Jump to content

Recommended Posts

June 13th, 2013

Rosh Pina Airport, Golan Heights, Israel


The sun was beating down on the airport tarmac, raising heat mirages from the pavement. Jessica Parker was intensely grateful for the shade of a hanger, and more glad that the L-100 Hercules was on schedule. She was dressed sensibly for being so near the equator, in a white skirt, white blouse, and dark brown wrap, and she was making sure to drink plenty of water, but this still a very different environment than Freedom City.

Jessica's phone vibrated in her pocket and her headset beeped at her. She pressed a button and listened in on the conversation between the control tower and the approaching cargo plane with half an ear. She put the rest of her attention to scanning the skies, until she spotted a metallic glint against the clouds. A minute later, the wide-bodied aircraft bellied out of the sky and make tire-squealing contact with the runway, slowing down quite rapidly. Before long it was simply taxiing, approaching the hanger. She glanced back at the interior of the empty space, at the military truck holding IDF soldiers and a man in a UNISON jumpsuit. She took in a deep breath and blew it out, still uneasy at the military presence. Israel had insisted, though, and that was that. At least the Baron had agreed to fly down for this; otherwise Jessica would be completely on her own.

Link to comment

The plane was still powering down as the door on the rear opened and the folded down. Baron Katastroff was likely impatient, ready to get to work on what promised to be an interesting project. 


He stepped out into the sun, squinting a bit before pulling out some large aviator-style sunglasses and placing them over his eyes. He wore a hat to protect his head, light brown pants that looked to be both comfortable and rugged, and a white long-sleeved shirt to keep his arms from burning in the harsh sun. A brown leather vest likely held his phone and another gadget or two. He checked his watch with a nod as he moved toward the hanger.


Finally he was standing in front of Jessica, offering her his hand with a charming smile.


"Miss Parker, a pleasure, as always. Did we have more setup to do before we headed out to the site, or is everything ready for our brilliant minds to get to work?"

Edited by KnightDisciple
Link to comment

Jessica raised a hand as she saw Magnus descend from the cargo plane, shielding her eyes as it turned and the wing reflected the sunlight for a moment. "We were prepared. I'm afraid some things have come up in the meantime, though." Several individuals came up from the back of the hanger. The man in the UNISON jumpsuit smiled toothily and offered his hand to Kastatrof. Jessica pulled her smartphone out and walked over to the plane, temporarily abandoning the Baron to the greeting party.

"Welcome to the Golan Heights," the UNISON agent said. "I'm Agent Aita. I've been assigned to oversee this little experiment. And this," he added, turning to the woman in the BDUs and the man in the loose jacket, "is Major Datz of the IDF, and Doctor Farber of Bar-Ilan University."

Major Datz nodded curtly but didn't say anything. The doctor adjusted his glasses and smiled at the Baron. "Professor of archeology and adjutant chair of the history department," he said. "I trained in the UK, though. King's College, in London."

Link to comment

The Baron smiles and shakes the hand of the UNISON agent. 


"Thank you, Agent. I look forward to working together."


He turned to the Major and the doctor, offering them smiles and handshakes in return, though his smile is perhaps slightly more charming for the woman in uniform.


"Major, Doctor, also a pleasure. And I remember King's College, professor. I actually took a couple of my history elective courses there a few years ago."


He glanced around, trying to get a sense of things.


"Should we join Miss Parker, or would it be better to just wait here?"

Link to comment

Aita chuckled dryly and ran hand through his hair. “I don’t know about you, Baron,†he said, “but I intend to supervise from the shade. Heat in this region is not something to play around with.â€

For her part, Jessica didn’t seem to notice the heat as she walked out onto the tarmac. She slipped on a pair of what looked like sports glasses, all wrap-around plastic and sleek, aerodynamic curves. She held her smartphone horizontally, tapping and wiping through levels of apps and data as the Hercules’ rear hatch lowered. The interior was filled with plastic and metal rectangles, looking like nothing so much as colorfully-painted trash bins all lined up in a row. Then she poked an icon and they unfolded like mechanical flowers, limbs and heads extending and flexing until a dozen blocky, man-shaped robots stood in the rear of the cargo bay. Jessica grinned, a fierce expression of pride at the display. More than two days since she’d loaded them in the back of this plane, and they were still functioning as well as they had in the lab. Their first field test, it seemed, was off to a rousing start.

