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Reality Fault

Testing, One, Two, Three..."

It is a Monday. The beginning of a new week and, for each of you, hopefully a new position. You have each applied for, and have made the first cut to what may be an exciting new position with The Aurora Group. You report to the room you were asked to, as have several others.

    TAG: The Briefing Room
    This is a large, slightly echoing auditorium with a raised stage at one end. The chairs facing the stage are on a slight incline, and are fairly comfortably padded. A nod to the size differences of uplifts has been made in the large size and adequate spacing of the chairs, but it's obvious the humans still haven't quite figured out what to do about tails, as there's not really enough space to flip one's tail out comfortably behind. Concealing the stage are heavy dark blue drapes with the TAG logo centered on them in gold.

There are a total of sixteen applicants, mostly uplifts, with only three humans, all of whom gather in the front rows of the auditorium. Right up front is a slightly stout, rather portentous looking man in a lab coat. He seems quite irritated by the bat slouched almost precisely behind him, who is sporting a cocky grin and has his feet up on the chair in front of him. Another quieter bat sits further back, and near him is a very nervous white rabbit, as her twitching nose and flattened ears denote. The reason for her nervousness might be the large, slightly slouched cougar sitting within leaping distance... or perhaps not, it's hard to tell.

There's also a huge, hulking brunette furred bear with blonde highlights sitting with an almost protective air next to a dark furred wolf with empty eyes. They're both dressed in civilian clothing, worn as if they're not used to it. Nearby is a small group of 4 armadillos, all in blue jeans, flannel shirts, and cowboy hats. A single armadillo sits alone nearby. A human woman relaxes in another chair, working concentratedly on a small laptop she has with her, and a dark furred raccoon uplift looks like she's practically dying of curiosity to see what the woman's working on! Another human woman is watching the raccoon uplift with a small smile, and finally, sitting quietly, is a small, rather proper looking fox.

Kerry Skydancer finds a chair to settle in, his hands crisscrossed on his shoulders to pull his wings forward out of the way. He looks a little bleary, out of bed in the middle of daylight, and his beady black eyes are hidden behind full-coverage dark goggles.

    Kerry Skydancer is tall for a Keero -- nearly five feet in height, counting the oversized and elaborately ridged ears that dominate a short-muzzled face with sharp fangs and solid black eyes. His fur is very dark gray, nearly black, coarse on his body and fine and downy on his wing membranes. The wings attract most folk's attention the first time they meet one of his kind. They unfold to double the length of human arms for a being his size; leathery membranes supported by skeletal frameworks built on the bones corresponding to part of the wrist and the last two fingers of other mammals. Unlike his tiny ancestors they do not allow true flight but only a barely controlled glide. The membranes attach to his body from shoulder to waist, so he wears a poncho-like tunic instead of a shirt, and a rather low-slung pair of shorts. The fabric is medium gray, but dull and glossy in odd patterns -- supposedly the different textures mean something to Keero sonar.

Vash Montoya sits with head bowed, arms folded out in front of him and hands curled to conceal his fingers. If he's noticed the other armadillos nearest him he hasn't made any indication. He's smiling very faintly, and glances at the nervous man in the lab coat from under his brows every once in awhile.

    Standing about five feet, tall for an uplift, Vash Montoya holds himself straight and relaxed, seemingly at ease with his environment, whatever that may happen to be at the time. An armadillo uplift, he is physically spare, compact under a layer of thick natural armor which covers most of his visible body, beginning at the bridge of his nose and sweeping back over his head. His hands are for the most part unarmored, but come with their own defenses; powerful digging claws. Perhaps for this reason, he keeps his fingers loosely curled at his sides, half-concealing them. His muzzle is a bit shorter than a normal armadillo's, a bit clipped, giving him a somewhat Cerebus-esque look. He smiles a little, his eyes gray and cool, and folds his arms. You may notice, just at the back of his left hand, a slight discoloration; a short, lurid white scar.

Sakura is sitting quietly in her chair; back straight, both feet flat on the floor, eyes riveted on the stage.

    Sakura is a small fox; she doesn't stand more than five feet tall and she is fairly slender. Her tail is full and tipped with white. She carries her tail in close to her body. Her fur has a red cast to it, offset nicely by the white that runs under her muzzle and down her throat. Her hair is black and pulled into a French braid, and she wears a simple flight-suit. Her mannerisms are careful, almost as though she's nervous about the way she acts towards other people.

Douglas sits quietly and with the faintest air of weariness, perhaps with a mix of both irritation and interest. This comes out as sharp but short-lived glances over at sudden occurrences or loud noises, and the idle fussing with an engineering calculator he occasionally takes out, and shortly returns to his pocket. He looks around with some interest at the others in the room.

    A cougar, just about to get into middle age, Douglas Percival stands about six feet tall, with a vague, heavyset appearance that is in fact mostly "big cat" muscle and bones. His pelt is a rusty, greyish-sandy hue with a lighter shade stating beneath his chin. He has no tail, which lends an almost expressionless air to the feline, emphasized by his apparently quiet demeanor. Nothing seems terribly unusual or outstanding about him, and he has no outstanding characteristics. He carries himself quietly but with an underlying confidence, as if he knows what he's doing, knows how to get there, and is reasonably comfortable with that and nothing more, but for the slight restlessness that seems to underlie his movements -- a sudden glance here and there, the slightest of fussing with something he holds.

It is only a couple of minutes past the hour when the blue curtains part. The stage itself is pleasant enough... large potted plants flank the podium, and a huge view-screen has been lowered at the back of the stage.

Indra approaches the microphone, and says, "Good morning, everyone. My name is Indra Burnett, and I am the Vice President in charge of Staffing and Personnel here at the Aurora Group." She smiles brightly at the audience, continuing, "It is my team's responsibility to find the best choices from our many qualified applicants. Personally, I am pleased to be able to be part of what is sure to be an important part of the company's future."

