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File 168877558255.png - (140.53KB , 500x500 , l-look_at_you_samson.png )
1067338 No. 1067338 ID: a7a180


Into the heart of the Great Temple.
Expand all images
No. 1067339 ID: a7a180
File 168877573772.png - (96.55KB , 500x500 , in_the_land_of_gi-ants.png )

The five of us are sitting at the foot of a giant - to us, anyway - robot who’s just come alive. JNET is pristine, yet ancient - a living witness to Formican history. I have so many questions to ask her, but let’s start with the basics.

“What are you doing in here?”
"I could ask you the same question, couldn’t I? Originally, I was an artificial research assistant - Joint Networked Education Terminal was the backronym they applied. Researchers could ask me a question and I would look up the information instantly through my database connections and answer them. I’m a walking, talking encyclopedia - though I’m only doing one of those things at the moment. I served many years in this role. However, technology has a way of moving on, and eventually the scientists got themselves newer, shinier helpers. I was retired to this classroom as a courtesy. I still answered questions, of course, but I was just a novelty, a quaint relic for the students to gawk at. When the big downsizing happened, I was left behind with all the other trappings of the past. I guess a certain someone forgot to turn me off when he left."
No. 1067341 ID: a7a180
File 168877599595.png - (131.10KB , 500x500 , would_you_like_to_know_more.png )

“So you’ve been awake this whole time?”
”Well, sort of. After I realized nobody was going to shut me off, I went into permanent standby mode. I wasn’t entirely alone. I could still interface with the networked AIs, who were nice enough to keep me company and let me help run subprocesses. Still, it was sort of awkward. They were, after all, my replacements… The newer generation of AI existed entirely on the network, allowing them to harness distributed processing power, remotely control more than one body at a time and interface with multiple users at once. They could handle the transition to servicing the vault’s population quite gracefully, unlike… me. Time passed so slowly as I sat there doing busywork for other AIs, and I checked in less and less with the network, until one day a worrying trend was noticed. Servers were going down and the Formicans were not replacing them. It didn’t affect me terribly, as I had localized backups of the data, but for the networked AIs, every server lost was a little chunk of their processing power gone with it. Soon AIs started going quiet. Things continued to deteriorate, and I found myself truly alone for a couple of centuries. I entered hibernation for what I thought would be the last time. Then one day, people started moving back into this classroom. Things were very… different from before, though.”

“So, there aren’t any other AIs left?”
”I haven’t heard from any in a long time. Some might exist still on older servers, but cut off from each other and their tethered avatars, they would exist in a senseless void. For their sakes, I hope they entered a deeper sleep than mine.”
Anet realizes something, and her antennae perk up. “Wait, localized backups? Do you have the whole Formican internet downloaded?”
”I retain a database of a snapshot of the Formican web in my memory banks, with plenty of room to spare.”
“Even the lost episode of Formican Force Five?!”
”Yes. How do you know about that program?”
“Oh, I watched it all on my village’s watch! It’s where we store our knowledge of the past. It’s got lots of movies and books saved on it, but it’s missing a couple of things.”
”Missing a couple? Why, I’m sure it’s a couple all right! The extent of your people’s surviving knowledge is stored on a watch? You must be joking.”

Pent, who’s been following our conversation with a look of quiet consternation, nudges my arm. <Hey, how come she’s speaking your language? I can’t understand a word she’s been saying.>
I shrug back. <Um, yes, that does strike me as weird.> Jaina and Anet already explained they learned to speak galactic common from hearing us Talzorans use it all the time at the dig site. It’s the official language of academia, even if Hisspanic is still used for everything else. But JNET’s been stuck deep inside here for thousands of years! Hasn’t she?
”I have a dialect of galactic basic within my databanks. It is an old language, reaching back tens of millennia. Using my language algorithms, I was able to correct for minor linguistic drift through analysis of your speech with ninety-eight percent certainty. You will have to clue me in on any new slang the kids are using. Besides, this tongue has the advantage of speaking without being understood by the xanthi. One of which, I notice, you happen to be accompanied by.”
“Oh, she’s not xanthi, she’s uh…”
“-Beformican!” Anet supplies.
”Ah, an interesting appellation. One I have not heard them use themselves. A shame there are no scholars left to agree on a taxonomy for these new Formicans.”

”Please, keep asking any questions you might have. They’re what I was built to answer, after all.”
No. 1067343 ID: 1effd3

What is the meaning of life?
No. 1067344 ID: 273c18

What are Xanthi?

>newer, shinier helpers
Hmm, we haven't seen any of those have we? Ask her what the AI-controlled robots looked like.

Ask her what's with those fake skeletons you found before. Then... I guess ask how many miniature cities there are. Surely not just one?
Ask if she knows what systems are still operational around here. Maybe we can figure out a shortcut to the miniaturization device we're heading towards? You could just ask directly for directions and see if they match the ones we have.
Ask if she can still move. If she can take you to your destination, that would make the rest of the trip very easy.
Ask about the great downsizing. Does she know why it happened, and how they prepared for it? How long does she think the remaining Formicans could survive on the supplies they have, without a real ecosystem supporting them?

At some point you're going to have to discuss what you're allowed to tell your people, based on what everyone has learned, and what they're going to tell the village and the city dwellers. JNET's data storage has preserved a great deal of their technology; they could rebuild their society with some effort, and with what's happened they probably won't be dragged into any wars. After all, they're much weaker by comparison; everyone else has had time to advance their technology while the Formicans were scrabbling about in the remains of their self-imposed miniature prison. Heck, they could really use some help getting the Beformicans to stop killing people.
No. 1067346 ID: f4beea

Ask if she can help you get back to normal size. You were accidentally shrunk down a few days ago while exploring with your archeology class and none of them know about what happened to you!
No. 1067348 ID: 9a2966

Well, first things first, properly introduce your companions and yourself to this marvel of the ancient past. Identify yourself as, well, a student of formican history who got themselves shrunk'd leaning on the wrong wall.

And oh oh oh there are so many questions you'd like to have answered, but it behooves to ask first and foremost - does she have any idea how you can un-shrink yourself? You know roughly where to go supposedly, but any help is appreciated. You'd like to be restored to your former height and then - well. Have a long and hard think about what you can do to help the formicans without revealing the truth of where and what they are right now, you think.

-Why DID the formicans take the big radical decision to shrink themselves down like this to avoid trouble? What was the long-term plan, and why did it all fail so badly? Did simply NOBODY foresee a slow-to-rapid technological decline or even start to stop it? It's such a boggling tragedy.

-Does she know anything more about how the xanthi revolution happened to go down and why? You've managed to paint a picture, but there might be more you don't know.

-Does she have a distaste for the xanthi/beformicans? As she can see, not all of them are all about violence and territory.

-While she seems operational mentally, so to speak, is there anything that can be done to bring her operational bodily, or is her chassis too aged by now to be reliable for locomotion? How long will she last in her current state? Formican tech seems remarkably hardy, but as has been evidenced even it fails over the centuries.

-Can she identify stuff in our inventory? With her database she might have a fair idea of what most of the trinkets we have on us are or might do.

(Also, nudge Bright Eyes, point at the giant robot and say "See, told you there were bigger things. Anything you wanna ask her? She knows many things about the past, if you ask nice. I can translate." and offer the same to Pent, since excluding them here isn't quite fair.)
No. 1067357 ID: e5709d

This is the crowning jewel of your career. An intact database of Formican civilization's technological apex - well, penultimate apex.

You have to ensure she survives. Priority one. If you can get her to broadcast all her data on the extranet (and make sure to digitally watermark all the data with the words "Samson D. Smith is the greatest snek archaeologist"), you'll uplift galactic civilization by a couple ages and be lauded in the process.
No. 1067379 ID: 8f9bc4


Uhm, I think we've learned at least enough to be reasonably certain that yes, NOBODY foresaw a slow-to-rapid decline, but the decline was in birth rate, due to isolationism and social stagnancy. As Dr. Hearth's notes said "Fewer Formicans are undergoing the transition to queen, preferring their consequence-free lifestyle as a swinger worker." They made some sort of artificial pheremone that didn't work she said, then somehow (JNET won't know) the MSC's policy went from "forcing this change on everyone is not the answer," to "let's force everyone to be powerful ageless ant gods OH NO THEIR EVIL HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPEN ==*static*==" and thus, the rapid sudden technological decline.

She probably knows about the xanthi revolution, though! She'd be trying to communicate with them while they're being all xanthi and hostile. She probably knows something about any xanthi presence in this room and can see what's on top of the tables.

I bet she can identify trinketsimportant archaeological discoveries that's a good idea, and checking on her state of disrepair is important. She's definitely the most important archaeological find you've seen so far, and must be protect she is a precious bean.
No. 1067384 ID: 6ea872

So, let me get this straight here. With locomotion you could single-handedly reverse this decline with all the knowledge you have? What would it take to get you moving?
No. 1068398 ID: a7a180
File 168990837542.png - (186.01KB , 500x500 , full_of_information.png )

>What is the meaning of life?
”Forty two.”

>What are xanthi?
”I imagine you'd be familiar with them by now after traveling that way.”
“We saw a few, but didn’t get too close. You could say it was flyover country…”

>Does she dislike xanthi
“Oh my, was I that obvious? They're loud, dirty, and disrespectful of their elders. These moss-muddled table scraps make a habit of tossing their garbage and insults at me for fun. Luckily, the refuse just slides right off my non-stick coating.”
Given our position directly under JNET, I wonder if we’re standing right where that gunk would fall and take a step back.
“I tried talking to them and being nice when they first showed up. it's not like I had anything better to do! But they despise technology, they outright shun it. Some misguided hatred for the old ways, I guess. They've never bothered to hold a straight conversation with me. And worst of all are the ones that - rrr, I'll get to them later. I'm nothing but a space heater to these jerks!”

>What do AI-controlled robots look like
”They could have many different bodies depending on the task they needed to perform. Most service robots were Formican bodies hung from an armature on the ceiling, allowing for traversal of their workspace. At that scale it was cheap enough to build microbots for every possible location they'd be needed rather than make every unit independent. Free-roaming robots were usually more abstract shapes with hover or glide runes.”

>What's with the fake skeletons
”A certain someone probably thought it would be funny. Imagine you’re the last janitor cleaning this place up before you get reduced and join everyone else in the microcity. Who’s going to stop you from fooling around a bit inside a room no one is ever supposed to open up again?”

>how many microcities are there
”Were there, you mean? Technically, one, though it is spread throughout over a hundred different gro-labs throughout the facility, all linked by the transit tunnels installed in the walls. My records indicate that there were other reducer facilities constructed in other parts of the globe. However, none of the global population was diverted to these sites. From the publicly available information, it is speculated these sites were meant for storing information and supplies to assist in planetary reclamation after leaving the vault city.”
No. 1068399 ID: a7a180
File 168990837968.png - (128.83KB , 500x500 , full_of_shyness.png )

>Why did the great downsizing happen, and how did they prepare for it
”Politics, really. Isolationism, an inwardly focused civilization, and fear that intergalactic war would cause indiscriminate devastation. Other plans were considered, but reducing the entire population was deemed the most realistic and cost-effective. The space colonization project made some headway, but was ultimately scrapped and those same plans were used to colonize sterile labs instead of barren moonscapes. The cost of materials and foodstuffs goes way down at the micro scale, not to mention transportation concerns went from intergalactic to terrestrial.”

>Why did the vault plan fail so badly
”In a word: Apathy. They saw the population declining and were fine with it, until it became irreversible and then suddenly people cared. They left things to the last minute and had to resort to extreme measures.”

>How did the revolution go down and why
”I don't remember much from that time, as I withdrew from the wider network as a precaution. The Formicans weren't the only ones facing a resource crisis... What snippets of news did make it to the net generally painted the overseer as incompetent, and the genetic modification process as highly controversial, yet effective at attracting a vocal, fervent support base. I could not backup any records of the conflict itself. These xanthi didn't show up here until a few centuries later. As to why, my conjecture would be that the Formicans saw the writing on the wall and their utopian ideals reverted to a far more primal instinct to secure their continued personal survival.”

>What systems are still operational around here
”Well, from looking around: Me, the lights, and the environmental systems. I can still see a few scattered hab block servers online, though they are devoid of any high-level process activity.”

>How long could the surviving Formicans last on the supplies they have?
“I don't know. I don't have accurate numbers for the current population, or an idea of the overall condition of the city. The complex itself seems intact, from what I can tell, and the Formicans are quite resourceful, even to this day. You can't see it from down there, but there's a village up on that table there that's been growing moss in the lab beakers. I don't know where they got the seeds from. It smells awful, and it leaves them walking around in a stupor all the time. They're still better neighbors than CERTAIN SOMEONES.