Another icon pressed and the robots began marching down the ramp in lockstep, their feet raising a clamor on the noisy metal bed of the transport. Jessica walked backwards, leading them into the hanger bay, a finger always on the screen and an expression of pride on her face.

Link to comment

The blond man chuckled with Aita.


"Yes, well, one can only hope."


He followed them over a bit and stopped to watch the procession. The Baron's eyes roamed over the robot designs, taking in the apparent materials, motive methods, likely mass, and other details that engineers love and everyone else finds somewhat boring. He started moving once they were making their way into the hangar, moving over to keep pace with their leader, the ingenious Miss Parker.


"Excellent work, Miss Parker. These drones are quite impressive. Are these the same ones intended to do some of the under-sea recovery operations?"

Link to comment

"These telepresence units are indeed intended for underwater operations," Jessica said, her pronunciation of the term precise and careful. "They're environmentally sealed, of course, and equipped with sonar and lidar to operate in muck or darkness. It's reinforced and the strength is augmented, to work under pressure. And the telecommunication system is --"

She stopped herself as Major Diaz stalked up to the robots, frowning at them. "They're reinforced? And super-strong?"

Jessica hemmed and hawed. "Super-strong? They could probably lift a car... but that's what you need when you're a mile or so underwater. Not that the Sea of Galilee is that deep, but this just a test of the different systems."

"I'm sure there won't be any trouble," Agent Aita demurred. "With Ironclad here and the IDF on tap, I don't think there's very many people who would try to steal these 'bots."

Link to comment

The Baron smiled and gave a contrite nod.


"Just so, Miss Parker. Forgive my...imprecision. And that's an impressive list of features. What depth would you rate them for, physically speaking? And what sort of temperature extremes?"


He gave her a conspiratorial wink.


"I ask because there are a couple of lakes and bays some Swedish historians would love to explore the bottom of, but don't have the equipment for. After today, I might just have the perfect recommendation for them."


He hummed in thought for a moment.


"You mention sonar and lidar. How do they handle situations with a lot of silt floating around? As well, do they include any ground-penetrating radar or similar gear to assist in looking for notable objects buried in mud underwater?"

Link to comment

"With luck we'll have surveyed the site with ground-penetrating radar before we send in the telepresence units." As the conversations shifted back to engineering, Jessica regained her confidence and began speaking in a more easy, relaxed manner. "That should let us build up a base layout that we can project onto the operator's HUD, to let them operate in obscured situations. But I think you're underestimating the penetration of high-frequency radio waves," she added. "I've used them to pierce fog and even military smoke grenades before. They can be very useful."

Aita stepped forward, looking the machines over. "Baron, a question to you," he said. "What is your connection to the project? This all looks like Dawes Tech gear, I don't see KST's stamp on any of it."

Link to comment

"They're running on my company's patented energy source. The Vacuum Energy System. I'm excited to see how Miss Parker has drawn out the full potential of my power systems."


He gave a wink to the others present as he continued.


"Not that I don't mind seeing new inventions being demonstrated. Robots especially appeal to the 10-year-old engineer in my heart. I suspect they do so for many others, yes?"

Link to comment
  • 3 weeks later...

Agent Aita nodded. "UNISON's had great success using robots in bomb disposal and the like. Not getting into agents that actually are robots, of course!"

Major Diaz eyed the rows of robots, but nodded slowly. "We've used remote-controlled units for removing IEDs and the like," she said. "They were much less... intricate than these units, however."

