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File 166016789938.png - (87.00KB , 500x500 , a_smaller_quest.png )
1040516 No. 1040516 ID: 899c9f


One small step for Sam, one giant leap for Formican-kind.
Expand all images
No. 1040517 ID: 899c9f
File 166016809177.png - (139.43KB , 500x500 , a_short_rest.png )

It's been an interesting few days since arriving on the Formican homeworld. First I get shrunk to an inch tall, then I get sent on a quest to cross a buried ancient kingdom on foot. My guides seem to know what they're doing, but we're all in unfamiliar territory now.
The hatch brought us out into a courtyard sandwiched between the walls of the lab and a long line of buildings that stretches off to the right further than I can see. They resemble huge, blocky apartment buildings sandwiched end to end, abandoned and in ill repair. Each one has a courtyard like this one behind it, separated off by a low fence.
After a long day of maze running, Anet's set up camp just outside the maintenance access hatch. Jaina thinks it would be safer for us to rest down in the tunnels, but Anet insisted. I think she's just eager to feel some real grass beneath her feet instead of fuzzy mold. I don't blame her. We've plucked some giant leaves from the plants growing along the wall to form a shelter, as the overhead lights are still a constant here. Well, okay, they're not giant leaves, they're more average sized for what looks like ivy, but it's hard to keep that frame of reference in mind when some things are built to our scale and some aren't. It climbs up the back walls here, creeping out onto overhead cables that hang between the habitation blocks and some heavily obscured power sockets. The greenery drops off sharply at the shadow cast by the habitation block.

Jaina sits by our small fire warming up a meal. “These terraced buildings remind me of home, just with a lot less product placement. Maybe our ancestors didn’t live so differently.”
“Perhaps,” I nod. “They just did it on a much, much bigger scale…”
No. 1040518 ID: 899c9f
File 166016824766.png - (166.35KB , 600x500 , area_discovered_the_overgrown_city.png )

We’re woken up the next day by a chime that echoes all around us. Then, a strange voice says something in a language I don’t understand.
“Who’s there?” Jaina springs into action, waving her spear around.
Anet listens to the voice intently. “Calm down, she’s just telling us good morning.”
Suddenly, it clicks to me what’s happening. “It sounds like a PA system!”
Jaina tries to ask, “What’s a PA system?” when Anet holds up a hand for her to be quiet. “Shh! ‘The time is… 0400, on the twentieth day of… twenty four thousand, six hundred ninety five. Have a pleasant day.’ I think I will.”
After the morning announcements are over, we climb the nearest building to get a good look at the city. Each level has a sheltered balcony that runs all the way around, connected by an external staircase. We take the stairs about halfway up and then walk around to see the city sprawling before us. The hab blocks repeat themselves in endless rows, covered by a veil of green vines that cross the floor as well, turning the lab into a vast urban jungle.
The abandoned city has an eerie beauty to it, but the vines choking it might be a problem for our forward progress. According to our maps, we’re in sector twelve and we need to get across the city to sector four. We’ll stick to the edges of the city as long as we can, but we’ll need to decide how best to cross from one building to the next.

>The Terrace Bridges: There’s a system of walkways that cross between the buildings at the upper levels, and they seem intact for the most part. Jaina recommends we stay high to avoid the plants blanketing the floor and keep an eye on our surroundings.

>The Penthouse Skyways: Anet suggests we climb even higher up first before taking the walkways. It’s a bit of a detour, but maybe we can look around in the buildings and find some neat relics.

>The Lower Levels: We could just climb back down and walk along the floor to get where we’re going. I don’t see why not, the city looks abandoned and we wouldn’t have to worry about bridges, right? The roots seem a little thick but we could just climb over them.
No. 1040553 ID: 15c72a

Looks like the water tanks are still working. What automated systems broke down that became a problem, I wonder?

Why don't we take the skyways and do some archaeology.
No. 1040555 ID: 8483cf

No. 1040560 ID: 629f2e

Skyways seems the most fun.
No. 1040728 ID: 4c0dea

The penthouse skyway.
No. 1040731 ID: a715f8

The Penthouse Skyways
No. 1040842 ID: 10a040

No. 1041133 ID: 899c9f
File 166078899151.png - (122.03KB , 500x500 , pieces_of_gear.png )

We climb back down to break down our camp and travel a little further along the edge of the lab. While I’m helping Jaina roll up the sleeping mats, I notice Anet’s taken the mystery orb and is holding it over the suitcase. We never did find the key to that… Suddenly, the luggage pops open with a click!
“How’d it do that?”
“No idea! I just wanted to see what would happen if I combined them. This thing must be an artifact like the clicker, only really short ranged!”
No really, how’d it do that? An RFID tag? Sorcery? Who knows what technology the Formicans kept lying around. For now, we do recover two intact items from inside the luggage: a set of spare clothes and some kind of energy pistol. The suit’s made of a light fabric and seems very comfy to wear. It’s even got proper pockets, though they can’t carry much.
Anet’s vibrating with excitement. “Cool stuff! Let’s see what else we can find in the city itself.”
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Jaina says.
“Absolutely! We’re the first people from our colony to see this place in ages! We have an obligation to learn what happened to our ancestors.”
“You just want to find more stuff.”
“It’s a healthy bonus incentive!”
I’ve handled a gun once or twice before, so Jaina trusts me with holding the thing. For now. The luggage can be closed again and functions perfectly well as extra storage.
>Obtained: ancient go-bag
>Obtained: ancient jumpsuit
>Obtained: ancient sidearm
No. 1041134 ID: 899c9f
File 166078899756.png - (77.70KB , 500x500 , someone_thinks_theyre_clever.png )

Our path is settled, then: we’ll climb the buildings all the way up before crossing the skyway.
Anet and Jaina pry a door open at ground level and we head inside to look for a stairwell. Jaina peers back out at the foliage as we step inside. “...Glad we’re finally heading in. Feels like I’m being watched.”
The interior is divided into several large rooms including a lobby with a whole line of elevators and escalators leading upward. It’s hard to tell what most of the rooms were used for, as so much of it is stripped bare except for trash. There’s one room that looks like a parking lot for rows of bikes, so that was probably a vast fitness center at one point.
We take one of the escalators up and the floors above are residential apartments, all with an identical room layout copied over and over. We’d never have time to search all of them! Like the bottom floor, they seem to have already been stripped of value. From here, we find a staircase that goes all the way up the building.
As we reach the top floor, somewhat exhausted, Jaina pulls me back.
“Sam! Hold it! Look at the top step. Someone’s laid a wire across the doorway.”
Ironically, this is the first sign of civilization we’ve seen all day. I wonder how old it is… and what it’s hooked up to.
“What happened here that made people start booby trapping the hallways?”
“Nothing good…”
We could just step over it carefully, but there could be more traps ahead. There’s no telling what disarming it or setting it off from a distance would do. What if someone’s around to hear us set it off?

>Avoid traps
>Disarm traps
>Set off traps
No. 1041150 ID: e5709d

Set it off from a distance.
No. 1041182 ID: 8483cf

Avoid the traps, but CLEARLY MARK THEM.
No. 1041196 ID: 58dd24

examine trap. Avoid it just long enough to get to the other side, then look around and SEE what it is hooked up to. Generally tripwires are not complicated, and not terribly stealthy from the other direction.
No. 1041222 ID: b1542c

No. 1041236 ID: 629f2e

No. 1041390 ID: 204754

Should the trap be lethal/wounding, disarming would be playing it safe.
Should it be to alarm, that means people are/were here to be alerted. Perhaps they left, though. Either way, avoid 'til we're sure they're either gone or not hostile.
No. 1041459 ID: 4c0dea

Avoid it, whoever put it there will know it was activated.
No. 1041675 ID: 899c9f
File 166131954369.png - (125.18KB , 500x500 , office_space.png )

Best to play it safe until we know who and what we’re dealing with… I step over the tripwire very carefully, making sure to lift my tail. Following the tripwire up from this side leads right to a box perched over the doorway, with a lot of little round balls. Marbles? Makes sense, they would make a lot of noise and be a major tripping hazard as they rolled down the stairs. I motion the sisters over, and we creep quietly down the hall, watching our every step.
After what feels like forever, we make it to the first door on this floor. It’s cracked open just a tiny bit. I try peering inside, but can’t make out anything. Jaina taps me on the shoulder and points up - her keen eyes have spotted the trap again before I could walk into it. She carefully reaches around the doorframe and lowers something heavy to the ground: a large plastic jug, half-filled with dark and disgusting looking water. If I had opened the door and walked through, that could have really hurt!
It seems like it’s safe now, so we search the room, some kind of old office. There’s two things that stand out here: a large stack of flat, rectangular blocks clutched by a disembodied arm. The other is a working computer terminal! I turned it on by accident when I was sweeping old food wrappers off the desk. The interface is familiar, with a keyboard that projects itself on the desk and two squares of light that seem to move two separate cursors across the screen when I wave my hand through them. I suppose the interface is doubled because Formicans had four arms. The computer is easy to use even if I can only work it at half efficiency, and Anet translates the words on screen for me. There’s only one file on the virtual desktop, so we check that out first. Anet translates the title, as, roughly, “To whoever finds this” and reads it out loud:

I have done my duty to queen and colony and defended to the last the keys to our future. The very foundations upon which the pyramid of knowledge can be rebuilt! One by one, I have painstakingly salvaged every lab I dared venture into (within this hab block). It wasn’t easy, with the fighting growing closer every day. Now things are so bad outside that I dare not leave this room. Hopefully the defenses I’ve engineered will scare off the monsters beating down our doors and eating whoever they catch. I hold out hope that one day, these TPS reports will be collected by the survivors and then properly filed into the back catalog, so these data slates can be reused to take notes on new experiments. My one regret, is that there are no games on this machine… Perhaps there was a better location to have stockpiled these in. I guess I’ll never know.

“Sam,” Anet asks, “What’s a… ‘TPS report’?”
“...I’m not entirely sure.”

The rest of the file system is inaccessible due to some kind of server error. The only thing we can open is an offline copy of a database of names and numbers, likely addresses of which families lived in the apartments below. It's more than a little out of date... Anet tries searching her own family name. Surprisingly, the Plutons did have an apartment, on this very floor!

I feel a bit sheepish knowing that nobody was left to hear us set off those traps, but we’ll still have to keep an eye out for more. Luckily for my sense of direction, the hallways are painted with several colored stripes that lead to different areas on the floor. Which path should we follow first?
>Data Center
>Labs 801-824
>Administration Quarters
>Medical Center
>Entertainment Center
No. 1041678 ID: 8483cf

No. 1041706 ID: 9a2966

Blame the mention of games, but... yeah, this.
No. 1041884 ID: 261d45

>I feel a bit sheepish knowing that nobody was left to hear us set off those traps
Not true. Remember that note mentioned monsters being somewhere around here. Those would've heard the traps and would've come running towards you guys!

Let's see what kind of entertainment they had around here.
No. 1041920 ID: 899c9f
File 166156511735.png - (125.88KB , 500x500 , gamed_by_the_system.png )

That note's as ancient as the person who wrote it! No way the monsters have stuck around for this long...

The entertainment complex is intriguing. How did the Formicans blow off steam? I wouldn’t mind trying some of their computer games either.
We run across another trap on our way there, hidden rather conspicuously under the only rug I’ve seen in these halls. The way it sags in the middle is a dead giveaway for the hole it covers. Clearly, this trap did not age well. We step around it and carry on.
The fabled entertainment complex is huge. The main floor is filled with hundreds of terminals sitting idle. To the sides, smaller rooms for other forms of entertainment line the walls - dozens of small theaters, something called a ‘virtual suite’, and a ‘concrete space.’ I think this would be a pretty cool place to hunker down, but it would definitely be a lot of space to defend.
I wake up one of the computers and browse the programs with Jaina as Anet wanders off to explore the side chambers. This computer is stuffed to the brim with game titles. There’s so many to choose from - BLOOM 2: Reconstitution of Evil, SimFormican, Formican Space Program... But when I try to launch any of them, I only get a server connection error. Noooo!
While we’re scrolling through game titles I can’t play, Anet comes back from the concrete space carrying a small box. “Hey guys! Any luck with the computers?”
“No… they’re all dependent on a central unit that probably broke ages ago.”
“Aw, that’s too bad. I brought good news, though! There’s a room over there decorated with holograms, and one filled with rows and rows of board games! I even recognized some of them. Look at this: Snakes and Tunnels. We have a set just like this at home, but way more worn out. It’s a real classic!”
We’ve explored this area pretty thoroughly. There’s one thing that bothers me: while you could fit a couple hundred people in here all at once, that’s only a tiny fraction of the building’s residents. What would the rest of them be doing in their spare time? If they had spare time…

>Where to now?
>Data Center
>Labs 801-824
>Administration Quarters
>Medical Center
>Challenge Anet to a game of snakes and tunnels
No. 1041948 ID: 15c72a

Ugh snakes and tunnels is pure RNG, terrible board game.
Let's go to the medical center. IIRC we don't have much for medical supplies so it'd be good to stock up.
No. 1041958 ID: 9a2966

>Challenge Anet to a game of snakes and tunnels
It may not be a wise investment of time, but as someone who has longed to study an ancient culture - what was game culture like and what kind of clues can be garnered about ancient ant society - or subsections thereof - from it?

It must've truly been a classic if Anet's ancestors decided to bring it along in their escape.
No. 1042159 ID: 4c0dea

Let’s pllay a little, then to the medical center.
No. 1042161 ID: 8483cf

>Challenge Anet to a game of snakes and tunnels

This is the only real option
No. 1042327 ID: 899c9f
File 166191786799.png - (138.93KB , 500x500 , game_night.png )

“Cmooon, let’s play a round.”
“We don’t have time for this. We should keep exploring-”
“Pleeease? It’s been so long since we played.”
“It’s all up to random chance anyway. What’s the point?”
“I bet Sam’s never tried it. Want to play, Sam? I’ll even let you play the snakes! I’m kidding, that’s not how you play.”
“So play it with him…”
“But the more the merrier, Jaina!”