    Indra Burnett is an uplifted bobcat; tall, thin and graceful, with the gentle mottled bobcat patterns running through her fur. She has feline grace and quickness, as well as a degree in business administration. At a glance, she is energetic, upbeat, and perky, although she also has a firm grasp on the situation around her. She is the only uplift in the executives of TAG, and has earned her position through hard work.

She explains, "We have screened several hundred applicants, from within the company and outside of it, down to you, the most qualified. Having gotten the choices narrowed this far, we decided the only way to pick who is truly the best of the best would be to have some sort of hands-on testing. To facilitate that, we have acquired time on a simulator system, and will be putting you through a brief mission. Here, to explain the details," she says, introducing a short thin human whose most notable feature seems to be that all the hair on his head is trimmed to exactly two millimeters, "-is Karl Bagnall, the expert with the simulator, and a member of the team which developed the test and criteria we will be using to make our selections."

Karl Bagnall is a short, thin human. He is wearing dark pants, thick glasses, and a white lab coat. Beneath the coat you can see a tan shirt, and a startlingly red tie. He seems nervous, a tendency which is not helped by his hair and full beard all being trimmed a uniform length of just about two millimeters.

Kerry leans forward, suddenly much less bleary. This could be much more interesting than a meeting after all... Vash sits up a bit at the mention of a simulation, and scratches the back of his head plates. Guess they really are serious about this placement. Kerry peers around the assembled candidates. How many pilots, then? My fellow Keero, yes... anyone else think they're good enough to compete with us? Vash taps a claw against his lips appraisingly. Ay, is that guy a leprechaun?

"Er, hello," starts off the human, before saying, "Today we have a simple task in a simulated ship environment. Unfortunately, we do not have a simulator to match the ship that the company has for this journey. Also unfortunately, we do not have the necessary four weeks to run a real-time simulation and test." He smiles wanly at everyone, hoping they'll get his joke.

Sakura glances around the room at the others quickly, then turns her attention immediately back to the person it should be on -- the gentleman speaking. There's some snickering from the group of armadillos. Vash offers a thin smile, but that's all he has to spare at the moment. Come on, get to the point.

Despite the overwhelming reaction, Karl continues, "Uh. We have, however, a ship, and a set of events which should be able to put the different crews under realistic stresses, so that we may judge accurately how each of you will perform in a real-world situation."

Kerry chuckles himself, a little, and comments to the other bat, ***Don't think I'd want to spend four weeks in a simulator anyway. How about you?***

Karl says, shuffling his feet a bit, "The computer has randomly selected groups of candidates who will form teams. These teams have little to do with the final crews who will be selected, and are merely for the even balancing of skills during this simulation."

The other bat tilts his cowboy hat back with a finger and replies, ***Nah. I got places to go an' a ship to pilot!***

Sakura pulls a small pad and pencil out of her pocket and takes a couple of quick notes as the human gentleman speaks.

"A staff member from the Staffing team will also accompany each group, as a first-hand observer, and to be part of the simulation. You need to treat them as a member of the team," explains the nervous scientists, "-uh, for they are." He pauses. "The teams will be posted in just a few moments," Karl finishes, "You will receive details of the flight once you're aboard the simulator." The man just stands there, looking somewhat lost, until Indra walks over and rescues him from the dreaded microphone, thanking him, "Thank you, Karl." Turning to the audience, she says, "The posting will be made in a few minutes. Until then, you'll have a few minutes to get to know those here who may be your future team mates, and there are some refreshments at the back." She smiles brightly at the audience, and makes her way offstage. The stage darkens again, and the room lights fade back up.

The 4 armadillos rise, chatting animatedly to each other, and head for the refreshments. Kerry slips his goggles back on and heads back to the refreshments. Vash stands and slowly stretches, lashing his tail. He rolls his shoulders, and crosses back toward the refreshments. He keeps a careful distance from the other four. The man up front stands, glares at the bat behind him, gives a distinctly dismissive sniff, and stalks away. The bat snickers, a high skreeskreeskree! of amusement. Sakura slips the pad and pencil back into the pocket she produced them from and stands. She makes her way slowly to the refreshments, careful not to step in front of anyone.

The group of armadillos turn from the table, drinks in hand, and notice Vash. One of them nudges another with an elbow, and they head over towards him together. When they're closer one of them grins at Vash, "Howdy. Where're yoah brothers?"

Kerry watches the quartet of armadillos with some interest. He's never met too many of them. Sakura takes a can of pop and moves into a quiet corner, where she's the least likely to get in anyone's way, but can still observe. Vash glances up from his study of Brownian motion as pertains to soda. He blinks, once. "Odelay. Back home."

The armadillos all have their ears up in puzzlement. One says, "Uhh... why ain't they heah with you?"

Vash doesn't raise his eyes this time, suddenly feeling rather put-upon. He folds his arms again, leaning carefully against the back wall. "'Cause they're in the army. I'm not, anymore." He adds, "Is that... all right with you?"

The raccoon uplift and the human female with the laptop are talking quietly and animatedly, and seem oblivious to the room. At Vash's comment, almost identically the ears of the group of armadillos perk in startlement, then lay back in dismay. One of them mutters, "Po' guy." Another shakes his head, whispering, "Ah'd heard they did that heah... that's inhum-oof!" as his sibling elbows him hard in the side, then pats Vash's shoulder, "Sorry to heah it, son."

Kerry skreeks in amusement, overhearing Vash's conversation. "They're raised in their birth quads in Texas. Didn't you know that?" He turns to the quads. "Did you refugee out, or are you here on a visa?"

Vash quirks a brow, a rather minute shifting at the lowest edge of his head plates, but never loses that faint smirk. "I... appreciate it. Really."

