. Atmospheric storms crash and roar, a perpetual storm centers on the power source - an enormous entity, holding a massive obelisk. The device is sapping energy from the planet itself, slowing it down to build enough charge to permanently open the portal. Blips in power occur every few hours as more entities portal their way to the planet, preparing for invasion.

The plan in its entirety is thus: after arriving in this galaxy through the heavily modified portal, the Dark Horizon was to spread the Biothanata (to ensure no future attempts - check), steal the portal technology (check), determine the exact date, time, and location of the invasion (check), and locate any existing strongholds in the Milky Way. Eliza's knowledge of history helped pinpoint the day and time of the invasion, and the records recovered help pinpoint the exact time and date on this side. With the information in hand, the Dark Horizon will have to make a leap into Jumpspace through the portal - only this time, the safety measures are missing. The ship will have to dodge ships in the area, fly down into the atmosphere, and after making some on-the-fly jumpspace calculations, jump through the portal.

Or, in a much safer way, send down a tiny mission to slip through the portal unseen, set up a portal linked to another back on the ship, and simply walk everyone out to the planet on the other side, after stripping the jump drives, Crowbar, NOA, and other technology from the ship. Safer, but the end result is no ship and no way to get home.

After putting it to a vote, it was decided that the Dark Horizon would make the jump. Either everyone makes it out, or no one does!

Finally, the day of the big event arrived. The Dark Horizon dodged the ships protecting the planet from above, and used their shield to phase through the planetary defense system. In the atmosphere, Nix dodged and weaved with incredible skill, thanks in part to his new upgrades. As they grew closer, a scene unfolded on the planet below:

A handful of humans suddenly arrived on the surface below; armed with little more than baseball bats, wrenches, rifles, and a spear, the men (and one woman) charged the entities and their armies, carving a path through the chaos, and eventually reaching the huge entity with the obelisk! A signal blinked on; unknown, but apparently friendly? It came from the rag-tag group, though how was anyone's guess. The woman stabbed the creature in the leg, and the guy with dual baseball bats took a swing, hammering it in. The fellow with a wrench grabbed a terrified flying entity, and once he was high enough, dived onto the massive creature with the obelisk, slamming it in the head! Together, they bashed the creature enough to weaken it, and it dropped the obelisk.

Nix quickly rand the Jumpspace calculations, and made the jump, just as the obelisk shattered into fragments on the stony ground. The last they saw of the group was them running back the way they came, with the hordes in hot pursuit.

And with that, the Dark Horizon leaped through the portal.

The journey was faster than the previous one; the larger portal and the much improved power source shortened the distance considerably. However, it wasn't a carefully tuned journey, and as the Dark Horizon popped back into reality, a cascade of failures took out the jump drives and brought half the system offline.

Out of sensor range of Earth, the crew took stock - a few minor injuries, and enough damage to the ship to keep Elise busy for a day or two, but overall, nothing but the Jumpdrive was damaged beyond repair. The year was verified to be 2022, early May. According to Eliza's instructions, if anything went wrong, they were to contact an Agent Peregrine Cycle, who could be found on the eastern edge of where Texas City will eventually be - a tiny village named Longview.

Rodney, dressed in "casual" clothing, and Nix, wearing a hologram, headed down to the surface. Somehow, Rodney managed to not only ask the right people, but managed to do so without alerting them to the fact that he is somewhat unhinged. In record time, they found Agent Cycle, a rather stiff individual who was nonetheless all too happy to help. Oddly, he didn't seem to be at all put off by the fact that they had arrived on a space ship, though he did apologize for being rushed, as he was in the middle of dealing with a successfully rebuffed alien invasion, which thankfully went a lot better than he had hoped.

After a few day of seeing the sights (and watching Mr. Clean commercials), the crew was met by one Captain Caelie Kay, the time-traveling captain of the Tempus Fugit, offering parts and assistance. Her engineer, a woman named Daisy, seems very keen on meeting the crew, and fixing their ship!

Smash And Grab And Smash

The invasion of Earth took a huge amount of planning, and that kind of planning would have a backup, somewhere. With the space station well-softened, it was time to go exploring for that very plan.

