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Nowhere Men (Morpheaus vs. Orion)



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Morpheaus

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The setting will be classical space opera and I'm stipulating only science fiction based characters. No magic, ninjas, divine incarnations, etc. Power setting is mild.

Wayward Lady, a battle carrier and flagship of Her Majesty's 5th Fleet will serve as the battlefield. Wayward Lady and the rest of the Fifth are currently involved in pitched battle with an alien fleet of unknown origin, attempting to destroy the Zero-Point Projector. The ZPP serves as an extra-planetary defense grid for Mars, capital of Her Majesty's United Galactic Kingdom.

I'll be using a relatively new character.

Name: Aurelius

Age: 150

Background: Born on a parallel Earth as different from our own as night from day, Leythaniel was bred to knighthood in the longstanding tradition of his family. He took to the role like a duck to water, flourishing in his studies as well as in the arts of combat. At the age of sixteen, he became the youngest male of the Savard line to earn a knighthood.

Leythaniel quickly earned a reputation for unrivaled gallantry among friend and foe alike. So well respected was he, that many enemies chose to settle their disputes over a pint of ale, instead of at the tip of a blade. However, despite his accomplishments, many of the men and women closest to Leythaniel noted a dark cloud had begin to grow over him. As time passed, he began to show a certain grim countenance and many began to fear the reasons behind such brooding and where it would lead the young knight.

Such fears proved themselves unfounded; in the month before his twentieth-seventh birthday, Leythaniel led a force of knights in a raid against a mad Science-King's deadly army of automatons powered by an otherworldly engine of infernal energies. Although severely outnumbered and faced by an alien power, Leythaniel succeeded in breaking through to the heart of the mad King's forces. In the final moments of pitched battle, the young noble plunged his blade through the heart of his enemy, vanquishing the demented monarch as well as the energies powering his forces.

Tragically, it would be those same energies which would rip Leythaniel from his home dimension and send him spiraling through the space between worlds.

Appearance: Leythaniel stands 6'5” with a lean and athletic build: wide shoulders and narrows hips, akin to a swimmer's physique- a resemblance enhanced by close cropped brown hair. His eyes are an olive color, wide set and complimented by a sharp angular, straight nose, and strong cheekbones. Leythaniel's face is rarely relaxed, his jaw is square and perpetually set between a frown and a bitter grimace.

His clothing is simple, a light, form fitting body suit, thin wrist length gloves, and a modular utility belt . A series of eleven sockets have been surgically implanted within Leythaniel's nervous system at key points, allowing him to literally plug-in a variety of personally developed and tailored hardware. These ports are usually concealed by the plug-ins, which are crafted to appear as small metallic plates. Although, the socket at the base of his spine is easily noticed, often to the discomfort of those who do.

Abilities: Aurelius hails from a parallel world in which chivalry and nobility became a cornerstone of all cultures across the planet and the title of knighthood the highest of honors a man or woman could hope to attain. Because ranged combat became discouraged as ignoble and cowardly, the use of firearms never spread beyond that of a few isolated people's. This does not mean that the development of technology came to a halt, far from it; in fact, the people's of Sir Aurelius home dimension reached unprecedented levels of socio-economic cooperation allowing them to develop technologies beyond that which is available to most of people of our Earth.

Sir Aurelius abilities reflect such advancements. He is beyond peak human condition and has yet to reach his prime. His body, like all knights of his world, has been modified to reduce caloric energy consumption to less than 5%, leaving him with massive amounts of chemical energy. A series of eleven ports have been implanted into key points in his nervous system, allowing Leythaniel to wear specially adapted devices which channel chemical energy, converting it into solid light weaponry and armor via Aurelius's mental command.

Aurelius's preferred method of transportation is an advanced gateway generator which has been grafted to the left-frontal lobe. This device allows him to fold space for quick movement within a 50 yard radius. For travel across greater distances, the device generates a wormhole via mental command.

Due to his highly advanced biology, Aurelius has greater physical prowess than ten men, allowing him to lift greater weights, run faster, and leap farther, for longer periods. Metabolic efficiency also grants a pseudo-healing factor, allowing him to recover from and in some cases shrug of what would otherwise be lethal injuries, though he is by no means immortal.

A recent extra-dimensional conflict resulted in severe internal injuries, leaving Aurelius near death for an extended period of time. Upon recovery, he found himself with little choice but to upgrade his systems. These upgrades include heightened energy projection, synthetic bio-weave laced through his internal organs for added durability, a more powerful sensor suite, and among other things, a small graviton manipulator, allowing for greater maneuverability in both high-gravity and zero-g environments.
 
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Orion

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

Deus Ex Machina - KHInsider Roleplaying Wiki

When one usually returns home, they can tell by the landscape, the flora, the fauna, the people, the smell of the air. There was none of that here, just rocks of varying sizes. There were millions of them, from basketballs to skyscrapers, but they were so far between, the chances of them colliding was only tinier than the chance of a ship passing through and actually damaging itself. For Deus Ex Machina, there was something about the sun - Sol as it was now called, since the Human Empire now stretched to accommodate multiple stars and planetary systems - that told him he was home. Maybe not on Earth, maybe not even on a planet. But there was something about the way it shone - he could feel no heat through the powered exoskeleton he travelled and fought in, nor was it what his sensors said - that told him he was back within the Solar System that man - and all the creatures leading up to it - had been so strongly bound to for centuries.

Eight hundred or so years ago, they made it into space. A decade later, a man was on the moon. Fifty years later, through a economic depression and a waning interest in space programs, the science boomed once more. Almost simultaneously, bases were built in huge numbers on the Moon - Luna - and Mars, the terraforming or the latter began two centuries later. Space stations, enclosed ringworlds and ferrying ships saw humans not only travel into space, but expand and live there. Another four hundred years, having grown tired of the Solar System and learning all its secrets, man set out once more further from their home, to Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth. It took nearly a hundred years to reach it, but along the way, back on Earth, the human race developed superluminal travel, and another great boom for the empire began.

And in all that time, they had never made contact. Until now.

And it didn't help that this first contact with an alien species was a violent one. Deus Ex Machina, formerly known as Damien Chaseux, before he was exiled, his genius and inventions deemed too dangerous, was the only human prior to make contact with alien species. And he had made contact with several intelligent ones too, but it seemed this new and violent race was none of them. Humans were good fighters, and had a knack for surviving no matter what, but Deus doubted their ability to effectively handle such alien intervention. And so he returned home, a decade after departing.

Even though Deus' craft was only slightly bigger than his body, it was probably one of the most advanced pieces of technology ever known to humanity. Damien's Chaseux's brilliance had not only given humanity its first FTL drive, not to mention nanotechnology, zero-point energy filterer, and many more. Zero-point energy was an exceptionally dangerous thing. It was, for a long time, a prime candidate for Dark Energy, and then it was discovered, a virtually limitless power source found throughout the universe. It was also incredibly powerful, a spoonful or so, if wholly turned into useful energy, could boil the oceans of Earth. Luckily, it's impossible to get something that's 100% energy efficient, something must be lost in the process. Nevertheless, just getting enough zero-point energy would be enough to do a whole lot more than boil the Earth, and it seemed this battle against the aliens, at least the one in this part of the Solar System, had something to do with a device relating to that energy, a defence grid for Mars, it seemed.

Deus had approached Earth nearly silently, relying on filtered zero-point energy to keep him in an ultra-high energy state and keep him above measurable means. He slowed himself among one of the Trojan Asteroid fields, kept in place by Jupiter's influence, and stopped amidst the other one, and hunkered down on one of the smaller rocks, observing the movements of fleets converging on Mars. He followed the human one, Wayward Lady, among the Fifth Fleet as they scrambled across space to reach Mars and defend it from the invading alien forces. For a day, it had been a hard-fought battle. Deus didn't know if humanity would win or lose, but he knew that he wasn't going to let his own race fall while he did nothing, even if they had exiled him.
 