After much pleading, Jaina is convinced to sit down and go exactly one round with us in snakes and tunnels. We head to the room Anet found it in to play, inside is a brightly colored lounge that seems designed around what we're doing right now. The floor and lower walls are painted mostly tan, with one edge painted blue. A few holographic palm trees still flicker back and forth in a virtual breeze, framing a painted sunset.
“I like the decor of this room. It makes it feel more open,“ Anet declares.
“It looks sort of like a beach,” I say.
“Oh, is that what one looks like? Huh.”

We sit down and Anet explains the rules to me. It is a simple race to be first, essentially, taking shortcuts through tunnels and being chased back out by snakes. I wonder if the snakes were really this big... We pass the time by talking about life in the village again.
“Formican life is pretty rigidly structured. Everyone is told where to go, what to do and when, and they strive to use their time and resources as efficiently as possible. That’s why our dad’s job is so important.”
“So it’s always been like that?” I ask.
“I guess so. I thought it was something that began as an emergency measure when we left the city, but it looks like even our ancestors had to ration their fun.”
“…you’re not a fan of it, are you?”
“No, it’s pretty stifling,” Anet admits. “Scavenging gives me lots of freedom, and there’s nobody watching over my shoulder. Except Jaina.”
“I prefer to think of it as watching your back. If we didn’t come back when we promised to, our family would worry," says Jaina.

The race ends with Jaina coming in first. Anet gives her a hearty pat on the back. “See, aren’t you glad you played after all?”
Jaina shrugs. “Sure, I guess. What do I win?”
"Hmm... You get to pick where we go now!"
No. 1042328 ID: 899c9f
File 166191787311.png - (103.54KB , 500x500 , my_ant_sense_is_tingling.png )

Satisfied with our game, we pick our way carefully through the halls to the medical center. As we reach the double doors, Jaina’s antennae twitch.
“Did you hear that? Sounded like... a bunch of marbles spilling on the floor.”

>Duck inside the medical center
>Search a different location: ___
>Search for the exit
No. 1042329 ID: 8483cf

Search the labs!
No. 1042332 ID: 14f8f0

Details. Was it inside the med area, or outside?
For outside, go in ASAP. Door will be a good barrier, though peeking out before you close to see what it is would be useful, plus med supplies will help if you're forced to fight whatever it is.
For inside, go to the labs, should be stuff to improvise weapons.
No. 1042333 ID: 15c72a

Go in the med center.
No. 1042345 ID: 30b9f6

Duck duck go!
No. 1042348 ID: dc9df3

Mes center
No. 1042616 ID: 726f7c

Duck inside the med center!
No. 1042723 ID: 1d5bb3

Hide in medical!
No. 1042787 ID: 515982
File 166225017278.png - (156.45KB , 500x500 , doc_in_a_bot.png )

We definitely aren’t alone up here anymore. I hurry inside as Jaina barricades the door behind us with assorted furniture and a wheeled cart. Then we wait, hiding behind the front desk. We don’t hear anything else for long enough that it seems safe to move around.
The medical center is a very small hospital, with only two dozen beds or so. There’s a track in the ceiling overhead that leads from the front desk through the rest of the rooms and offices. As we explore I come across the reason for it, a robot doctor. It’s offline and appears to have been so for a long time. Its second and third pairs of arms are tipped with various surgical tools, and where its legs and abdomen should be it instead ends in an armature that hangs from the ceiling, like a hand puppet. Jaina discovers two more like it in an office and a closet.
As for salvage of interest, there’s lots of advanced equipment that can be wheeled about but I can’t make heads or tails of what any of it does, and none of it works. The medicine cabinets are all empty, but we do find some old bandages sitting in the back of the closet, along with a crude catapult made with rubber hose and bits of plastic. The robots’ surgical arms also have a lot of sharp bits we could probably pry loose.
The front desk has another terminal, and once again most of the files are unavailable due to a server error. There is one local file of interest…
No. 1042788 ID: 515982
File 166225018148.png - (95.72KB , 500x500 , it_was_the_worst_of_times.png )

—MSC Medical— -Inbound patient log for quarter 4, 23456- Reminder: ask patients for block + floor number! 13-04: One patient with sprained ankle from the sports court. Block 15, mid level. 13-15: Walkway canopy collapsed due to shoddy repairs. Twelve with minor head/limb trauma, middle to lower floors, blocks 15 and 8. 14-12: 30 injured in demonstration turned violent. Blocks 13-16, 4 upper, 2 middle, 24 lower levels. Overflow patients diverted to creche. 14-14: One patient with severe internal bleeding, seizures, diagnosed with rejected gene treatment. Lower floors. She was a goner before she came in the door. 14-20: Nobody came in today. The riots are getting worse. I heard they tried to storm the main genetics lab, and the first generation of successful test subjects came out to meet them… There was nothing left to bring to the clinics. Is this really the choice we’re forced to make? Evolve or die? Evolve *and* die, more like. I’ve seen what happens if your system rejects the changes. I tried fortifying the front door, but Dr. Emma vetoed it, insisting it could badly hurt someone seeking treatment. I had already wired up the buzzer to the power socket though, and couldn't defuse it safely, so I just covered it up. I hope nobody rings it on accident... 14-23: I’m leaving. I wanted to stay, but Dr. Emma insisted I should look for less homebound allies. It’s not just her confinement to this facility that’s got her worried, though. She’s been getting slower over the years, but over the last few days she’s become noticeably more sluggish. Even the servers are suffering in these dark times. She said she’ll try to help anyone who shows up for as long as she remains online. Good luck, doc. I’ll miss you.

Talk about a happy accident. I'll admit, if we hadn't been trying to be sneaky I probably would have tried that buzzer.
Do we do anything else in here? Or do something out there?
No. 1042792 ID: e79147

>subjects for testing
>deadly riots
>evolve or die

...Why does it suddenly seem like abandoning tech to swap to dirt farming was not exactly by choice?
No. 1042810 ID: 15c72a

Oh great. So, the Formecians didn't just screw themselves over with a poorly maintained city, they created monsters by poorly attempted gene-modding. Talk about hubris... Anyway, talk to the others and discuss if you want to maybe head back home and warn the others. The existence of genetically modified supersoldier crazies might convince them to evacuate. Though... on the other hand... considering this is on the way to the only known exit... they'd have to travel through here, and if we don't find a safe passage they won't be able to get through.

It might be wise to treat this as a scouting mission, now. If the monsters have been around for long enough without an easy food source, maybe they started dying out?

Consider breaking bits off of the surgical bot for weapons.
No. 1042872 ID: 629f2e

Talk to Jaina and Anet about the file. Consider if any significant portion of this mission should be dedicated to uncovering the Formican's past, or if any lore you stumble upon is purely a bonus.

Leave, but be cautious. There may be something out there you don't want to meet.
No. 1042873 ID: 8483cf

Check for patient records, see if we can get any information on biology or the gene treatment.
No. 1042931 ID: 515982
File 166234800182.png - (80.82KB , 500x500 , i_can_create_a_scalpelgun.png )

>...Why does it suddenly seem like abandoning tech to swap to dirt farming was not exactly by choice?
I'm glad Jaina's ancestors escaped this place while they still could. Otherwise, there might not be any Formicans left!

>Discuss if you want to maybe head back home and warn the others.
“Ssso, I’m starting to understand why your ancestors fled the city and closed the door behind you. Should we go back and warn your village?”
Jaina shakes her head. “No, if something followed us back it would be big trouble. We have to keep moving forward for now.”
“What were they turning them into scary monsters for?” Anet asks. “They were still hidden from the outside. At least they must have starved by now, right?”
>salvage the bots.
“This saw arm is really sharp. Big enough to upgrade your spear?”
“Good idea, but no, you can’t stab with a round blade. I had something different in mind.”
After prying a few covers off and undoing some screws, we have fashioned the medical bot's tool arms into weapons. Jaina arms herself with a needle-tipped spear, while Anet fashions a handheld surgical axe. Meanwhile, I could… attach this scalpel to my pistol like a bayonet, maybe? …I tie it to Anet's poking stick instead. It feels a little lacking compared to Jaina's spear, but it's worked before.

>check for patient records
Patient records aren't available offline, but we find an old memo dating back a few months before the nurse's log:

–MSC Medical– -FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLIC RELEASE- SEEKING VOLUNTEERS FOR RETROVIRAL GENE THERAPY Scientists of Block 5's Biological Research Division have made a breakthrough in genome modification which promises to end all resource shortages and reverse population decline within two generations. In order to implement these changes as quickly as possible, a large quantity of test subjects is required to iterate on the modifications. Those who sign up will be well compensated and their families will receive improved housing accommodations for the duration of the trials. If your test results are promising, family members who have not yet volunteered will receive priority on their applications to join and experience the benefits of a high-power, low-maintenance lifestyle. When the going gets rough, Formicans get tougher! Sign up today at your local medical center.

Huh, there's another file dated from the very same day.

—MSC Medical— -FOR MEDICAL STAFF ONLY- ALERT: DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN The following statement is NOT approved by the office of the Colony Overseer. This unofficial announcement has been attached in full in order to aid in identifying unapproved instances of the announcement being distributed to the public. Unapproved instances of this announcement are to be confiscated and destroyed and all members of the public are to be informed of its unsanctioned nature. Block 5's Biological Research Division has NOT been authorized to commence widescale formican testing of any gene therapy procedures. Report any personnel promoting this procedure to citizens at your local security office. UNAPPROVED STATEMENT is as follows: -FOR IMMEDIATE PUBLIC RELEASE- SEEKING VOLUNTEERS FOR RETROVIRAL GENE THERAPY...
No. 1042932 ID: 515982
File 166234801355.png - (84.81KB , 500x500 , big_steppy.png )

>Should we seek out more lore, or is it a bonus?
I admit, I am burning with the curiosity to learn more about Formican history. I am the first, and possibly only, alien to have learned this much about them in millennia! But I do have to make it back in order to share my discoveries. As long as our supplies hold out, I hope we can keep studying these ruins.

>Leave, but be cautious
...Well, there's plenty of ruins to explore besides this one. Let's not linger any longer.
We follow the hallway straight to the end and start circling the building looking for the skyway access. But then, as I'm looking over my shoulder, I see a spiky, not-quite-Formican limb coming around the corner before anyone else does. That leg definitely belongs to something big and nasty! W-what do I do?!
No. 1042935 ID: 15c72a

That's fucked up. Why would someone do this? An attempt at taking control over the city with their own personal army? Just plain mad science? A misguided attempt at saving the colony? We might never know... unless we go visit the origin.

Gun out, tell them to freeze. You don't know for sure they're still hostile after all this time- they could have evolved to regain their senses, or the situation changed in some other way.
No. 1042959 ID: 30b9f6

It's possible this is a gene-treated ex-formican descendant (wow they bred big), but you don't know if they're sane or reasonable, so you should keep quiet and edge towards an escape route and definitely suggest your friends get in cover themselves.

Unfortunately you're caught somewhat out in the open, or else I'd suggest diving for cover and just try spying on this person/creature. They do appear to be wearing something though - which is a sign of civilization! It might be you can talk with them, for good or ill, if they look about to, I don't know, attack or throw a spear at you or something.

Definitely try to keep your retreat options open - someone that big will move way faster than you. You'll have to use your diminutive (comparatively) size to make your escape, unless you try to fight them.
No. 1042998 ID: 8483cf

This one is solid.
No. 1043018 ID: dc9df3

Tell that thing to stop and point your gun at it.
No. 1043028 ID: 233458

Small corridor behind yourself. Odds are it's too small for the thing. Go quietly, but if it sees you, pedal to the metal.

Shrunk pistol's ammunition is probably way too small of a caliber to cause damage. Hit to the eye might hurt, but it's overall too risky to yell freeze, so have to oppose
No. 1043271 ID: 515982
File 166269742634.png - (134.26KB , 500x500 , let_me_in_im_a_fairy.png )

>Point gun at- wow they bred big, duck for cover!
I push Anet and Jaina forwards and we run as quietly as we can. It’s too late, I can hear footsteps pounding behind us! We find the door to outside and pile through. Anet spots a control panel and manages to lock the door just as our stalker slams into it. They’re still pounding at the door as we run to the sky bridge, but- oh, no!
The bridge’s roof collapsed and took most of the bridge with it! Jaina and Anet can jump across that distance, but I still can’t! I need to think fast, what do I have to get me across this gap?
Well, I still have Anet and Jaina. They might not be able to carry me over, but we could turn and face our stalker, maybe buy ourselves time to build a new way across by fending them off.
We’ve got plenty of stuff in our bags, too, maybe something that’ll help.
I could also try to make it across what’s left of the bridge, the guardrail’s bent but intact across the gap in the walkway. It’s hanging on by a thread, though… actually wait, that’s not even holding the bridge up. That thread’s connected to a pressure plate. It looks like another trap, a springboard aimed at the other building. It’s pretty risky, but maybe getting flung at the other building is just what I need right now! It’s only a, what, five foot drop if I miss, right?
Maybe I don’t risk it at all. The bridge below is still in one piece. I could try dropping down the side of the block to that level, it’d take more time to climb down safely but they might not know to look for me.

>Fight >Item
>Parkour >Run
No. 1043273 ID: 8483cf


Did you bring duct tape? Attach it to a rope, and use the rope to pull some cabling from the ceiling down so you can swing across.
No. 1043274 ID: 15c72a

Drat, confirmed still mindless murdermonsters. Do they just live forever, or are they breeding?

No. 1043290 ID: 580aa8

No. 1043372 ID: a758c7

Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour Parkour
No. 1043927 ID: 515982
File 166330443027.png - (137.38KB , 500x500 , swooce_right_in.png )

“You guys go ahead! I have an idea!”
“What idea?” says Jaina.
“I’m going to launch myself across!”
“With what?!”
“Just trust me!”