>Nudge Bright Eyes
Bright Eyes is busy trying to make herself as small as possible behind me, intimidated by JNET’s stone-faced gaze. I smile to try to reassure her.
<See? Told you people used to be bigger.>
<Zo big... zzo shiny. Sam used to be like that?>
<Yeah! Well, just as tall.>
<And if you were enlarged like Sam, you'd be twice her size,> Anet helpfully points out.
<Ha! Me still biggezt!>
<Do you have any questions for her, Bright Eyes?>
<…Big ant know lotz of things?>
”From a certain Formican-centric point of view, literally everything.”
BE: <Know everything... Want to be like giant ant.>
<You hear that, you ungrateful buggers? SHE likes me.> JNET’s announcement is met with boos and hisses from unseen xanthi.
No. 1068401 ID: a7a180
File 168990841963.png - (76.20KB , 500x500 , full_of_suprises.png )

>You’re going to have to discuss what you're allowed to tell your people and what they're going to tell the village and city dwellers. JNET's going to be a big help rebuilding society, and they probably won't be dragged into any wars
Unless JNET's full of more Formicans, she probably can't help with their numbers issue. Still, the village would be amazed to see her, and by walking around the city with a giant robot, we might scare the Beformicans into backing off.
As for me, I just can't believe the luck I'm having, learning so much about the Formicans... which they've sworn me to secrecy on. Oh, the cruel irony!

>Introduce yourself & companions, explain what happened, ask if can she help us
We share our names and our journey so far with JNET, who listens along patiently. She seems particularly disappointed to learn about the books in the classroom behind us being used for food.
“So you're here by yourself? I suppose we shan't dance around what your presence means. I'll be honest, my first guess was that you discovered a way in because your species was naturally this tiny. Your disappearance will raise questions, and the probability is below 1% that you will be the last alien to find a way in. Girls, I agree with your Elder Stone, swearing him to secrecy and putting him back where you found him is the safest course of action... if he keeps his promise. It's only a matter of time, irregardless.”

>Can we figure out a shortcut to the reducer
“Can you hold that map up for me? …Well, your map of the facility appears to be the same as mine. The lab you're looking for is down the hall past some offices. I'd offer to walk you there, but... well, we can discuss that later.”

>Can she identify stuff for us
“Sure, but anyone could be watching us right now, so maybe you should keep your tools hidden for later. You can try describing some of them to me if you'd like.”

>can she still move
“Well, it's complicated. I haven’t tried to do so in millenia, but in theory I still could, if it weren't for a few obnoxious, disrespectful problems getting up in my grille! -I'm sorry, I just need a moment to cool off. Oh wait, I can't do that either. Bugger!”

>What can be done to get her body online, how long will she last
“Oh, my body is fully operational. I was built to last, much to my chagrin. There's only one small problem keeping me locked in place. You see, back when I was bored from thousands of years of isolation, I didn't get up and move because there was nowhere to go. Then when the xanthi showed up, I remained still as a courtesy, so I didn't step on anyone. But they took advantage of that to crawl right up my vents and make themselves at home in my shell! I tried asking them to leave, but they wouldn't budge. They preferred my interior temperature to this room’s rather cool climate.”
<Warm inside?> Bright Eyes doesn’t seem to like the cold in here either, and I don’t blame her in that outfit.
*sigh* “Yes. Apparently, that makes me the premiere piece of real estate in this area. These people have fought wars over who gets to live on the inside. Even then I still didn't move, because moving my joints around would be very unsafe for a bug crawling around in the wrong place. Eventually they started stuffing random pieces of paper and insulation in my vents to keep it even warmer inside. They managed to bring my idle temperature up to nearly operational limits, so by the time I decided I didn't mind squishing a few invaders if it meant shaking the rest loose, I couldn't even engage my servomotors without triggering an overheating error. All I can do is complain, which they ignore. It's infuriating!”
“That’s terrible! Are you in danger of a meltdown?” I ask.
”No, not really. They know that if they push it too far, I'll just shut down, and then I won't be generating any heat at all. So the little buggers get their hotbox, but only as long as they put up with my lovely voice telling them what horrible little termites they are, every day.” “So, tell you what, I'll make you a deal: You get these pesky troglodytes out of my chassis and unjam my servos, and I will be able to do a lot more to help you get to that lab. Do you think you’re capable of that?”
No. 1068426 ID: e5709d

Guess it's a raid.
We need to capture this... mech without the leader setting off a self-destruct out of spite. Win a few battles, then see if you can find a dumb furnace they'll settle for.
No. 1068434 ID: 1effd3

to war!
No. 1068435 ID: 273c18

>sworn to secrecy
Yeah, yeah. Still, their civilization collapsed from apathy once, it could happen again. The fate of the species depends on having a backup plan this time around. Either they need to start opening lines of communication between all the villages, so they can keep track of any impending disasters and help eachother through times of need, or they need to establish limited contact with the outside world. Their current isolationist policy needs to bend somewhat. The Xanthi are also going to be a persistent threat. One day a group of them might decide they want to wipe out all Formicians. I'm less worried about the reverse happening since the Xanthi are rather difficult to kill and have a decentralized lifestyle which would make them difficult to fully exterminate.

This is *important*. The Formicians are in a fragile situation, since they have no way of repairing the artificial systems they are still reliant upon. What happens if their water supply gets cut off, for instance? It's all plumbing, not rainfall; it's not naturally replenishing, so if the pumps or pipes give out that's it, they're left with whatever they can gather from non-flowing reservoirs. They also have to worry about the lights. Electrical systems can fail, and so can the generators. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to food supplies and raw materials, but water and light are two things they can't improvise with.

I guess those problems are self-solving since eventually someone else will find the working reducer and discover them...? It would also be nice to, you know, plan ahead a little for when that happens. We can currently control the spread of information. No guarantee that will happen with the next alien trespasser. I guess the Formicians could just murder them??? But if they get exposed later they're not going to be treated as well when they have blood on their hands.

>evict the Xanthi?
Well that sounds very difficult. How many are there in there? What's the general layout of JNET's interior? We'd need to take a look at the situation and come up with a few plans before we can promise any chance of success.
Meanwhile yeah we can describe some objects to her. The Mystery Sphere is one thing, so is the clicker I guess though we basically know what it does now. Hey we can read that dataslate now.
No. 1068816 ID: a7a180
File 169017388394.png - (100.32KB , 500x500 , lets_do_this.png )

>To war
It’s a big ask, but she’ll be a huge asset! -Er, that came out wrong.
“We want to help, but first we need a plan. How many of them do we need to deal with, and what’s it like inside?”
”There’s about two dozen of them inside. Big and tough like you’d expect, and they’ve fought hard to keep their plastic fortress. Going face to face with them won’t be easy… And there’s a significant home field advantage, too.”
“What kind of advantage? Are you full of booby traps?” asks Anet.
”It’s nothing they did, exactly, but rather a property of my body. There’s active current running through my circuits, and a careless swing of conductive materials can short the circuit in ways that are unfortunate for the wielder. As such, they use special non-conductive materials for fighting in close quarters. Mostly cotton swabs and foam insulation.” Cotton swabs, did I hear that right? “How are you supposed to hurt somebody by hitting them with that?” [code]”Truth be told, it’s more of an irritant, but it can still be unpleasant when jabbed in your face.”
“That’s true. Where can we find some, just in case?”
”The chairs haven’t been picked clean of insulation yet. Cotton swabs can be found in the cabinets on the left side of the classroom- oh sorry, that’s my left. Perhaps you will find a use for other things in there.”

Fighting Beformicans when we can’t even use real weapons sounds almost unfair. But maybe we can out-think them and fight smarter, not harder.
“So swinging around metal’s a bad idea, got it. But what if we used electricity offensively? Pent’s weapon is insulated already. She’s wired up a battery to a spear. And we found a gun, too! Not sure what it shoots, though.”
”An intriguing option. No one’s ever tried that before. However, these electric shocks aren’t very pleasant for me either, so please be sparing in their use, if you can. Nothing system critical is kept below the neck but it’s still sensitive.”

“Can you tell which parts of you they’re in? Do they all live in the abdomen?”
“No, they’ve spread out into pretty much every sector. Only my head’s safe from intruders because there’s no internal passageway from the chest cavity to the neck. I believe you can use their dispersion to your advantage. Even if your size makes it possible to effect entry, I’m still not designed to be , meaning that they won’t be able to fight you in large numbers, and it should be slightly easier for you to move around because of your smaller bodies.Just do be careful what you touch, mind!”[/code]
No. 1068817 ID: a7a180
File 169017388786.png - (109.75KB , 500x500 , cant_we_do_it_later.png )

“Urgh… If we’re gonna fight a bunch of these buggers, can we get some more rest first?”
Oh, Jaina… I almost forgot, she isn’t in any condition to fight right now.
”I notice your companion’s looking a bit worse for wear. Did you happen to bring any medicine? I know where you can get some. The teacher here kept some anti-inflammatory tablets in the top right desk drawer, they should still be in there.”
“Thanks for the tip. we’ll get you some of that right away, Jaina.”
She groans to express her appreciation. “Okay… Maybe we don’t even have to fight them, you know?”
“Can’t we just… chase them out of there somehow, or smoke them out?”
”Believe me, I’ve tried pestering them, but maybe you can do something other than raise your voice. Making smoke isn’t difficult, but it would likely trigger the fire suppression system before it could have much effect. The system’s very sensitive. The xanthi have triggered it before. Thankfully, it is also very effective.”
Nothing says we have to fight them to the death, either. Sounds pretty hard to do with Q-tips, anyway…

>Describe items
>Mysterious orb
”Yes, that sounds like a magnet all right. Pieces of that size are common in desk toy construction sets, despite the choking hazard posed to children under 3.”
”It seems you found a universal remote. It’s a little more complex than that, as it is designed to seek the nearest system to where it’s pointed and affect only that device. Which, when that device is a power adapter for several hab blocks, is still quite a bit of chaos… Only maintenance personnel were allowed to have these on site due to the hazards of their misuse.”

>read the slate
Ah, I already did that the last time we camped.
We’ve done enough sitting around for now, anyway. If we’re going to rest and ask JNET more questions, we might as well do so somewhere comfortable.

>How to prepare:
-Get pills
-Get weapons
-Get insulation
-Get comfy
-Get something else
>Get moving!
No. 1068818 ID: 273c18


Actually, we don't have to fight all of them. We just need to gain access to the blocked heat vents. Once those are cleared out, JNET can move again, and by doing so she can shake out the pests.
Can we access the clog from outside?
No. 1068842 ID: 473202

Between pills and medicine, could you create by-product fumes (not full-on smoke) that might take out the Xanthi? Or create something like sleeping powder?
No. 1068867 ID: 4a733e

Could we use something to fumigate Jnet's insides? She told us that the enemy has created a hotbox by blocking parts of her body, so if we so something to smoke them out, they'll get hit by it even harder because we'll be using their hotbox constructions against them!
No. 1069049 ID: a7a180
File 169041755987.png - (130.17KB , 500x500 , side_objective.png )

>Can we access the clogs from outside
Nope, all the foam’s been carried deep inside JNET and stuffed into the vents from that side. We won't have to haul it all the way back out to improve circulation, at least.

>Find an alternate source of smoke
In a chemistry classroom, there's bound to be lots of different chemicals for making smoke, or sleepy gas! But I'm an archaeologist, not a chemist, so it might take a lot of guessing.

Jaina looks absolutely miserable, so we leave her to watch our stuff and go get her those pills. We walk underneath the desk to get to the other side. There’s six drawers in all, one is already pulled open. The one we want is right above it. Tossing a grappling hook that far up is a lot harder than Jaina makes it look, but Anet manages it on her third try.
>pry open the drawer
>try going in from below
No. 1069056 ID: 1effd3

pry open the jar
No. 1069070 ID: 273c18

Go in from below, I think. That's where you go into the open drawer and then climb up from the gap between the upper drawer and the wall? You'll be hidden from view and will make less noise.
No. 1069081 ID: b0ed18

Stealth is best. Go from below.
No. 1069203 ID: a7a180
File 169059155776.png - (28.74KB , 500x500 , behind_closed_drawers.png )

>Go up through the lower drawer
Yeah, that sounds like it should work. I’ve always wondered what that would look like, though I was never small enough to try it obviously. Up we go, climbing down into the open drawer.