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Morpheaus

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

A small explosion ripped through the A-Dock of the Wayward Lady's forward hangar, setting off a series of warning klaxon, fire suppression units quickly doused the flames before they could spread while crewmen scrambled to refuel or reequip a steady stream of single pilot fighter craft. A-Dock along with its sister units, B and C-Docks, housed and deployed a quarter of Wayward Lady's compliment of fourteen hundred attack craft; to do so required a crew of several hundred crewmen. None of whom could spare a moments attention to peer into small crater now overflowing with fire-suppression foam, or the dully glowing form crouched within it.

Ignoring the growing pain of a fresh migraine, Aurelius blinked through hundreds of exabytes worth of sensory information and environmental analysis provided by his newly upgraded sensor suite. The technology was new, a hybrid synthetically grown unit designed exclusively for Aurelius: a gift from some new friends. Although he appreciated the benefits bequeathed upon his mental faculties, he resented the affect on his emotions. Recollection of old memories was becoming less effortless but also much less satisfying; like watching old recordings of someone else's family.

Stop.

Refocusing his attention to the data at hand, he quickly assessed his physiological and environmental status before engaging a technopathic link with the nearest source- a local A.I tasked with maintaining life support within the hangar. Luckily the little program was one of a series of units tasked with maintaining ship's systems, providing him with all relevant information. Wayward Lady was currently engaged in pitched battle with an unknown alien fleet. Typical for Aurelius. Gating through an escalating series of chaotic situations seemed to have become routine for him.

He ignored the combat telemetry, choosing instead to focus on the more immediate situation; namely, the squadron of heavily armed men and women currently closing in on his location. Based on system information, Wayward Lady should have been blind to his presence, but a rather abrupt opening in space was a great attention getter. A reflexive command engaged the Chameleon effect while Aurelius continued assessed the situation. It seemed Wayward Lady was currently entering geosynchronous orbit with a series of similar craft over a large military installation. The Fifth Fleet's attack craft had gained a momentary advantage over the alien fleet, and the Fifth intended to use the opportunity to consolidate its forces. The installation itself housed the most massive concentration of Zero-Point energy Aurelius had ever detected. Impressive as it was, the Zero-Point energy wasn't his concern. The highly guarded navigational systems on the other hand, that could be useful. If the people of this world utilized Zero-Point energy, there was a fair chance they were using hyperspace technology for travel, communication, and containment. The telemetry from such technology should provide him with the relevant information to make more accurate jumps.

The navigational array seemed to have been deliberately excluded from the A.I link, meaning Aurelius would have to directly access the system- from the command deck.

Perfect...

Resolving to avoid combat for as long as possible, Aurelius mapped a route to the command deck that would allow him to avoid ship's personnel. With any luck, he hoped to access the array and avoid combat altogether.

Setting off at a run, he tried to ignore the all too familiar weight of guilty settling in the pit of his stomach. There had been a time when Prince Leythaniel would leap wholeheartedly into combat, eager to helps these men and women defend their home. But fighting for so many causes across so many dimensions had cooled the fires in his heart. He sometimes wondered if it was all the technology wearing away at his humanity, or if he was simply becoming a coward. He wasn't sure which possibility frightened him more.
 
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Orion

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

With vision unaided, Deus took several more seconds, perched on his small asteroid, to survey the black sky that encompassed him, taking in the almost-wholly-familiar patterns of stars, save for the fact he was looking at them from a vantage point move than one hundred million kilometres away from his usual stargazing place, Earth. He then turned his eyes to Mars, smaller than Earth, not so red as it was when first gazed upon by humans, terraforming and city-building was producing a visible effect on its surface that Deus could just make out. Across the surface of the planet, in its sky rather, were a series of dark shapes that managed to just perturb the shade of the planet's surface.

"Glauss," Deus then spoke, in a slightly craggy but strong voice, devoid of any accent. The AI unit he was referring to responded immediately, in a voice similar to Deus', but digitised, given it was a copy of his own consciousness, "Yes, Damien?" The man in the suit let out a grunt. The AI was about as stubborn as Deus was, and it had first known him as Damien, and it seemed that would not change, no matter how much Deus wanted him to. "Magnify the image by a factor of four-hundred, and bring up the differentiational outlining." "Affirmative," Came the reply, an instant later.

From his vantage point among one of the Trojan asteroid belts, Deus was suddenly thrust to around ten thousand kilometres above Mars. It was only the vision given to him through the visor of his helmet, but it was stunning nonetheless, as he zoomed in and small blurs became massive things of sheer clarity. That clarity was further compounded when Deus laid eyes upon the fleet of ships in orbit around Mars, geosynchronous, it seemed. Each and every ship was outlined in stark white, superimposed by displays, again, in the visor of his helmet. The Wayward Lady was at the centre of the fleet, which was gathered in a hemisphere around her. Just below her, poking out from under her bulk, Deus could make out some kind of city.

Wayward Lady seemed a cross between two kinds of ships, fictional ones, that Deus could remember from when he was younger. One was the Voyager, of the Star Trek series of the same name, a massive circular plate within which sat most of the crew and systems, and behind which were two engines. The other one, similar in shape, was known as the Arc-Gurren, from an anime. It too was of similar shape, but with a triangular front, and engines stuck in behind the body, completely covered from the front. The two huge engines each glowed faintly, but were definitely not in current use. Deus' eyes wandered over the ship, it being the core of the Fifth Fleet, as a judge of how far humanity had progressed in a decade or so. Not very far, it seemed. At least they had discovered Zero Point Energy. Once they could fully tap it, then the real and tremendous advances would begin.

Wandering from the engines to the nub of the ship that was between the two, and leading up to the bridge tower, a tiny circle of orange suddenly flared. Deus stopped there. One second, the ship's hull was smooth and unbroken, the next, the thing flared into brilliance. Monitoring Deus' thoughts, Glauss turned the magnification on the suit up again, this time so that the circle nearly filled his vision. When it faded, which it did so quickly, there stood a man, dressed in garments markedly non-space-faring, at least, he wore nothing like an astronaut might. Then, he stood up from his crouching position, took several seconds to look around, then faded into invisibility.

Glauss added a filter to Deus' vision. Where there was formerly an invisible man, he was now shown as a distinct shape. A combination of thermal vision, x-rays, fluid motion and electrical flow kept the man highlighted until he moved past an oncoming group of figures, who were moving towards the hole made by him. Then, he moved into a corridor down which many, many people moved. At that moment, lost among dozens of identical signals, Deus lost the lock on him. He turned back to the hole, at which now stood a small group of more-appropriately-dressed individuals. Each one carried a gun and another tool Deus didn't recognise, but he guessed it was one to fill the gaping hole. As they ran, one punched a button on the wall, and a blue shimmer appeared over the hole, a force field.

Deus zoomed his vision out to normal, and Glauss began speaking. "He was decidedly absent of an appropriate fashion sense, no?" Glauss said, wording differently exactly what Deus was thinking. "Definitely," Deus replied, nodding, "But he didn't look like he was part of, say, another military group?"
"No," came Glauss definite answer, "The largest military force in the human empire is the same one the Fifth Fleet is a part of. All the others are planetarily-private armies. There'd be no sense in it being someone from Mars, nor anywhere else, when something such as a Zero Point device is concerned."
"A terrorist organization?"
"You and I both run on logic. I fail to see how either of us could see the sense in such actions being taken by any kind of human being. I doubt Jihad or any such thing is involved."
"A traveller, a freelancer, like me, perhaps?"
"While still unlikely, I doubt that'd stop you from meeting with another human being, especially one so possibly similar to yourself."
"Off we go, then."

Deus sat himself up from the asteroid, then squatted, knees bent. "I can trust you to aim us once more?" Deus spoke to the AI, who responded, unimpressed with the lack of confidence, regardless of sarcasm. "You know I improve each time I do it." Deus smiled. "Good, because I want to go from here straight to that hole on one initial blast and one alone."

"So be it. Requesting full control. Launch in three, two, one." Came Glauss' voice.

In a blaze of white light, Deus dissapeared from he face of the asteroid, before a second later it began to crack, fractured, and then was completely vaporised. A few seconds later, Glauss spoke once more, when a display appeared on the screen, a perfectly straight line pointing to somewhere along the curve of Mars.