"Well they're designed to replace humans unskilled in the field," Jessica said, guiding the robots onto the trucks. "Humans who might be unskilled in the use of robots. So making them look and move like humans lowers the bar to entry."

In a few minutes, the high tech was loaded in the back of the truck and Jessica pressed a button, causing them to fold back into the 'dormant' state they had been in on the plane. The major took a seat in the truck while Agent Aita got behind the wheel of the sedan, and Jessica, the Baron, and the professor took the other seats.

They passed through a few security checkpoints, and were soon on the road headed south. The professor twisted in his seat until he could look back and address the two scientists. "So. Either of you been in Israel before? Ever seen a kibbutz before?"

Link to comment

"The field is rapidly advancing all over, though Miss Parker is certainly pushing the upper edge even then. Still and all, I would imagine units similar to these will become more and more available in the next few years. After all, Miss Parker is here for a field stress test, yes? I'd imagine after the demonstration you could speak with her to see if she has some units that would be appropriate for your needs."


He quietly settled into the vehicle with the other academic types. He shook his head at the professor's words.


"Sadly I have not managed such a trip, and I have not witnessed said, ah, ceremony before. I would be interested in doing so if we have the time today, though."

Link to comment
  • 2 weeks later...


The professor looked confused, but Agent Aita just laughed. "A kibbutz isn't a ceremony, sir Baron," he said. "It's a place. A farming collective! Degania Alef, where we're going, was the first of it's kind. Established back when all this was still the Ottoman Empire, in fact!"

Doctor Farber nodded excitedly. "And now it's the closest settlement to this temple. A piece of our history, being used to uncover another piece of our history. It's very exciting!"

Link to comment

The Baron was normally a very composed man, rarely given to easy displays of emotion. He was also from a region with not a lot of sunlight, so he was a bit on the pale side. That's why the blush that notably shifted the color of his face was so unusual for anyone who'd even heard of the not-quite-ruthless businessman. He coughed into his hand to hide the near-choke at his terrible blunder. Thankfully for his dignity he recovered quickly.


"I apologize profusely for my error and ignorance, and wish to assure you I meant no offense. It was truly simple ignorance, which I must tell you is not a pleasant feeling for a man like myself. My interest is only piqued, however! I would truly like to see it if we have the time."


He smiled at Doctor Farber's enthusiasm.


"There is a rather nice symmetry there, yes."

Link to comment
  • 2 weeks later...

The convoy slowed as they approached a sharp turn, and Jessica twisted in her seat to watch the drones, surrounded by soldiers. She frowned out the window. "Is the military presence really necessary?"

Aita hemmed and hawed. "Alef is close enough to the Syrian border to be worrisome. Especially considering the, ah, visibility of you two! A pair of world-class scientists and business magnates, attacked while on a trip to Israel? Not very good for their world image."

"Not that we're expecting any such attack," Farber said quickly. "But we wouldn't want anything to happen to our guests." Jessica sat back in her seat, lips pressed in a thin line as she considered the arguments.

It was a few hours later that they pulled into Degania Alef. If either of the Westerners had been expecting a dusty or backwater town, they were surprised. They passed rows of modern-looking two-story houses, with well-kept lawns and rows of palm trees down the sidewalks. It was almost like a scene from a California suburb; the only thing missing were running and laughing children. Apparently in a kibbutz, everyone worked.

The convoy followed a road that sloped down to the lakeside. Several pavilions had been set up by the river, and they were swarming with people only a little older than Jessica. "My graduate students," Farber said. "They're going to be the ones, uh, driving the robots."

Link to comment
  • 2 weeks later...

"Well, I certainly appreciate being security-conscious. We're not exactly low-profile, even if we didn't take out a classified ad in the local newspaper."


The Baron took in the strangely...not empty, but perhaps "strangely orderly" fit...kibbutz. He turned toward the professor after taking in the view of the pavilions.


"Well, that's a perfect test, yes? They've not had previous experience with driving the robots themselves, but know the sorts of things to look for on a dig. It'll be an excellent chance to see how smooth the control interface is, I'd imagine."