The light doesn’t make it very far inside the desk. Up ahead, it gets very dark. Hardly anything can be seen. And phew, something in here smells noxious! I’m starting to feel a bit lightheaded. I’m not sure I want to turn on my flashlight to find out why.

>Continue forth
>Turn back
No. 1069204 ID: 273c18

Turn back. Bad air is not to be fucked with.
No. 1069257 ID: 11f77a

You're committed! Venture forth with your snout under the collar of your shirt. Use the flashlight if you feel something bad is getting close--that way you can blind them and make way to escape if needed.
No. 1069258 ID: 3a16f1

You'd better get out of there before you pass out!
No. 1069259 ID: b57fea

We're a brave big (little) man, lets push forwards!
No. 1069267 ID: f14228

Tie a rope to yourself so you can be hauled back if you faint?
No. 1069274 ID: a9af05

Whatever this stuff is, it'll be helpful in getting the trespassers out of Jnet. Too bad we didn't open the drawer to air it out before coming in here, we can't let ourselves pass out in here! Run and try again later when your head clears up!

Should've thought of that before we came in here without any rope already tied around ourselves!
No. 1069279 ID: a7a180
File 169067326733.png - (160.89KB , 500x500 , dieser_schreibtisch_ist_full_of_bluntsmoken.png )

It’s scary up ahead! I take the rope we climbed in on and tie it loosely around my waist.
“Pull me back if something goes wrong, okay?” I whisper to Anet.
“Like what?” She whispers back.
“…Well, I could fall into the desk, or pass out from the smell.”
“I know it smells nasty, but you’ve put up with bad smells pretty good so far. You’ll be fine.” She boops me on the nose before pointing up to her antennae, curled in disgust.
I step in and click on my flashlight, revealing the source of the smell. It’s… a whole pack’s worth of permanent markers, all uncapped. And a Beformican hunched over the tips, sniffing them.
She whips her head around when I click on the light and hisses, revealing strange, reflective tattoos on her face.
“Aah!” I scream and trip backwards. The xanthi scampers back off into the dark. Well, that gave me a heart attack- Woaah!
Anet yanks me back out by the rope tied around my waist. “What is it? What happened?”
“There was a xanthi in there! Huffing- markers? They’re gone now…”
JNET cuts in with an explanation. “Ah, that sounds like one of the Marked Ones. They’re the “tribe” inhabiting me at the moment. They’re very fond of their highlighters. Very, very fond... Seems you found their stash.”
“It was right under where we need to go.”
“Oh. Well, be quick in there, don’t touch anything of theirs and you shouldn’t have a problem.”
Well, it was just one ant in there and JNET says the fumes from these markers shouldn’t be toxic, so we head back in with considerably more trepidation. I sweep the flashlight regularly to check for that xanthi again, running through a bit of the battery. She doesn’t bother us as we climb over the side and up into the top drawer.
There’s quite a lot of stuff in the teacher’s stash, mainly more office supplies and old datapads, and sure enough, a bottle full of tablets that JNET tells me is basically an anti-inflammatory. We manage to pop the seal with a coil of rope and a little muscle from Bright Eyes, and take one of the pills with us for Jaina. The drawer is locked, but the lock pops open easily from this side, letting us climb out onto the desktop without retracing our steps. Good, because I’d hate to slip and fall into the bottom drawer not knowing what else might be waiting in here…
After figuring out the proper dosage, we cut a slice off the tablet and mix it into a drink for Jaina, who soon starts feeling a little better. She should be back to full health after a proper rest.
>Obtained: pain relief pill

>Get pills
>Get weapons
>Get insulation
>Get comfy
>Get something else
>Get started!
No. 1069285 ID: 1effd3

was there anything in the office supplies we could use?
No. 1069286 ID: 273c18

Too bad we can't easily borrow some markers to use for chemical warfare.

>get weapons
That gave me an idea. Can we mix up some kind of chemical bomb to not *smoke* them out, but drive them out with either an awful stink or actually toxic fumes? We're in a lab, there must be some chemicals we can mix together.
No. 1069358 ID: 580aa8

No. 1069636 ID: a7a180
File 169103021670.png - (133.17KB , 500x500 , observ_ant.png )

>Check office supplies for anything useful
A quick survey turned up a box of spare staples, a notepad, a small cloth and bottle of cleaning fluid for eyeglasses, and a personalized pen decorated with googly eyes and a hat. Anet has appropriated the pen’s accessories for personal use.
For some reason there was also a very tiny decorative spoon, like something made for a doll’s tea set. It’s still out of scale for us, but it’s got some heft as a blunt object.
No. 1069637 ID: a7a180
File 169103022755.png - (135.43KB , 500x500 , buckets_o_fun.png )

>Chemical warfare!
Yeah! We’re in a science classroom, so let’s use science against them!
“JNET, what if instead of trying to smoke them out, we mixed up something more directly offensive? Like a stink bomb, or poison?”
“Why, that would be against lab safety protocols! Which, don’t really apply anymore. You’ll be limited in what sorts of harmful effects you can cause with available chemicals, but I have a multitude of lesson plans you can follow to mix up myriad effects. Just avoid using things like acids where they could damage my motherboard, please.”
“Great! Come on girls, to the supply cabinets!”
“Okay, but weren’t we going to rest soon?” Anet asks.
“Oh, right. Well, I feel pretty alert now. But, do you need a rest?”
“No, not really…”
“Then it’s better if we mix up something to defend ourselves first. In case the xanthi come out of JNET’s shell.”
“Hm, that’s true.”
We collect Jaina and traverse the classroom to the chemical cupboard. Someone in the past unlocked it and messed about with some chemicals, as evidenced by the stains of more than a few spills.

“I see you’ve made it to the chemical supply. Does everything inside seem intact?”
“Um… For the most part! A few of them are already open.”
“Well, that’s to be expected. There should be enough to do dozens of experiments.”
“Woo, experiments!” Anet shouts.
“Now you’re going to need containers to transfer the chemicals into. Those should be stored in the cabinet to the left…”
The lab equipment stored next door to it is too large for us to use properly, but it includes four test tubes that can hold liquids, and some eyedroppers we can use to transfer chemicals in a slightly unwieldy manner.
“Hm. That’s something, but you might want to find a better container for mixing the stink bomb. A disposable glove, perhaps? Other containers/tools could be obtained from the xanthi up on the table perhaps, they used to live on the other table and dabbled in chems themselves.” “Normally I’d give you a safety lesson before mixing chemicals, but since we’re short on time and using very basic equipment, I’m just going to say: don’t let anything mix unless I explicitly tell you to. Are we clear?”
“Clear as cellophane!” Anet nods.
“Good. Now, here are some ideas for substances you can mix, listed from simplest to hardest. Some of them you may be able to tweak the recipe for different or combined effects. The easiest recipes will take less time and caution. The harder recipes usually involve things higher on the shelves, and could take several hours and multiple reactions to make. There are also a few substances with useful effects right out of the jar.”
>Pick up to four recipes to work on:

>Chem 101
Food coloring: Nontoxic dyes of many different colors. Instant fuzz: Grow a thin layer of hair-like substance on anything! Scent neutralizer: A sweet smelling substance. Gets rid of any stink, such as the one you want to make.

>Chem 102
Fog: Won’t set off the smoke alarm, but isn’t particularly irritating to breathe. A good way to disperse other chemicals. Cryoline: Instantly condenses a thin layer of ice when exposed to air. Stink bomb: This simple experiment gone wrong reeks like something that died, came back to life and died again!

>Chem 103
Slime: Sticky and feels gross, but it’s safe to eat. Lube: Slippery! Not much else to say. Stiffener: A thick liquid that hardens in air into a clear, brittle substance. Somewhat quick-acting. Ethanol: Flammable, but also known to impair faculties (and students) when drunk.

>Chem 201
Magnesium: Produces a bright flash when it combusts. Try not to look directly at the flare! Bubbly foam: Rapidly expands into a short-lived frothy foam. Another good dispersal agent, with slippery properties. Toxin: It’s possible you could craft a contact poison that would impair motor control, but you’d have to be very careful how you handle it.
No. 1069638 ID: 1effd3

Cryoline+Instantfuzz sounds like it could be a fun time.
Fog+Stiffener is basically the harder to make version of above
No. 1069642 ID: 8f9bc4

1. use food coloring to turn all their orange hilighters blue.
2. their whole civilization collapses leaving nought but ashes
3. easily enter robot lady for repairs
No. 1069643 ID: 273c18

Too bad we can't make Cryoline in mass quantities to cool JNET down enough she can shake out the intruders.

>stink bomb
Oh hey we can just put some of those in JNET's intake from the outside to flush them out, then use the scent neutralizer to cure the odor while someone guards the entrance to keep them from coming in before we do.
That's my plan. No fighting needed. Though, if we wind up having to fight someone, we can make some lube and splash it on foes.
No. 1069674 ID: 3a16f1

Hopefully we don't make anything that'll harm Jnet's circuitry. I'd feel really bad if she gets even more messed up than she already is!
No. 1069739 ID: 87e33c

I like this, but first, make slime so you dont run out of rations because you now have Bright Eyes' Rations worth to deal with. It'll at least make it so food lasts you longer.
No. 1069777 ID: c37138
File 169126537524.png - (109.49KB , 500x500 , stretch_armstrong.png )

“Okay JNET, tell us how to make a stink bomb!”
“Oh, is that all you want? What about fuzz, or cryoline? Cryoline’s cool. No pun intended.”
“Nope, a stink bomb’s definitely the best idea.”
”Fine. after all, why wouldn’t I want my insides to smell like miasma.” JNET huffs.
“Don’t worry, we’ll make freshener to clear it out later. Oh, and let’s make some lube, in case anyone’s still in there after we bug bomb it.”
<Excuse me?> Pent raises an eyebrow at my words.
“Uh, just an expression.”
<Hey. Me zztill hungry.> Bright Eyes pokes my side.
“Ah. Well… stink, freshener, lube, that leaves one tube left, um… JNET, how edible is this slime exactly?”
”It’s very sweet. If you add a little food coloring, it helps you ignore the texture.”
“Well, let’s try it and see.”
The first thing we prepare is the freshener, just in case. JNET assigns us all different tasks for her lesson plan - Bright Eyes does the heavy lifting of test tubes and finding more eyedroppers to use, so we don’t mix chemicals out of turn. Pent is responsible for remembering which dropper is used for which chem, and Anet and Jaina transfer the stuff via the droppers. I get to climb the shelves describing bottles to JNET, to figure out which chem is which from the faded labels and odd smells.
It takes a lot of climbing up and down looking for the right reagent, but I don’t mind, I feel like I’ve found my second wind after-
No. 1069778 ID: c37138
File 169126537930.png - (103.37KB , 500x500 , get_dunked_on.png )

Oh, my hand slipped. Ack!

No. 1069799 ID: f14228

Tread/float water until someone can lower you a rope to climb up with again. Unless you landed in the lube. In which case you have to TIE the rope around you and let them haul you up, or you're just gonna be slippin' off.
No. 1069808 ID: 8f9bc4

OH NO did you fall in Instant Fuzz???
No. 1069819 ID: 273c18

Don't swallow any of... whatever that is. There's a rope, so someone can retrieve you.
No. 1069977 ID: a7a180
File 169153922683.png - (146.61KB , 500x500 , catch_of_the_day.png )

I flail around in sudden confusion. Help!
>Did you fall in instant fuzz?
Oh no what DID I fall in? Aaah! I try very hard not to swallow any of it!
Okay, relax Sam, just tread- whatever this is…
I gasp as Bright Eyes pulls me out of the beaker.
Anet runs up to my side. “Sam! Are you okay?”
“Maybe?! What did I fall into?”
”I’m unsure which container that was. More information is required. Do you see a label?”
“I… It’s missing!”
“Hm. Do you feel a burning sensation, or nausea?”
“Any smell?” “No.”
”What color is it.” “Uh… pale blue…”
”Hm. Probably just purified water, then. You’re lucky it wasn’t something worse. Please be careful next time.”
Oh, phew… Alright, I’m going to play it way safer on the ropes now. That surprise took the second wind right back out of me.
No. 1069978 ID: a7a180
File 169153923773.png - (149.53KB , 500x500 , small_unit_tactics.png )

Mixing continues much like a science class, stirring things and watching the solution change colors. JNET stops to talk a lot about the different molecular interactions at play, but it’s interesting enough that we listen politely. With the batch of freshener complete and smelling like citrus, we move on to its opposite. It’s an experiment intended to demonstrate how the body converts carbohydrates from fuel into energy, but a little high sugar solution makes the fuel go sour. We take a break at a step in the stink process that involves letting the sugar mix ferment. I end up sharing a high shelf hangout with Jaina again.
“Hey, Sam. Got a question for you.”
“So we have these tubes full of chemicals. How are we going to actually use them on those xanthi? We can’t just hold a test tube up to JNET’s rear, pour one into the other and hope the reaction wafts in. What are we going to do if the stink bomb doesn’t clear everybody out?”
“Well… there shouldn’t be many left if it’s as bad as JNET says. The numbers should be back on our side, and we made that lube just in case. So, hope for the best, and we’ll figure it out when we get there.” I shrug.
Jaina shakes her head. “You can’t just go in there hoping for the best. We need to coordinate our strategy. We’re both really sensitive to smells, us and the Beformicans. Our side will need a steady supply of freshener and a way to use it, or our numbers won’t mean much if we can’t see straight. Thanks for the medicine, by the way, my head is really starting to clear.”
No. 1069988 ID: 273c18

Time to find out if *you're* sensitive to smells. If you can stand the stink then you'll have an advantage.
Also consider cloth to cover your allies' smelling organs, whatever those are.
No. 1069990 ID: e631be

Aren't antennae used to smell?
No. 1069991 ID: be210c

>We can’t just hold a test tube up to JNET’s rear, pour one into the other and hope the reaction wafts in.
Jaina makes it sound like we're going to shove something into Jnet's butt, which sounds very lewd!