"Perfect launch. ETA, six minutes, forty seven seconds. Commencing in-depth analysis of ship structure and systems."
 

Morpheaus

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

Partitioning mental faculties to maintain several different thought processes simultaneously was a useful ability, Aurelius couldn't argue that, but the accompanying sensations weren't nearly as appreciable. Statistical data and precise engineering calculations flashed through his thoughts faster than any normal human mind could process. The Fifth's deployment over the planet, Wayward Lady's operational status, estimated casualties and a direct link to fleet communications, all of it and more streamed directly into his cerebral cortex. Outside information sources were easier to deal with. The real discomfort came from monitoring his own physiological status: a sensation akin to performing surgery on one's self while under a local anesthetic.

Two decades of inter-dimensional wandering had given Aurelius a wealth of experience in dealing with various species and he'd long since learned that certain commonalities persisted, despite whatever form sentient life took. First, never accept any drink clearly recognizable as lactate, and two, anything worth is fair game for war. He wondered what drew this particular species' attention to the zero point energy source. According to information derived from Wayward Lady's AI network, this system was centralized within a comparatively vast territory. The pervasive nature of vacuum energy meant that it was notoriously difficult to detect unless without a highly specialized set of methods.

It occurred to him that he'd been moving through unpopulated corridors for several minutes and he froze instantly. The plotted course was meant to keep him as far away from personnel as possible, but no ship this large could go silent during combat, he rescanned the data tracks, hoping to find some thing he'd overlooked while knowing such a thing to be nearly impossible.

The telltale signs of ship-to-ship transporter technology had almost managed to evade his attention, and would have, if not for his experience with the technology. Some sort of molecular destabilization tech, primitive when compared to his own technology, but highly effective nonetheless.
Upon closer inspection, he realized the transporter signal was coded for extraction...Someone had been beaming unsuspecting crew members off of the Wayward Lady. Aurelius suspected these specific corridors fell within a low point for shielding, which would explain why the transporter signal could get though. So long as no one attempted to transport in, the extraction signal would go undetected.

It was possible every ship in the defending fleet was being exploited in the same manner, personnel being slowly depleted until there simply weren't enough people left to operate the craft.

He could excuse staying uninvolved in a direct naval engagement, but to knowingly allow subversion of this sort was unconscionable. Dropping all pretense of stealth, Aurelius left hand glowed briefly before a blade of coherent light took shape his palm. The weapon glowed with a dull gold light, belying the lethal, cutting energy of the blade which cut through deck plating without the barest hint of resistance. Lights in the corridor shifted to a deep crimson color, quickly followed by the screech of an intruder alert signal.

The crew of Wayward Lady proved themselves adaptive and efficient, quickly responding to the alert by recalibrating shields and locking down all non-essential areas within the flagship, as well as issuing similar safety commands to the rest of the fleet. Aurelius couldn't help but smile, saving these people had meant throwing himself into the proverbial fire. Already the chatter of internal comm traffic was centered around the neutralizing the intruder currently trapped on amidships on deck-twenty four. His smile widened and he abruptly initiated a short range jump directly to the bridge, instantly traversing the fifty-six decks between his location and the bridge navigation pit.
 

Orion

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

Fourty seconds away from the Wayward Lady, Deus saw it change appearance. Not drastically, not physically, but a whole set of windows, originally glowing pale yellow, had now turned to red along one small chunk of the ship. Deus issued a command to Glauss to scan for any alien vessels that could have fired upon that part of the hull, but none were found. Perhaps it was that mystery man? The section in particular was on the main body of the craft, not where Deus had been intending to go. With two gentle bursts of pure newtonion energy, Deus changed his course to interecept at the centre of the reddened windows. A few more as the ships bulk took up all his vision, and Deus slowed himself so that he was travelling alongside the ship and at a constant distance of ten metres.

A second's observation turned up no visual signs of who or what might have caused the red-alert, so Deus switched his visor display to other frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum and other sorts of filters. It didn't do much good, the main hull was constructed of large segments of mono-atomic matter that almost completely hindered the signs of anything within. That itself didn't seem to matter though, because even the faint differences in filter patterns and colours showed Deus that the entire area was devoid of people save for one, who was conveniently positioned right where the culprit might be.

With a kick of his legs blasting newtonian energy, Deus closed in on the spot, then with a blast of the thrusters on his feet and hips, he stopped himself within arm's reach of the wall. With both hands, and a series of short mental commands, while carefully following the person's movements, in the palm of each hand appeared two glowing red spikes, made of particles such as sand rather than being totally solid. With his eyes fixed on the suspect, Deus shoved his hands against the hull of the ship, and a brilliant shower of sparks eruped where his hands touched and the spikes dug in.

He then moved his hands in a ring, gradually cutting through the hull. Ten seconds later, wen done, he then motioned to grab the cut-out slab despite not actually touched it, it came out as he puled his hand away. Then, wth a flick of his thumb and little finger, the slab flipped one hundred and eighty degrees. Deus then passed through, and disabled the filters of his visor now that he could see the person, the same man who had abruptly appeared on the Wayward Lady.

As the two eyed each other, Deus held the slab in place, stopping the air slipping out, before emergency shiled reactivated, preventing its escape, after which he let the slab drop to the ground with a dull thud.
 

Morpheaus

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

Aurelius nearly danced through the Wayward Lady's intruder countermeasures, manipulating the directing AI with practiced ease, or simply clouding internal sensor nodes by emitting short bursts of ionic energy. Nothing that would leave the ship vulnerable to outside forces but enough to allow him to pass without resistance.
The blending of natural and technologically enhanced senses clued him to the high pitched whine of cutting tools, followed by the loss of pressure, which heralded a hull breach. He turned just in time to witness a human male clad in a navy blue suit of bulky, but, not inelegant armor enter through a modestly sized hull breach. A cursory scan revealed a series of projected capabilities and physiological weaknesses- Aurelius preferred scan setting for unknown combatants. Hissing in surprise, Aurelius narrowed his eyes as the hair on his neck stood on edge. Whoever this man was, his equipment was as advanced as Aurelius' own.

“What's this?”

An AI far more capable than that of Wayward Lady had already sent data strands back along Aurelius scanning signals, encoded snakes slithering towards Aurelius like the a paramour's eager fingers. He quickly threw up a complex series of fluid meta systems. A series of analytical constantly cycling through a process which became more and more deductive, literally taking in broad swaths of generalized data from external sources and analyzing it down to the smallest, most inconsequential level. It was nothing dangerous, but it would be enough to maintain a scanning buffer between the two of them. Either they both avoid attempting any significant analysis of one another, or they suffer through petabytes of inconsequential data.

“You'll forgive me if I don't shake hands,” he said, casually nodding to this strange character standing before him.

Without waiting for a reply, a reflexive command triggered the graviton manipulator within him, gravity intensified in a localized area above the two, creating an attracting force between the deck and ceiling. A low groan of metal echoed through the hall before the passageway collapsed, dividing the two men.

Not wasting a moment, Aurelius made a quick jump through a tear in the deck, ascending to the above level and breaking into a run. The command deck wasn't far now. And salvation lies within, Aurelius thought.
 
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Orion

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

"You'll forgive me if I don't shake hands." The man said, soon after erecting his data array, just before Deus was able to get a glimpse into the man's information systems. Whereas Deus could have the data wired directly into his brain, he preferred to have Glauss analyse it, filter it, and then relay it into his visor as a simplified visual output. The simplicity of the display reflected the simplicity of the data being analysed, and in this case, it came to Deus as a cloud of numbers and figures that virtually obscured the man from sight, before Deus dismissed them, knowing that, at the very least, the man would likely be very dangerous if allowed to roam free in a virtual environment. Deus then spoke with Glauss, words wizzing between the two as they were thought, not spoken.

"Glauss, I'm cutting you off from from the controls of the Hardsuit and it's systems save for internal speaker control, and rerouting all data access attempts straight to you, as a dead-end point. I hope you don't mind." He had a smirked as he thought the last bit. Glauss would have thought of it already, and was probably preparing for that eventuality. "Of course I don't mind, Damien," Came the reply. "I'll freeze life support systems at a highevle combat setting, and put all minor systems on self-monitoring and -controlling. The rest is totally up to you. Disconnecting..." Glauss' voice suddenly cut out of Deus' head, and then returned, heard by his ears. "Now."