Rodney, Nix, and Elise infiltrated the damaged station, and managed to make their way into the well-armored portion - though Elise pulled an R2D2 and zapped herself plugging into a power port instead of a data port. Inside, there was a bit of resistance, but nothing that (now dual) hammers of brutal justice couldn't solve. Messily. After fighting their way to a junction, they paused to decide whether to go for the file, or rescue an apparent hostage; there was a bit of a rush, as there seemed to be a military presence on its way. More pressing were the two very large guards in power suits; after a quick battle, leaving everyone slightly injured, and the two guards dead, Rodney began stripping the armor off. One suit was very mangled, but the other was mostly intact. Elise managed to get the working suit in a sort of "follow" mode, and Rodney hefted the other suit onto its shoulder. After bashing the military's doors in and bit-locking them to boot, the group blithely headed for the documentation area. While the others carefully searched the huge piles of data, Rodney showed them how it was done by randomly grabbing a file, which turned out to be the data they needed.

Returning to the prisoner, they managed to free the strange creature - it spoke a language very unlike their own, and indeed one the learning translator didn't know; however, it seemed to pick up on the language very quickly, and after only a few minutes was able to communicate its situation. And a good thing, too, because the military had managed to blow up the doors, and was heading their way!

Just then, the Dark Horizon managed to contact them, and told them to stand back, as a barrage of lasers and torpedoes slammed into the building, ripping the arm they were holed up in off entirely.

Back aboard the ship, the prisoner - an android, actually - was assigned quarters, and put under house arrest until further notice. With the information the Android provided, along with the information in the documents they found, they were able to piece together the entire plan.

Spies were sent ahead to Earth ages ago, hundreds if not thousands of years before. Within the last hundred years, the spies were able to report back, and the plan was set in motion. Just under two hundred years from now, a massive portal will be fully powered, and ready to send unlimited troops to Earth. While it should be somewhat functional by the early 1980s, it won't reach full power until the early 2020s. And, in case the attack is a failure, the plan is to send troops through with a portal, to allow future attacks and allow coordinating from within.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Get Jumpin'

The solar system was dying. And not just the solar system - two galaxies were colliding, and their effects were already becoming apparent, as another solar system hurtled towards them. They didn't have a lot of time for the next step of Eliza's plan, as laid out by NOA: get to the planet, and steal the portal technology.

There were three planets to choose from; one was a wasteland, razed from an ancient war. The other two were populated, or at least had been - the planets were nearly empty, evacuated before the collision. The crew elected to visit the second planet, at a science facility, hoping that would have the answers they were looking for - and that it wouldn't be as well-guarded as the military base.

On the surface, they ran into a leathery creature, its folded wings rustling in the breeze. It was roughly humanoid, though with twisted, demonic features. It seemed to be pushing some sort of cart; when it saw the group, it began waving its arms. Rodney, taking this as a challenge, immediately smashed it into paste, crushing it beneath his mighty hammer! Take that, homeless scum!

It didn't take long to find the military base, and start searching for the technology; after a quick run-in with a very mobile thief, and a very, very tough thief, both of which were taken down with the combined might of Rodney's power hammers and Elise's new disintegration rifle, the plans were found, uploaded, and the planet evacuated. With little time to spare, the Dark Horizon enabled a one-shot program, utilizing the J0 drive and a lot of difficult math, and jumped backwards in time - a thousand years, give or take.

Unlike the Tempus Frigate, which was designed for precise travel through time, though constrained to the range it could travel to, the Dark Horizon method of time travel was more akin to drinking a bottle of something you found behind Wal-Mart and waking up in Tibet. That is to say, it was neither conventional, nor comfortable. Even the droids had to avoid glitching out; upon arrival, the ship was fraught damaged electronics, and a number of minor injuries among the crew. As they raced to repair the ship, a handful of corvette-class ships picked them up, and headed in pursuit.