The tense rabbit sidles over near to Sakura, settling in a chair and nibbling a piece of food in short, nervous bursts. One of the armadillos nods politely to Kerry, "Howdy. Ah'm Billy Bob Briggs. These heah are mah brothers Joe Bob, Richie Bob, an' Jimmy Bob. Nah, we're on a visa." He grins proudly, gesturing to include his brothers, "We's th'best at what we do, so we figgered we'd do it heah too, and show folks how it's done!"

Sakura smiles politely and half-bows to the rabbit. The rabbit blinkblinks several times, then seems to relax slightly and nods to Sakura with a smile. When she's not wound up too tightly and relaxes she has a lovely smile. Behind her the bear and the wolf move silently past, drifting like ghosts to chairs, each with a drink in hand. The bear watches quietly and warily... the wolf seems almost apathetic. Sakura takes a sip of her drink and watches the bear and wolf walk past, a small smile firmly affixed on her lips.

Vash says, "That a fact, now. So. What is it you boys do?"

One of the identical armadillos (it's hard to tell them apart) grins at Vash, "Weeell now, Billy Bob's tactics with a little fighting skill. Ah'm medical, with some engineering, and Jimmy Bob's engineering with some medical... and Joe Bob there's our fighter, with some tactics. What does yoah fam- er, what do you do?"

Kerry skrees, "Redundancy. Always good in engineering, I'll agree."

Vash says, "I'm SecOps, Class One. I'm... a fighter. With some tactics. Let's say." He curses himself mentally. One of these days he'll remember to stop speaking in the Company tongue.

The armadillos nod, almost in unison, and one says, "'at's cool. You'n' Billy Bob oughta talk some if'n y'want."

The Texan bat walks up to the refreshments table -- well, maybe struts would describe his gait better. He nods to the fox and the rabbit, tipping his hat with a wink as he passes, "Ladies." Sakura bows to the Texan. The bat pauses, then grins and extends a wing-hand to Sakura. Sakura looks at the hand for a second before she extends her own to the bat. The bat bows, with a wing flourish, over Sakura's hand and skreeks, "Travis Neil Armstrong at yoah service, ma'am." He straightens, looking up at her and adds with a wink, "An' Ah mus' say, Ah'm glad t'meet such a lovely lady heah!"

Vash nods, just enough to be polite. "Maybe. When you all aren't too busy. For now, I think we're intended to mingle in the name of diversity." He tosses his empty drink into a wastebasket, and pushes off from the wall, intent upon mingling for no other reason than to save himself. "If you'll excuse me."

The armadillos all watch Vash walk away. One mutters softly again, "Po' guy..." and then they turn back to chatting amongst themselves and watching the others with interest.

Sakura blushes and looks down modestly. "It's nice to meet you, Travis-sama. I'm Murasaki Sakura."

The bat pilot grins widely at Sakura, still holding her small hand, and skreeks, "Lahkwaise, ma'am!" He tilts his head, the large ears turned towards the fox, and adds, "Ah do hope we get ta see moah of each otha, ma'am."

Sakura smiles, "And myself as well.." The small bat winks again at Sakura, then resumes heading for the refreshments table, swaggering slightly.

Kerry wanders over to say hello to the bear. He's curious to find out if she knows Kiska. The bear nods quietly to the tiny bat, and introduces herself as Tanista Bonecrusher, and her companion as Tukwila of Monterey. They're refugees from Eastern Europe... she shakes her head at Kerry's question, and rumbles in her basso voice, "I am sorry, but I do not know a Kiska. However was not knowing many other bears where I stationed."

Kerry nods. "Just curious. She was out on the Sibirskaya station by the Artifact a few years back." He pauses for a moment. "How do you like the US so far?"

Tanista nods her massive head slowly, "It is... goot for mine companion here. He is... much better." The wolf tilts his head at the bear, and they exchange a silent glance. The wolf turns to stare at Kerry for a moment with that disconcertingly empty gaze... then seems to lose interest and resumes studying his drink.

Kerry recognizes that look, or thinks he does at least, and doesn't press Tukwila at all. "I'm glad of that. I hope.. that he can forget, in time. Yes?" The huge bear studies her silent companion for a moment... then sighs softly and tiredly, and turns to nod once to Kerry.

Vash seats himself on the arm of a seat nearby, scanning faces for anyone of interest, people to watch out for. Better to go in with as much info as you can... or go in without expectations... He rubs his shoulder absently. No expectations. Stay loose...

The stage lights fade up, although for a moment no one comes out. Briefly, Karl Bagnall peeks out from the wings, to vanish again. After a moment, Indra Burnett comes to the podium, holding a printout. The lady bobcat smiles, and murrs, "If you would all come back down to the front, I will be pleased to read off the names for the teams, as selected by the computer and our experts." People drift back towards their seats. Vash stands and begins to move down the incline toward the front row. Sakura goes back to her seat and settles into it.

Kerry walks down to his old seat. ***Looks like they're ready. May the better bat win, eh?***

The Texan bat skreeks quiet laughter, then adds, ***Thanks, ole son, Ah will!*** to Kerry as he sits.

Vash elects to remain standing in the aisle, and folds his arms. His tail lashes impatiently. Indra waits for the group to settle, and says, "I have the teams which will be going out together for the simulation." She proceeds to read the lists off. "Team three is Dr. September Novato, Vash Montoya, Kerry Skydancer, and Sakura Murasaki." The VP smiles, and says, "If you will all please go to conference room 237, you will have some time to get to know one another, and will be called from there." Kerry stands and heads up the aisle, watching to see who matches the other names. Vash turns and begins to climb the incline. He doesn't look back; the meet-and-greet will happen soon enough. Sakura stands up and glances around then heads off to the room they're to meet in.