"Good." Deus said in reply, as something started changing in the environment around him. He felt his centre of gravity shift forward, and then his body began tilting forward too. A simple thought, and his vision remained in the same colour, but grew dim, and over it, glowing lines were superimposed, a contour map. Between Deus and the stranger, and the floor and the ceiling, was a pure white circle, and around it, lines bunched closed together. The gravity-contour display told Deus there was a concentrated point of attractive force in front of him, and by now he was feeling it. A thought, something along the lines of 'stand firm', and gravity manipulators on Deus' feet fixed him in place. As his body tilted forward, he lifted his arms, noticing that the ceiling and floor, directly above and below the gravity-point, were beginning to bend toward it. From his arms, a steady pulse of Newtonian energy issued forth, which Deus used to hold himself upright.

As the floor and ceiling met in a mesh of tangled and crumpled metal, Deus, seeing the thing as ideal to use as cover to launch an attack through, separated himself from the floor and with blasts from his feet, moved away from the warped column. As the gravity-point faded, Deus dismissed his gravity-contour display, and replaced it for an energy-flow one. The stranger was dimly illuminated against dim surroundings, where the bare minimum currents of energy were in neat lines of pipes and cables. A large object, about the size of a dumpster, was glowing brighter than the rest. Deus was focussed on the man, but he might investigate the anomaly later.

"Glauss, run a interference data array like his, and make it as powerful as your systems can allow, given you aren't doing much else. And use data from alien worlds and cultures, to make it harder to crack."

Deus kept himself in place, mechanical and fleshy muscles itching to dodge any incoming attacks. Deus wished to take a peaceful approach to meeting the man, but he didn't seem interested in any sort of contact. When he chose not to attack, Deus was pleased. His pleasure was quickly doused however, when the man turned and ran to another part of the ship. Deus quickly rotated himself with several gentle blasts, and then hovered through the semi-circle space available between the wall and the column of combined floor and ceiling. He stopped himself by the unit he had seen, what was apparently the only major energy-consuming object in this front section of the ship.

Down the middle of it, crossing several thick cables and a few boxes of circuitry, was a large gash, the edges of which were melted, cut through with an energy blade. The man had been standing right next to it before, he must have been the one to cut it. Sabotage? The unit didn't look much like the other parts of the ship. Something of newer or different brand? Deus couldn't find any English characters on it. A quick run-through of an on-board dictionary and translator revealed it to be of no recorded human language, which left only one thing; alien. It made sense to put something on an enemy ship, which had also been decidedly empty... Quick deductions led Deus to label it as a likely cause for the ships emptiness. In wartime, a flagship was not about to be left nearly completely empty while it hovered in orbit.

Deus examined the machine for several more seconds, but could not activate it, although he did store the available linguistic characters for future decipherment. It appeared the main power cable had been severed and then sealed from the energy blade most likely used to deal the damage. Deus then left the machine, and brought up a map of all the ships corridors, vents and cavities; any possible area the man might be in. Whereas he had been proceeding towards the front of the ship, he had now turned around and was proceeding backwards. Logic dictated the most likely place he might go would be the hangar (a long tunnel stretching most of the ship, with cavities branching out for small docked ships), either of the engines or the reactor (to destroy, to either subsequently destroy the ship or immobilise it), or to the command deck, where full access to every single of the ship's systems were available.

Four floors below Deus, the hangar begun. It ran three quarters of the way through the ship, and he could use it as an easy path to move through the ship. Also, it meant if the intruder was there, he could once more approach him. Deus pivoted once more, turning himself upside down, so that he was now facing the floor, and brought himself up to the ceiling, which he then squatted against. He reached out a palm to the floor, and with a mental command, a disc of pale blue energy formed in his hand, flat-on to it. Deus set the disc spinning, and then kicked off from the wall.

With a combination of heat and electromagnetic energy, as well as Deus' momentum, the disc first melted and then vapourised the floor as Deus descended through the ship. A particularly thick wall was all that separated him from the hangar, which was giving a single-hand disc some trouble, so Deus added his left hand's resources to it, fired on his feet's thrusters, and pushed through to the hangar.

Compared to the dimly-lit corridors previously, the hangar was a stark contrast. It was still very-well-lit, and massive, sixty or so metres in diameter (it was a a hexagonal cylinder in shape), and spanned forwards to a large hatch set diagonal to the wall and the ground, which would have opened up below the ship and in to space. In the other direction, too far for Deus to see with his own eyes, the hangar extended, sides dotted with slots, to roughly just below the command tower. Deus blasted himself in that direction, and with a variety of filters, kept an eye out for where the man might have been.

He made his way to the other end of the hangar in eighty seconds, and found no trace of the stranger. Straight up, and through forty floors, was the command deck, which would take far too long to cut through. Deus located a secondary airlock of the hangar, entered it, let it empty of air, before he passed into the vacuum of space, the curve of Mars just visible against the background of the ship's bulk. Deus moved quickly, setting an arc through space that let him get an entire view of the command tower, before putting him directly below the command deck, which was in itself made up of five decks, an angular and bulbous protrusion atop the curve of the tower. Deus' eyes traced up and down the tower in the twenty seconds he took to reach the command deck, but found no visual sign of the intruder.

Deus entered the floor beneath the lowest point of the command deck in much the same way he originally entered the ship, but after entering, made sure to seal the slab of hull back in place. Deus then walked at a brisk pace through the command deck, reaching out with tendrils of information to assimilate the data stored on the ship. While it was likely certain things were missing from the files, such as militarily-important information, Deus knew it would more or less piece together the human history he had missed out on over a decade.

When he came to the highest floor, he sat himself down in the captain's seat, and looked on through the massive wrap-around diamond panel of the deck, waiting for the intruder to come.

((Even though that was mostly me just being verbose and descriptive, I must say, I'm enjoying this.))
 

Morpheaus

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

Tiny pinpricks of heat began to pepper the surface of bridge access, rapidly eating away at the surface of the meter thick blast door until a hole spacious enough for a man to enter was created. Strolling through the steam with a casualness he didn't truly feel, Aurelius gazed about the room, slowly taking in the ghostly silence of the room before focusing on the armor clad man languishing in the command chair. He'd detected the man's presence seconds before cutting his way in and resigned himself to a direct confrontation. Given the level of technology as this stranger's disposal, avoiding him would be a chore, if not impossible.

Aurelius noted the elegant design of the navy colored powersuit, paying special attention to the helmet modeled after distinctly human facial features. Would the face beneath the helmet match those features? And was it vanity or some other, far deeper emotion which motivated these design characteristics? Thinking of the effort invested into crafting the intricate cosmetic themes of his own armor, Aurelius felt an uncommon sense of kinship with this man. He remembered hours of painstaking labor designing the light matrices used to shape coherent light into the guise of elegant plate armor. Naive as it was, he felt more at ease knowing this man, whoever he may be, shared some of the same values which motivated Aurelius to cling so desperately onto codes and behaviorisms from his past.

“Where I come from, it would be considered the height of rudeness to sit another man's chair,” he spoke the words slowly and calmly stared into the helmet's eyes. Stopping at the foot of the command ring, Aurelius settled his weight evenly onto both feet, suppressing the urge to bounce with nervous energy.

His previous efforts to thwart the continued kidnapping of the crew had benefited the Fifth fleet. Wayward Lady suffered for lack of a command crew, but her fighters were currently screening her from attack while shipboard AI assumed control of combat efforts. The remaining carriers within the fleet were already staging an offensive effort against the alien attackers, deploying in an inelegant but highly effective wedge shaped formation. The tactic allowed larger class carriers to form a framework while cruisers and various smaller ships filled in the gaps, allowing each ship in the fleet to share shielding burdens while creating a broad firing field. It seemed the loss of Wayward Lady's command crew hadn't been as crippling as Aurelius feared it would be.

Good. It wouldn't serve him to have to invest himself too deeply into this mess.