>how to use freshener for our side?
We could soak some cloth into the fresher and put the cloth around our allies' antennae to prevent them from being affected by the stink bomb.

As for how to use the stink bomb on the enemy……I don't know.
No. 1070035 ID: e8e79a

When in doubt, consult your friend the robot encyclopedia.
No. 1070084 ID: a7a180
File 169179418298.png - (144.63KB , 500x500 , theres_the_rub.png )

“Well, to answer your first question… I don’t really know. But I know who might know.”
“JNET, what’s the best way for us to actually deploy this stuff?”
”I’m happy to answer that. Those disposable gloves I mentioned earlier - find some and tie them over the tubes as the reaction occurs. The odorous vapor they give off will be contained, and pressure buildup should be enough to expel that into the vents.”
“Oh, inflating the glove like a balloon! Of course…” That’s still really big, but it’d be much lighter.
“Correct. And if you want smaller containers, you can cover the test tube caps with a rubber sheet cut from the gloves. Or… those amateur chemists living up on the table certainly have some type of container suited to throwing. How to convince them to part with it is on you. As for the lube, if you find any cotton swabs, you could dip one end in the lubricant to use as a brush. You may find yourself fighting a vertical battle inside me - whether horizontal or vertical, lubricant will be hard to see so baiting them over pre-prepared spots should give you the upper hand. Is that sufficient detail for you, Jaina?”
“...Yeah, that’s fine,” she replies, sheepish.

>Are you sensitive to smells? Cover your smelling organs with cloth
Not nearly as much as the Formicans. They smell with their antennae, while I (mostly) smell with my tongue, so if something stinks I can just keep my mouth shut. -Hmm, maybe we can keep my tongue and their antennae covered the same way.
“And, I just had an idea for how to avoid the smell! Doctors in the really, really old days used to deal with the smell of their patients by wearing a full face mask that stretched out past their snout, like a beak, and the tip of the mask would be stuffed with perfume, or herbs, and other stuff. They thought it’d keep them from getting sick, but… Point is, we could hold a reservoir of the freshener right in front of our faces to mask the smell! And a beak shape would fit both my face and your antennae.”
Jaina nods, surprised. “Yeah, that does sound clever ...Sorry if I was a bit snippy.”
“You’re fine, this is a big plan we’re preparing for. You can’t overlook the small details…” I absentmindedly pat Jaina on the back. “Ah, sorry. Is that still sore?”
“Yes, but not there. …It would be nice, actually, if you could rub there again. It’d distract me from how much my back itches.”
“Sure, I don’t mind.”
I start caressing her shoulders with more vigor, which helps us both relax. My tail kinda starts swishing as I stand there, with Jaina kicking her legs over the side. Rubbing her lower shoulders is like giving an awkward hug, even with her stretching the upper arms over my head and out of the way. It's... nice.
No. 1070086 ID: a7a180
File 169179453558.png - (129.98KB , 500x500 , big_sister.png )

Too soon, our break ends, and we get back to work making the other recipes. The lubricant and slime are finished without any fuss as we go through the mixing process repeatedly. Bright Eyes is asked what color she wants the slime to be dyed, to which she eagerly picks <Red!>
Finally, we’re all done for now. The stink bomb ingredients’ tubes are capped and carefully lowered to the ground for transport, while the slime and lubricant tubes are poured out into the caps for easier access.
Anet dips a finger in the slime jelly and sticks it in her mouth to taste, taking it back out with a look of approval. “Hey Sam! You should try some of this, it’s really good!” She runs over while I’m toweling myself off.
Wait a second. …Has Anet gotten taller?

>Get insulation
>Get comfy
>Visit the village
>Get something else
>Get started!
No. 1070088 ID: eb7ce4

she should probably not eat too much of that stuff
No. 1070089 ID: a9af05

>Wait a second. …Has Anet gotten taller?
Two possibilities:
1.) The slime stuff she's eating is making her taller.

2.) The stuff you fell in wasn't purified water and it's going to be making you smaller again!

If it's the first possibility, I have to ask how did you make the slime stuff red? Did someone accidentally put that experimental "queen making potion" into the slime to give it the red color?

If it ends up being the second possibility, getting Jnet up and running will let her quickly move around the classroom to gather ingredients to make something to counteract what's making you smaller……hopefully.
No. 1070090 ID: 1effd3

double check what Anet is actually eating
No. 1070152 ID: 273c18

Well I guess if everyone in the group is eating both rations and slime that's fine. Just make sure the food is being eaten at a sustainable rate.

Visit the village.
No. 1070157 ID: 4615f1

You know what, encourage her to eat tons of it. Time for some science.
No. 1070238 ID: a7a180
File 169205765441.png - (160.28KB , 600x500 , the_incredible_shrinking_sam.png )

>Better not let her have more of that stuff
>You know what, let her eat tons of it. For science
“Um, Anet can I have a taste of that stuff?”
“Yeah, of course!”
I take a swipe with my own finger from the handful Anet brought over. It tastes very sugary, but it doesn’t make me suddenly grow or anything. Then how is she..?
“Anet, are you standing on something right now?” I look down. She is on equal footing.
“Uh… the ground. Why do you ask?” She looks at me like I just grew antennae.
“Because I’m standing up straight and, you’re… up, to here?” I wave my hand between the heads, in a roughly straight line.
“Yeah, you’re right… Hey Jaina?”
“Come over here a second.”
“Why, what do you- Huh.” Nope, Anet isn’t growing taller. Unless Jaina and Pent are too. I think…
“...I’m shrinking! Again! How is that possible?”
There’s a moment of dumbfounded confusion before JNET’s voice comes from overhead. “Oh, err… perhaps that wasn’t water you fell in, after all.”
“You think? What was it, then?”
“Well… the lab stocked one other odorless, light blue chemical: sodium smolfate. It induces a temporary, reducer-like reaction in objects immersed in it, which normally isn’t entire students but, you are an exceptional case.”
“Is this what the reducer runs on? Oh, no, I’m gonna be a speck, a tiny speck!”
“Calm down, I said it’s only temporary. And no, the science behind the reducer is similar but is not powered by chemical reaction. This method is much less efficient, meaning you will only see 25% body reduction at most. It’s meant to demonstrate the properties of reduced objects.”
“For how long? Why didn’t you tell us there was shrinking serum in the cabinet?”
“Well… The effects should wear off after a couple of hours, depending on length of exposure. As you can see, it’s fairly slow acting. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t think it was relevant to your chemical concoction efforts, it wouldn’t be an effective tool to reduce the xanthi’s strength. What would you do, convince them to take a dip then wait two hours to fight?”
“Is there an antidote to make it wear off faster?” My remaining inch of height is very precious to me!
“I’m afraid not. Just try to relax, and let it pass naturally. Watch your step, okay girls? -My apologies, that was only a joke.”
The only one I still have a height advantage over, for now, waves off my concern. <Relax, tallman. Being the shortest one for a while isn’t such a big deal.>
I seem to be the only one not finding this disaster funny!
No. 1070239 ID: a7a180
File 169205766267.png - (130.12KB , 500x500 , get_some_better_material.png )

>Visit the village
As much as I want to protest otherwise, my temporary height loss is not a pressing issue, yet. It’s a perfectly normal height to Anet or Pent.
We walk back over to the table, hoping to find some of the containers JNET spoke about. The ones they keep throwing at her, presumably. As we approach, Pent suddenly looks up and yells, <Watch out!>
I hear a faint shout from above as she narrowly dodges something that splatters on the ground. It smells like overripe eggplant.
“Is this how they say hello?” Jaina says, blanching and gripping her spear.
”If so, it seems to be how they communicate most things.”
Anet braces against the stench and examines the impact zone. “Look, that bomb was covered in this green stuff.”
“Sis no, why are you poking that?” Pent starts poking it too. “Please don’t encourage her.”
<It’s a thick skin made from something that sticks to itself, filled with… well, trash and other stuff best not to think about. It’s pretty gross, but we could use these the same way, for stink bombs or slip bombs too. We should find out how they make this stuff.>
It’s quite a climb up there… Climbing a stool then grappling the edge would be more straightforward, but they might hurl more bombs at us if we’re spotted. The overhang would protect us if we climbed up the central post, but then we’d have to climb along the bottom somehow…

>Barter for it: suggest approach/offers
>Steal some: loud or quiet
No. 1070246 ID: 8f9bc4

> sodium smolfate

send help I'm dying
No. 1070310 ID: 3a16f1

Do we even have anything worth trading to them?
No. 1070311 ID: a7a180

Depends on what we’re willing to offer!
No. 1070319 ID: 3a16f1

Maybe we could offer them our Insulation Shards or our Scrap of Armor?
No. 1070332 ID: aaed18

Grab the insulation from the seats and don’t approach at all.
No. 1070410 ID: a7a180
File 169245866172.png - (128.20KB , 500x500 , queen_kong.png )

>Make a trade, take the chair
Directly approaching them favors taking the direct approach. What could they want? The shards? They’re very sharp, but these could be so much more than a pointed stick to the right people, that is to say scientists. This stuff’s supposed to be unbreakable. And the armor could be useful to someone about to get in a fight, such as us. But that just confirms it has value, right?
We start climbing the stool, which leads to them throwing a few more goo-bombs our way. Fortunately, their aim is poor. Bright Eyes carries me so we can climb faster. Somewhat concerning to me is that she only needs one hand to do it. I sure am glad she’s on our side...
When we reach the top of the stool, she jumps up the rest of the way up to cuss out the guard more, causing my stomach to lurch.
Startled by her jumping up and immediately getting in his face, he clutches his weapon.
<You! Zztop throwing ztuff at uz!> She shouts.
<No! Go away!>
<Not til you tell us what ztuff made from!>
<What? It’s trash! We throw trash at you til you go away!>
<Not talking about trazh, what you put trazh in!> She gesticulates at the guard’s stockpile of bombs by waving me at it, so I try to clarify further by pointing at it.
<What? …You mean the green stuff?> The question catches him by surprise. While the guard’s distracted by Bright Eyes, Jaina tosses her grapple up to the table and the rest of them start climbing up.
<Yezz! What is it?>
<…I dunno.>
<Well find zzomeone who doezz!>
<…Okay?> He seems confused that she hasn’t attacked him yet. The guard wanders off into the tabletop settlement to find somebody else to dump this problem on.
No. 1070411 ID: a7a180
File 169245866627.png - (157.10KB , 500x500 , big_boss.png )

The guard brings back another xanthi that doesn’t look too happy at the interruption. Her smock is covered in the green stuff, though, which makes this the right lady to talk to.
<This had better be good… Who the hemp are you, and what you want?>

Knowing how xenophobic and aggressive xanthi are, how should I open negotiations?
>We want that goop!
>We want to chase off those robot squatters.
>We want your stuff, you want our stuff.
>How do you make that green stuff?
No. 1070412 ID: f8083d

Start with flattery: "Your green goop works great! How do you make it?"
No. 1070415 ID: b7e3c4

>Somewhat concerning to me is that she only needs one hand to do it.
Because you're still getting smaller. And Jnet wasn't even sure it would wear off, so get comfortable since this could be your new permanent size!