He chuckled.


"I just hope we don't end up making too many of your students switch over to engineering, professor!"

Link to comment
  • 1 month later...

The vehicles pulled up to the impromptu encampment and Farber waved to several of the young people, and as soon as the car stopped Jessica was out and looking at the equipment under the tents. Computer towers and flatscreen monitors, though there were several digital oscilloscopes stacked next to each other. The young girl rubbed her hands, her eyes dancing at the sight of so many toys. "Okay. Let's get set up."

"No no, you need to keep the waveline above five hertz. We're transmitting through water on a wireless signal, we need a strong carrier."

"Arm actuator needs to be blown out and reset. Find me a fifteen millimeter hex-head wrench and a can of WD-40. Just be very careful about which bits you spray."

"Well, if it's cracked use some duct tape."

"Ooo, lumbar support. I approve."

Hours later, five students were sitting in office chairs with glasses over their eyes and gloves on their hands. Their hands twitched, and five robots stumbled and lurched in the vague direction of the water. Jessica watching it all, beaming like a proud parent. She turned to Magnus and pushed a lock of hair out of her face, absently smearing herself with grease. "Well, that was a good start," she said. "Now we'll just have to see how much they fall down once they're underwater!"

Link to comment

Baron Katastrof's own sleeves were rolled up, having helped out with a couple things, though somehow he'd stayed fairly immaculate. He grinned at Jessica's enthusiasm.


"Yes, well, that's how one learns to remote pilot an autonomous humanoid robot, isn't it? Falling down a whole lot. But I think they'll pick it up quickly. They're all bright kids, and you've made an excellent user interface. It'll smooth out soon enough. I'm just glad you had so many rolls of the aircraft-grade duct tape. I shudder to think how little the cheap store stuff would do to help us."

Link to comment
  • 2 weeks later...

"Not autonomous," Jessica reminded him, staring out over the water. "Remotely piloted humaniform drones. If they were autonomous, this would be a lot easier." In the middle of the cluster of tents, a half dozen young people reclined in padded chair/beds, and were suddenly much more aware of the ungainly movements of their robotic dopplegangers.

Jessica was nevertheless animated, moving from monitor to monitor as she tried to watch all the feeds at once. "Fraydel, don't move too fast, you're making too much silt. Oded, watch that ridge. You don't want to have to right the unit underwater." Even as she was speaking, her eyes were straying to the steps left by the drones. "Baron," she called over, fingering her bracelet. "Can you watch this group?" There was a flash of light, and suddenly Ironclad was shining in the bright sunlight. "I want to watch things more closely."

Link to comment

"I'd be honored, Miss Parker."


He moved forward, his presence more controlled than Jessica's but still energetic. Before he stepped up to gently correct one of the students, he tapped the earpiece he wore.


"Try to stay in contact, Miss Parker. Even in that suit, the water's going to be a bit treacherous."


With a quick and sloppy salute, he turned and went about the task of keeping the remote operators on-target and oriented. One or two of them occasionally started to have trouble with the input, getting a bit overwhelmed, but the Baron's calm voice was able to gently walk them back to a point where they were comfortable and moving forward again.

Link to comment
  • 3 weeks later...

Ironclad saluted the Baron and rose into the air with a roar of jets. A moment later she entered the water, quickly disappearing. Moving beneath the waves presented no challenges to the suit, it's powerful jets cutting through the water as her sensors cut through the murk and the muck. In a few moments she was connected with the remote units' sensor net, watching their progress from their own POV. It was a little disconcerting, keeping track of a half-dozen data streams at once, but seeing her machines moving about in the environment they were designed for was also exhilarating.

Above the waves, Katastrof was being kept busy managing those half-dozen data feeds, keeping the latency as low as possible. A tweak there, a synching of waveforms here, a quick note of a repeating bug taking up runtime on a higher level of the code and... that should not have been there. It was a new data stream, coming into the site from somewhere outside, and it was heavily encrypted. Even as the Baron began working into it, he heard cries of shock and dismay from the students. A quick glance at the monitors told him why.