“Chivalrous though I may be, I won't waste our time by standing on ceremony. If your sensors are near sophisticated as my own- I know they are- you know by now that nearly a fourth of the crew was beamed from this ship by whatever forces are engaging these people. I only need one thing and it's inconsequential. Don't you think your efforts could be put to better use than hindering me?”

While he spoke, several data streams branched out, interfacing with various systems aboard the bridge: such as, engineering, life support, tactical operations, and navigation. It took only a moment to begin accessing navigational data, but Aurelius made a show of accessing as many unrelated systems as possible, hoping to hide his true objective. He didn't care for this business of skulking around while thousands of men and women fought for their lives, but he was practical enough to know not to pass on such a rare opportunity.

“My name is Leythaniel Savard, the Golden, Prince and heir of Alladora.” The words came to him as easily as they did when he spoke them for the first time, more than a century ago. It had been ages since he'd made a formal introductions. He didn't question why he should pick today of all days, merely accepted the decision and resolved himself to stay the course. “I ask you to name yourself and your homeland.”
 
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Orion

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Re: Official Challenge to ∞ for Rank 8.

Deus sat at the chair of the commander for just less than a minute before he heard the breach of the walls taking place, at which point he swivelled around in the chair, crossed one leg over the other, placed one arm on the arm rest, and with the other held a fist against his chin, before sinking down in the chair - the perfect image of a bored captain. As Deus descended in the chair, a web of data strands - with his head as their centre - descended gently with him. Thick strands that might be displayed as brilliant glowing branches reached out to nearly every console in the bridge, and from those branches smaller ones extended, linking the larger ones and further entangling the systems into Deus' array. He didn't care if the man accessed any information on it, in fact, if he was hindered in accessing it, he may turn violent. Deus just wanted to know what he'd be looking at.

Tiny dots of red brightened and enlarged from the surface of the wall, before a hole was gradually made in it, large enough for a man to pass through, which one then did. The strange did not look fearful or surprised as he walked in, after all, Deus guessed it would be impossible for him to not notice his presence on the bridge, if he could craft armour from matrices of light. Deus had yet to achieve quite that, but he excelled in other fields, and was working on adapting the light-weight and portable technology into his own hardsuit.

As the man spoke, Deus analysed everything he could about the man's language, and even probed into some genetics. He was more or less entirely human, save for genetic and biotechnological alterations that would accompany any fighter of a sufficiently advanced civilisation. When Deus made a split-second feign at delving into any of the man's information systems, he was once more greeted with a cloud of details and numbers, which he dismissed with little care, expecting it. His vocal patterns were strong and confident, and as he made his way cautiously into the bridge, Deus found he walked with a subdued but definite stride and tall posture - pride or status, or both?

The man came to a stop, and Deus could just notice with unassisted eyes that rippling muscles of the man's body, strong like a bear's and sleek like a panther's, and full of potential energy. The man would make an ideal warrior in bodily combat, it never helped to be too bulked-up or focussed on litheness. The fact he had his blades and shielding systems only meant he would be even more deadly. If nothing else, Deus knew for certain that he was able to move out into space if necessary, and subdue the man from a distance, but he also doubted the man would not be able to counter such tactics with his own means or pursuance.

Then came the man's next vocalisation, and after only the first few words, Deus was ready to pound the man into submission for making assumptions about him. But he let him continue anyway, into his introduction, which seemed spoken with certainty and familiarity, as though he had said it many times before. When he was certain the man had finished, he then shifted his pose - uncrossed his legs, took his fist away from his chin, and placed the arm flat on the armrest, before sitting up straight once more.

From external speakers he pronounced:

"See, this is how I would have had it go, just to be polite to your host - or guest, depending on how you look at it."

With a smooth mechanical sound, like gears gently sliding over each other, and a nudge of the head upwards, the facial plates of Deus' suits came up to reveal the face of Damien Chaseux to Leythaniel. Despite being behind the helmet for nearly a decade, the face was still healthy and perfectly lacking in wrinkles. If there was anyone with an example of how someone in their late thirties should look, it was Damien. His eyes still had their intense glare at all moments, not necessarily only for intimidation, but also to establish the kind of character Damien was - the eyes say so much about a person. His face had no wrinkles, and was smooth in the extreme, as though freshly shaven, and lacked pockmarks from pimples and zits and facial hair malfunctions that other men might bear. His hear was thick and brown, lacking any sign of grey.

Leythaniel's voice then played: “Where I come from, it would be considered the height of rudeness to sit another man's chair,”

Deus then spoke, lips moving minimally, as one speaks when they have little to no accent and speak proper English without sounding any degree of pompous: "It would also be highly militarily foolish for a ship to have no captain, but as no one on this ship would know me accept by reputation - something not necessarily good - sitting in this chair means nothing to them. They would trust a faulty AI system before they would trust me."

Leythaniel's voice replayed: "“Chivalrous though I may be, I won't waste our time by standing on ceremony. If your sensors are near sophisticated as my own- I know they are- you know by now that nearly a fourth of the crew was beamed from this ship by whatever forces are engaging these people. I only need one thing and it's inconsequential. Don't you think your efforts could be put to better use than hindering me?"

Damien's reply then came: "And in this time spent talking that number's nearly climbed to one third, despite the destruction of at least one transportation unit, no doubt by you. Now, what have I done thus far that has seemed as a direct attempt to hinder you? Anything at all, that could only mean such a thing? An approach by a stranger is by no means only an approach by an enemy. I first noticed your arrival onto this ship and the unusual manner of some of your technologies, I engaged in pursuit - read: friendly approach - seeking someone of possible kinship: a traveller, an technological master among men, a technomancer, perhaps. On top of that, I have no reason yet to hinder your efforts. To do so would be the height of foolishness, to attempt anything upon an individual's efforts without first knowing something of them. More than likely, you are seeking something to do with the zero point energy source nearby, which is exactly what I expect you to look for as you currently rifle through the systems on the bridge."

For the final time, Leythaniel's voice echoed out: “My name is Leythaniel Savard, the Golden, Prince and heir of Alladora. I ask you to name yourself and your homeland.”

With a tone of sarcasm, Damien began: "Soo nice of you to finally introduce yourself, Leythaniel, you've been making yourself so hard to get, I've been just dying to introduce myself. I know, as a 'prince', you may not be used to the sound of patronisations, but that was spoken in honesty. I wonder, if you'd oblige me the answer: You say you're a prince, and sound pretty honest about it to. There hasn't been a prince of the Human Empire for the last couple of centuries. I then wonder, is your claim false, or are you from a rather more exotic 'location' given your apparent humanity, such as, an alternate reality? Anyway, yes, to introduce myself. I bear two names, each use the same letters: When I was born, and for what has so far been most of my life, I have been known as Damien Chaseux. Since my exile from Earth - my original homeworld - because of the extreme danger posed by the technologies I developed, I have adopted the name Deus Ex Machina. It is Latin, an ancient Earth language still studied but very rarely used in modern conversation, meaning 'God of the Machines' - fitting, I think, since I am so far still the most advanced technological product of the Human Empire."
 

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Aurelius stared calmly at his armor clad stalker, his face remaining impassive while the scale like plates slid away to reveal a face remarkably free of imperfection, save for the off-center nose and a small pox scar over the right eye. The lack of age signs and the thick, lustrous hair suggested the man spent a great deal of time within the protective confines of his armor. Despite his previous irritation, Aurelius felt a certain kinship with the man. He understood very well what it meant to be so tightly bound to technology that life without it was a frighteningly alien concept.

Each of his various mental partitions began flooding with rapidly processed data now steaming directly from Wayward Lady’s data systems. The craft was as immense as early assessments lead him to believe, though not quite as advanced as he had hoped. Though the New United Kingdoms seemed to grasp the basics of utilizing Zero Point energy, they had devoted more time to weaponizing the energy than truly building their culture around it. Where the idea of a technological monarchy was familiar and comforting to Aurelius own cultural predispositions, he saw that these people were still prone to disharmony. While their Zero-Point Projector offered them the path to Type IV civilization, they still hovered slightly above Type II.
Data feeds provided by Wayward Lady’s info-net suggested that although this burgeoning empire appeared united under one flag, the governing body was still plagued by intrigue and had failed to fully overcome social stratification. He could almost taste the bile building at the back of his tongue at the thought of such a myopic culture.