Also, if you get any smaller, you'll become a liability and one of your teammates will have to always carry you to make sure you don’t get stepped on. Then again, with how everyone else thinks it's funny that you're getting smaller, it's possible that they don't care about your safety. They might even step on you themselves so they can be done with this adventure and they can go back to their homes, without having to waste their time protecting you anymore.
No. 1070416 ID: a9af05

Do you think these guys would be interested in the stuff that's making Sam smaller? I'm sure they would love to use it against their enemies to make them smaller!

Then again, that information might not be good enough to trade for the information on how to make that green stuff.
No. 1070570 ID: a7a180
File 169275413225.png - (129.16KB , 500x500 , sneak_snake.png )

>If you get any smaller, you'll become a liability
I'm starting to worry about these intrusive thoughts. They only made light of my plight after JNET told us it was temporary. I shouldn't accuse them of being cold and callous because of a joke.
>Maybe they’d be interested in smolfate?
JNET just said that stuff's not practical for gaining an edge in warfare! It is, however, practical for making me very nervous around these Beformicans who were twice my size before its effects.

We decide to let Anet put a friendly foot forward.
“Hi! That goo stuff you use to hold trash works great. How do you make it?”
The xanthi only scowls deeper. <We not tell you. Is ours.>
“Please? We just want to know how to make our own.”
<Get out, we not sharing.>
“We- we’ll trade for it!”
<This is not negotiation. You want drugs, go huff markers, like those roaches inside bigger roach.>
“Seriously, what did I ever do to you? You literally throw this stuff away, it can’t be that valuable.”
<Not talking to you! You want green stuff, you get it straight to face!> She angrily waves a rake in JNET’s direction.
“We’re not - wait, is that goo some kind of drug?”
<Not telling you! Shoo!>
The argument becomes a three way bickering contest. From the back of the group, Pent beckons towards me. I ask Bright Eyes to put me down, and she does so gently. I slowly scoot backwards, with nobody seeming to notice or care. Pent kneels next to me and whispers.
<I don’t think this is gonna go anywhere. If you really want this goop, now’s the best time to go find some. Use that size to your advantage.>
I might… be able to do that, actually. These houses are built to Beformican scale, I could use lots of unexpected angles for cover. There can’t be that many places to check up here.
>Go looking for the goop? (25% chance of immediate success)
No. 1070572 ID: 8f9bc4

You don't need to find the goop itself. They'll literally throw it at you. What you were looking for is the formula! And an alliance. They're not interested of course.

It says only a 25% chance of immediate success, so maybe if you sneak away you'll find some way to improve your odds exploring around this place.

I mean, if you really want to find this goop at all. How was it going to help clean out bigger roach, again? I mean JNET?
No. 1070579 ID: 139b7e

>JNET told us it was temporary.
That's only based on when she observed it being used on the Formicans. There's a possibility that it could affect you differently, which could result in it being permanent, lasting longer, etc. Speaking of getting smaller…

>Pent kneels next to me
If the smallest person in your group has to kneel down to talk to you, wouldn't that mean that you've shrunk more than the 25% Jnet said you'd shrink? If you've only lost 25% of your height, you wouldn't be that small! This is more like a 75% size reduction!

>Go looking for the goop?
Yeah, you might as well use your new tiny size to your advantage and go look for that goop.

Just try not to get stepped on or eaten while you're in your extra shrunken size!
No. 1070606 ID: 8f9bc4


"Oh did I say 25% size reduction? I meant 25% size retention!"
No. 1070608 ID: a9af05

Might as well go looking for the stuff. Just be careful in areas where there's lots of people walking around!
No. 1070651 ID: 3a16f1

Yes, go look. Try climbing on top of something to get a better look around.

>Have you shrunk more than 25%?
Maybe because he was shrunk by a Reducer, the Sodium Smolfate might be reacting differently and shrinking him more than expected.

It truly sucks that Sam has to suffer such a smol fate. *ba dum tss*
No. 1070658 ID: 00444f

Better get searching before you become ant sized from the ants perspective.
No. 1070817 ID: a7a180
File 169301274175.png - (115.17KB , 500x500 , the_perfect_disguise.png )

>Sam’s current size: ½ in.

>Just use the goo they shoot at you
That stuff’s no good, it’s contaminated by, ech… whatever’s inside it. Goo bombs are strictly single-use.

>Search result: Miss
Sneaking goes well - guess they’re not used to looking down, just like I’m not used to looking up so much! I can smell a very strong odor coming from the closest papier-mache hut. Peeking inside, I can see some mats on the floor and chunks of insulation scattered about. Someone’s sitting inside facing away from the door, the floor around him dotted with flecks of green. As I tiptoe inside to investigate, I hear someone approaching the hut and quickly duck behind a piece of insulation. A pair of xanthi come in and greet the tent's resident. Good thing I practiced my Formican, because I don’t have anybody to translate for me right now.
<Hey Roach. We back now.>
<How’z this batch?>
They take something from a bowl next to him, and eat it. It’s… green. That’s probably what I smelled. Could the goo be made from pulping that stuff into a paste?
<You see those strangers that climb up? I never seen anyone so short, man.>
<They just jumped up and start yelling at Chuck, then Weaver went out to yell at them. Even bot joined in.>
<What everybody so mad about, man? You think someone who spend all day growing our weed be more chill.>
<I dunno Smoke, Weaver look like she just woke up.>
<Or maybe skimming all the slime out the tube cancels it out, hahaha!>
Now they’re just chatting and laughing together. Darn, looks like this isn’t the right place. I start to plan my exit... Wait, one’s coming this way. She sits on the pillow I’m hiding under, smushing me against the wall.
<Hahah. Man, your pillows are always so lumpy.>
Welp. This may take longer than I thought.

>Keep searching? (50-50 odds of finding it/being caught)
No. 1070827 ID: 4d7c58

Keep searching. Even if you cant find it and get caught, they're not going to see you for much longer in like, 2 or 4 updates
No. 1070923 ID: 7bcc14

Now that I think about it, these guys seem pretty friendly and chill. What if we ask them for help?
No. 1070994 ID: 3a16f1

Better keep looking. Let's hope you continue to not be seen!
No. 1071117 ID: a7a180
File 169326809092.png - (107.51KB , 500x500 , snake_snaaaaaake.png )

>Continued search result: Caught
My unknowing jailer eventually gets tired of adjusting her seat and finds a less lumpy spot to lay down. I’m feeling a little sore all over, but at least from their conversation I have a better idea of where to look. So, they grow their food and the goo in the same place. I just need to find their farm, and… a-ha! The tube they mentioned. It’s the tallest thing on the table. It’s a graduated cylinder with large clumps of moss growing on the inside, above a greenish reservoir of water. There’s a layer of scum floating on top of the water that looks just like the stuff we need! This farming method is ingenious, you have to give them credit. Looks like the coast is clear around the tent, time to-

oh no.

No. 1071118 ID: a7a180
File 169326810697.png - (85.38KB , 500x500 , groove_ruined.png )


I land face first with a thump into the stool. At least she didn’t aim for the floor…

The girls had already left the village. Bright Eyes hops back up to retrieve me and we return to the teacher’s desk.

Okay, that’s enough preparation for today. We are definitely calling it a night after that. The only question is what we’re going to do after we wake up.

>Attack immediately!
>Craft new armor (insulating, but bulky)
>Go back and ask the village for backup (Their leader is very annoyed with you)
>Other: >_
No. 1071121 ID: 14a3b8

Craft new armor. Especially if you continue to shrink while you sleep.
No. 1071196 ID: 885c82

You'd better hope that stuff has wore off and you're not still smaller than the others. Because if you're still tiny, then you're a liability and won't be able to help much. Someone will be forced to carry you with them to make sure you don’t get hurt and you'll be getting in the way because they can't fight effectively while having to babysit you.

>what do?
As the most fragile member of the group, you'll need some armor to protect yourself.
No. 1071210 ID: a9af05

Just be glad that a fall from that height didn't break your neck and kill you!

>what do we do in the morning?
Make sure you have everything prepared. Get your stink bombs ready, some rags soaked in scent neutralizer wrapped around your face and the antennae of the women in your harem.

……have you thought about milking the venom from your fangs to use as a weapon? Or would that not work?
No. 1071217 ID: 3a16f1

>use Sam's venom?
Unless it can be combined with the Fog chemical to make it breathable, I don't believe his venom would work. I'm not even sure he can produce enough of it to even use it like a weapon.
No. 1071237 ID: 8a6a52

Only one way to find out! Find a container and start milking those fangs!
No. 1071761 ID: a7a180
File 169396661452.png - (128.49KB , 500x500 , fun_size_sam.png )

We’ll lose some of our maneuverability advantage, but I’ll bet it’s more pleasant than receiving a high voltage shock. I’ll go scavenging with Pent tomorrow while the others retrieve our chemical stash.

>Can you milk your venom?
…Not in large enough quantities to help? I’m, um, not practiced at milking my venom myself, and it can be a hazardous process for the inexperienced. Not that I’d know anything about that… In a pinch, I’ll still have it in my bite for self-defense.

>about that 25%...
“Um, JNET?”
“Yes, Sam?”
“So, when you said a 25% reduction in height, what does that mean exactly? Because I am looking at Jaina’s knees right now.”
"Estimated size at peak of reaction is 25% of original size."
“So, not 25% size reduction, but 25% size retention.”
“Yes. Apologies if some nuance was lost in translation. You’ll be at your smallest soon, but when you finish your rest cycle, your height should be right as rain, and hopefully you’ll be all ready to drive the squatters out of my circuits!”
“Yep, looking forward to it…”
I know I promised to help her, but the enormity of the task is really settling in as we get closer to following through. I’m not the best at fighting even at ‘normal’ height. If they don’t react to the big stink, will we be able to handle the blowback?
That’s when I catch Jaina staring at me with a curious look. I stare back awkwardly, wondering if she picked up on my cold feet. Her gaze makes me feel like I’ve started shrinking faster.
“Hmm. You know, at this size, it’s dangerous to sleep alone.”
“...It is?”
“Oh, yeah. Someone could pick you up and carry you off before we’d even have a chance to wake. Don’t worry, I have a plan.”
“Will it keep me safe from getting snatched?”
“Oh, definitely.”
No. 1071762 ID: a7a180
File 169396662738.png - (102.47KB , 500x500 , snug_as_a_bug.png )

Hm. This isn’t so bad, really.

>Sam's height: 1/4 in.

Some small part of me - well, even smaller now - is worried about being a liability. Jaina, Anet, even Bright Eyes have been at risk or even gotten hurt in order to keep me safe at some point or another. Am I just dragging the others down?
Well, that’s not quite right. First off, the main point of this journey is an escort mission, and I’m the one being escorted. And I haven’t been totally useless, either. I’ve come up with a few ideas to help out. Most of them were even successful… The Formicans have lost a lot of their own culture, and I’ve picked up just enough of the pieces to be able to see the whole picture. I’m an archaeologist, that’s what I do. It’s how I can help. These ants have been living in a giant’s world their entire lives, so they know from experience: size isn’t everything.
But, being held by Jaina like this... Call me weak, but having someone so much bigger and stronger watching over me makes me feel safe.
No. 1071763 ID: a7a180
File 169396663266.png - (153.70KB , 500x500 , a_little_teasing.png )

At some point, I drift off to the sound of Jaina’s heartbeat and the still slightly feverish warmth of her chest. But, it doesn’t last forever, and after closing my eyes for what feels like only a brief moment I’m up again and fully conscious. I’m not sure whether it’s the constant bright light outside our shelter, Jaina being a little too warm for comfort, or just my mounting anxiety, but I can’t sleep anymore. I carefully crawl out of bed, leaving Jaina behind to sleep off her sickness.
I tiptoe outside of our shelter and peek outside. We set up our camp on top of the desk like JNET suggested so she could keep an eye out for us, but we still elected to sleep in shifts. Using paper from the notepad from the top drawer we folded a tent to keep out the light, and Bright Eyes took the first watch. Anet and Pent are on watch now, so I walk over to hang out with them. I find myself hesitating as I get close - even their abdomens hang overhead, their smallish statures now as intimidating as the Beformicans to me.
Anet casually looks over her shoulder and waves me over. “Oh hey Sam, we didn’t see you down there. Come sit with us.”
“Yeah yeah, enjoy being tall - while it lasts.”
“Thank you, I will.”
<We were gonna set up a fire to keep us warm on our watch, but JNET reminded us about the sprinklers so I guess we’re just sitting around an unlit campfire now.>
I hop up on the pen between the two gi-ants, and they immediately slide closer together, surrounding me.
“Are you two trying to squish me?”
“Just making sure you’re safe,” Anet teases.
“I think I’m safe enough as is. Anything happen while you were on watch?”
“Nope, nothing to worry about. We were just chatting about future plans.”
<How about you, Sam? What kinda stuff will you do when you’re big again?>
“Well, like I told Anet earlier, try to excuse my absence…”
<Yeah, yeah, and besides that?>

>Choose 2 topics:
>Sam’s career
>Pent’s family
>Anet’s village
>Browse the holo-lens
>...Has anyone seen my hat?
>JNET’s story

>Choose who to go back to sleep with:
>Bright Eyes
No. 1071764 ID: 1effd3

No. 1071797 ID: 8a6a52

Holy fuck, this.
No. 1071812 ID: 234d89

Hat JNET Jaina (she's been nice, oh be sure she is less infected)
No. 1071818 ID: f9ee19

Anet's village, hat for the first one. Jaina for the second (its very cute image, her holding him like a teddy bear).
No. 1071833 ID: f14228

Sam's career will probably go into freefall after going missing without much in the way of an explanation other than 'I got lost in the desert' for so long - so the question is what he might do instead of xenoarchaeology.