The sisters jump across to the other side of the bridge. I walk back to the doors for a running start, take a deep breath, and sprint for the pressure plate. As I trigger the trap, the string releases the jaws of a binder clip that’s been trying to snap shut for centuries. I’m tumbling head over heels from the launch, it’s impossible to tell which way is up or down. I can only hope I’m headed in the right direction.
Suddenly I land on something hard and feel all my momentum suddenly shift backwards, then forwards, back and forth in a rapidly increasing frequency that leaves me nauseous and dangling over the abyss. I- hurk- unfortunately can’t keep my breakfast down after that. Jaina then shifts me around, so that I can see she has caught me in mid-air, and she is furious.
“What were you thinking! Trusting a trap to get you across safely? Are you trying to get yourself killed again?”
I wait for my head to stop pounding, and look up at the ceiling where we’re currently suspended from a sprinkler head. The rope… from Jaina’s rope dispenser. Oh yeah, I forgot she had that in the heat of the moment. Well, my plan got me most of the way across, Her rant slowly runs out of steam as I just hang there, dazed.
“...That was a nice catch.”
She huffs. “I guess. You're lucky it was.”

We start gently swinging back and forth until we can grab onto the bridge and pull ourselves onto it. Jaina cuts the rope free, leaving a long strand hanging between the two buildings. We head inside to find a layout pretty much identical to the one we just left. That will make it easy to find someplace to rest.
No. 1043928 ID: 515982
File 166330443525.png - (13.07KB , 500x500 , antermission.png )

We find an apartment with two dusty, circular beds. They look quite spacious to me, but Jaina is confused.
“Pretty small for a whole family. And why are there two separate beds? Just make one bigger mattress.”
Anet jumps into the bed abdomen-first and declares, “Good enough for the three of us! Bugger, first that Beformican and then you gave us a real fright there.”
“Sorry, what did you say? Beformican?” I ask.
“Yeah, it’s what I’m calling people like that scary lady! Because she looked like something that came before modern Formicans. Get it?”
“If her ancestors were part of those genetic trials we read about, wouldn’t they be what came after?”
“Look, just roll with the pun, Sam.”

While we eat lunch, we should think about our course of action now that we know we aren’t alone in this city. Should we avoid diversions and try to get through as fast as possible? Or is exploring still worth it?
>Pick two activities:
>Read Anet’s jokebook and chitchat.
>Pep talk w/ either sister: Inspire one of them to bolder deeds in near future.
>Allow Jaina to inspect Sam for injuries.
>Examine an item: Practice with/figure out more about an item. (https://tgchan.org/wiki/A_Small_Quest/Inventory)
>Explore the current room some more
>Get some peace and quiet, alone
No. 1043946 ID: e7c7d3

check for wounds and explore room
No. 1043948 ID: 36784c

Sam, stop staring at Anet’s large butt abdomen! It’s rude!

>What do?
Read jokebook and check Sam for injuries.
No. 1043952 ID: 629f2e

Pep talk Jaina, she's one cool gal.

Read Anet’s jokebook and chitchat.
No. 1044016 ID: 8483cf

Anet: Joke and chat
No. 1044018 ID: 01fe07

No. 1044220 ID: dc9df3

Allow Jains to check any injury we may have.
No. 1044318 ID: 515982
File 166372521677.png - (122.81KB , 500x500 , rub_some_dirt_on_it.png )

>Quality time with the sisters
I decide to stick close to my companions for now. For safety in numbers, of course.
Jaina insists on giving me a once-over for injuries after the springboard stunt. She instructs me to take off my shirt and lie on the other bed as she presses on various points testing for a reaction.
“Hold still, if we overlook something now it could become a worse problem later. Does this hurt?”
“No. Kinda tickles though.”
“Yes or no only. Here?”
“No. Really, it wasn’t that rough of a catch.”
She squeezes my tail again, a constant source of fascination for Formicans. “You’ve got a lot of muscle in there. They’re much thicker than mine.”
“Is that so? You sound impressed.”
“Not impressed, it’s just different. It might even be too much muscle. Maybe it’s so heavy, that’s why you can’t jump or lift as much. It’s... weird. Now, here?”
“Oof, yeah. Come to think of it, I have been avoiding that side when I turn over.”
“Sounds like this is from something earlier then.”
“Maybe it’s from when you lasso’d me up on Gail’s tail.“
“Oh. …Sorry about that.”
“No hard feelings.”
She digs out some medical supplies and applies a stinging salve to the sore spots. “This will help stop them from getting infected. At least I hope so, I’m not sure if your scaly hide works the same way carapace does.”
“Couldn’t hurt, I suppose. Good thing you carry plenty of spare bandages. Pardon my asking, but why is that all you wear, anyway?”
“For maximum flexibility with my armor on. And they keep it from chafing.”

Jaina finishes her inspection, satisfied that she didn’t toss me around too much, today at least. “Okay, you seem fine to me. Don’t go pulling a stunt like that again, okay? I’ve got enough to worry about keeping you safe.”

>I can look after myself, you don’t have to worry so much.
>You should worry about Anet first.
>Actually it is nice having someone watch my back.
>Hey my muscles aren’t weird, yours are! From an average galactic standpoint, anyway.
>Shouldn’t I check you for injuries back?
No. 1044319 ID: 15c72a

>Actually it is nice having someone watch my back.
No. 1044320 ID: 629f2e

"Shouldn’t I check you for injuries back?"
No. 1044348 ID: b90535

“Shouldn’t I check you back, I mean check if you have any injuries”.
No. 1044352 ID: 36784c

Both of these.
Actually it is nice having someone watch my back.
Shouldn’t I check you for injuries back?
No. 1044366 ID: 5ec37b

Hey my muscles aren’t weird, yours are! From an average galactic standpoint, anyway.
No. 1044595 ID: a7a180
File 166398693695.png - (106.63KB , 500x500 , smooth_moves_sam.png )

“I appreciate the save, really. I’m lucky I wasn’t sent out here on my own.“
“I wouldn’t let that happen, even if they did exile you alone.”
“Well, I would be obligated to escort you out of our territory, so to speak.”
“Ah. That's good to know. Now, shouldn’t I check you back for any injuries?”
“Hm, good idea. It’ll be easier for you to spot them. Go ahead then, check my back.” She loosens her bandages and lies down on the bed.
Oh! I was only half serious… I sit there for a moment figuring out what to do. I guess I’m looking for… cracks or discoloration?
Ahem. It’s faster if you use your hands.”
“Okay… Tell me if it hurts.” I follow Jaina’s example and poke her at regular intervals from her shoulder blades on downward. Her carapace feels really smooth, except for where there are small fuzzy patches of tiny hairs.
“Feels like everything’s fine back there. Now don’t forget the other side.”
No. 1044605 ID: a7a180
File 166399560525.png - (125.83KB , 500x500 , how_many_formicans_does_it_take_to_change_a_mood.png )

After giving Jaina a clean bill of health, I lie on the bed to read a bit. Anet climbs in and curls up against my shoulder.
“Hi! I see you’re reading my book. Need help?”
“-uh! Yeah.”
“Okay! I'll start from the beginning.”
“…Why are you sitting this close?”
“So I can see too. Isn’t this how you read with your siblings?”
“I don’t have any, so I wouldn’t know.”
“Aw, that’s sad! Here, my jokes ought to cheer you up.”

What do you call a Formican with too much time on her hands? A watchmaker!
A Formican asks her friend, “What’s up?” And she replies, “The ceiling!”
A Formican walks into a bar, and the five Formicans behind her go ‘ouch!’ ‘ouch!’ ‘ouch!’ ‘ouch!’ ‘ouch!’
Two Formicans are sitting in a bathtub. One Formican says “Would you get my back?” and the other one says “No way, we’re in this together!”
"…I guess that one doesn’t translate well.”

Anet puts the book down and looks back at me. “So hey… what’s like, the first thing you want to do when you get back home?”

>Beg my professor not to fail me.
>Like, home home? To the bookstore?
>Make good on my promise to hang out.
No. 1044616 ID: abaa91

What I WANT to do? Shower and sleep for a week.

What I SHOULD do? Grovel at my professor's feet and beg him to not fail me.
No. 1044618 ID: b90535

I should make uo a story of how I got lost and beg my professor not to fail me.
No. 1044876 ID: 49e2b5

Beg my professor not to fail me. I've been missing for a while, so I'll need a pretty good story to tell them, without revealing anything about you guys being here.

.....wait, what if no one noticed that I'm missing? They could pack up and leave the planet! Then I'd be stuck here on this planet, away from my family and friends!
No. 1044905 ID: a7a180
File 166433215910.png - (121.77KB , 500x500 , that_worked_a_bit_too_well.png )

“The first thing I’ll do is run to my professor as fast as I can and beg him not to fail me.”
“Fail you? After all the exploring you’ve done? That’d be silly.”
“Well as far as he knows, I just stopped showing up to the digsite, and attendance is a pretty important part of the internship!”
“That's unfair, it’s not your fault you were absent.”
“Yeah, I’m going to have a heck of a time coming up with an excuse. Maybe I’ll tell him I fell through a secret door? He'd probably want me to show it to him. No, I just got lost wandering the temple floors. I hope he buys it.”
"I'd back your story up, if I could..."

I think I'm starting to get the hang of reading Formican, and how convenient too, because Anet found someone else's diary tucked under the bed. I flip to the back to see how their story ended.

Today was soo annoying. First, the season finale of FF5 was a recycled cliffhanger from season ten. Then we were told fizz cakes were getting rationed now. I complained about it online to bloomershooters53 and he sounded confused, he said those have been rationed for years. I don’t know why they would tell people from the lower floors before us, aren’t we supposed to be literally on top of stuff like this?
Leeta said she’s been preparing a stash in her place ahead of the rationing, so we should be set for a while still. Oh, and also my family’s moving soon, apparently they’re shutting this block down and moving us next door to a half-empty one. Whatever, there’s no difference between them. As long as they don’t shut down the commerce plaza, who cares? At least when this place is empty nobody will see us dipping into our stash. I’ll leave this here as basically a time capsule for when we cycle back into this block. Later, diary!

After an hour of reading in bed, I’ve caught my breath and Anet is starting to get bored. There's a desk in this room that should house a terminal, but the building's power is off. That leaves the hallways pretty dark, but if this hab block is identical to the last one it should be easy to navigate by flashlight.
“Why waste the flashlight? Maybe one of these switches will turn the light back on,” Anet says. “Oh, maybe we should try the clicker here!”
I shrug. “We might as well.”
She clicks the button, and… The corridor is lit in a blinding flash of light! What are the odds?
Suddenly, the lights turn orange, and a voice comes on over some speakers. Somewhere nearby, I hear shutters closing. Um, what else did we just turn on?
No. 1044906 ID: a7a180
File 166433216457.png - (129.31KB , 500x500 , second_contact.png )

Something from down the hall makes a clattering noise. Jaina runs into the room first, brandishing her spear. There’s a hooded figure inside that’s startled at first but soon brandishes a weapon of her own and chitters angrily. I stay outside, looking to Anet to try and figure out what’s happening with Jaina.
“I recognize most of what she’s saying,” Anet whispers. “She said this whole building is her turf and she isn’t sharing. Jaina asked who she is and said we don’t want her stuff.”
Maybe I should say something too? That spear looks pointier than Jaina’s.
No. 1044909 ID: 15c72a

Tell them this is no time to fight. One of the mutants could have seen that flash, so we need to get away from here.
No. 1044911 ID: 8483cf

Shut up and stay quiet, let the responsible one handle this.
No. 1044940 ID: 0441fc

>I think I'm starting to get the hang of reading Formican
Good job! Maybe when you get back, you can demonstrate your ability to read Formican to your professor. I'm sure he'll have a bunch of ancient texts he'll want you to translate for him!

Is that the weapon from Dig Dug? Is she going to kill Jaina the same way enemies are killed in Dig Dug?
No. 1044968 ID: 36784c

>dig dug weapon?
I’m pretty sure that just shoots out the spear. The rope is probably tied around it because it’s her only shot and she doesn’t want to lose it when it’s fired out.
No. 1045619 ID: 9b4885
File 166508412127.png - (131.80KB , 500x500 , that_aint_no_ant.png )

I think I'll stay back and let Jaina handle this. This Formican seems pretty on edge already. Anet keeps me in the loop of conversation, quietly.
<I said, who are you?> the stranger says.
<My friends and I are just passing through,> Jaina answers.
<Passing through? What's there to pass through to?>
<That's none of your business.>
<It's my business now. Tell me, or else.>
<Or else what? We’ve got numbers. We have you cornered. We don't want a fight, but you'd best not start one.>
The girl doesn't say anything, she just tightens her grip and the wires attached to the spear buzz menacingly.
Jaina sighs. <Fine. We’re passing through the city to get to the old labs.>
<Why would you want to go there? That's their territory.>
<Whose territory?>
<You know! Them!>
<If you’re talking about those long Formicans, we’ve dealt with them before.>
<Oh, have you now? Then you know that’s crazy talk.>
<Can we discuss this without pointing spears at each other? We have bigger things to worry about. Some of... "Them" may have noticed the building lighting up.>
The girl relaxes her grip, but doesn't put it away. <Well even if they did, the quarantine shutters just closed. No one can get in or out now.>
<That includes us. We need to turn them off again.>
<If the shutters aren't powered They can pry them open. Best they stay up for now. Are you saying you did this? How?>
<What's important right now is we need to figure out how to open one shutter without opening all of them.>
Finally, she notices me standing outside. <What the bug is that?>
No. 1045622 ID: 9a2966

Make it clear you're harmless and intelligent, and get the girls to propose a trade of questions - answers for answers, with a caveat that you don't have to answer questions that make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

She clearly seemed interested in what turned the power on, so another trade option could be giving away the clicker in exchange for help, information or some gear.
No. 1045662 ID: 15c72a