    TAG: The Conference Room
    This rectangular room contains a heavy, glossy wood table, with seats for ten arranged around its oblong length. One of the long walls is covered with white boards, and there is a television monitor recessed in to one of the short walls. Beneath the TV is a cabinet which contains a sound system and video player, and next to that a set of sliders to control the lights in the room. On the table appropriate power and video hookups for portable computers are handy if need be, as are power and network connections. A video camera sits on top of the monitor, part of a video conferencing system, and there is a speakerphone in the middle of the table.

Moments after everyone arrives in the conference room, a tall human, with a round, almost babyish face comes in. He is wearing a red polo shirt with the company logo stitched on the sleeve, blue jeans, and sneakers, and carrying a clipboard. He introduces himself, "Hi there! My name is Terrance Beck, but everybody calls me Terry. I'll be the observer during your simulation, and thought I'd come in and say hello."

Vash nods politely. "Terry." He leans back against the wall.

Sakura smiles and bows to the human. Kerry nods politely. "Anything you can tell us about our mission?"

Terry makes an apologetic shrug and murmurs, "Well, Kerry, I'm afraid that I can't. They'll brief you on your objective, which is very simple, when it's your turn in the simulator. We don't want you to have any preconceived notions about the test."

Vash nods to himself. Sounds about right. Can't ruin the surprise, right? Stay loose...

The human also adds some mundane information for everyone; where the restrooms are, where a telephone is, where the cafeteria is, and such. He does finish with, "We'd like you to wait here, though, until it's your turn in the simulator. Of three teams, you go last, so there will be a bit of a wait. I hope you'll have a chance to get to know each other a little. Are there any other questions?"

Kerry shakes his head. "Not right now." He turns his attention to the other team members. "I'm Skydancer, if you hadn't guessed. You are...?"

Sakura nods at the human, "Thank you very much," then bows to Kerry, "I am Murasaki Sakura."

Terry looks a little startled, and then reaches in to his pocket, fishing out a pager which is apparently vibrating energetically. He frowns a little, and walks over to the phone at the end of the room. He picks it up and makes a call. Frowning and muttering, "Busy," he turns to the videoconference system and flicks it on. It offers a menu, from which he picks 'Control,' and the control room for the simulator appears. He picks up the phone and presses a button on it. As he does, you can hear a touch-tone bleeping in the control room.

Vash nods to each, "Vash Montoya." His eyes, however, are fixed on the screen at the far end of the room. "Problem, Terry?"

On the monitor, a harried looking technician looks up, and keys a code in to a keypad off the screen. The word 'connected' and a timer appears on the bottom of the display. The technician says irritatedly, "Terry! Where are you? Stop messing with the phones and get down here."

Kerry skrees, "Bet they tried to split up the quads... that sort of thing makes for good teamwork, but poor functionality outside the group."

Vash says, "Maybe."

Sakura winces, "Oh dear. I do hope everyone is alright."

Terry talks in to the phone handset, and you hear it echoed off the control room, "I just got here. I'll be right down, hold on." When he hangs up the phone, the word 'connected' vanishes, and the technician shakes his head and looks away going back to whatever it was he was doing. Smiling apologetically, Terry explains, "Normally, I'd stay here and wait with you, to get to know you all too, which I'd rather do, honestly, but we've had a couple of people call in sick today, so I've got to go down and help run the simulation." Moving to the door, he adds, "I'll see you all later, when we're ready to have our go at the simulator, though!" He smiles and leaves quickly. It is only a couple of minutes later that everyone can see Terrance appear on the monitor, now wearing a lab coat, to sit down and begin working at one of the stations.

Sakura says, "Do you suppose he meant to leave this monitor running?"

Vash says, "Possibly. We could be under observation right now... if you're on the paranoid side."

Kerry grins to himself and does a quick sonar-pulse... just what is outside the other walls of the room? He can tell the room's well sound-proofed, and there's a hallway outside the door. He skrees, "He meant to leave it running, I'm sure... the question is, should we turn it off?"

On the monitor, the grumpy technician says, "Boarded. Start the simulation," and the few in the control room work at their consoles. Outside the control room the simulator rises up off of the floor and waits for commands.

Sakura smiles at the armadillo, "May I ask your name, sir?"

Vash says, "Montoya. Vash Montoya."

Sakura says, "Well, he did say that he didn't want us to have any preconceptions." She adds, "It is a pleasure to meet you, Vash-san."

Vash says, "Likewise, ma'am."

Sakura says, "You're welcome to call me Sakura, if you'd like."

Kerry skrees, "He said that. Which way did he mean it, though..."

Vash says, "Alright then... Sakura."

On the monitor, everyone can see the person at the far end of the room talking in to a headset microphone. They're too far from the pickups for the uplifts in the room to hear too much. They do hear "flight control" and "launch."

Vash turns to Kerry. "I intend to stay as loose as possible going in. Absorb whatever data you like... just don't make plans."

Sakura says, "I'm sure if it was important that we not see this, Terry-san would have turned the monitor off."

Kerry skrees, "Now, back when I was still in the Aerospace Force, they always said that you should take advantage of anything that comes your way. I'm inclined to lean that way still."

Moments later, Terry and another of the crew work steadily at their keyboards. The simulator outside their room responds by tilting gently, and making several small, jerky movements.

Vash says, "I'm not saying ignore it. Just don't base your decisions on it."

Kerry grins, which looks remarkably evil with a mouthful of fangs. "Oh, of course not. What we get will either be completely different, or that.." pointing to the monitor with a wingtip "-is the actual test."

Sakura tilts her head off to one side, "Do you mean that they're testing us right now?"

On the monitor, the technician who'd called for Terrance says, "They are in position. Trigger event." Terry works at his keyboard, and replies, "Started."

Vash stays impassive. His voice is quite soft. "It's very possible. You've taken Rorshach tests before, haven't you?"