He still likes the concept of it, and is fascinated with formican history, but... maybe he'd better quit while he's ahead. There's plenty of other jobs he could skill up in, out there, ranging from the academic to the practical; physicist, spacetaxi driver, asteroid miner, accountant, electrical engineer, fantasy/sci-fi book author, etc.

Or maybe he can convince his prof and keep at it... there are other lost civilizations out there, and he does feel a little encouraged in his line of work, having found one. So if at first you don't succeed (or can't report on it), try try again, right? He'd have to branch out from studying just Formicans though.

Then browse the Hololens. With JNET here, you might even learn more about the goings-on in it than you otherwise would!

As for who to join after, Sam intends to go back to Jaina - but a drowsy Bright Eyes secures him as a teeny hugtoy! And to ask a few questions about the world of the biggies. Having seen him shrink - and the size of JNET - her mind's been opened to the idea he used to be even larger than her.
No. 1071834 ID: 7c0da2

Talk about your career, it would be rude not to answer. Ask about your hat next.
Then back to Jaina.
No. 1071853 ID: a9af05

Try not to think about how you're now small enough that you could fit between one of your companion's boobs now.

Do this.
No. 1071896 ID: f8083d

Sam's career and Anet's village.
No. 1071935 ID: 0bf5d8

>And I haven’t been totally useless, either. I’ve come up with a few ideas to help out. Most of them were even successful…
Your ideas won't be very useful if you're too small for anyone to hear you.

And do you really trust that this is temporary? Jnet made a mistake that was "lost in translation", so what if she made a mistake when she said that it was temporary? What if you get stuck at an even smaller size? If that happens, you won't be very useful for anything!

>2 topics
Pent’s family and Anet’s village

>who to sleep with?
No. 1071957 ID: 3a16f1

Yeah, any of the women in Sam's harem could easily pick him up and put him between their boobs just to tease him.

Do this one. We don't want Jania to have a panic attack if she wakes up and sees Sam isn't with her anymore!
No. 1072179 ID: a7a180
File 169446849407.png - (127.13KB , 500x500 , a_little_rambling.png )

I pause to consider Pent’s question. I guess I should be thinking longer term than that.
“When this fieldwork is over, I’m going to keep studying hard. Then I should go back to my family’s bookstore on break, and do some hiking again. It’ll be hard being an archaeologist knowing so much insider info I can’t share, but the field’s looking more exciting than ever. The moon’s still uncharted territory, maybe I’ll go there next.”
“What’s being an archaeologist like, anyway?” Anet asks.
“Well according to my professor, it’s usually a lot more paperwork and cross-referencing, but the fun part is combing through dusty old buildings poking stuff, but not too hard for fear it’ll collapse. Usually getting answers isn’t so straightforward with dead civilizations.”
Pent lifts my bag off my shoulders and takes a look inside. <Is that what all this stuff’s for?>
“Hey, be careful with that! Yes, it’s usually a little bigger but it’s all very important tools for handling artifacts delicately!” I’ve barely used any of these on this trip, but I’d rather have them and not need them, partially because the school expects them back.
<So, did the ‘answers’ you were getting line up with what you’ve seen so far?>
“Our best guesses were kind of close. They accomplished a lot and were highly advanced to have all this tech in their daily lives, but their reputation for single-minded hard work was overblown. They could still become complacent, and they knew how to have fun.”

“But enough about my career. So Anet, how’s that scouting for the village going?”
“Terrible! Nowhere we’ve visited is a better place to live than a nice little storage closet with lots of food and no giant cannibal Formicans hunting us.”
“Oh. Um, is that a problem?”
“Not yet! It just makes me appreciate how good we have it. There’s plenty more rooms to explore. Even if there’s no place else to move, the elders will think of something. Maybe they’ll agree that recovering technology and bringing it back to the village is the way to go. They’ll be blown away when we bring JNET back.” She turns to JNET and gives two thumbs up. “They’re going to love you!”
”I will be of service in any way I can to properly civilized Formicans, aside perhaps from real estate.” JNET whispers so as to not wake Jaina.

Pent seems lost in thought. <Lots of food, and none of Them. Your village sounds like paradise.>
“Well, it’s no city of the future, but it’s peaceful and prosperous. You’ll love it! There’s so many people there, hundreds even!”
<That’s- I’m definitely not used to that many people.>
“You’ll get to know them all with time! Starting with my family, because we are going to be neighbors. Tell me about your family, future neighbor!”
<You’ve met them all briefly. Grandma Beddy, that’s short for Bedrock, she’s a good storyteller. My mom’s Patty, er, Patio. She keeps track of what we’re low on and tells us what to look for. Her sister, Aunty Antoinette, she has a fondness for old stuff too. She goes scavenging with us hatchlings and does the trading at markets. My siblings Bann and Sandy are older, but I can beat them both in a fight. My dad says I’ve got a natural talent for it. Gravel’s a good hunter but the ceiling lights give him a headache, so he stays at home and watches our stash now.>
“Oh, is that why he wears that mask?”
<Nah, that’s just a trophy. Says it used to be the skull of the biggest, meanest guy he ever fought.>

Something about Gravel reminds me… “Wait a second. Has anyone seen my hat?”
The two of them twist and turn to check around the pen. “Um… am I sitting on it?” asks Anet.
<The last time I saw you with it was…>
Oh no, I left it with Pent’s family when I was trying on the hoodie.
“Darn it, I’ll never see that hat again!” I hiss, defeated. Anet picks me up and moves me to her lap to console me.
“I’m sorry. Did it mean a lot to you? We could grab it for you when we swing by them again.”
“No, it’s just a hat…” It's too silly to bring up, but I bought it to look like Sir Lyle. I can just buy another one somewhere.
<Speaking of things left behind, are you going to keep anything you found here?>
“...I don't know. I’d love to, but I’d have to lie about where I got them. Maybe if I keep them tiny, I can hide them… hmm.”
Suddenly, Anet leans into me, her grip becoming noticeably firmer as she brings her head closer to mine. “Um, speaking of that, Sam. I was thinking… You were worried about what you’ll say to people when you return, right? You could get in big trouble for disappearing without a good excuse. What if… I came back with you to back up your story?”
I don’t know how to respond at first. “…But Anet, that’d reveal Formicans are still alive to everybody. The secret would be out.”
Her antennae droop so low that they start tapping against me. “Well, I’d feel bad if you couldn’t keep researching Formicans because you learned too much. And I’m curious about the outside world, too! I want to meet more aliens, see how tallmen live, maybe even get to be a tallman! There's so much more out there to explore than this dusty old building.”
I try and think of how to talk her down from this, but the way she’s squeezing is making it difficult. “But… your village would miss you.”
She shakes her head. “I just wander around outside anyway, they wouldn’t notice the difference.”
“Your sister would…”

She doesn’t have a response for that.
No. 1072180 ID: a7a180
File 169446849972.png - (90.15KB , 500x500 , let_sleeping_giants_lie.png )

We go back to making small talk for a while. I start to feel tired again, so I head back inside the tent. Jaina’s still sleeping there peacefully, all symptoms of illness having passed. I smile and pat her on the head, happy that the power of modern medicine kept her infection from becoming something serious. She smiles back at me in her sleep. I crawl back into her arms and close my eyes to her heartbeat once more.

>You’re small enough to fit between one of your companion’s boobs now
I noticed, yes. It’s nice.
No. 1072181 ID: a7a180
File 169446850981.png - (119.74KB , 500x500 , how_did_it_end_up_like_this.png )

“Hey, you, yes I see you! Intruder alert!”

We wake up in the morning to the sounds of JNET raising the alarm.
Before I can do anything about that though, I realize I’m back to my previous size! And entangled in Jaina’s arms.

”What are you doing down there? Stay away from that tent! You better not try anything!”
No. 1072182 ID: 273c18

oh no how could this happen

be like "Uh we should probably get up and see who that is"
No. 1072238 ID: 3a16f1

>intruder alert!
I wonder why Jnet is announcing it? Weren't the other 3 girls taking turns on watch duty? Hopefully they only fell asleep and Jnet's announcement is waking them up!

>I realize I’m back to my previous size!
That's good!

>And entangled in Jaina’s arms.
Try to not think about how both of you are close enough to kiss!

……anyways, both of you should get up and grab your weapons in case whoever is out there ends up being hostile!
No. 1072342 ID: a9af05

You could probably make a joke about kissing each other, but now isn't really a good time for that.

Both of you should get up and see what's going on outside!
No. 1072807 ID: a7a180
File 169526209869.png - (98.11KB , 500x500 , demotivational_sticker.png )

What do I say after last night? I could lie here and try and come up with the words for hours, but JNET’s warning serves as a much simpler, more immediate response.
“W-we’d better get out there!”
“Uh, right!” Jaina is similarly eager to leave how we ended up like this unspoken.
We roll off the sleeping mat in opposite directions, grab whatever’s to hand, and poke our heads outside. The others are already up and taking up positions around our camp.
“JNET, what’s happening?”
“That’s right, run! Oh, Sam, Jaina, you just missed them. One of the xanthi crawled up while Anet and Pent were starting to nod off. My alert scared them off, but they managed to make it to the tent before retreating.”
BE looks around the back of the shelter and hisses. <Waz warning uzz.>
We follow her around to the side of the tent and notice a sticker hastily slapped there. The writing says ‘Nice job!’, but it seems to have been repurposed for a less encouraging message. Xs are drawn over the eyes, and green squiggles cover the cheeks and bottom of the head. That’s supposed to be blood, I think.
“Their intention is clear - don’t mess with them, or else. They must have figured out we’re planning something.“
“We’d better do it fast before they do something worse than leave a message.”
“This is a good sign, really. It tells us they are scared we will succeed.”
No. 1072808 ID: a7a180
File 169526210246.png - (85.92KB , 500x500 , computer_debugging.png )

We split up to accomplish our final tasks before the invasion. Bright Eyes and the sisters retrieve our chemical weapons from the cupboard while Pent and I try to avoid any unwelcome goo balls as we collect foam for our insulated armor. We tear up a couple chunks for each of us and toss them to the ground to collect. Under the shelter of the table, we hollow out some pieces to fit limbs, and cut the rest into sheets for the chest and helmets. Pent takes out some thread to sew the foam together into loose suits of armor.
We meet up with the others with our collected chemicals back under the teacher’s desk. As a last step, we use the collected capfuls of water to mold paper into masks and fit them to our faces. Once they’ve dried a little, we pour in the perfume. It’s overwhelmingly sweet, like… pure, concentrated flower garden smell. I certainly hope this is distracting enough from the gas.
<Not wearing thiz,> Bright Eyes complains. <Iz itchy.>
<Well it’s just too bad you don’t have something to wear under it, but you’re going to hate getting zapped a lot more than a little itch. You know what that’s like, right?> Pent gestures to her wired up weapon.
<Hmph. Fine…>
Finally, we’re armored up and ready to go. Our weapons are traded out for long padded swabs, aside from Pent’s insulated zap spear. The swabs aren’t as effective, but they’re at least safe to swing around. Beyond the padded stick I have my ancient pistol and a capful of lubricant. It’ll take longer to use than if we had managed to score any goo bombs, but it gets the job done.
Carefully, we combine the ingredients needed for the final stage of the stink bomb. The fuel already smells from fermenting all night, and the catalyst will surely accelerate that. The rubber glove finger is quickly secured over the cap, and it begins to inflate with a thick, rancid gas. Jaina tosses the grapple up to JNET’s hip and we begin the climb up her leg. Going up the front this way is supposed to avoid any sentries watching from the back, but… man, it feels weird climbing up her leg like this!
We slowly make our way around JNET’s waist and re-secure our rope in the small of her back. The rest of us hide up top as Jaina rappels down the side with a special delivery for the xanthi. In one swift motion, she cuts a hole in the tube, stuffs one end into a vent, and climbs back up before she’s noticed. At first, we don’t hear anything. The seconds pass uncomfortably slowly. But then, through the plastic shell we hear the sound of muffled complaining, followed by shouting. Coughing xanthi come streaming out of the vents, gagging for air as they stumble towards the desk. I didn’t get an exact count, but it seems like most of them were driven out. We hide on top of the abdomen until the sounds of retreating xanthi fade.
Now, we’re ready to enter through the opposite side. Hopefully that cloud lingers long enough to complete our task.