Hello, I am an interloper.
No. 1045692 ID: b90535

“I’m a Talzoran, not from this planet. I’m, eh friendly”.
No. 1045693 ID: 629f2e

"I'm Sam."
No. 1046282 ID: 7cf2fa

Oh, this is too perfect for everybody here.
She's got loads of info about this whole place.
She would also probably like a safe place to go.
She tells it all, she gets details of the path to the village.
No. 1046294 ID: e51896

Give a dorky little wave hello
No. 1046584 ID: a7a180
File 166579818620.png - (100.97KB , 500x500 , take_me_to_your_leader.png )

I wave hello in a non-threatening manner as I can think of. “Heya, I’m Sam. I’m Talzoran.”
<This is Sam. He came from the outside world! And I’m Anet. Nice to meet you!> Anet says.
<Woah. The outer worlds are a real place? …I don’t know where to start. He’s so… green.>
<Well, how about we start with a trade of questions,> says Jaina. <I’m Jaina. You have our names now, so what’s yours?>
<I’m Pent. Like penthouse. How did he get here?>
<That is a long story, but suffice it to say it was a one way trip. We’re taking the long way around to get back. What did you mean by this being your territory?>
<This building is my family’s picking grounds, so we lay claim to anything left in here. If you want junk, you’d better space yourself out more. Speaking of, why are you dressed like that? You don’t blend in at all.>
<Uh… We’re used to different terrain, is all. Not as… leafy.>
Pent scoffs. <Well if there’s no leaves, what do you eat? Don’t tell me you’re from some block that’s still working, after a thousand years.>
<Fungus!> Anet chimes in. <That’s two questions for us, now! Cool weapon, what’s it do? Is it for dealing with the big scary Formicans?>
<Uh, yes. They’re tough, but they still don’t like pain. The battery’s wires are exposed so I can make it rattle to scare them off, and if that doesn’t work they’ll feel the sting. How have you been dealing with them?>
<Well, we just kinda ran away from her…>
<Hm. You’re lucky, must have been one of the friendly ones.>
Jaina frowns. <Explain.>
<Most of them attack us on sight, but some of them are open to trading. Usually food for shiny stuff, or protection. Better to let them approach you than the other way around, though, and with your spear out front. …That’s all the questions I’ve got for now. I’ll take you to my family, and we’ll figure out how to get these shutters open.>
No. 1046585 ID: a7a180
File 166579819235.png - (100.19KB , 500x500 , i_said_leader_not_litter.png )

Pent moves swiftly and silently, leading us down into the middle floors of this block. The empty apartments are like an endless maze, but she navigates dozens of disorienting turns with a practiced ease. Eventually she slows down and carefully leads us around traps more carefully laid than the ancient ones from the last building as we reach her family’s security perimeter. Finally she enters a ruined apartment that looks no different from the ruins around it, except the back half of the room is cordoned off with hanging leaves. Behind it, six or so Formicans are combing through large piles of scavenged loot. Pent introduces us curtly and explains how she ran into us.
<Is this really everyone? Your family’s so small.> Anet asks.
<Yeah. Large groups are harder to feed, harder to hide. We’re pushing things as it is.>
While Anet goes off to chat and admire their collected bits and bobs, I lean over to Jaina. “Sounds like this is a pretty miserable place to live. Maybe you should invite them back to your village..?”
She quickly shushes me. “Shshshhh. We can’t just go telling everyone its location, or people we don’t want showing up will hear too! I’ll think about it, okay?”
“Well, how about trading them the clicker? I bet they'd give us a lot for it.”
“I’d think about that a lot longer.”

Between us and Pent’s family, we come up with a plan of action. The eldest, Pent’s father, says that there’s a central control mechanism for buildings in the server room. Maybe the quarantine controls will be there too. If they aren’t, then we’ll return and tell them to get ready to sneak away when the power is turned off.

Is there anything else I want to ask or tell Pent’s clan?
No. 1046602 ID: f12e11

Well, you're the history buff. See if they have details to help fill in the blanks regarding what happened here. Looks like they may have lost a lot of that though, so you may have a lot to share yourself!

Would like to hear if they feel that they'd be better off if they stopped hiding from the universe at large, too. Does appear like they'd require outside help to escape this post-apocalyptic downwards spiral.
No. 1046615 ID: 15c72a

Yeah, ask about the l o r e
No. 1046716 ID: a7a180
File 166596296799.png - (117.11KB , 500x500 , end_of_an_era.png )

>the l o r e
These overgrown buildings tell a story, and I just have to know what happened. Jaina and I walk over to where Anet and Pent are chatting, showing each other items from their collection. The mirror lens apparently has Pent's button collection beat for novelty.
"Hey Anet, can you explain to her that I'm a historian of sorts, and I'd just like to know how things got this way? Um, ask about their history after your ancestors left."
"Okay! <Can you tell us about your people's history, Pent?>"
<A little. My grandma tells us stories sometimes. How does it go...>
<Long ago, people used to be bigger. But, as their resources dwindled, they got smaller. it got to the point where they were so small, they could not get any smaller. People worried they would run out of resources. There was a queen that ruled everyone back then, the Last Queen grandma calls her. She told everyone science was the answer to their problems. Then one day, there was one scientist guy who said he could change people's bodies to be stronger, leaner. The Queen was scared about what else it might do, though. She forbade him from continuing his research, and focused all her efforts into fixing up ancient machines that could make endless food. People got angry though that she was putting all this effort into the machines, but none into food they could eat right now. The scientist continued his work in secret, and starting with a small group of followers he created... Them. They converted more people into Themselves and began hoarding resources for themselves. But while their bodies grew stronger, their minds grew wicked and mean. They saw themselves as alpha predators, and Us as weak prey. We had numbers, though, and there was fighting for many years. Everyone broke up into smaller and smaller groups. There were fewer and fewer people, until finally the resource problem solved itself, in a way. They spread out to live and hunt individually, while we forage in a family. Every so often, our families come together to trade before splitting up again. They really were adapted to this way of life, but we adapted too. Eventually.>

Fascinating. That poor queen, going down in history as the last of her rule. The villagers are lucky their ancestors missed out on this. She didn't get everything quite right, mostly that part at the very beginning, but perhaps it's allegorical. Oral history is probably the only thing they can rely on anyway. I should write it all down before I forget it myself.

"Also, how would she feel about making contact with the outside world?"
"...Sam, you realize that if your people were to find this place, they would have to go through my village first," says Jaina.
"I do, just, treat it as a hypothetical question."
"Well, okay. <What are your thoughts on the 'outer worlds'?>" Anet asks.
<They sure sound better than this place. Maybe we'll go there ourselves when there's nothing left to find here.>
<Would you want to travel there with us, if you could?>
<How about we go upstairs together before planning a longer trip? Our family never travels too far apart.>
No. 1046717 ID: a7a180
File 166596297344.png - (92.74KB , 500x500 , to_server_antkind.png )

Climbing back upstairs in the orange light, the trip to the server room is exhausting but uneventful. The terminal interface is familiar, but all the options listed are technical terms way over our heads. I try inputting a 'help' command, and it begins to spit out a lot of data...

Welcome to FungOS Automated Networked Teacher! Tell me what you want to do today. Warning: No connection to network. ANT functionality is in unbug mode. There are [5] new system messages. Attention: Quarantine protocols are active. Biological isolation of hab block in effect. >_
No. 1046722 ID: 15c72a

>they would have to go through my village first
Uh, what? No. They can use the size machine we're heading towards.

View messages.
No. 1046740 ID: 3d15f2

So do they still do conversions, or is it all "we eat you inferior beings!"
Either way it's a pretty awful life to have to live. Poor buggos.
Oh derp. Forgot to inquire about tactics. Surely they've developed ways to effectively fight/run/hide, found weaknesses, so forth.

Perhaps there's a way to selectively rescue? Hm, but that would blow the lid off regardless... Sheesh, either way it's bad. Leave the city survivors to be used as prey or reveal the village despite their wish to be left be - plus the two galpals will go from pals to hostile.
Gotta talk to them about this. What was expected was a rough trip to the labs without moral issues, so what about this whole deal? While the village did say they wished to hide, would they still say so if they saw that to isolate would leave everybody else with this sort of life? Would they give that up to give their fellows a future?

>Server console
Perhaps whoever did upkeep left paper notes?
Does the server still have access to local building video?
...List last few commands used?
No. 1046987 ID: a7a180
File 166622997612.png - (137.00KB , 500x500 , pay_close_antention.png )

>So do they still do conversions, or is it all "we eat you inferior beings!"
I ask Pent if the Beformicans still raid families for converts or supplies. The answer is: Neither. They keep to themselves for the most part, only attacking if they happen across a lone scavenger or two. The conversion process is lost to history. They reproduce naturally, and supposedly they can live a very long time besides. The kids, when they have any, grow up fast and are left to fend for themselves.

>anti-Beformican tactics
Next I ask what we should do in case we encounter one of “Them.” She gives a few brief tips:
<Remain very still, don't get close, and when all else fails stick by your friend with the spear. They don't tend to bother with technology, instead They rely on natural strength and basic tools, so a little craftiness can give you an edge.>

>Should we save the cityfolk from themselves or protect the villagers’ secrecy?
It's difficult to say! I wouldn't want to be in either of their situations. They're both in a state of decay, the city’s is just much more advanced. I ask the sisters what they think.
Jaina: “Well, obviously I’m more attached to my home village than these people. As far as I’m concerned, it's just a different way of life. It’s not my place to judge it. They’re still managing to survive.”
Anet: “I feel sorry for them, but I agree that you can't reveal one without revealing the other. Besides, if these guys escaped, I wouldn't want to be stuck in a closet while they got to explore the galaxy!”

>Perhaps whoever did upkeep left paper notes?
There’s no paper to be found anywhere, it seems! I look for one of those data tablets like the ones that formican was hoarding, but there isn't a single one to be found. -Oh, perhaps those two things are connected.

>video cameras Warning: Unable to access overhead cameras.
A grid of different camera views come up. Most of them are dark or throwing up errors, but a few still work, probably showing ancient offices and labs. There’s nothing of interest happening on any of them. I try looking up old recordings, but I get a network error. I guess they weren’t stored locally.
>List last commands used -camera history -cameras -help ...Well that didn't help.
No. 1046989 ID: a7a180
File 166623005580.png - (129.19KB , 500x500 , memo_ries.png )

>View messages Displaying system messages from newest to oldest: [1] From: Unsigned (Node MS1538) Subject: asdf dceijdxmjevbnxm [2] From: Unsigned (Node MS1538) Subject: Ooh What does this button do? [3] From: Unsigned (Node MS1716) Subject: EVOLVE OR DIE LITERALLY YOUR ONLY TWO OPTIONS WE HAVE THE BRAWN, WE HAVE THEBRAINS WHO NEEDSD FINGERS FOR TYOPING WHEN WE HAVE CLAWS FOR STABBING JOIN US WE WILL OUTLIVE THE HOLE GALAXY! [4] From: SysTech 1138 - Area 17 Maintenance Subject: To whoever still reads these Listen, we all know times are bad right now, but they’re gonna get a whole lot worse if the life support systems fail! We need to set as many building systems as we possibly can into low power autonomous mode. It may sound complex, but if you can use a computer, that’s all the technological know-how you need. Just type these words into the command line in every server room you can reach. Use EXACT punctuation, and do NOT tell it to shut down! -Clear tasks -Add automaint cycle -.01 -Minmax environs(c) -Standby no P.S. Twig, if you’re still out there somewhere, cos, I’m sorry. You and Berri were right about getting out of here while we still could. -Granit 5 From: SYSADMIN - Area 17 Maintenance Subject: False alarm Last night a system malfunction triggered an emergency quarantine door in sector 11. It is unknown what caused this error, but as of now the issue does not seem to have affected any other major systems. Just in case, please don’t close any blast doors unless it is an actual emergency. Thank you. >_

Hm, well none of that addresses the problem directly. At least we learned a few things about talking to the computer.
No. 1046993 ID: 15c72a

Ah, before you follow those directions, try to list tasks. The shutters are something you don't want to cancel all at once, after all.
No. 1047007 ID: e26506

Well if you are going to do as the massage says be careful!
No. 1047015 ID: 746e38

Well, we've got a classic apocalyptic log.
Sorta useful, though the life support bit is especially worrying. Sounds like it'll fail eventually because of what's going on here. Decay will get to it with age, so how long does it have? Or did it fail already what with the food machines dying? Does it provide air to breathe?