"It would also be highly militarily foolish for a ship to have no captain, but as no one on this ship would know me accept by reputation - something not necessarily good - sitting in this chair means nothing to them. They would trust a faulty AI system before they would trust me,” came the smooth, unaccented voice of his new associate. He listened closely to every word, paying sharp attention to the subtext of Damien Chaseux vocalizations. Making note of both Damien’s seemingly sincere attempts are cordiality and the obvious sarcasm which betrayed the limits of his patience. So, the young man technomancer sought an open report, yet he made no effort to hide his unflinching assessment of Aurelius.

Here sat a most dangerous breed of man. A serpentine yet principled mind, hopeful yet conditioned through coarse experiences: Damien Chaseux could be both brother and betrayer. The hand of friendship could as easily become the clawed grasp of an enemy. Aurelius knew with utter certainty the man before him was his equal in more than technology.

A rueful grin spread across Aurelius photon shrouded features, and he settled his weight evenly on both feet, spreading his hands in a gesture of tacit assessment. He spoke with the confidence of a man unaccustomed to and unperturbed by irreverence. “You display a level of technological sophistication which this culture is not likely to achieve for another three centuries, at least. Of course trust is an issue. It is the nature of suspicion to cast a shadow upon those with knowledge beyond grasping.”

Striding forward with the calm, haughty air of a man bred in a world where everyone paid him deference, Aurelius stopped less than half a meter from Damien and dismissed the tightly woven light matrice surrounding his face. A swirl of amber toned light flaked away from his face, revealing a visage in stark contrast to that of Deus Ex Machina. Aurelius olive colored eyes were the finest prosthetics in any dimension, allowing him to peer through any spectrum at will while also conveying the full range of emotion of his long lost organic eyes. Close-cropped copper hair framed a handsome but undeniably weathered and hard face. The deep set lines around his mouth spoke of a man who rarely smiled and often frowned, while a haunted shading of the eye sockets hinted at many sleepless nights.

“You’ll find that I pretend at nothing, young man. I have found myself crashing through the depths of far too many deceptions to perpetuate my own…” He sneered briefly, eyes flicking across Damien’s features. “Usually, I should say.”

“I only want one thing from this particular corner of the great snowflake we call existence. Wayward Lady’s navigational data is laced with the information necessary for Her Majesty’s Galactic Navy to plunge through the starless depths of what you know as Hyperspace and what the native people of my home term the Stream. Sadly, the Wayward Lady lacks the data necessary to plot a course which would allow me to utilize Hyperspace as a bridge between dimensional boundaries. Your compatriot’s do, however, possess such theoretical information within the Zero-Point Projector facility. Perhaps you and I could reach a compromise of some kind.”

A brief glow surrounded the two of them, quickly coalescing to form a scaled down view of the massive ZPP facility which sat upon Mar’s northern pole. “The facility is designed to project a massive field of selectively permeable energies around the inner solar-system boundary and a second field within the planet’s atmosphere. The options for breaching this ‘defensive boundary’ are few and fairly impractical in one way or another. However, perhaps you, being ‘the most advanced technological product of the Human Empire’ could help me pry my way in.”

Aurelius spoke these last words in a tone pretentiously acquiescent tone which managed to match Damien’s own sarcasm without being quite so overt.
 

Orion

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Three centuries, thought Deus, not a bad guess. Or calculation. How could he have the data to so conclusively say that?

Possibilities bounced around in Dues' head as realisations emerged and he felt the muscles over his arms and legs briefly tighten up as the possible foe stepped forward, the system that was his armour - and likely his close-range weaponry - still glowing. Worst of all, it obscured his face, leaving Deus totally unable to glean any idea of his intent betrayed by facial cues. Ingrained habits of greater importance than the need to twitch took hold in Deus' brain, sending a momentary locking command into his armour, freezing him in place just long enough for his tensing to go unnoticed.

His shape was humanoid, his apparent species human, though augmented. The universe was big, and old, but Deus felt confident he could rule out an alien species evolving English-speaking human-parallels. Was it really his natural language? Or did he use a translator - telepathic or aural? Deus quickly dismissed the former possibility, his suit and mind were hardened physically and mentally against even the most harmless of psychological probes. If only I could see his mouth to answer that question. That one question! So many more - if he's not alien, then he's a time-traveler, or warped across from an alternate universe. Both possibilities were rather fantastical by modern human standards. Standards of the twenty-ninth century; Deus' standards, though, were of the thirty-second.

Well, thirty years short of the turn of the thirty-second century, to be pedantic.

Deus quelled the nearly-unconscious instinct to send a command down the nerves in what his brain perceived as his hands, though in actuality it was a command sent into the suit - discretely redirect energy to the hands, specifically to ready the force- and energy-blasting nodes on the palms. Deus was screaming mentally at himself, No! He might get away with such a discrete act under the mild scrutiny of human technology, but Deus saw quite clearly that Aurelius' technology was similarly beyond humanity's own technological state.
He would notice the act in a second, and if he didn't react with hostility, it would further only further stain the impression Deus was beginning to feel he was making on Aurelius. Joking and sarcasm worked for more or less any human - but then again, they were from twenty-ninth century humans of Deus' own universe. Aurelius was clearly not one of those. Possibly both! I need that question answered!

When the amber luminescence faded from Aurelius' face, Deus was immediately able to form and answer more questions: Whoever and whatever you are, I will learn more of you yet, regardless of what you tell or hide, Deus thought as he began taking in Aurelius' features and building off the implications thereof. Deus kept his face in good condition, even if it didn't suffer injury. A smooth face presented less of an image to be perceived as hostile, and when dealing with first encounters, the first impression was everything, before a hand was waved or a single sound vocalised.
Simply keeping himself in good shape also kept Deus feeling just that little bit better on the long journeys between worlds and stars. Maybe if he kept it up, he'd become jaded enough to no longer care. Perhaps that's what happened to this man: Someone so long journeying they no longer care for anything but returning whence they came.

Another revelation was the synthetic nature of the man's eyes. They were expertly crafted, and from a distance any further than two metres would look entirely natural. Up close, Deus' brilliant vision made out the individual rotation and interlocking mechanisms that allowed for the contraction of the artificial iris. Moreover, in the tiny movements it made as it surveyed Deus, through the shifting of light he could make out the double-cornea of the system. Different configurations of dilation and distance would allow for optical zoom and specific focusing of Aurelius' vision.
That they were artificial also served a great practical purpose: They would enable the seer to envision the world in a spectrum wider than any human. Likely wider than any species, since taking in the entire electromagnetic spectrum visually would likely be a sensory and informational overload. Deus' eyes were still his natural own, kept in shape and quality by nanites. Augmented by technology, not replaced. His vision unaided was perhaps not as good as Aurelius, and only saw the world in a single spectrum. But Deus at least had a helmet and computer systems to help him with that. Aurelius, a man who dressed light - in terms of weight and size - had those capabilities simply integrated into his very being.

And through all this analysis of present details and extricable information, he followed his words. The use of tones, accentuations, subdued consonants or vowels. The way his mouth moved confirmed to Deus he was speaking the English language, though with no accent or dialect that Deus could place. More weight to the idea he's of another time or existence.
And he wanted access to the zero-point energy system. Too heavy to deny he's one of the two. Though mental phrase 'But which one...' was cut off when Aurelius provided the answer with the pivotal word: dimension. Reality, existence, universe, realm and plane would have cemented the idea as well, but they all meant the same thing. Deus had always wanted to explore other worlds, meet new races and learn of things entirely different to what is human. And now he stood before a man totally disconnected from his own spacetime, save for the fact he popped into it not long ago.