Sakura shakes her head, "Gomen [Sorry]. I'm am not familiar with the term."

Kerry skrees, "Certainly possible. Will we be foolish enough to turn off the monitor and give up an advantage, how we interact in the discussion about it, that sort of thing. Let's face it, if we're their best candidates, any of us could probably do the job from a technical standpoint. How we interact with each other, and how well we respond to odd situations will be what they're really interested in."

Vash nods. "They show you some ink blots. Then they analyze what you make of it. This is similar. Seeing what we make of this input."

A moment later, the simulator outside the control room's windows suddenly shakes and remains tilted at an odd angle. Kerry skrees, "Hmm. A tilt like that... implies the crew is being given a simulated engine failure."

Vash smirks. "Or they just turfed it."

Sakura frowns a little at the scene playing out on the monitor. "That would make sense, thank you, Vash-san."

Vash says, "Certainly, Sakura."

Kerry grins. "Nah, that wouldn't happen so quickly after the Event."

On the monitor, the person at the far end of the room is speaking again, facing their console. You don't hear anything useful, just snippets of flight control chatter. Sakura says, "They just launched, correct? Do you suppose that they're having trouble with the takeoff?"

Kerry skrees, "It's a spacecraft simulator, I believe. 'Launch' isn't from the ground, so it's not a takeoff in the usual sense."

Sakura hmms. "The windows shook before they tilted. An impact perhaps?"

Vash says, "Micrometeor impact?"

On the monitor, Terrance works at his keyboard and the shuttle jerks once, then smoothly levels out. As the concentrating human continues, the shuttle makes a number of small adjustments, and then seems still. The other tech say, "Wow, that was fast."

Kerry skrees, "Nope, partial engine failure. Must be Armstrong in there, he's probably good enough to recover from that quickly." Sakura nods.

Vash taps his claws against the wall absently. "Hm."

Sakura says, "The other groups have four or five people each... but they're giving us longer to get to know each other. We could turn that into an advantage..."

Kerry skrees, "Indeed."

Little seems to happen for a while, probably a little over a half an hour, although the control room staff are working diligently and steadily. The shuttle makes an occasional twitch, but everything seems calm. Vash says, "There was a fourth name on the list... wonder what happened to our fourth." The silent human still in the room is working avidly on her laptop and seems oblivious to the room. Vash says, "So... what are each of us here for?"

Sakura says, "I'm a medic. I do some navigation and electronics as well.."

Kerry skrees, "Anyway. I'm a pilot, spent some time in LEO runs and the Deep Supply program, ferried cargo and personnel out to the Artifact. Have a degree in astrophysics, as well."

The human finally looks up from her laptop and says, "Hello." She adds, "My name is Dr. September Novato." She points at the monitor, and says, "I've been trying to use the angle of inclination of the simulator vehicle to plot a course they're on, but I think that it's impossible to do a meaningful job without some way to determine their velocity."

Kerry nods to the human. "No way at all. Just that they were given an off-center thrust for a while."

Vash says, "Maybe you're not the only one, Kerry..."

Dr. Novato looks at the armadillo and says, "Oh, no, my degrees are in mathematics and propulsion systems, not astrophysics." She closes the computer and sets it aside, nodding to Kerry, "If they were thrusting at all, yes."

Sakura says, "I would be skeptical that all they are doing is flying in a straight line. Look at how active the technicians are. Perhaps something is happening inside that we can't see?"

Kerry skrees, "More than likely. And whatever it is, remember... they said one of the four of us is an observer, so they'll give us a completely different problem."

Sakura nods at Kerry. "Of course."

The human woman stops staring at the monitor for a while, and really looks at the others in the room for the first time. She apparently has been listening though, and says, "I thought that Terry said he would be our observer, and that he would return when it was our time in the simulator. It is possible that any of us are a plant, though." She smiles and looks at Vash, adding, "If you're feeling paranoid."

Vash grins a little. "Precisely."

Kerry skrees, "A little paranoia is always a good thing, especially going into an unknown situation. The trick is always telling how much is enough."

Vash says, "True enough... with that in mind, should we continue making our introductions?"

The doctor nods, adding, "That's a good idea. As I said, my name is September, but most people call me 'Winter' instead. I'm an engineer, and can work or build or repair most spacecraft engines, and many of their systems."

Kerry skrees, "Winter, eh?"

On the monitor, Terrance suddenly has a lot of work to do, and you can see the shuttle outside lift, tilt, and begin to rotate, turning slowly around, before coming back on to an even keel and quiescing again, with only the smallest little twitches from that point. Kerry skrees, "Hmm. Planned turnover, or another failure?"

Sakura smiles, "It is nice to meet you, September."

Vash nods. "Interesting name."

September smiles to the vixen, then looks to the armadillo and asks, "What about you, Vash? That's an interesting name, too. I don't think I've ever heard it before. Mine, you hear at least once a year."

Vash says, "Thank you. It was... my grandfather's idea."

Winter asks, "Does it mean anything?"

Vash says, "Not.. that I know of. I don't know for sure... I suppose that's a question for him."

Winter nods, and says, "Okay. What's your specialty? What position aboard the ship are you applying for?"

Vash says, "My specialty... that would be security operations. I have training and experience in small arms and hand-to-hand combat, as well as some experience with certain heavier weapons. I also have some tactical training and experience... the position that would be Team Coordinator. Or Tactical Coordinator... or whatever it is they've decided to call the nebulous leadership position." Winter nods and gets a silly grin on her face, but doesn't say anything. Vash grins, "Yeah... I know. They always stick me with some dorky title."

Sakura laughs softly, raising her hand in front of her muzzle. Kerry grins and makes a formal bow in Vash's direction. "Command us, your Nebulosity!"

Vash gestures toward the bat. "QED."