Still, have to get to the labs. Sounds like the mutants have bad eyes. Gray camouflage it is!
No. 1047805 ID: a7a180
File 166706729237.png - (112.30KB , 500x500 , the_magic_word.png )

Life support could be running out? I don’t like the sound of that! “Anet, how do we ask it to check the life support systems?”
“Try this:”
>Life support help Did you mean: you require immediate medical attention?
>no! Apologies. Predictive algorithms are operating at reduced capacity. Please try again.
“Phew. Okay maybe this:”
>life support status Disconnected from network. Overall condition of Menthis Science Complex unknown. Displaying local conditions. Air recyclers: Active (Closed circuit mode) Food dispensers: Error Local hydroponics: 200% capacity Local water supplies: Nominal (25% full) Estimated hab population: Approx. 1 dozen Estimated reserves for current population: 9999999 years
Menthis science complex… MSC? Ohh. That must be the true name for this building they covered up with the Great Temple. It kind of dulls the aura of mystique.
Anyway, it seems like the system technician’s doomsaying didn’t account for one thing, and that was the general population taking a rapid decline. I don’t know why the hydroponics system has such a high number, but maybe it’s the root of all these vines growing over the buildings?
I’ll see what following the instructions does to help. Before I begin I should see what these tasks are that I’m canceling.
>list tasks System Monitor Biohazard Exoshield Automated Networked Teacher Network sync (paused) Laboratory Assistant Automated Medic
Okay, here goes.
>-Clear tasks Tasks cleared successfully. Network connected. Warning: 2795 nodes have been removed since last sync. Performance may be impacted.
The lighting returns to normal and another announcement plays on the intercom.
<The quarantine period is now over. It is now safe to move about the moon.>
What was that about the moon? Whatever, that seems mostly good… Well, we can’t stop now.
>-Add automaint cycle -.01 Beginning maintenance cycle with a length of 0 years. >-Minmax environs(c) Adjusting environmental settings. >-Standby Do you wish to shut down all systems? No Entering standby. Have a productive day.
There, that does… something. I didn’t hear the clunk of shutters retracting, so we’ve avoided leaving ourselves visibly vulnerable at least. But now how do we open the door?
“We could try asking politely?” Anet suggests.
>open the front door please Exiting standby. I’m afraid I can’t do that, [local user.] >why not The front door shutters are currently down. >open the front door shutters please? Certainly! Shutter retracted.
“See? It was that easy!”
No. 1047806 ID: a7a180
File 166706729861.png - (139.69KB , 500x500 , a_mask_of_his_own_face.png )

We return to the family den to report our success. This time we get a proper introduction to Pent’s clan.
<So there’s Grandma and my mom over there sorting through the collection, my siblings Bann and Sandy, auntie Ant, And last but not least, my dad, Gravel,> says Pent, leading us to the back.
Gravel’s sitting in a dark corner under the shade of a leaf, wearing an unlucky Beformican’s face as a mask. Hearing that we ended the quarantine with no apparent complications visibly relaxes him.
<Thanks, whoever you are. That damn alarm woke me up too soon.>
<But it’s the middle of the afternoon…> Anet points out.
<I know, I handle the night watch. I get that having the lights and the sink taps working again is a pretty good deal for us, but personally I liked it dark and quiet. So, I heard you were traveling somewhere? We might as well help you on your way as thanks for helping us.>
<It’s appreciated! We’re trying to get to the old labs.> Anet spreads our maps out on the floor to explain our route.
<The old labs? …Not my business why, but that’s not an easy place to reach.> He studies the maps quietly for a minute. <...Ah. Okay, so the good news is you and I have been thinking of different labs. Your old labs are farther than I or anyone I know has ever been. Our old labs are where They were made. The bad news is, this route’s no good, a hab block’s collapsed over the hatchway you were going to use. The next best route to your old labs is behind our old labs.>
<That sounds bad, but they don’t all live there, right? They’re solitary hunters,> Anet points out.
<For the most part, yes. There’s one exception though, which is uh, a cult is the best word to describe it I guess, that happens to consider those labs sacred grounds.>
<How are we supposed to get inside if it’s guarded by these… Them?> Jaina asks.
<Hard to say, it’s not exactly something I’ve tried to pull off. …Try approaching from an unexpected angle. They tend to stick to the outdoors and ground floor when they aren’t on the hunt, they don’t like the low ceilings in the upper floors. If you take the covered sky bridge from the building next door, you can try and sneak your way down and out the back without getting spotted. Pent can get you that close at least.>
Pent perks up at her name. <You’re volunteering me?>
<You brought them here, they’re your problem.>
<Ugh… Fiiine.>
<Great. Until you reach their hunting grounds, traveling across the undergrowth is the quickest and quietest path. Use the foliage for camouflage, and follow my daughter’s lead, without hesitation. Good?>
<We’re good.> Jaina and Anet nod.
I nod after Anet explains the plan to me. “Yyyeah, good.”
<Alright then. Top off yourselves off, but don’t take too long. These are good travel hours.>

>Pick two things to do before heading into Beformican territory:
>Weapon practice: Spar with Jaina and Pent with your pokey stick.
>Inspect item(s): Practice with/figure out more about an item. Pent may be more familiar with old Formican tech.
>Barter: Choose one or several items to offer in trade, the scavengers will make an offer in turn from their hoard. (https://tgchan.org/wiki/A_Small_Quest/Inventory)
>Talk with somebody: Give them a pep talk or ask them about stuff.
>Survey the area: Go to the top floor to check out the path ahead.
No. 1047830 ID: 8483cf

We’re not a warrior, no need to focus on things we don’t plan on excelling at.

I vote we learn more about the mirror lens. It’s valuable, it’s worth investing in. Maybe Pent will also opine about the Insulation Shards if we leave them lying around where she can see them?

Barter the cracked hardhat for something better. Perhaps they’ll take the Mysterious Bone Shard in addition for an actually useful piece of gear.
No. 1047858 ID: 01fe07

No. 1048088 ID: 983279

We should spar and check some items, maybe the clicker and bone and insulation shards.
No. 1048772 ID: a7a180
File 166796081450.png - (110.67KB , 500x500 , hololife_of_the_party.png )

>inspect: shards, clicker, mirror lens
With a moment of downtime, I decide to experiment with some items we've gathered. We're a long way from the labs yet, so this cluttered apartment will have to do.
The shards of insulation prove the toughest, sharpest material on hand, but as a result they're too tough to be worked with. I’d need time to make tools out of some of them to to make items with the rest of them, unless I used them in the crude shapes they are already in.
The clicker... well, after what happened last time testing it inside isn't the best idea. Maybe we'll try it again once we're outside. In the meantime, I think about what we know about it, and what we don't yet know. The range on its signal must be far for Anet to turn something on from a room away. Is it directional? After all it didn't turn on every hab block in the lab, did it? What's the smallest individual thing it can turn on and off? Hmm... Jaina's right, we don't know enough about the value of this object yet to trade it away.
Lastly, the mirror lens. This mysterious piece of tech that’s been nagging at the back of my mind. It’s too valuable to be a throwaway decoy, right? It’s advanced holographic technology, and compact too. I poke it and it plays Anet’s recorded greeting again.”Hiya!” After a few seconds it loops. I tap it again and it stops.
Pent wanders over to Anet and I, drawn by the light while I'm turning it over in my hands. <That's neat. Where’d you find it?>
"I didn't, Anet did, somewhere out there. Uh, how you turn it off again?"
"It's this symbol, in the corner."
<What about this symbol at the bottom?>
"...Huh, I never noticed that one before." Anet presses a symbol that blends into the lens frame. The hologram shimmers and shifts into a floating screen like the terminals.
"What is this?" I ask her.
"I think we found the menu…"
It turns out, playing back an echo’s not all it can do. It’s a full-on holographic camera! And the memory banks are full of ancient captures of formican life. We scroll through a few flat images, seeing the city busting with life. There are no vines, instead every hab block has a rooftop garden. The panoramas are followed by a hologram of a woozy Formican. I press play, and the Formican begins to dance. She stumbles forward and appears to lean on me, and I step back before realizing she was actually leaning on the unseen photographer. She laughs, and the loop repeats.
I back out to the main menu before I get lost in this archaeological gold mine.
No. 1048773 ID: a7a180
File 166796081978.png - (148.07KB , 500x500 , star_struck_scavenger.png )

Both Anet and Pent are awestruck. <That’s really cool. What do you want for it?>
“Want for it? But… I want this.”
<Pleeease? I’ve got lots of stuff to trade for it.>
Anet is reluctant to part with the holocamera, but then she looks at me, and an idea strikes her. She pulls Pent to the side and they have a whispered haggling session. I can’t follow it, but she comes back with a look of satisfaction.

“Okay, we've come to an agreement. Pent's going to come with us the whole way, and when we come back we'll bring her whole family along with us to our village!”
Jaina's startled by this. “Anet! You can’t-”
“Why not? We’re supposed to keep the village a secret from tallmen, not other Formicans! They don’t have to live like this! There’s no monsters there, and we have all the fungus they’ll ever need to eat!”
<It’s a really good trade for us,> says Pent.
“...Fine. Her family can clearly pull their weight. I hope the elders will approve.”
I don’t really know what to say… Secretly, I kinda wish I could keep the camera myself. Well, saying something is better than standing here awkwardly.
“Hey, uh, welcome aboard Pent!”
<Yeah yeah, I hope I don't come to regret it.>
No. 1048774 ID: a7a180
File 166796082544.png - (164.45KB , 500x500 , whaddya_buyin_stranger.png )

With that deal done, I decide to trade some of the stuff we’re not using for something maybe more useful. I show what we’ve got to Gravel.

>hard hat
<Hm. Tough stuff. Shame about the hole, but if we patch it up that’ll make a decent bit of armor. You want a better weapon in exchange?>
“Not interested, thanks. I’m more of a scholar than a fighter.”
<Well, maybe your friends could use it, but fair enough. How about… a comfortable suit to wear or a cloak to cover what you’ve got? If you’re willing to throw in a little extra, I’ve got this pocket knife that might be of interest to you.>
The cloak is one of their spares, a dark green that blends into the leafy vines and shadows. The suit is another one of the one piece suits Formicans used to wear, but this one shows its age. The pocket knife is a very fancy multitool in reasonable condition. He shows off the attachments: knife, screwdriver, pliers… one of the attachments looks strange.
“What’s that rounded, flat tool do?”
<That? It’s some kind of computer memory thing. There’s - well, if you’re interested in old curiosities, I suppose I won’t spoil the surprise. It's nothing big though, just some old papers.>
Ooh, I want to know so bad! Assuming it still works. Assuming I can figure out how it works…

>bone shard
<…What are you offering me?>
“It’s a shard of a humongous creature we saw. The size of an ancient, pre-shrunk Formican!”
<Are you sure? This seems kinda flaky for chitin. You did mean chitin, right?>
“Well, I was wondering about that myself… no, it was definitely a skeleton. Wasn’t it?”
<…Why don’t you keep it until you figure that out.>

>Trade Cracked Hard Hat for:
>Ragged Precursor suit
>Chiss army knife + memory disc (Must offer an extra item: >_)
No. 1048784 ID: 8483cf

Trade it for the Chompy! Nah, it'd probably tear a hole in our pocket.

Let's get the cloak. Good for comfort and stealth if needed.
No. 1048792 ID: 15c72a

>"bone shard"
Didn't we already determine that was plaster? We don't know why there was a fake skeleton there, but it's fake for sure.

Get the cloak, I'd think. It's camouflage, to better compensate for your lower physical skills compared to the girls.
No. 1048819 ID: a2d88b

Trade for the knife!
No. 1049317 ID: a7a180
File 166848744614.png - (123.29KB , 500x500 , pretty_fly_for_a_snakeman.png )

A cloak should come in handy! I’ve been sticking out like a sore fang with my khakis and scales. This was a good trade, it’s way less itchy than it looks.
Pent informs her family of her change in plans, and they wish her luck. By the time we make it outside, it’s raining in the lab. I stop and watch the giant droplets hitting the ground with an audible splash. I almost forgot this city’s not nearly as big as it seems.
Jaina, who it occurs to me has never experienced weather before, asks, “What’s happening?”
<It’s the daily showers. The sprinkler heads on the ceiling put out a fine mist to avoid spraying giant raindrops all over our heads. That would be… very unpleasant for anyone caught outside. It’s not perfect, though. The mist clings to the leaves and drips down the sides of the hab blocks, condensing into raindrops exactly like the misters were built to avoid. Watch your head, and stay away from the overhangs,> Pent advises. <We’ll be traveling in the open for a bit.>
The 'open’ is somewhat misleading, as the plants growing along the floor make for uneven, hilly terrain that obscures our sightlines. Occasionally we stop to listen for movement, but all we hear is the hum of the overhead lights and the gentle hiss of the misters.
No. 1049318 ID: a7a180
File 166848745146.png - (107.05KB , 500x500 , perilous_plaza.png )

It’s stopped raining by the time we reach an open courtyard between buildings with old and bent signs advertising long gone stores. I almost recognize this place - the mirror lens’ photos were taken around here, before it became overgrown.
Suddenly, Pent stops and motions for us to get down. The Formicans’ antennae all twitch, but I still don’t hear anything. Pent points to a broken window and I catch a brief glimpse of what’s got her worried - a Beformican on the prowl.
She whispers, <Wait here while I take care of this.>

>Let her do her thing (The Beformican will be wounded)
>Ask her to be gentle (Pent will stun the Beformican - it will be unconscious long enough to get away)
>Other: _
No. 1049323 ID: 8b4936

Let her do her thing, we aren't the kind of person who should be giving lessons here.
No. 1049331 ID: 58dd24

ah, gently, please. not excited about hurting anybody. Even the shellbacks got humane treatment, and they don't look at all like people
No. 1049711 ID: a7a180
File 166899508722.png - (131.73KB , 500x500 , debugging_windows.png )

I’m not eager to see someone get hurt, but… I hold my tongue this time, this isn’t my field of expertise.
Pent disappears into the shadows for a minute before we hear an angry shout. The stalker trips backward out the broken window, landing on his back. Pent jumps out after him, delivering an electric jab to make sure he doesn’t get up.
<Never saw me coming,> she boasts.
“...Is he going to be okay?”
<Maybe. They‘re annoyingly tough.>
<Hope he doesn’t remember you when he wakes up,> says Jaina.
<You going to wait around to ask him? Come on.>
No. 1049712 ID: a7a180
File 166899510033.png - (117.59KB , 500x500 , this_used_to_be_a_nice_neighborhood.png )

As we cross the rest of the city, it strikes me just how samey everything is. We pass the same hab block over and over, except mirrored from the opposite side of the plaza. Where is the expression of Formican culture? …Where is the transportation? Walking everywhere would- is taking a really long time when you’re this small. I guess the hieroglyphs had flying cars in them. And where are the other people? This city should hold millions, but we haven’t even seen anyone since Pent’s family. How many are left?
“Why haven’t we seen other scavengers? Is it because we’re getting near uh, Their territory?“ I ask.
<Mostly, but there are other reasons. It’s not just Them you have to worry about, it’s each other.> Pent points out signs of others’ passage I would have missed - scratches on a window, leaves that have been cut.
Soon the signs become more obvious - and gruesome. Spikes with Formican limbs impaled on them litter the path. Repurposed warning signs strung up between buildings let us know we’ve officially crossed into Their turf.
No. 1049714 ID: a7a180
File 166899510888.png - (96.93KB , 500x500 , enemy_spotted.png )

The vegetation starts to grow thicker to the point it’s untraversable, so we climb up to the walkways to progress. Just behind the thick wall of vines, there’s a wide open section with no plant cover. Odd, how do they keep it so clear? We spot a Beformican walking through it, and unfortunately she spots us back. The lone hunter raises her weapon and starts shouting angrily. This is bad, she could be calling to others!
Wait, what’s that noise..?
No. 1049715 ID: a7a180
File 166899511220.png - (74.67KB , 500x500 , look_both_ways_before_crossing.png )


How are we supposed to get across that gap safely?
No. 1049720 ID: 15c72a

Depends on what that was, exactly. Did you get a good look at it? Is it an automated vehicle, or some kind of maintenance bot?