As Elise split her focus between getting the ship working and manning the guns, the others fired everything they had; the shields grew dangerously low as the other three ships pounded them with laser fire. As the shields flickered out, a lucky hit damaged the jump drive! Elise scrambled to contain the leak, as Nix managed to hit a ship in the reactor. Finally, the battle was over; the Dark Horizon was badly damaged, but the enemy ships were no longer a threat, and there were no other ships in the area. They were able to take a few hours to repair the ship, and carefully place the Biothanata in the asteroid field, where it would consume and grow, and eventually, wipe out the entire system.

Of course, that would take time, and there were still pieces of the plan that needed some action. Now that the orbiting space station's defenses were lowered - no ships left to protect it - the Dark Horizon was able to sit back and lob high-velocity rocks at it to "soften it up".

Into the Dragon's Den

Once NOA finished the calculations, the Dark Horizon made the perilous journey to a rocky, desolate planet, barely capable of sustaining life, orbiting a tiny red dwarf. Also orbiting the planet is a strange ship, covered in sensors - it's got a familiar (if 125-year-old) call signature, though. The ship is swathed in sensors of all sorts, with tiny, undersized engines. It's the UEA SS Eliza! As they crew scanned it, the ship suddenly vanished, and reappeared a split second later in front of them, hitting them with a barrage of scans, then a moment later, a woman blinks into existence on your bridge!

She introduced herself as the UEA SS Eliza; the original Shifting Horizon helped her, and she's returning the favor. She explains, as a swarm of drones arrive to attach the J0 drive, the Crowbar, and the existing J3 drive.

"When the Oncoming Storm was returning from its tour beyond the Wall, something happened in Jumpspace. Whatever it was tore the Oncoming Storm into two ships - identical, except for the crew. While most of the crew remained aboard the ship, some of the crew were torn from their own reality and dropped into an alternate reality - a parallel world. Like throwing a rock nudges a person in the opposite direction, throwing a few of the crew nudged the rest back to their own reality. It is not an unknown effect - people have gone missing since the dawn of time. Tiny nudges, keeping the universe on track.

What happened in jumpspace knocked your ship out of its jumpspace corridor, and temporarily disengaged the jump drive. The ship, trying to quickly return to course, entered and left jumpspace a dozen times, trying to reorient, until ultimately it shut down, unable to rouse the crew, and unable to contact anyone.

Lucky for you, I was not far not far from where the tear occurred. Investigating your drifting ship, I found I had full access; I was able to... compare notes with my alternate self. I realized what had happened, and what would happen. I merged my consciousness with that of the data from your universe's Eliza, and after verifying that the ship would survive, I left to find out exactly what was going wrong.

In this universe, your... Entity, I believe you called it... had never met with the resistance of the Shifting Horizon, and its plans continued on schedule; where the Entity had begun moving from interfering with politics and science in your universe, the Entity in this parallel world had no need to escape its prison early. When the technology it had seeded was finally ready, it merely gathered its forces to this planet and simply... walked away, through a portal to a different galaxy. Of course, it won't be gone for long - soon, it will return, this time with reinforcements. It must be stopped. Even if we destroy the portal, the Entity knows that our world is sheltered and rich with resources, which will give it time to build an army to wage war on the universe."

Eliza modified the Entity's portal, and together with the other technologies, the Dark Horizon jumped through the portal.

The trip wasn't a smooth one. Unlike normal jumpspace, the view was beautiful; it was like looking into a million galaxies. But, that wasn't the only thing in jumpspace. First, a horde of jumpspace aliens, the strange creatures that walk through jumpspace like taking a stroll in the park, started teleporting into the ship; one by one, they were put down, and though some minor injuries were sustained by the crew, the aliens were put down, hard. And, Elise ended up with a nice disintegration rifle, to boot!

Their wounds were barely healed before the ship was attacked by enormous, blue-lit, worm-like creatures, who strafed the ship with gravity blasts, and slammed into it with their enormous mouths. One by one, the worms were blasted into pieces; Rodney was only able to provide moral support, as the other crew refused to load him into a torpedo bay and fire him at the worms.

Though the ship sustained some damage, they managed to destroy the worms, and finally complete their voyage. The crew of the Dark horizon - a motley mix of third-tier crew, Russian survivors, and blue apes - were the first humans (and, indeed, first blue apes) to visit another galaxy.