Winter's grin spreads at Kerry's words. Sakura grins a little. "I would advice caution, Vash-san. You may end up stuck with that title if you're not careful."

Vash says, "I'm used to it." He reaches up and raps lightly on his shoulder. "It's what they hired me for."

Kerry settles back down and folds his wings up again. "Seriously, then. Engineer, doctor, pilot-navigator, coordinator. I can double as an engineering assistant, and I assume the rest of us have double or triple skills as well?"

Sakura nods at Kerry. "I do, yes."

On the monitor, the shuttle has continued for nearly half an hour, and it seems to shift and tilt back a bit for a few minutes, before settling down and level, all the way to the floor of its enclosure. Kerry skrees, "Ah... looks like they're all set, then."

The monitor shows the Texans disembarking from the hatch on the rear of the shuttle, visibly exuberant. The technicians are looking at each other and one can faintly be heard saying things like, "Wow, that was great!" Terry replies, "Yes, just over half the time we estimated. Really a perfect run." The guy from control turns around, takes off his headset and stretches. He agrees, "The event hardly slowed 'em down. Not even the human teams did so well. They'll be peeved."

Vash smiles a bit. "Competition."

Kerry skrees, "Looks that way. Don't let it psych you out, though."

Vash laughs softly. "I'm not paid to lose my nerve."

Sakura says, "We'll do well, I'm certain."

Winter looks at the others, and says, "Half the estimated time? Wow." She seems a little awed. At the others words, she nods, strengthening her resolve, agreeing, "Right. We'll do better."

Vash says, "That's right."

Kerry skrees, "One wonders if cutting the time that much is actually good... depends on the test, I suppose." Sakura watches the monitor, the tip of her tail twitching in curiosity.

On the monitor, the fellow who was wearing the headset stands up, saying, "I'd better go get my group, or we'll be here all night," as he heads out of the room. It's just a couple of minutes before a pleasantly round, blonde woman comes in. Terry smiles and says, "Hiya, Anne! Great run." Further in on the monitor, following the other uplifts away from the simulator, is an uplifted feline, probably a cougar by his height, who seems a little apart from the group, although also quite pleased with the performance. Anne says, "The others will be in in a moment. Reset the simulator," as she, Terry and the as-yet-unnamed third technician each turn to their work for a moment.

Briefly on the monitor the former voice of Control, the wolf, the bear, the white rabbit, and the raccoon can be seen as they clamber in to the hatch aboard the simulator. Control can be heard muttering on his headset... something about how all of a sudden the executives want to watch now, sure they were asked earlier, they didn't want to, but now they do, everyone drop everything so someone can patch the video together, find a channel nobody's using, and put it through just for Their Highn- the voice cuts off abruptly as the hatch closes. Then the quietly amused voice of Anne says, "Quitcher bitchin', Kevin." A few moments pass... and then Anne says again, "Aaaand... commencing." Abruptly the screen wavers and blurs... then clears. This time the screen is split, with three windows -- one of a command bridge, one of a tiny, cramped medbay, and one of a small engineering deck.

The mission starts straightforwardly. Bonecrusher has her huge mass seated carefully behind the observer bat who's doubling as their pilot. Tukwila, the wolf, is nearby, while Sophie St. Francis, the white rabbit, is in the medical bay. In engineering the raccoon, Nesbitt, is already fascinatedly nosing through the equipment there. The mission itself is to go scan an asteroid near one of the stations, to verify a report of radioactives. As they leave the station, another ship, the freighter Iron Giant, is drifting with engine trouble in their flight path, delaying them. While they're waiting for clearance the freighter abruptly explodes! A rocket housing is flung into the TAG shuttle.

Vash says, "Criminy." Sakura blinks, starting back from the screen a little.

Kerry skrees, "Now... why would the screen have gone to interior view? They're playing games with our heads."

Things start going a little off at that point. Tukwila howls suddenly, wild-eyed, when the rocket housing impacts the shuttle, although he quiets down when Bonecrusher barks a calm command at him. Then Engineering doesn't report for several minutes, despite Bonecrusher's repeated requests for information. The observers in the conference room can see Nesbitt has a panel open and spread out, and is apparently playing with it, although she does finally look up guiltily and then hastily react to the request for an update.

Vash says, "Hm. That's... interesting."

Sakura's eyes widen. "They're having trouble... working as a group."

Vash says, "The wolf. Section 41 case..."

Kerry skrees, "Remind me not to go out on a mission with that raccoon."

Sakura says, "Section 41?"

It turns out the damage to the ship is minimal, but the main reactor has already shut down, having been knocked out of alignment, and apparently needs to be realigned by the engineer. It's at this point the engineer shows her skill -- she has the panel fixed up and working (if not closed yet) in a flash, and is quite swiftly (and happily) working on the main reactor.

Vash says, "That's a very nice way of saying he's mental. But I don't think that's his fault... aren't they coming from out East?"

Winter is staring at the engineering portion of the screen, and finally says, "I can't believe that idiot has working equipment apart."

Kerry skrees, "I talked to them. Well, to her. Something happened to the wolf, and he's not completely stable yet. He's undoubtedly good at his job, but for a long mission? Not likely."

Vash says, "No. They won't take him."

Sakura says, "He would be difficult to get used to working with.. but I'm sure that with a little time and kindness..."

Kerry skrees, "Yes. He needs help, and perhaps even work to pull his mind away from whatever it was. But not this, not yet."

Winter has looked away from the monitor, listening. She adds, "Perhaps just not stable yet." She nods agreement with Kerry, before she's pulled back to the monitor.

Vash says, "Section 41 refers to a personnel regulation... he can be released, barring his passing of certain evaluations. But I don't think he needs that. He seems to pull it together very well once the bear focuses him."