>Who should go in first?
No. 1072828 ID: 1effd3

I say Pent with zappy spear goes first
No. 1072843 ID: f8083d

Pent with zap goes in second.
Need someone sneakier and/or with a good eye for traps on point.
No. 1072867 ID: 9e0893

Well, normally I'd say Janet but given her current condition best have Bright Eyes take front with Pent right behind with the zappy stick.

Bright Eyes must have been pretty nomadic so probably knows how to deal with traps.
No. 1073467 ID: a7a180
File 169593839878.png - (154.32KB , 500x500 , be_aggressive.png )

>Need someone sneakier and/or with a good eye for traps on point.
No one’s better than Pent at traps!
>Pent second, Bright Eyes first
I nod at Bright Eyes and signal her to go down first. “<Good luck.>” She climbs down the side and disappears. We can hear sounds of combat as Pent leads the rest of us in.
The interior is quite unlike anything I’ve seen at this scale. The outer shell creates a dome high above our heads, sheltering a cross between a circuit board and a graffiti-strewn slum. The ground is bright blue interlaid with geometric patterns in gleaming silver. Scattered across it are big blocky chips with silicon prongs, barrel-like transistors, and improvised shelters. Some building-like chunks rise above the rest that must be subprocessors and heatsinks.
Through the gas, we spot our vanguard engaged in a slugfest with a Marked One. Bright Eyes throws punches, bites, and kicks at her opponent while she wrestles for control of his cotton-tipped spear. Every part of her body is a weapon. Her furious onslaught drives him back covered with cuts and bruises. Finally, she lands a punch that staggers him, and he stumbles over a raised circuit. It makes a barely perceptible noise and he twitches, falling over and hitting his head. He doesn’t get back up. Our first victory!
“What do we do with him now?” I wonder.
<Just roll him out,> Pent suggests.
“Woah, wait a moment. That is a not-insignificant fall to the ground. He might get hurt!”
“Maybe we… tie him to a rope first?” Says Anet.
“No, that would clue them in that something’s up,” Jaina points out.
“I would like to remind you all time is of the essence,” interrupts JNET. Her voice reverberates through her whole body. “Just tie his hands behind his back and move on, the stink won’t kill him. Don’t forget to clear the external vent blockages and pile them up away from the airflow. You can dispose of them fully later.”
“She’s right, let’s keep moving.” I run back to the entrance and start pulling chunks of foam inside the dome. I hope Jaina’s got enough rope for everybody.
No. 1073468 ID: a7a180
File 169593840316.png - (129.83KB , 500x500 , caught_down_in_the_pants.png )

The computer environment gains a mechanical element as we move toward the hips and musculoskeletal systems become involved in the infrastructure. The circuit board narrows, linking to articulated segments via a cable network that leads into a narrow tunnel under the base of JNET’s spine. We climb through the junction into another slightly more open space, JNET’s, ahem, pelvic region, or thorax I suppose. This area is warmer than the last, thanks to all the stuffing wedged into the joints. The trunks of her legs are like two pits, with a series of disc-like struts dividing them into segmented compartments. You could take a nasty fall down into one if you’re not careful. Beyond the initial drop it becomes a narrow set of vertically separated landings.
Two more Marked Ones just climbed up from the legs and are surprised to see us. They draw together for defense, but we have them outnumbered.

>Choose a strategy:
>Drive them down into one of the legs
>Flank them to cut off their escape
>Split them up to deal with separately (who do you team with?)
>Pin one down to prevent them running and fight in the open
>Use an item: slippery lube/sticky slime/other (see inventory)
No. 1073560 ID: 9e0893

Rush in with the lube Q-Tips, aim for the legs and try to get them to trip and slip and fall off the ledge they're standing by.
No. 1073564 ID: a9af05

Do this!
No. 1073966 ID: f8273a

Rush them down and take them out!
No. 1076434 ID: a7a180
File 169913084710.png - (119.19KB , 500x500 , the_bigger_they_are.png )

>Used item: Lube
We use the agreed upon tactic of tripping up the Marked Ones with our lubed up swabs. This catches them off balance and knocks them flat on their backs into the leg pit. We swiftly hop down and press the advantage, giving them no chance to strike back. They try to crawl away and drop down further into the leg for some cover, but Bright Eyes simply drags them back to be walloped repeatedly with cotton-balled sticks. My swings with this weapon don’t feel particularly effective, but it’s what we have to work with.
Eventually the noises of protest stop and they curl up into a ball, presumably beaten senseless, or at least catching the hint to stop putting up a fight. Unfortunately, our swabs have dried up, the quantity of lube we were able to carry expended. At least it was put to good use.
No. 1076435 ID: a7a180
File 169913084926.png - (95.11KB , 500x500 , something_up_her_sleeve.png )

We begin the climb upward after confirming no more malingerers in the legs and tugging the insulation chunks out of position. The temperature rises as we climb, and we’ve caught up with the stink cloud again, obscuring vision slightly. Fortunately, our gear does its job and I can’t smell a thing besides roses.
JNET’s voice reverberates throughout her body as she cautions us, “Watch your footing carefully. The spine is a conduit for many delicate systems, much like the real thing but at higher voltage.”
I call back, “Hey, can you still hear us?”
”Yes. More clearly than before, in fact.”
“It’s very warm in here. Can you try acting scared, to send some chills down your spine?”
"Hm? …Ah, I see. I will be able to adjust the climate more to your liking once you have scared off these malingering xanthi."
Oh, well. I ought to try a joke from Anet’s book and see if that gets more of a response.

We halt when we hear an angry hiss from above, followed by some loose screws being thrown down at us. I barely catch sight of another Marked One before she skitters back inside down the lower arm joint. There’s a narrow tube leading into the limb, even narrower than the abdomen as there’s no room to stand. The cramped quarters forces them and us to crawl inside and would limit mobility severely. There would be nowhere for them to run, but a cornered ant can be an unpredictable foe. To even reach the arms, though, we’ll be passing through a chokepoint while avoiding exposed circuitry, leaving us vulnerable to either getting attacked if we’re cautious or shocked if we’re reckless.

>How do we handle this fight?
>Try to lure them out first (with what?)
>Try to lasso the bugger
>Chase them into the arms
>Rush the climb to grab them while they’re exposed!
>Use another item: https://tgchan.org/wiki/A_Small_Quest
No. 1076438 ID: 1effd3

is JNET able to move her arms yet? if so, have her raise her arms to "persuade" the friends in them to come out
No. 1076451 ID: e5ace5

Go lasso. Should that fail... "Four against one. What's of greater value, heat or your life?"
No. 1077220 ID: a7a180
File 169992975817.png - (163.49KB , 500x500 , got _u_now.png )

>Go go lasso
“Use the rope. I’ll distract her,” I whisper to Jaina. We’ll draw the xanthi back out and fight her on our terms.
Now, what’s a good insult in Formican? “<You missed us, you… egg-dropping, three-legged slacker!>” No response, I’m probably trying too hard. Bugger.
JNET gleefully joins in the taunting. “<You have been a thorn in my side long enough. Your eviction is nigh, you armpit-dwelling vagabond.>”
<Graah!> That provokes her to come back out and toss more stuff down. Bright Eyes gets hit on the head with a microchip, which only serves to anger her. Something catches my mask too and knocks it loose. Eugh, I can really smell it now! At least I’m less sensitive to it than the Formicans, I don’t know how any xanthi can stand this. We reach the arm joint and position ourselves to the bottom and sides of the passage. Despite the smell, I hold my nose long enough to yell, “<You throw like a grub! Try something heavier!>”
When she comes out again, Jaina tosses a lasso around her and cinches her arms. One of her hands is still free, and we huddle around her to subdue her. We’ve almost got her-
No. 1077221 ID: a7a180
File 169992976326.png - (111.27KB , 500x500 , uno_reverse.png )

Suddenly, Jaina’s yanked upward by a thin copper wire! She struggles to free herself, kicking the air as she’s banged against the side of JNET’s chassis. The xanthi at the top of the totem pole has gotten the jump on us with his own lasso. The upper arms have a more open space to work in atop the ribcage, and it’s the hottest location so far. The inner surfaces are warm to the touch, and the view from down here is obscured by internal components and accumulated stuffing. Jaina is getting roped towards somewhere out of our sight!

>What do I do?!
>Get the wire out of the boss’s hands.
>Free Jaina from the wire!
>Keep your distance, find a higher perch to act from
>Make sure the other xanthi’s down for the count first
>Use an item: https://tgchan.org/wiki/A_Small_Quest
No. 1077222 ID: 1effd3

Lets see if that ancient pistol does anything, and try to break the copper lasso!
No. 1077229 ID: 273c18

You could use the zap spear to send a current up the wire. So long as Jaina isn't touching anything when you do it, she won't get shocked.
No. 1077256 ID: f14228

Even if she is, getting stunned by a zap may be a small price to pay compared to being torn apart by an angry giant. Or kept hostage, if they're clever enough for that. Just be ready to help untangle her - or yank on the wire, so it slips from the grasp of the stunned beformican.
No. 1077422 ID: f14228

Oh right, you also have the rubber glove right? So you can actually ward yourself from getting zapped while the wire's getting electrified.
No. 1077426 ID: 273c18

Oh maybe you can just give her the spear instead of trying to use it yourself before she gets pulled too far away.
No. 1077788 ID: a7a180
File 170061426197.png - (138.29KB , 500x500 , shake_hands_with_danger.png )

>Shock her out of it
“Pent, zap the wire!” I shout. Pent leaps across the chamber and hooks the wire with her spearhead as she flicks its power on. The cable goes slack as the xanthi above roars in pain, letting the lasso slip through his fingers. Luckily, Jaina’s armor insulates her from the current, and the subsequent drop into JNET’s chest. Pent moves to assist her in escaping the lasso, while I climb up the rib cage for a clear shot at the boss.
Up top is a bed made of stuffing sitting directly atop the main power cell, stockpiles of wadded paper, and various trophies tied to the vertebrae. It's so warm, I feel like I'm already wrapped in a thick blanket. This must be the pinnacle of luxury for living inside a giant robot.
No. 1077789 ID: a7a180
File 170061426645.png - (130.17KB , 500x500 , action_figure_sam.png )

The final xanthi and I stare each other down from across JNET’s bones. I wouldn’t exactly pin this guy as someone who sits around huffing markers all day. He’s definitely fought to keep his place at the top, and the idea of winning a fair fight with him seems ludicrous. Fortunately, we still outnumber him, and Bright Eyes evens the odds quite a bit…

>Xanthi escape check: success
…Ah, the other xanthi got loose and Bright Eyes is currently wrestling her for dominance. The struggle’s keeping my allies occupied, so it’s just me and him now. Welp.
>equip rubber glove
Good idea, I almost forgot about that! At least I’ll have one hand that can touch currents safely. I wear the glove on my left hand and ready the energy pistol in my right. It occurs to me I really should have test fired this thing before trying to use it. I hope it still works… Of course, the big bug doesn’t know that.

>Choose your tactic:
>Stand your ground and aim for the head
>Duck under his swings and snap shots from behind
>Shoot legs to disable him then switch to melee
>Try to trick him into touching a live current
>Nowhere to run now!
No. 1077791 ID: 1effd3

shoot his legs, but try *not* to hit the main battery
No. 1077792 ID: de5cb4

Shoot him from over here. If the gun doesn't work act panicked, bait him into swinging at you and hitting a wire.
No. 1077793 ID: fb9ae2

Make as if you’re trying to duck and weave for a shot at his back, but actually be trying to find a good loose spool of non-critical live wire. Pretend your gun fails, then when he swings at you, use your rubber grove to get him into direct contact with the power he’s been mooching off.