When it came time for Deus to offer his own continuation of their exchange, he sat forward slowly, a peaceful indication for Aurelius to move backwards. The inter-existence traveler adjusted his stance with a gentle sweep of his right foot backwards, pivoting on his left. As Deus raised himself in front of his company - he was truly uncertain if the words friend or enemy were even appropriate or applicable at this stage - he presented a slim side-on profile to Aurelius in the hopefully-unlikely event that he might attack. Deus wished he could place more confidence in a man of such apparent distinction and integrity - based on the features of his speech - but found himself simply unable to leave himself defenceless before this... alien, really, while he still knew so little.

Deus wondered to himself how much he might be able to delay Aurelius peacefully. The man had been to other universes! And Deus hadn't even ventured beyond the Orion Arm of the Milky Way! And the way Aurelius spoke, he had visited more than just this one reality. How many had he been across? How different were they? Could Deus use that knowledge to better grasp the nature of the universe-varieties that could be traversed? So much possible knowledge to glean from this man, and for now it had to wait. But Deus would make sure the two departed - however they might - with being a bit smarter, to say the least.

While the possibilities rushed through his head as they typically did, he walked slowly around the captain's chair which had been turned to face Aurelius during his entrance. Armoured fingers traced the seams in synthetic leather as Deus moved about the important item of furniture, eyes tracing up from the bottom of the floor-to-ceiling fore window. A foot-thick slab of diamond that curved around to give an uninterrupted one-hundred-and-eighty degree view of the scene before him and to his sides. At the periphery of his vision, the Martian horizon curved off into infinity, while in front, taking up the focus, was the massive spearhead-shaped hull of the Wayward Lady.

Hardly any lights showed along her, and a cursory dip into ship systems told Deus that if a deck were unoccupied for more than an hour, nearly all lights would go out, and the remaining ones by bulkheads and corridor intersections dimmed. The lights went out an hour after an area became empty of crew or activity, and in wartime, especially on an involved ship of Wayward Lady's scale, the corridors and rooms would be brimming with crew. Either Wayward Lady was originally understaffed and was now picking up more crew, or for the last hour the alien forces had been teleporting crew off the ship. If the former, it meant only more people to be lost to the aliens, and if the latter, it meant the Wayward Lady would be completely unable to operate properly or defend herself. Either way, she needed to remain operational, she was key to the entire defence formation currently hanging over the pinnacle of the ZPP's tower that extended into orbit from the north pole facility. She could be key to humanity's entire defence against this new and hostile species.
And yet more questions were raised, this time with no answer in sight, because Deus did not have anywhere near enough data to formulate a mildly probable answer. If the fifth fleet falls, the aliens will no doubt destroy and try to claim the ZPP. Would they then continue on for Earth? Or, having looked ahead to humanity's home and how guarded it was, would they withdraw until a larger fleet could arrive? If the Wayward Lady fought back, how would that almost-certainly-present larger force react? Would they understand not to mess with humanity, or - enraged - eradicate the entire solar system of every trace of humanity?

So many insanely dangerous uncertainties.

As his eyes scanned over the scene, he spoke, arms crossed behind his back, a decision that could prove to be unwise, but indicated that Deus at least put some trust in Aurelius. If he were to attack, at least the chair was in the way to slow him down just enough to maneuver for evasion, or a counterattack. One man worries about being stabbed in the back by another, while an entire civilisation faces the risk of extinction - The thought made him chuckle quietly as he opened his mouth to talk, how self-concerned humans could be no matter the scale or impact of events surrounding them.
"You seek access to the ZPP, but even I'm uncertain as to what effect a trans-dimensional hyperspace jump would have on it. I'm not even sure a similar-sized, non-terrestrial facility could provide you with enough energy to make a precise jump. You're not just dealing with physics, you're dealing with an infinite series of probabilities, but you're no doubt well-aware of this." He turned now, eyes slightly colder, pupils dilated slightly as he stared at the space between the two of them. "Most likely I can get you down to the ZPP, but such usage of it - very much alternate to its intended purpose - could very well leave the system too drained to fulfill that original purpose. Humanity on Mars, and humanity on Earth and everywhere else by extension, needs the ZPP to be functional until we better understand what that alien race wants."

Turning around with a smooth pivot of his feet, Deus strode to the chair that faced away from him, opposite which Aurelius still stood, pose held near-constant. Deus crossed his arms and then laid them over the top of the chair's back, rested his chin on the intersection of his limbs, and slackened his posture slightly. Perhaps if Deus adopted the role Aurelius probably expected him to play - someone of lesser status and formality- he might better persuade the man to the proposal he was concocting.
"For now, the ZPP's field will only affect things that try passing into Mars' low-orbit zone. Any sizeable alien craft trying to enter would be rendered powerless, if not destroyed. However, as has been seen, they're able to teleport across distances greater than Mars' own diameter. Even if the ZPP were able to somewhat interfere with the process of teleportation, should they move in closer than high-orbit, they'd be able to start beaming squads and small craft safely underneath that protective field. It's likely as soon as that happens that this battle itself is lost, and possibly the war before it's even decently started."

"I can certainly escort you to the ZPP facility, and with probably not much difficulty grant you full access to its systems. However, if I let you make use of it as soon as possible, you will leave Mars unable to protect itself - and by extension, Earth - from the invading force. Even if the enemy fleet gets closer, they can start teleporting forces down, and the ZPP might be lost by then. Here is what I propose: You aid me in quelling the imminent attacks, and I will give you full reign over the ZPP."
Deus left the back of the chair, turned it around and sat in it as it rotated past him, until he was again sitting before Aurelius, and continued: "Firstly, that fleet needs to be prevented from getting closer to Mars, or at least, the size of the fleet needs to be cut down before it gets to close. The Wayward Lady, and the entire fifth fleet, is capable of that, were it fully-crewed. We need our forces back up to fighting strength - so I propose we track the next series of teleportations within the Wayward Lady and, having located the destination craft in the alien fleet, get over there and free the crew, teleporting them back en masse, or comandeering the craft of crafts and taking them back physically. The latter could be riskier, but we need the fifth fleet back to fighting strength."

"So, are you willing to help a stranger out?"
 

Morpheaus

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Aurelius suppressed a rueful grin at Deus reacted to his face. He’d certainly seen similar reactions during his long jaunt across the dimensional snowflake of existence. Long, hard years of fighting the good fight had left him with a haunted and hardened countenance. In some cases, decades old scars simply laid over centuries old scars. He smiled inwardly as information about Terran history continued to cycle through his neural pathways. It seemed the people of the New United Kingdoms measured time based upon the rotation of their home planet around its sun; in this case, 365 days constituted Earth’s full solar rotation. A year for these people was barely a third the length of that of Aurelius’ home world. Such facts merely reinforced Aurelius’s long held belief in time’s nigh-sentient cruelty. Take even a moment to pause for reflection and you would find potential lifetimes slipping away.

Aurelius gave careful attention to Deus’s body language, noting every twitch of the face, tensing of a muscle, or change in the rhythm of respiratory activity. Deus was a cunning and deliberate man, the armor he wore served to conceal a multitude of natural physical reactions which so often betrayed a person’s thoughts and intentions. The attention to detail was admirable. Yet such attention was itself a piece of valuable information, one which presented Aurelius a small piece of that puzzle that was Damien Chaseux: he was not a trained soldier or a killer.

While the weaponry and the methods were clearly those of a man more than capable of waging war, the thought process was that of a man who compensated for physiological inadequacy, not one whom found it beaten from him through years of harsh martial training and mental conditioning. Here would be a decisive difference between the two men. Aurelius was a soldier above all else, though a soldier with a very complicated and often conflicted code of conduct. Even so, he doubted the difference offered any genuine advantage. Deus had the eyes of a man who would kill if pushed far enough. He clearly knew the limits of his character, much like Aurelius himself.

Memories of a time far removed from the present flitted through Aurelius thoughts: images of his father’s sea foam green eyes, the scent of summer spice permeated the halls of his mother’s ancestral home, and most prominent of all, the softness of a particular young woman’s hand fondly caressing his face. Twitching his head slightly from side to side, Aurelius turned to peer through the viewport at the broad spearhead of Wayward Lady’s superstructure, using the motion to cover a momentary lapse in self-control. He resented that images of a period long since faded into obscurity seemed to plague him when emotional stillness was most critical. Perhaps it was a malfunction in cognitive implants which granted his enhanced mental acuity.