At this point the observer bat points out to Bonecrusher that the ship is drifting towards the station. The bear nods and orders him to try and cope with it with the minimal power they have. Only a few moments later the Iron Giant explodes again -- and there's abruptly a terrible jarring from the shuttle being clipped again by something from the devastated freighter. People are tossed about wildly, except for Bonecrusher, who simply braces against floor and ceiling... the observer bat is knocked out, unconscious on the floor. Tukwila's howling is almost maddening, but somehow Bonecrusher gets him quieted down, then calls in the shaken Sophie to help Tukwila take the unconscious bat into medbay. Then she tries calling the very silent Engineering for an update.

Sakura watches the screen like an observer at a train wreck. It's disturbing to watch but she can't seem to tear her eyes away. Kerry skrees, "Hmm. Bonecrusher and Tukwila do seem to make a good team, in spite of everything. Interesting." He adds, "But... it does cost time to get him settled in an emergency. Not a good sign."

Vash says, "And if it had been the bear that was incapacitated..."

Kerry skrees, "Exactly. Either he'd snap out of it, going protective of her, or you'd lose them both. Same problem with the dillo-quads, I suspect."

Vash says, "Security risk. And a potential hazard."

The view of Engineering shows a rather unpleasant scene... Nesbitt, the raccoon, was working swiftly before the ship was struck the second time, but at that point a calm voice starts talking about incipient meltdown. The raccoon grits her teeth and starts working even faster, her small black paws almost blurring... Winter is staring at engineering, watching a known nightmare unfold. Kerry skrees, "Bad luck. She delayed too long starting, and the second jolt messed things up."

Vash says, "Let's see how she picks it up."

In medbay things are going from bad to worse. Sophie is obviously terrified of Tukwila. No one's quite sure what causes him to snap, but he starts howling in fury at the small white rabbit to fix his friends or he'll kill her...! -- she's flattened against a wall, her face covered and screaming -- and behind them the observer bat shakes his head, sits up, and shoots the foaming wolf with a hypodermic gun. Slowly the wolf sags to the floor with a startled look. The bat gives him a disgusted look as he skirts the body to go calm the terrified rabbit. Vash says, "This is... going badly."

Sakura sighs softly at that scene. "Oh, I feel so badly for her. How terrifying."

Winter says quietly, "That's the understatement of the week," while she watches the raccoon, nearly missing the drama in the medbay.

Kerry skrees, "Didn't you see the bunny with the cougar? She was practically catatonic right there in the auditorium. She'd be no good at all with any carnivores in the crew... she might fit in with this one, but..." Vash's eyes narrow slightly, studying the scene in the medbay. Kerry goes back to watching the engineer, wondering if she's good enough to pull this off before the computer tags them as dead.

Sakura blinks, "Do you suppose that they're deliberately preying on the fears of the candidates to see how they react?"

Kerry skrees, "It's possible. But a bit of overkill in that case."

Vash says, "It's possible. I think that they were pushing Tukwila's buttons deliberately."

Winter says, "No, you idiot, don't play with the reactor, align the reactor! It should take about two minutes!" She's glaring at the raccoon, who appears fascinated, and is ignoring the calm voice of the computer announcing impending Armageddon.

In engineering Nesbitt has that fascinated look again as she's examining the reactor, and seems to be oblivious to the mechanical voice counting towards incipient meltdown -- it is, in fact, Bonecrusher walking through the door to see why engineering isn't replying who blinks, then bolts into startlingly swift, graceful motion -- she slaps the overrides to eject the reactor -- and abruptly the video goes off. Sakura's hand comes to her muzzle as she watches the scene play out. Vash says, "I prefer electrical solutions in that situation, myself... chemicals can be unpredictable. The observer reacted well under the circumstances, though."

Kerry blinks. "Amazing. How'd she get into the final cut with that kind of attitude? She might be good in an R&D lab, but not with real equipment."

Winter grits her teeth and says, "The only thing in their favor is that they're close to a station and might be rescued." She looks over at Vash, and asks, "Electrical?"

Vash says, "Stun baton. But he wouldn't have access to one of those. He did the right thing under the circumstances."

Kerry skrees, "Different lethality risks. Weak heart vs. allergies."

Winter looks confused, and then says, "Oh! For the wolf!"

Vash says, "You're forgetting a third lethality factor, Skydancer."

Kerry skrees, "Oh?"

Vash says, "Tukwila's teeth."

Kerry frowns. "I'm not forgetting that at all. I'm talking about how to knock someone out carefully."

Vash says, "I know how to do my job."

Kerry flips a wing-tip in acknowledgement. "True."

Winter settles back against her chair, and looks at everyone else, saying, "I don't think they can scare me with any of you as much as the idea of being on a ship with that engineer." She asks Vash, "Isn't it usually only cougars that lose it and use their teeth like that, anyway?"

Vash grins. "I don't think you have anything to fear from any of us." He turns to Winter, "Usually. However, I think this particular specimen's been through some... extenuating circumstances."

Kerry grins. "I've known some very calm and stable cougars, and I met a totally berserk rabbit pilot once. Can't depend on stereotypes, even when they're generally true. But I think you're right about that raccoon."

Winter nods and hmms at both of the two males, considering. Then she looks up and asks, "Do you think they ran the same scenario twice? Will we get the same one?"

Sakura says, "It almost seems that way. The first ship certainly got hit by something."

Kerry skrees, "Might be... or maybe not, since they'd have to be a bit screwed up to have forgotten they left this on."

Vash says, "It's possible. Wonder who the control group was."

Kerry skrees, "Besides, if it's primarily psychological testing, this may be ours right now."

The monitor flickers, and then settles on the solid blue screen which generally means there is no signal. Vash says, "Well... that's that."

Sakura says, "Odd that it cut out just now."

Kerry skrees, "Indeed."

Vash says, "Maybe they were without power before the computer tagged them as fatalities."

Winter says, "Maybe they just shut the feed off, because there wasn't anything much happening anymore."