Under the water, Jessica watched everything from the safety of her armored shell, a smile plastered across his face. The smile quickly vanished, however, when the datastream from her robots shut off. She barely noticed them moving with much greater fluidity. "Katastrof, what happened? Are you still getting a clean feed up there?"

Edited by Raveled
Link to comment

"Leonard, why are you-"


The Baron stopped, and swore a quick blue streak in Swedish as he typed furiously at his own keyboard.


"We're being hacked! Someone's inserting a new datastream! Someone slotted in something that looked like a bug, but it took up more and more until it snapped everything up! None of us have control any more! Get out of there, now!"


He turned to the students.


"Everyone, lock down your workstations and start getting to the vehicles."


His eyes were frantically roaming all over the place trying to find a spot secluded enough to run to and change into his own armor. A couple people besides himself knew of his armored identity and that was already too many. Better to make it look like he was evacuating as well.

Link to comment

"But... they're not doing anything!" Ironclad followed behind the crowd of drones, tracking their mass moving through the water rather than their data stream. "They're even headed towards the ruins!" The young woman was torn; the scientist in her wanted to see where the robots were heading, how they would fair as they moved forward. The hero in her, though, realized that there were a number of civilians above the water, and that she had no good idea about what was happening up there.

So she asked. "Katastrof, what's happening up there?"

People were milling around, talking to each other, and helping the reclining students out of the chairs and out of the 'driving' gear. Everyone seemed more curious than afraid, though a couple of soldiers were staring into the water.

Agent Aita walked over to the Baron, moving slowly so as to appear casual. "What is happening," he asked, peering at the computer screen.

Link to comment

The Baron held up a finger to the Agent, speaking into his headset for a moment.


"Other than the hack, nothing is happening on the surface. I'm having the students disengage and go toward the village or the vehicles, as a precaution. Beyond that, I'm watching someone act like our firewalls aren't there, and I don't know about you but it is kind of annoying. I'm getting a bit tired of being hacked."


Both tech titans had been compromised a while ago, by the Foundry. A sudden thought occurred to the Swedish man, and he paled (no mean feat for his complexion).


"You don't think it's the same group compromising us, do you?"


As he spoke, the Baron pulled out his collapsible tablet PC from its holster and opened it, rapidly typing a message to the Agent in the notepad.



Someone is compromising our data streams. Basically, they have hacked the robots and taken full control. Ironclad reports that they drones are still moving toward the ruins. I've had the students disengage as a precaution. I'm inclined to have them move back toward the settlement, but I suppose it is your call, ultimately.

Link to comment

Ironclad considered the findings while following the drones deeper. "It does make a sort of sense, doesn't it? If they can reprogram these drones, they'd get a KST power source and Dawes Tech robotics technology. Not to mention the transmission gear." She double-checked her GPS as the drones made a course correction. "They're making a beeline for the ruins, though. It doesn't make sense, if someone wanted to steal this stuff why bother sending them to a pile of rocks underwater?"

On the surface, Aita tapped the screen and thought. "I don't want to leave Ironclad alone at the bottom of a lake," he said finally, "but she is a superhero and we do have to think about the students. Alright." He moved away and clapped loudly, getting people's attention. "Everyone!" The agent projected his voice perfectly, and it resonated in the space. "We're having some technical difficulties. Miss Parker's taking a look at it, but until she gets back we should head up to the bunkhouse. No reason to --"

"What are those?" The pair of students by the water hadn't turned to listen to Aita. Instead, they were pointing out over the water at something skimming over the surface of the lake. As everyone crowded forward to see it, the object cut a wide furrow into the water, raising a spray behind it as it moved towards the group -- very, very quickly towards the group.

Link to comment
This topic is now closed to further replies.
  • Create New...