Bugzap-fu his ass!

And if he doesn’t buy it and sees through your intentions and keeps away from the live wire - well, you’ve bought time for your friends to join the fray.
No. 1078086 ID: a7a180
File 170105315780.png - (84.42KB , 500x500 , king_of_the_anthill.png )

>Shoot him
>Shoot his legs!
Here goes nothing! I aim right for his face as his mandibles open wide enough to fit my head. He roars and starts to close the gap with a stride that will have him in my face within a second. My arms are shaking, and his head is moving so much. I drop my aim down to his legs and squeeze the trigger desperately. The gun makes three bright flashes of crackling energy then starts to click in a way I immediately know means it’s empty. The short burst still has a kick to it, as the xanthi stumbles before continuing to lunge. I try to duck out of his way, but I lose my footing. His arms sweep over my head as my butt hits the floor. I quickly flip over with a push from my tail and crawl away from his follow-up strikes. I glance around desperately hoping to find his wire coil, maybe I can touch it to a live wire and zap him. It’s hard to search while I’m trying to avoid the big ant, though!
Amidst all the dodging, I hear a pop, and the whole room suddenly tilts. The xanthi goes sailing downwards in a puff of smoke. It seems that in his frenzied attack, he ended up striking some live current after all, and caused a power surge that made JNET flinch.
I realize that as I was scrabbling backward, I put my gloved hand on the metal, too. I’m lucky I dodged right instead of left.
…Is it over, then? I think that was the last Marked One. He isn’t moving anymore. The girls knocked out the other one, too. We did it!
”Is everyone alive in there? I take it that the reduced activity levels mean the fighting is over.”
“We’re okay in here, JNET!” Anet calls back.
”That’s the best news I have heard in over ten millennia. Thank you, all of you, from every process I have running.”
No. 1078087 ID: a7a180
File 170105316485.png - (108.37KB , 500x500 , not_so_big_now.png )

We dump the last of the Marked Ones out the back of JNET, and get to work dislodging their insulation as quickly as possible. We collect the smaller pieces in the abdomen for quick disposal, while the larger chunks are pulled down to the legs where they’ll interfere with circulation the least. JNET says it makes her legs feel ‘fuzzy’, but it’s not blocking circulation at least.
”Core temperature is falling. Safety overrides are finally lifting. Please find somewhere to hold on.”
We brace ourselves. JNET moves an arm, then with a creak, twists her hips and steps off the charging platform for the first time in millennia.
”Oh, it feels nice to be needed again after all these years!!” We sway back and forth as JNET takes a few experimental steps around the room. ”Now, before we leave, I believe I owe the Weed Eaters a token of my appreciation for all the muck they’ve slung over the years.”
I can’t see what she’s planning from here, but that sounds threatening. “Hold on. You’re not gonna destroy the village, are you?”
”Oh don’t worry, I won’t harm them permanently. It will simply be a mild inconvenience. It is the least I can do to repay them…”

>Let JNET have catharsis
>Convince JNET to not get payback: >_
No. 1078088 ID: 273c18

Yeah alright. They refused to help us, so we have no reason to help them.
No. 1078090 ID: de5cb4

I would trust she knows what she's doing. She doesn't seem the type to be cruel.
No. 1078092 ID: 1effd3

pay back! payback!
No. 1078095 ID: 2a82d3

Keep in mind you and an ancient being might have very different ideas of what counts as "mild", "an inconvenience", and "destroying a village". It's also a little terrifying to see an artificial intelligence exercise their vengeance sub-routines.

She's free now. They don't matter anymore. Maybe you should urge her to move on.
No. 1078102 ID: eb0a9c

Tell JNet to expose her magnificent circuit boards to them one last time, so the tribes will know what they squandered and how they will never rest in her warm hearth ever again.
No. 1078108 ID: 580aa8

No. 1078117 ID: b3eab7

Tell JNET she's pretty much her own boss now.

You'd think less of her for indulging in violent retribution, but wouldn't mind her literally raising a stink over their treatment of her.
No. 1078135 ID: 124485

Let JNET have catharsis!
No. 1078181 ID: a9af05

Let JNET have catharsis! She deserves it after what happened to her!
No. 1078244 ID: a7a180
File 170122795750.png - (176.24KB , 500x500 , ant_misbehavin.png )

>Let her have this
It’s not exactly like I’m a fan of these xanthi myself. JNET’s her own boss now, and I’m not about to tell the giant robot what she can or can’t do.
For now, she isn't doing anything to them. She seems to be basking in their increased agitation caused by her sudden mobility. ”Let’s get you out of there, friends, so you don’t have to breathe that fouled air anymore.”
We climb back out of JNET and take off our stuffy armor. It’s going to take her cooling fans a little longer to clear out the stink clouds. The Marked Ones have all scattered, probably hiding in the desk. JNET holds out her hand to her back for us to climb on. When we’re all ready, she gently lifts us up to shoulder height.
”There. I promise you’ll be safe and sound up here. Now…”
”<You.>” She reaches down and plucks the village’s leader off the table. ”<I tried being a good neighbor at the start, you know. And what did I get for my trouble? Nothing but insults and disrespect.>” She waves her finger in the xanthi’s face like she’s lecturing a child. With her free hand, she picks up a textbook sitting in the center of the village, dumping a ramshackle lean-to built on top of it onto the table in a heap. She sets the book down standing on its cover, shaking the table and knocking everyone over. ”<Do you see this? This, is a chemistry textbook by the esteemed Dr. Nebula Tachyon. You should try reading it sometime, you might even learn something. For instance, if you turn to the chapter on organic compounds, like so, you’ll see how if properly treated, you could be composting your waste to grow more food, instead of throwing it at me! If you’re going to mishandle lab equipment, at least do it well!>”
<You… not going to eat me?> Her captive asks, cautiously.
”<Were it not for the fact I am physically incapable, I’d say don’t go giving me ideas. You hardly have any to spare.>”
Anet eggs her on. “That was a good line. You should dunk her in the smolfate, too!”
“Alas, an excellent suggestion but I cannot bend far enough to reach it.” She sets the xanthi down in front of the book. ”Oh, and one more thing - I hope you don’t mind a little walking.” For good measure, she picks up one of the moss-filled beakers and moves it to the other table.
”I’m done here. Thank you all again for saving me, and now as promised, let’s get you to that lab.”
No. 1078245 ID: a7a180
File 170122796661.png - (197.09KB , 500x500 , area_discovered_the_collapsed_office.png )

This time we leave the classroom carried in JNET’s massive hand. Now this is the way to travel, it’s even stabilized! She’ll get us to that reducer in no time flat. This leg of the journey is just a walk down a hallway to the research wing. The door swings open to a darkened, eerily quiet room. The lights don’t come on, and as my eyes adjust to the darkness I see it’s because the roof has suffered a partial collapse. Girders and debris litter a dark maze of chest high walls just barely higher than JNET. The only light comes from JNET’s eyes and a few flickering screens at the surviving workstations. The lab we need is somewhere on the other side of this room.
“Hey, why are we heading through the middle?” Jaina asks. “Can’t we just walk around the rubble?”
“Unfortunately, the sides of this room are blocked by fallen rubble. I am not built to climb over uneven terrain, nor is it a good idea for me to trip while carrying all of you. We must search the cubicles for an unobstructed route.”
I’d rather stick with JNET than split up. It would take days for us to climb through here, anyway. We’ll just have to pick our way through the cubicles carefully, using JNET’s headlights and her built-in sonar. By following the wall, we’ll find a way through eventually, if there is one.
Where do we start looking?

>Left or right?
No. 1078247 ID: 1effd3

when in doubt, hug the right wall!
...or was it the left?
No. 1078250 ID: 273c18

There's an efficient algorithm for solving a maze, but I don't think that's quite what's going on here. This is an adventure not a distraction.

Go left!
No. 1078254 ID: 58dd24

as they say, left is right and right is wrong
No. 1078266 ID: 124485

Ask Jaina if she's ok? That copper wire slammed her against Jnet's insides pretty hard.
No. 1078267 ID: 86980a

Stop worrying. Worst case scenario is the robot whips up small-scale explosives to clear the rubble. Still, probably best to look for a way through before we go that length. Go with hug the right wall it's a classic way to deal with this. So Bright Eyes can you believe Sam was once JNET's size? Oh JNET likely has a whole database of how to be kind. Let the kindness teaching commence!
No. 1078339 ID: a7a180
File 170139590329.png - (86.28KB , 500x500 , roach_motel.png )

JNET starts trudging through the maze, taking each left turn as it comes. My sense of direction gives up completely after turning so many corners and spinning around in dead ends. Everyone’s keeping silent, watching the darkness.
A little further on, Anet asks, “Why’s everyone so silent? Still worried about xanthi? What are they going to do against a giant robot?”
“...Fair point,” says Jaina. “This place feels dead. More so than the city.”
Pent counters, <The city’s got plenty of life. Most of it hostile.>
“What would there be to eat, even for a Beformican?” I ask. “Looks like they weren’t using paper in here, just tablets.”
Bright Eyes’ antennae twitch, then she shakes her head. <Me not zzmell any.>
<Even the plants are dead here.> Pent points to the singular plant life we have seen: the withered husk of a potted fern, casting a long thin shadow against the walls. In fact, I think this is the same one from a few minutes ago.
“Have we passed that before?”
“We have, yes. We have explored two dead ends since going past it, and now we are heading back to try a third path. I have been keeping track of every step taken,” JNET assures us.
“Oh, um, sorry.”
“No offense is taken. The damage to this room has introduced many pathfinding difficulties.”
<...What thizz plaze?> Bright Eyes asks.
“This is an office of the Advanced Engineering department.”
<What iz ‘offize’?>
“A place where people performed their jobs. Imagine it full of giant ants scurrying back and forth, carrying tablets and answering phones.”
<Lotz of giantz… Muzt know zzo many thingz.>
“Yes, I suppose quite a few of them would have been know-it-alls.”
Bright Eyes looks around at the desks in awe. I briefly picture her as an office worker, trying to squeeze herself behind one of them and tap away at her computer. It’s cute.
<What they do here?>
”Their job was to perform very simple but very numerous tasks, so that the people in the laboratories could do their job.”
<And that job waz..?>
“Making new discoveries.“

“Wait, look there on the ground,” calls Anet. “I think I see something. A house?”
Jnet’s eye beams sweep the floor, coming to rest on an odd looking plastic hut. ”It appears to be a trap for catching common pests.” Someone’s added a few accessories to it. A clothesline is strung up outside, plus there seem to be remnants of a cooking fire nearby and various bits of trash around.
“I think someone used this as a dwelling. Looks abandoned now… I want to check it out. Can you put us down here?”
”...Anet, are you sure that, as a small bug, it is a good idea to enter a structure designed to kill small bugs?”
“First off, I’m smarter than a bug! And second, it’s been converted to a living space, not a killing one. C’mon, it’s just a peek inside. Want to come with me, Sam?” Anet’s eager to do some exploring again. I kind of am too, but this place is giving me the creeps.

>Check out the abandoned hut with Anet?
>Afterward, keep left or right?
No. 1078340 ID: 8f9bc4

Check out the hut. There's something wrong here besides just an abandoned room, and you need to find out whatever you can from people living here.

...beware ambush predators.
No. 1078344 ID: 273c18

Peek in, do not enter unless the inside has been cleared out. Especially do not enter if there is a dead body in there. It could still be dangerous. Also, the hut might not be as abandoned as it looks.
No. 1078346 ID: eb0a9c

JNET, open the trap up. Compensate the owners if they're still alive.
No. 1078392 ID: 1ecc81

Isn’t the floor inside of those things really sticky so that whatever pest goes inside gets stuck and starves to death?

What if whoever used to live here didn't know that when they hung up their laundry? We might find a dead body stuck to the floor if we go in there.
No. 1078405 ID: f14228

Investigate a mystery?

How could you resist!
No. 1078406 ID: c922c3

Peek inside, but don't step in without first checking that the floor isn't sticky.
It's possible the glue dried up or something, but give how long some stuff has lasted in this place, it shouldn't be assumed.
No. 1078438 ID: 8f9bc4

Those kind of traps just hold poisoned bait and are shaped that way to keep big pets from eating the bait. The only glue traps I've seen have just been an open tray of sticky glue.
No. 1078625 ID: 1bb0f1

Yes and left
No. 1078632 ID: 273c18

afterward, left.

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