Vash says, "Also a possibility."

Sakura says, "They didn't shut it off between the last mission and this one, though."

Kerry skrees, "So... I believe we're next."

Vash says, "Looks that way." He stands up from the wall and stretches, raising his arms over his head. "Everyone ready?"

Terry returns, looking somewhat less enthusiastic than he had a couple of hours earlier, and smelling a little of stress and perspiration. He does smile though, and say, "So, things have gone fairly quickly, and we're ready for you? You ready to go?"

Kerry skrees, "I think so. Lead on, MacDuff."

Terry grins at Kerry's suggestion, and then looks across the room at the monitor. He says, "Oh, gosh, did I leave this on? It's been sitting here being blue and making that irritating humming that these do when there's nothing on them." Walking around the table, he opens the cabinet and turns off the screen, apologizing, "I'm sorry, that was thoughtless of me. I do wish I'd have been able to stay and chat with you. That wouldn't have happened." He looks genuinely downcast.

Vash says, "It's no trouble, Terry. Let's do this, if we're doing it."

Sakura smiles brightly, "It's okay, Terry-sempai. We hardly noticed it."

Terry nods, "Right! Let's go! Follow me down to the simulator, and we'll get you all set." He leads the group out of the conference room, down three flights of stairs, through a couple of card-key accessed doors, and in to the big room with the simulator.

Kerry skrees, "What's our simulated ship class?"

Terry grins, and says, "Down the hatch everybody!" and laughs, before rattling off a long, and mostly unrelated quote from a very old movie. He adds, "I'll explain aboard, Kerry, and we'll give you your mission." Kerry nods and climbs up the ladder to the simulator's entrance. Once inside he heads toward the control room and resets the lighting to his preferred level.

    TAG: The Simulator
    You are aboard a ship simulator, mounted on large hydraulic lifts to provide a touch of realism. Unlike the big military ones that are mounted on gimbals and can spin in any direction, this one can only move through a limited range of motions.

    There are three "cabins" in this simulator, connected via hatches, and a couple of short stretches of hallway. The bridge, which has a full complement of controls and readouts, is where the ship is normally flown from. Engineering, which has large banks of what look like engines and power plant controls (most of which can simulate failure), can also fly the ship if need be. There is also a cramped medical bay with a primitive autodoc and a complete surgery.

    The bridge and medical bay are on the upper deck, with the bridge forward and medical aft, and engineering is the entire second deck. The hallway between the bridge and medical has a hatch down to engineering, and an airlock to get outside the "ship."

Sakura climbs down through the hatch and quickly makes her way to the medical area. She starts opening cupboards and drawers, aquainting herself with the layout. Winter too makes a beeline for her section, climbing down in to engineering to examine the systems and familiarize herself with what this "ship" has. Unlike another, she doesn't become mindlessly preoccupied. Sakura finishes her quick peek, then heads back to the cockpit. Terry gives everyone a few moments to look around as he closes the hatch to the outside. He lets Sakura pass him in the narrow hallway, then leans down to the hatch to engineering and calls for Winter to come be debriefed. She comes right up.

Vash seats himself behind the pilot, and settles back. He finds himself making mental notes of the layout and the relevant hatchways, in case he needs to relocate quickly... though he doesn't expect anyone in this group to go baring their teeth. Terry comes in and explains, "This is the Virtual Aurora; a small, fast reconnaissance ship used to explore and scout. In this case, there's been reports of a high level of radioactivity on a large asteroid, and the company needs you to go out and verify this one way or the other. You will be taking off from the Los Angeles station near the Gate, from a simulated version of the dock space the company actually has there." He tells Sakura, the navigator, "The final coordinates for the asteroid in question are loaded in to the computer, here. Any other questions?"

Kerry is checking over the readouts, making sure he knows what the ship is supposed to be able to do. "Instrumentation for the asteroid check?"

Terry gets that startled look again and leaps for his pager, which is blinking and apparently vibrating again. He looks at the code on the display and frowns. He sits at the communications station and picks up the com, hailing the control room as if they were in fact on a ship, "This is Virtual Aurora to control, Virtual Aurora to control, do you read?"

The face of Anne from the monitor before appears on the view-screen. She says, "Terry, we can't start the simulation. Doctor Novato is wanted at the hospital right away."

Terry looks shocked, and Winter leans forward and says, "What? I'm not a medical doctor?" Vash turns, looking faintly surprised.

Kerry skrees, "Hmm?"

On the view-screen, Anne looks quite unhappy, and says, "No, nothing like that. Your father is having a heart attack, and they said it was urgent. We're trying to get a taxi for you."

Vash blinks. "Diosmio."

Sakura sighs and puts a hand on September's shoulder. Winter looks somewhat stunned, before she says simply, "Oh, god." She looks at the screen, then at everyone else, and says, "I... I can't... the..." Terry interrupts, saying, "Go, Doctor Novato. We'll take care of things here. This isn't that important, is it?"

Vash says, "Winter. I'm sorry... will you be alright?"

Kerry makes an odd chirripping noise. "I concur. Go, we'll sort things out here."

Winter looks at the vixen, then to Terry, then Vash, and Kerry, and says, "Thank you for understanding." She stands and says, "Good luck," then moves very quickly to the hatch, which someone has opened from the outside already.

On the comlink, Anne is distracted for a few moments as Winter is shown out and other people move around. Terry says to the group, "This was unexpected. You'll need an engineer. Maybe I'll have to play that part." He frowns, adding, "I'll have to fake it."

Vash sinks back into his seat. "Hell of a thing to throw at her. Especially now."

On the monitor Anne looks back to the ship and says, "Why don't you go back to the conference room and we'll find you another engineer? Maybe one of the other candidates can stand in for her and run through again."




Last modified: 2000-Sep-14 13:23:47

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