"So, are you willing to help a stranger out?"

Deus offer was delivered in a casual and friendly manner, but the words still left Aurelius tense with apprehension. He stood there, frozen in silence while Deus’s words echoed relentlessly through his thoughts. There were so many battles in his past that often times he could scarcely delineate between old allies and enemies. Without the aide bio-neural technologies, he would probably only remember scattered bits and pieces of battles fields on distant worlds; instead, he remembered every moment of every war on every world, in every dimension, in the most painstaking detail imaginable. More than that, he could hear the sounds of hydraulic fluids shooting through the metallic limbs of war machines moving inexorably across blood smeared earth while ash rained from the skies. The anguished voices of a thousand war ravaged worlds roared into his thoughts like the sound of blood thundering through his veins. I am not ready to endure more of this. I’m so tired.

An audible sigh poured from him and his shoulders momentarily slumped. He did not care that these gestures of fatigue would be clearer than day to Deus. For one simple moment, he simply released his frustration in a long and pained breath and quietly gathered his strength.

“I’ve fought my way across a complex web of universes more vast than you can possibly imagine, Damien Chaseux. At first, it was because I was lost and afraid, and no one is a more likely victim than a man with no home. You know as well as I do, I should think. These battles…For you, they’re the price paid to support a world which you love despite all its many flaws and injustices. It is not simple, but love is never simple. You accept it though because the object of your love is of greater value than that which price it exacts from you…For now.”

Walking a deliberate pace along the wide expanse of the view port, Aurelius traced a fingertip along the pressurized carbon surface, concentrating a collection of intense photons within the projector running through his finger. A shallow image took shape along the diamond surface: a series of outlines, steadily filling with detail, formed the shape of an alien craft, snub nosed and squat with shape and coarse grained surface like lava rock. Pausing at the other end of the view port, Aurelius turned and surveyed his work with calm eyes, the various interlocking leaves of his iris opening and closing in the most imperceptibly small motions, as he peered through various spectrums.

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep-“

He turned then, while sending the mental commands to his photonic weavers that formed his helmet, and starred at Deus once more with a featureless mask of amber light. “You’re a bit behind, my comrade. I traced the origin point of the teleportation signal quite some time ago. Around the time I first disrupted their initial incursion into the Wayward Lady. The system is fairly crude. They simply utilize a high intensity biometric scanner to collect data on their target; the same unit then utilizes a burst transmission to deliver an information packet to its point of origin. The data is collected and the unit breaks down the molecular structure of the target while a sister unit reconstructs it at the desired location. Technically, anyone subjected to this form of travel is something of an informational clone due to the fact that their current physical form is simply torn apart and rebuilt based on the collected information. As I said, ‘fairly crude,’ but in this case fairly effective.”

“They’re out there, whoever they are. Hiding in this solar system’s asteroid belt, a technique made fairly effective by what I assume is the unique form shared by their craft. Consider your offer accepted. Provide us with transportation and I will provide the navigation. Let us make haste. I don't believe these enemies of yours would make such an effort to take prisoners alive without some specific purpose for them. A purpose I can not imagine to be pleasant in the least.”

And miles to go before I sleep.
 
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Orion

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Deus frowned as Aurelius mask was re-erected. His eyes and senses - and by extension many of the perceptual systems of his armour - had been focused on his face. When the cascade of light commenced, dozens of systems jumped to action, scans and decryption throwing themselves into the heroic effort of piercing through the obscuring veil that now covered Aurelius' face. Simultaneously with the initiation of these systems came niggling feelings in the back of his consciousness and the projection of displays and all the colours, diagrams, shapes and characters that corresponded to them. Deus, with brief frustration, dismissed every attempt to peer through Aurelius' mask, and was able to puzzle briefly the nature of the photonic helm: A hardlight construct that not only served to protect the face, but allowed light of various wavelengths to penetrate it from the outside, but denied any sort of reflection from Aurelius' face. Alongside this, the infinitesimal corpuscles of light that whizzed about the cover moved not only in random directions, but in random paths as they raced about. It showed a truly advanced technology: One that provided the computing power and energy reserves for making an item as simple as a helmet so complex.

"Alright, first I propose what we are likely both thinking: a frontal assault is stupid. Probably not dangerous enough, but we would not be able to act quickly enough to prevent any imminent slaughtering of human crewmen once our arrival is noted. Likewise, an attack from the rear, while not quite as expected, would net a similar result. Misdirection is required, but one from a source displaced enough to not be noticed. An asteroid would be ideal, but anything launched from the ring between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter - or anything from the Trojans orbiting in the forward and rear Lagrange points of Jupiter's orbit - would be noticed as soon as it shifted. The nearest source of sizeable rocks is the Kuiper belt. A long, long distance for anything launched in normal space, but were it possible to quietly move it through hyperspace then return it to its normal realm, we could make an otherwise months-long manoeuvre very timely. Come, while I propose our first step." Deus sat up from his chair, and strode to the rear of the command centre, passing through powered-down doors left open, to an elevator entrance. Prying the doors open with ease, Deus was pleased that Aurelius did follow, and thus continued his explanation: "We launch a magnetically accelerated round near the enemy fleet, but miss enough for it to be judged as some lack in calculating power. That should have them looking this way." He stated, as they both moved in zero gravity down the circular shaft in near-darkness, the most prominent illumination stemming from the hard-light armour Aurelius now wore.

They stopped atop the elevator itself, both simultaneously cutting halves of a circle into the roof of it with shaped energy blades, and passed into it. "As the shot fires, we make an inconspicuous hyperspace jump in the exact opposite direction for the Kuiper belt, and find ourselves a good-sized asteroid. We dislodge it and set it on an inward path that will have it pass near the enemy fleet, then bump it into hyperspace with enough shunt energy to keep it in there until it’s made a few hyper-speed circuits around the system, then have it drop out as its on the opposite side of the sun to the fleet. The travel should also have destabilised it enough to have it shatter upon re-emergence, giving us a nice little spread that could drift past the fleet, maybe even have some of the smaller craft train their weapons on some chunks to vaporise them before some annoying collisions. As that asteroid cloud passes them, they’ll be cautious especially to their side, but also to the front and rear. Then we make a second jump, straight for the fleet while they’re looking in every direction but the one we’re heading for.”

With a brisk pace, Deus had been leading to the Wayward Lady’s main gun control centre, and once there, made short work of identification check and clearance confirmations, and diverted much of the ship’s remaining power to the gun itself, while he relayed to Glauss a command to reorient the ship to face the enemy fleet, or at least close to it: Mars stood between them, but the gravity of the planet – even dipping the shot into its atmosphere – would enable them to curve the near-lighstpeed, ten-thousand-tonne tungsten slug right near the fleet. Space shifted imperceptibly around the two of them as the Wayward Lady oriented herself, and what lights remained dimly glowing went out entirely as nearly all of the Wayward Lady’s remaining power was drained to power the cannon. A shudder ran through the ship, creaks and groans issuing from even the sturdiest points of a ship made to house such a powerful weapon at its centre. Nearly entirely inactive, the Wayward Lady cut all systems save the most basic of life support, and the scene was plunged into relative darkness, quickly made irrelevant by the various visual filters both men initiated.

“And now,” Deus began, turning to Aurelius with clasped hands, noticing that all internal gravity had left the craft, “We make our exit.” He opened and presented a palm to Aurelius, which was grasped cautiously. It was then that Deus pirouetted in the air, until he faced towards the rear of the Wayward Lady and Aurelius was standing in zero gravity behind and to his left. A mental command later, and a blue glow began at Deus’ back, as a shallow golden cone began to audibly vibrate, and four fins around it extended further outwards and back, a trail of blue particles tracing between each fin in a glowing lance of blue that grew behind Deus.

Space grew, straight lines bent to bulging curves.
Space snapped, and all sense of physical linearity and order was lost.
Space shrunk to a point, as the concept of size became meaningless in a singularity.

Deus and Aurelius disappeared, and before normality had even marginally begun to return, they found themselves six-and-a-half billion kilometres away.
 
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