You could look for a crosswalk...?
No. 1049721 ID: 90c451

Why would you want to get across? Isn't that the transportation you were just wondering about?

Use the rope you have to try and climb onto that thing. Quickly though, you're gonna need to be fast.
No. 1049726 ID: 8483cf

Rope! Time for some swinging action.
No. 1049742 ID: 708905

First of all figure out what exactly you're dealing with. Is that a giant wheel? Could be what cleared the vegetation, does it have a pattern?
No. 1049953 ID: a7a180
File 166917142659.png - (113.90KB , 500x500 , high_rider.png )

>Is it an automated vehicle, or some kind of maintenance bot?
I think it’s a vehicle? It’s like a building on wheels. There’s a handle on the trailing edge, and some kind of machinery pokes over the top… it looks like some kind of self-driving lab cart. The line between robot and automated vehicle gets a little blurry. It must have kept this aisle clear of vines by constantly running this route for years and years.
I don’t have much time to act - do we try and catch a ride, or cross when it’s gone and come up with a plan to not end up under its wheels?

>Catch a ride
>Stop and think: >_
No. 1050107 ID: 5499f4

No. 1050143 ID: 15c72a

Uh, trying to hitch a ride sounds a bit impulsive. Confer with your associates.
No. 1050151 ID: fec07f

This, it's obviously on a repeating path so if we want a ride later we can just wait for it to come around again
No. 1050163 ID: e6f42c

Woo, impulsive grappling hook time!
No. 1050164 ID: 90c451

Reckless endangerment let's gooooo!
Ride that thing!
No. 1050167 ID: a2d88b

Take the thought-out approach, it's what you're best at.
No. 1050437 ID: a7a180
File 166967443849.png - (168.97KB , 500x500 , doing_sam_a_frighten.png )

>Sam tried to think of something…
>But nothing came to mind!

“Jaina! Can your rope reach the top of that?”
“It sure can!” Jaina hurls her rope at the side of the cart and grabs the rest of us in her arms.
“Wait I didn’t say dooo iiiit!” But it's too late as I get jerked through the air again.
No. 1050438 ID: a7a180
File 166967445939.png - (157.17KB , 500x500 , wheres_the_gofast_button.png )

We swing back and forth at a terrifying pace as Jaina retracts the rope. The wind rushes past my face as we reach the top of the cart, and I scramble to get my own grip on the edge with a boost from Jaina. We peek our heads over the edge to find we're not alone up top. There's a gang of four Beformicans gathered around a touchscreen display. It seems to display the cart's route around the lab as well as activate two showerheads hanging off the cart. They're pressing the buttons at random to make the cart speed up or slow down, apparently making a game of trying to spray certain targets. Their chatter and cheers covers up our whispering back and forth.
"Are they actually driving this thing?" I say.
"Not sure. They won't be happy to see us, though. We should get the jump on them." Jaina is already coordinating her targets with Pent.
"Are you sure? There's four of them..." says Anet.
"This is crazy! Why don't we just drop down?" I protest.
Jaina stares at me as if this was my idea in the first place. "And risk getting caught under the wheels? Unless you want to end up a skidmark on a building or the floor, get ready to go over the side." Looks like now's not really a good time to clear up this miscommunication.
Hmm… it’s cluttered up there. maybe we can use the terrain to our advantage.

>Scoot around to a better angle
>Make a distraction
>Ambush them now
>Topple some gardening tools onto them
>Other: >_
No. 1050493 ID: 260607

Scoot around to a better angle
No. 1050509 ID: 36784c

I've got an idea: Everyone move to one of the bottom corners of the touchscreen display. Then Jaina gives one end of the rope to someone and that person goes up to the top corner. Jaina and the other person will pull the rope tight and the person up top swings downwards so that the rope goes across the touchscreen. The rope going across the touchscreen should be enough to sweep the Beformicans off their feet and, with how fast this thing is moving, the wind will knock them off!

I hope I'm explaining this correctly.
No. 1050531 ID: 7cf2dc

This sounds good!
No. 1050740 ID: 4169f6

No. 1050762 ID: a7a180
File 167002497185.png - (173.85KB , 500x500 , no_plan_survives_contact.png )

>Knock them off the touchscreen
It’s not really that windy up here, but it could still work!
“I have an idea. Let’s clothesline them off the cart.”
“We pull a rope across the top, sweep down and run them all over the edge. They won't see it coming.”
“...Sounds crazy enough to work. Alright, go and get ready to pull.”
Anet and I sneak around while Jaina creeps up to the corner of the screen. As we get to the other end, we notice a fifth Beformican looking over the side of the cart. They could be a problem if they notice us too soon...
Anet stands on my shoulders to lift the rope up and signal Jaina. She pulls it taut, and we’re off! The trick takes them completely by surprise, but as they’re falling one of the Beformicans manages to drag their arms down the touchscreen, pressing a bunch of buttons. The cart abruptly stops and reverses course, sending everyone flying!
No. 1050763 ID: a7a180
File 167002498502.png - (159.77KB , 500x500 , a_trolley_problem.png )

One of the hose heads spins around from momentum, spraying the cart top with water. I land in a puddle next to Pent and one of Them. It's impossible to tell where anyone else landed between the ringing in my ears and the water in my eyes. Groggily, I try to scramble away from the confused, angry ant. Not only is the puddle slippery, but stepping free of the puddle is like pulling my feet out of mud. Pent’s quicker to recover and manages to shock the soaked Beformican before he gets up.
I finally have a chance to look around. It looks like three out of the five Beformicans were thrown clear, but Jaina is fighting off the last two on her own while holding onto the rope. I don’t see Anet anywhere - she must be on the other end of the rope still!

>Help Jaina pull!
>Help Jaina fight off the Beformicans!
No. 1050776 ID: 15c72a

Well you're not exactly a fighter. Help pull!
No. 1050846 ID: a2d88b

Look if there's a way to secure the rope nearby instead of simply pulling it. If there's one, you can take over pulling entirely, leaving her free to fight them off.
No. 1051120 ID: a7a180
File 167038357885.png - (149.27KB , 500x500 , oww_ouch_oof_her_back.png )

>Pull up!
I scramble between the Beformicans and grab onto the rope. Anet with all her bags is really heavy, but between the two of us we manage to pull her up. Unfortunately, Jaina ends up having to defend all three of us as we lie catching our breath. One of them strikes her on the back trying to tear her armor off, but she manages to break away from their grip. Pent and Jaina end up focusing on one, then the other, flanking and driving them over the edge with painful zaps and wide swings.
The cart finally leaves the Beformicans in the dust, and we’re safe for a moment.
“Are you okay Jaina? It looks like you’re bleeding,” I ask.
She grits her teeth and waves me off. “It’s nothing. It hit the armor. You should see the other gal.”
The cart travels much faster than we could on foot, and its route loops past a building next to the labs we were aiming for. We can jump from the cart down onto the walkway and duck inside, bypassing a whole lot of sneaking in and up from the ground floor. There’s just two questions: how do we approach stealth, and what to have the cart do after we’re gone.

>The way forward:
>Pent’s way: Split up and have Pent cause a distraction…
>Jaina’s way: Ambush any interlopers and move quickly…
>Anet’s way: Take the long way around, avoid encounters. Look around a bit…

>The cart:
>Let it maintain course to avoid suspicion
>Try to get it stuck on vegetation
No. 1051145 ID: 623d9b

> The way forward:

Pent has lived like this the longest and has the most experience in dealing with the beformicans, but splitting up might not be a good idea anyways, what if the group is spotted? Or Pent can't get out after her distraction? Jaina is (most likely) injured and I don't think Sam or Anet are the best of fighters, and Pent would be able to spot anything indicating beformicans before any of you did.

Although ambushing is better than head-on fighting, but you just came out of a fight and it was a fight where you even had an ambush-advantage yet you still came out roughed-up. Any injuries from said fight might be a problem during another ambush, and there could be way more beformicans the next time.

The entire purpose of going to the archaeology site was to explore these ancient ruins anyways, if you're careful enough and have Pent as a guide you can avoid any more beformicans and traps (hopefully). There's not exactly a hurry right now anyways. Take the long way and make sure to find a safe(ish) spot to quickly check Jaina's carapace, even if it did not pierce through her armor it should still be reinforced or something. If that place is safe enough, check everyone for injuries after a fight, it would be bad to discover any problems too late.

I say do things Anet's way

>The cart:

If there really is no time to figure out how to work the cart, and just park it instead, getting it stuck in vegetation sounds incredibly dangerous. I think you would just end up crashing it, but that would make enough noise for a sort of distraction if done right, but that would still be way more dangerous. Even if it is meant as a getaway vehicle getting it "stuck" in vegetation kind of defeats the point.

I really can't think of a way to get it stuck in some vines and leaves safely.

On the other hand, knowing the beformicans would have such a powerful vehicle (even if they only partially know how to operate it) is very disconcerting.

Is there a way to crash it a little ways ahead of your location? If so, do that. If not, just let it go.
No. 1051201 ID: a9af05

Yeah, I agree with all of this.
No. 1051616 ID: a7a180
File 167089833139.png - (157.96KB , 500x500 , artful_underpass.png )

>Sneak around, crash cart
"What are we going to do if we run into more of those guys? They're really tough." I ask.
“We beat them just now, didn't we?" says Jaina.
“Yeah, with some luck and more than a few scratches. We can't keep that up for long."
<Confronting them directly is suicide. I’ll lead them away and meet you at the hatch,> says Pent.
I shake my head. “No. I don’t like the idea of splitting up. If they catch you, it would be really bad.”
<...They haven’t caught me yet.> Still, Pent relents.
“If we run into anyone inside, we should just go around. There’s plenty of rooms to hide in and look at stuff,” Anet says.
“We’re not here to look around, Anet,” Jaina reminds her.
“I know. Not like there’s much else to do when you’re hiding.”
“I think Anet’s right. We’re outnumbered, and we have the gist of how these hab blocks are laid out now.”
Anet smiles at my support. “See? Finding stuff is just a bonus!”
With that settled, we still have to figure out how to dispose of the cart, or at least leave it indisposed. It’s clear we can’t let the Beformicans keep driving this giant death machine around. We experiment with the controls on the cart, hopefully without causing any more hit and runs. Its speed seems to change depending on how far away you set the waypoint. After navigating a couple menus, we figure out how to send it to recharge at a docking station on the other end of the lab, and then prepare to jump very very quickly.
Just two blocks after we jump off, the cart veers sharply to the left into a thick wall of vines. We hear a series of bumps, the sound of the wheels spinning out, and then the noise fades away.
We head inside before anyone comes to investigate the noise. Every shifting of our packs leaves me jumpy after the commotion we caused, but the indoors is as abandoned as Gravel said it would be. We make it to the other side without incident and cross the covered skybridge over to block 5. We’re almost inside when we realize we hear footsteps on the roof and freeze.
There’s no other way to go around to get into the building, so we have to wait until they leave.
There seems to be at least two of them, and they’re chittering back and forth in a guttural version of Pent’s accent. It’s a very pared down language, but the base vocabulary is the same.
<Stupid riders. Can’t even steer that cart, and still crashed…>
<Yeah, stupid…>
<Maybe they hit something big?>
<This I have to see.>

They chitter together in short bursts, which I think is supposed to be a laugh, and take a running leap off the bridge to go watch the spectacle. It takes a while before it feels safe to move again.

We open the door to the Beformicans’ lair as quietly as possible. The inside is dark, dirty, and covered in random scrawlings. Most of it is nonsense, a few random dirty words here and there according to Pent, but there are some phrases that seem to repeat, like ‘no queens no masters’, ‘Queen sux’, and ‘Be tougher’. That last one is written under a figure of a Beformican wearing a coat and holding a test tube, or some kind of scepter. There’s also an older arrow someone’s painted that says: go to room 215. I’m not sure if we should follow some old graffiti… but what could be in there?

>Follow the arrow
>Look for a way down
>Lock the door behind you
>Loot the abandoned labs
>Other: >_
No. 1051618 ID: 15c72a

Follow the arrow.
No. 1051643 ID: 580aa8

lock door behind first, then follow the arrow
No. 1051644 ID: 8483cf

No. 1052329 ID: a7a180
File 167159493641.png - (172.84KB , 500x500 , go_bacta_sleep.png )

>lock door, follow arrow
Anet tries the keypad, but it doesn’t respond. Standing in the dark, I slowly realize the power may be out. The clicker could fix this, but that would attract a lot of attention. For now, we creep through the hallway to room 215.
The door creaks open to an old laboratory of some kind. The tables have been overturned and the floor littered with broken shards of lab equipment. I have to sweep it away very slowly to avoid making too much noise as we creep deeper into the room trying to find what that sign was guiding us towards.
As I clear away more debris using the pick as an improvised broom, a data slate that was lying on the floor suddenly comes back to life from the nudge. It lights up a set of tubes filled with a murky fluid against the wall, some of which are cracked open. As we look closer, we’re shocked by the face of a Beformican floating in the tube, twisted in anger! Thankfully, she’s long since dead. It does not look like the experience was pleasant. I quickly stuff the slate under my hood to shade the light and show the others.

—MSC Biology Division— Long Term Survival Genotype Project Trials Group 3 Subject 1: Description: Subject expired during cellular recombination. Results: Inconclusive. Suspension unit mix adjusted. Request to discontinue expedited formican testing denied by project lead. Subject recycled. Subject 2: Description: Cellular recombination completed. Altered cells failed to stabilize. Subject expired from internal bleeding. Results: Failure. Subject recycled. Subject 3: Description: Cellular recombination completed. Altered cells failed to stabilize. Subject expired from internal bleeding. Results: Failure. Suspension unit mix adjusted. Subject recycled. Subject 4: Description: Cellular recombination completed. Subject genome stabilized. Subject strength exceeded projections by 50%, resulting in damage to suspension unit when subject attempted to break out and attack lab personnel. Two researchers wounded, one researcher critically wounded before subject contained. Results: Success. Physical adaptations exceed targeted goals. No loss of subject intelligence recorded, but behavioral alterations undesirable. Suspension units reinforced, mix adjusted for increased sedatives. Subject held for study. Subject 5: Description: Cellular recombination completed. Subject genome stabilized. Aggressive behavior reduced but still present. Suspension unit integrity nominal. Results: Partial success. Suspension unit mix adjusted. Personality assessment added to preliminary subject exam procedures. Subject held for study. Subject 6: Description: Subject expired during cellular recombination. Results: Inconclusive. Subject recycled. Efforts to expand subject pool underway. Addendum: *Critically wounded? That’s a cute way to describe the boss’s head getting caved in. What are we going to do now? *We’re going to keep this under wraps and maintain a cohesive narrative. Half of our supporters are on board solely because of his crusade against the overseer. Without him to stand up for the project, she’ll shutter the whole thing. We have to press onward and give the public the appearance that he’s still in charge. We can’t let one individual’s death doom the entire species to decay. *I support this idea. If anyone asks, we’ll say he’s working in the back.

So, the Beformicans got their start in this very room. I find it odd the slate didn’t list any names, not even of their charismatic leader. Perhaps they were staying anonymous because they didn’t want to be caught doing such unethical things in the name of science. Was this what that graffiti wanted us to see?
On the inside of the doorframe, Pent points out another arrow and cryptic message:
Go to room 2112

Oh, maybe it was just a coincidence. There’s more to this mystery message to be discovered…

>try to open up the back room
>turn on the lights: They will know something’s up
>follow the arrow further
>abandon the trail and head down
>Other: >_
No. 1052342 ID: 15c72a

Follow the trail.
No. 1052348 ID: 56b2a9

uncover the mysteries of the past. It's what you're on this planet for, after all
No. 1052349 ID: 8483cf

Follow the yellow brick arrow
No. 1052350 ID: a2d88b

Stay stealthy, follow the thread.
No. 1052394 ID: 5d867d

Follow those arrows!
No. 1052493 ID: a7a180
File 167185184412.png - (147.61KB , 500x500 , paging_doctor_love.png )

>follow the arrows!
>It's what you're on this planet for, after all
Some people might set aside their insatiable curiosity when trespassing in a tribe of killer ants’ territory. I am not some people.
We continue down the corridor, checking for room numbers and sentries every couple of feet. Or is it inches? I’ll stick with feet for my own sanity. 2212 is another laboratory, messy but free of broken shards. We know roughly where to look now and spot a familiar arrow straightaway. The message here says:
go to 2125
So close…

That room number must be pretty far down the hall. I’m starting to wonder if we’ve run the clock out on our element of surprise.
Since we’re already here, we might as well check out this lab too. The look on Jaina’s face is hard to read as I motion to her to watch the door. Our search turns up nothing until we reach the back. There are two doors here, each leading to a room with a one-way mirror wall allowing a clear view inside, once we wipe some dust off. One of the rooms has been claimed by someone as a personal stash. Two beds are pushed together and piled high with pillows next to a makeshift vanity with handmade combs and curlers. There’s even a dataslate hung on the wall to use its polished backside as a mirror. Somewhere around here, there must be a Beformican whose hairdo is fabulous. Out of curiosity, I take the slate down while Anet searches the stash to see if it still works. Ah, yep!

–MSC Biology Division– Electronic Messenger Sent Messages: 3 *** To: intern2@teamspice.mscb4f Subject: RE: Project Spice press release preview This makes me want to die. Of embarrassment. Why don’t you read that again and then take a good, long look in the mirror. -Dr. Hearth – Original message below: To: Dr. Hearth Subject: Project Spice press release preview Here’s the latest copy for the information campaign! What do you think so far? Is having fun getting BORING? Don’t you wish that fooling around was more productive? Why not be REproductive? Try Dr. Hearth’s Love Juice! This cutting edge mood enhancer is guaranteed* to lift your spirits and get you feeling excited to hatch some eggs, eggs that will lay faster and smoother than ever! Experience the joys of motherhood like never before through the power of science! Available for free(!) at your local creche. “A little chemistry has greatly increased my chemistry with my partner...” -Mica Menthis “Dr. Hearth’s Love Juice has got antennae turning my way everywhere I go.” -Samantha Chiron “I want to have babies! So many babies!” -INSERT NAME HERE Coming soon, you’ll be able to find Dr. Hearth’s Love Juices in several new products, such as bubble baths and perfume for men! *=Projected results not guaranteed. Offer valid while supplies last. Ask your doctor before taking Dr. Hearth’s Love Juice if you are pregnant or nursing, as it is probably redundant. This message was paid for by the Overseer’s Office of Natal Technology Solutions. *** To: Dr. Hearth@teamspice.mscb4f Subject: Note to self Ugh. Ugggggh. I am trying my best to run this project efficiently, but nobody else is taking this job seriously. Just because our testing process is about getting the subjects in the mood, my science team is treating this job as an easy way to get laid! Getting people laid isn’t the problem, it’s making them want kids as part of the deal. Fewer Formicans are undergoing the transition to queen, preferring their consequence-free lifestyle as a swinger worker. It seems even the once indomitable colony spirit of the Formican worker has eroded over the years we’ve spent underground. Worse yet, research on the second stage is failing to make any progress. The drug’s effects so far are barely distinguishable from the placebo. All of the overseer’s hopes are riding on this project, but I fear she’ll be disappointed no matter what. You can’t concoct a magic potion to fix a society-wide issue. How are we going to feed these children? Who’s going to teach them the technical skills we so desperately need? We don’t know who the teams working on those issues are, but I sure hope they exist. *** To: everyone@teamspice.mscb4f Subject: Memo Good morning, Team Spice. We’ve had a lot of fresh faces join recently, so it’s time to give this talk again. I get this question every so often from new team members: We already know what chemicals induce the physiological transition to queenhood. Why don’t we just add them to the serum, spike the water supply and call it a day? The answer is quite simple: because forcing this change on everyone is not the answer. People would be surprised, upset, and might even abstain from copulating rather than deal with unwanted children. This runs counter to our project’s core aim to encourage population numbers, and would be a huge breach of public trust. Frankly, I’m ashamed I have to answer this question, repeatedly. Even our “esteemed colleagues” at the gene therapy lab aren’t planning to surprise the populace with a one-way transformation. They’re quite up front about it. My lab won’t be the one to stoop to such underhanded tactics. Try your best to think of solutions, people, the fate of Formicankind is depending on us.

“Hey, score!”
“Hm, what’d you find Anet?”
“A vial of pink stuff, and it smells really good!”
I take a whiff myself, but I don’t smell what the fuss is about. “...Is this the stuff they were working on in this lab?”
<And just what are you planning to do with a thousand year old love potion?> Pent asks.
“Hey, you never know.”
>Obtained: Serum Experiment X-0.X

We’ve done nearly a full circuit of this floor’s main hall. We just passed by the stairway, so we know where it is now.
>Use the stairs
>Follow the arrow, we have to know!
>Other: >_
No. 1052544 ID: 96a9a8

Exit. The arrows are someone playing a game. Id it's an old game then it's over and nothing's at the end. If it's a recent game then it's probably a trap.
No. 1052547 ID: 8483cf

No. 1052549 ID: 1ecc81

Make sure you warn all the ladies to not drink that or else they'll become a queen that'll be desperate to have children in order to repopulate! ...unless they want that. Then tell them to at least wait until this adventure is over before they drink it!

>now what?
Might as well follow the arrow and see where it leads.
No. 1052686 ID: a7a180
File 167218503115.png - (112.88KB , 500x500 , rather_an_anticlimax.png )

>Arrow x3
Okay! We’ll solve this mystery, no matter how old it is!
We find this sign out in the hall:

I. M.
Go to room 215

Huh? But that’s the first room we checked. …Wait a minute. OWA… TAFL… IM…
Argh, we’ve been bamboozled by the oldest trick in the school textbook, a looping trail!
With terrible timing, we hear a door slide open and someone with heavy footsteps enters the building. They have our scent now… We’d best get moving.

>Loop around
>Double back
>Duck in here
>(Clicker) Light things up
No. 1052687 ID: 74528c

The clicker is a terrible idea here, save it for if things go really sideways.
Duck in there, if it is a loop you won't know which way they're coming until you see them.
No. 1052992 ID: a7a180
File 167252123688.png - (140.45KB , 500x500 , osha_violation_detected.png )

>Duck inside
Better to wait until they pass to try and slip past them. Right?
We run inside the room and hunker down behind the furniture. The floor tiles creak distressingly loudly beneath our feet. The floor didn’t sound like this in the other labs, what’s different in here? Unfortunately, I get my answer when we hear a sharp crack. The ground beneath our feet suddenly gives way and we tumble into the room below, coughing up a storm! It’s hard to see where we landed through the dust and the darkness.
Oh, my back… I landed on top of something hard before it gave way. I think a table broke my fall, and I broke the table in turn. Something in the pile of debris feels solid, not crumbly. It seems there was a dataslate tucked into a drawer. I pick it up in case it still works, but now’s not a good time to read it.
>Obtained: Scratched Dataslate
No. 1052993 ID: a7a180
File 167252124058.png - (138.75KB , 500x500 , the_express_elevator_down.png )

Well, the good news is we’ve gotten past the sentries. The bad news is they definitely heard that.
Jaina makes sure everyone sticks together and pushes us to get out of here, fast. Looking outside, I can guess the damage to the ceiling must have been caused a fire that broke out on this floor, and that's not all that happened. The hallway is blackened and littered with discarded weapons and padded armor, partially melted and fused to the floor. I spot clubs, plastic shields, remains of improvised firebombs, and even giant nuts and screws. Sometimes, bits of their wielders are still holding on to them. I feel ill… though maybe it’s just the dust I breathed in. Wait, what was that made up of? ...I don’t want to think about that right now. Right now I have to focus on getting to the stairs.
However, another opportunity presents itself - a room with a collapsed floor like the one we fell through could provide a shortcut down. It seems like the damage stretches downward for several floors, so it would be risky, but we could go down several floors very quickly via this hole. But what if someone slips? …What if the Beformicans are already looking in the stairwell?

>Get to the stairs
>Jump down the hole in the floor
>Look for useful gear:
No. 1052996 ID: 11c0d1

The others have no problem with fall damage. You are the only one that needs to be careful descending, so go down that way.
Look for gear quickly.
No. 1053072 ID: 8483cf

No. 1053114 ID: a9af05

>But what if someone slips?
Who said you had to climb down the hole by hand? Jaina has that rope, so you can all climb down safely by using that.
No. 1053374 ID: a7a180
File 167305491655.png - (182.59KB , 500x500 , a_light_shrining_in_darkness.png )

>Scavenge quickly
Looking around didn’t turn up much of value. I tried to pick up an armored vest but ended up tearing away the piece in my grip. It’s firm and compresses well, just don’t pull it apart and it’s still good. I think.
>Obtained: Scrap of armor

>Into the hole
Our climbing gear helps us drop down safely, but the hole is jagged and lots of exposed support beams and metal edges threaten to tear a gouge or worse out of the unaware urban explorer. Pent’s the first to go down the hole, antennae on a swivel for any downstairs denizens. A slow minute goes by before she reaches the bottom, giving us the all clear.
“I’m lowering you down next,” Jaina tells me. “Remember, tug twice when you’re ready to send it back up, three times if you need to be pulled back up fast. Push the rope away from anything sharp and keep a close antenna out yourself.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not my first time rappelling. I know the basics of it.”
“Good, then don’t forget them.” Hah, no pressure!
A minute seems to pass even slower when I’m the one on the rope. The descent is slow and jerky, getting eased down an arm’s length at a time. I try to avoid deep breaths in the meantime, the hole smells sharply of burnt plastic. Floor after floor of dormitories go by. I can barely see anything around me, but I don’t care to turn on my flashlight and look.

The hole continues all the way to the ground floor lobby. Pent watches me descend and motions to stay quiet. The Beformicans have laid out an indoor tent city here for their sleeping quarters, with individual nests partitioned by hanging leaves. Flickering shadows indicate there’s at least a couple people still moving around there The escalators block me from sight of the main floor, but I can see more bad news below: the back doors have been blocked off by some kind of makeshift shrine.
The shrine consists of a scrap metal statue of a Beformican with the distinctive collar of a scientist, presumably the same one in the graffiti upstairs. He’s flanked by a pair of large candles lighting up a mural of yellowed paper. It’s impressive, actually, this is much more artistic than I’d come to expect from these guys. The candlelight casts his shadow over scenes of Formicans etched into the wall. The top left scene shows a crowd of bone-thin, sad Formicans, and the scientist holding a strand of DNA, I think. Below that, a group of half-normal, half-altered Formicans are undergoing the transformation alongside him, kneeling before him in what is clearly worship. The other side shows a group of Beformicans fighting a group of Formicans with helmets. The true believers are fighting and winning. The helmeted soldiers are fleeing before them. The last scene is the Beformicans standing in a ring around the scientist, holding hands.
No. 1053375 ID: a7a180
File 167305492074.png - (158.06KB , 500x500 , the_jaws_of_defeat.png )

Well, there’s still time to think of a solution. The paper looks ancient, we could cut a hole through the middle. Formicans are pretty strong too, maybe the three of them could just push the statue out of the way and we could slip behind the setup.
As I drop down toward the statue, the rope’s swaying is getting stronger. Then all of a sudden, the statue lurches towards me! Aah! Help, it’s got me in its jaws!

No. 1053379 ID: 15c72a

What the heck!? Is it on wheels or something? Try to stay quiet but get your head out of the jaws and slide down the last of the rope.
No. 1053402 ID: 8483cf

Are you sure it didn't just... fsll over?
Don't panic.
No. 1053403 ID: 681cb5

Magnets, how do they work?
No. 1053406 ID: 9db65f

Don't let it fall down, or the noise will alert all hostiles in the area!
No. 1053561 ID: a7a180
File 167330146108.png - (161.04KB , 500x500 , somethings_gotta_give.png )

I’m trying! How did this thing grab me? Oh, wait, it didn’t. I must have swung into it by accident. I wasn’t swinging the rope though, so what was?
>Magnets, how do they work?
My bag is stuck on the statue, but if I pull on the strap I can slide it up. What’s doing that? …I think I found the culprit. That mysterious orb I picked up must be magnetic. Well, that explains how it popped open the lock on that luggage.
>Don’t let it fall down
I manage to extricate myself from the jaws of the scientist and climb on top of his head, using the rope to try and pull myself and the statue upright. Pent looks up at me, clearly concerned. She points between the hole, me, the statue and the escalators and throws up her hands, seeming unsure of what to do. I shrug back with my free hand, not quite sure myself.
This leaves me in a precarious position. I still need to get down from this statue, but I don’t want to alert the Beformicans by knocking it over. And my bag’s still stuck to it because of the magnet. I can probably manage two of these things no problem, but something’s going to cause issues.

>Pick two:
>Keep the statue upright
>Get down safely
>Keep everything in my bag
No. 1053562 ID: 147284

You can't alert the beformicans, the others still need to get down. Dropping the bag is liable to break stuff or alert the beformicans too. So regretably you're going to have to hope you're lucky and you make it down safely. Maybe Pent will be able to catch you as you get down if you slip and fall?

Don't spill your bag and don't let the statue fall over. You have to risk your safety here to keep the group safe this time.
No. 1053566 ID: a2d88b

Stay where you are. Try to get the bag down safely (you have a rope, after all), then you can worry about relocating yourself.
No. 1053677 ID: 9a2966

Man, screw statues.
No. 1053824 ID: befea9
File 167380483021.png - (140.50KB , 500x500 , catch_of_the_day.png )

>Priorities: Statue, bag
I have to keep quiet until Anet and Jaina get down here, and that means I can’t let the statue fall over! I wave Pent over to push the statue upright, eventually getting the message across. As she pushes, I tug on the rope twice and grip the statue with my knees, relying on Jaina hauling me up to lift the statue. I hold onto the rope until it’s no longer pulling me up but forwards and hope Pent can push it the rest of the way. Once it’s back from the tipping point, the statue wobbles on its base surprisingly quietly before settling. I really hope no one heard that.
While waiting for the sisters to climb down, I manage to roll the orb free of my bag and pluck it from the statue. Anet is the next one down and looks confused as she sees me sitting on the statue.
...Are you okay,” she whispers.
<Shh! He landed on the statue somehow. Nearly knocked it over,> Pent explains briefly.
Finally, Jaina jumps down, and she has the same question. “Why are you up there?
Magnets,” I explain briefly.
...Whatever. Just jump down and I’ll catch you.
No problem. Just have to keep telling myself I’m only four inches off the ground. I hop off, and..
>Risky jump: Success
I land snugly in her arms. The landing knocks the breath out of both of us.
Wow, another good catch…” I wheeze.
You’re heavier than you look… Now, where’s the exit?
It should be behind this wall of paper.
Paper’s not going to stop us.” She puts me down and swiftly cuts a hole for our exit.
No. 1053825 ID: befea9
File 167380484536.png - (112.69KB , 500x500 , smooth_criminals.png )

We spread out to search the back quickly for a hatch, and upon finding it pile in posthaste. One of the Beformicans almost spots us, but we slam the hatch shut before they can give chase. We run down the maintenance shaft until there’s some distance behind us and we can finally stop and catch our breath.
Anet is smiling. “We made it!” She gives Jaina two thumbs up.
Jaina wearily returns the gesture, once. “Hopefully there aren’t more of them lurking down here.”
<Dad was right, those things are scary in a group,> says Pent.
<There was so much stuff in there I want to ask you about!> Anet says to her. “I always wanted to see the city. I thought it’d be nicer, though... instead it makes me really appreciate village life.”
“Sam… are cities always this bad?” Jaina asks.
“Well, they aren’t full of roving mutant cannibals, but they are densely packed. Formican cities especially so,” I say.
“Hey, we didn’t see any cannibalism!” Anet says.
<No, he’s right,> adds Pent. <They will eat anything.>
“Well, what did you think of this one?” Anet asks me.
“Me? Well… It was a cool place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
What else do I say? (Pick one:)

>I think we found more artifacts today than the dig has in a century.
>You pulled my tail out of the fire a lot, Jaina. The next time a bug tries to take a bite out of me, I’m biting back.
>I haven’t said a word directly to Pent yet. I should try saying thank you in Formican.
>What happened to the Formicans was a tragedy. I wish more of their records had survived.
No. 1053830 ID: cb7695

The second one.
No. 1053842 ID: 9a2966

Thank your local guide for her rather timely and helpful assistance. You wouldn't have gotten so far without her.
No. 1054003 ID: 8483cf

Say thanks, and try it in the local tongue!
No. 1054009 ID: e5e15e

Try saying thank you in Formican.
No. 1054164 ID: a7a180
File 167418866985.png - (92.65KB , 500x500 , smooth_talker.png )

I haven’t said a word directly to Pent yet. She’s gone out of her way to get us this far, it’s time I thanked her for it. My practical Formican experience is really on an uptick, you know!
“Hey, Pent.”
<Yeah? What does he want?> She looks to Anet expecting a translation. Not this time.
I fumble over my tongue at first, the clicks and chitters are hard to get right, but finally I stutter out, <Thank you>.
<Oh? …Not bad for a first try. Yeah, you’re welcome. For saving your butt so many times.>
That felt pretty good! I feel like I can communicate basic concepts in Formican now.
Anet remarks, “Hey, you’re really learning the language! I told Jaina you could do it!”
“Yeah, reading your book really helped.” I reply.
“Want to do it some more?”
“Hm, or what about that data slate I snagged?”
“Oh, really? Let me see!”
No. 1054165 ID: a7a180
File 167418867317.png - (119.02KB , 500x500 , some_light_reading.png )

We really dig into the log once we set up camp deep in the maze of tunnels. It seems to be the record of someone that survived the fighting. The fire must have come later, as the slate is slightly heat-warped.

Madness. I’m writing this for people to know what happened here. This was an unthinkable tragedy just a few generations ago, but now look what’s become of us. It’s difficult just to type this. A few months ago , the genome research team announced a breakthrough and put out a call for volunteers, which our totalitarian queen-overseer tried to suppress. Despite overwhelming pushback, they came closer to a solution every day. She spoke out personally against the project, and her supporters would hold protests around the block. Eventually those protests turned to riots, and today they forced their way inside. The protesters and the science team's supporters were separated by a thin line of security trying to beat us back. The crowd was pressed up against them from both sides. The scientists came out of the lab to try and de-escalate. Something came sailing over our heads and cracked one of the scientists square in the face. From there it became an all-out brawl. And we tore them to bits. The science team is safe for now, we have test subjects guarding all the entry points to the building. If they want a fight, we’ll give them one. Our numbers are too great and powerful to suppress. They were fools to fear the future. Now, they’ll have a reason to.

Anet is quiet for a long time after reading. Finally, she clicks her tongue and says, “Well, I need the joke book after that.”
After some more lighthearted reading, the others go to bed. I stay awake, thinking about the bio labs. We remembered to shut that hatch tightly, right? I think so… oh, we should have arranged a watch or something before falling asleep. Oh well. The others will be up again soon, I’m sure. I had better get some in while I still can.
No. 1054166 ID: a7a180
File 167418867716.png - (22.43KB , 500x500 , alien_ambassadors.png )

Today’s the culture fair at the university. Species from all over the galaxy are coming to our planet to acquaint us with their customs. There’s so many aliens to see! Like right now, there goes one of those quadrupedal aliens whose name is really hard to pronounce in our language. Tall aliens, small aliens, aliens in protective suits, even some hive minds are rumored to be in attendance. The offworlders are coordinated mostly by a staff of duduks, who are also running the amtsvane booth. They said something about how we’re not ready to meet those aliens yet, but they’re very good friends with them and that we kind of remind them of them, but shorter. There’s a member of another recently uplifted species here too, the tobak! Their diplomat is being escorted by some first contact officers. I can't decide who to approach first.
I wonder if the Formicans have a booth too…

No. 1054185 ID: 8483cf


Hug the tobak
No. 1054209 ID: ef4dda

I wanna hear some Arkot jingoism.

We can also talk to the Montys, they know a lot about accounting.
No. 1054405 ID: a7a180
File 167442667274.png - (12.18KB , 500x500 , a_jarring_transition.png )

>Hug tobak
I head toward the aliens, but I don’t get far before I nearly step right off a ledge! I look around and notice I’m on a giant table. “Hey, what gives!?”
Careful, Sam! You almost fell off the edge there. Can’t have our sole Formican expert taking a tumble, can we?” Gail walks over, as huge as the last time I saw her. It suddenly occurs to me I’m supposed to be running the Formican booth today... Before I can protest, Gail picks me up and drops me into a jar! “There, for your safety. Okay, see you for lunch!
No. 1054406 ID: a7a180
File 167442667531.png - (16.26KB , 500x500 , in_my_restless_dreams_i_see_her.png )

“Hey, don’t leave me here! Take me with you…”
Nobody seems to acknowledge me, except for a Formican that stops at my booth. She’s even bigger than Gail, and the look she’s giving me is scary. I have a very bad feeling about this… I try to get away from her by tipping the jar over but it’s no use, the jar won’t budge. I turn, and the Beformican’s face is inches away from the glass, judging me. What does she want? Is she going to eat me?! I want to wake up!
No. 1054407 ID: a7a180
File 167442667959.png - (68.38KB , 500x500 , not_a_dream.png )

I wake up and I realize the Beformican is still staring at me.
No. 1054443 ID: e51896

Take some deep breaths. It's not the Beformican, it's only Anet... but why is she standing over you? Ask what's wrong.
No. 1054451 ID: 49e2b5

Scream, "I don't want to be small for the rest of my life!"
No. 1054452 ID: 36784c

Calm down, that’s Anet!
No. 1054454 ID: dee951


Dammit, Anet! Don't DO that! You'll give me a heart attack! Sit next to me and gently shake me awake rather than creepily looming over me with hands ready as if to strike!!
No. 1054477 ID: 49e2b5

Wait a minute. Is it just me or is the clothing Sam is wearing looking bigger than it should? Don't tell me he got smaller! I really hope that's a sleeping bag he's in (or it's a weird perspective thing due to the art), otherwise we've got a time limit to get Sam bigger before he gets too small!
No. 1054546 ID: a7a180
File 167452459978.png - (148.36KB , 500x500 , thats_not_anet.png )

>Stay calm
I suppress the initial urge to shout and take deep breaths. “Oh, it’s just you Anet,” I speak softly. “Don’t scare me like that, okay? Sit down and just shake me by the shoulder next time.” She doesn’t move. “...What’s wrong?” I briefly wonder if I’ve started to shrink more, because my clothes feel fine, but Anet seems a lot bigger…
The real Anet groggily sits up and faces me. “Yes, Sam? What’s wrong?”

<What’z wrooong…>
No. 1054561 ID: a9af05

…ok, before you panic, remember that the friendly Beformicans will approach you, so this one is probably friendly.
No. 1054574 ID: 15c72a

It's (she's?) mimicking your language. That's a good sign.
Tell Anet not to panic. You have a visitor.
No. 1054578 ID: 281b3c

Let's not raise our voices or make any sudden moves, and do everything we can to make sure our visitor doesn't get agitated. Soothing, relaxed tones of voice are important here.

Hey there fella. You are very impressive. You've come to pay us a friendly visit, haven't you.
No. 1054586 ID: 613ef9

“Oh, uhhh… hello there, can I help you?”
No. 1054589 ID: e51896

well, if they were planning to attack, they would have done so while you were asleep.

I wonder if its hungry. We have food we can give it to show we mean no harm?
No. 1054810 ID: a7a180
File 167486107134.png - (130.38KB , 500x500 , dinner_and_a_show.png )

Oh, hey Anet. Don’t be alarmed, but we have company.
She rubs the sleep out of her eyes before looking my way. “Oh? -Ohhhh.
She must be friendly… I think.
Then keep talking to her.
Right. Uh… my, what big claws you have.” -Agh, why did I focus on that? Wait, I should try using a language she (probably) understands! I clear my throat and try again in Formican. <Greetings,> “uh,” <big ant, friend?>
<Big ant… me. Friend.> Her accent is thick, her voice low and buzzy.
<Yes, m- you. Me, Sam. Uh… food?> I offer her a mushroom cap from my bag.
<Hmm?> She takes it and sniffs it with her antennae before biting it. It’s fascinating and a little intimidating to see her outer mandibles clacking in sync with the inner mandibles chewing up close. She must like it a lot, because it starts disappearing quickly. Or maybe she hasn’t eaten in days.
Meanwhile, Anet rolls over and moves Jaina’s spear out of reach before prodding her and Pent awake. “Psst. No sudden moves. There’s a Beformican staring at Sam.
Wha- Where? Who touched my spear?
<Don’t attack. If it wanted us dead, we would be... Wait, I recognize her. One of the friendly ones, all right. Comes around sometimes to trade junk with us for food. Doesn’t seem to have a name, so we call her Bright Eyes.>
“Wait, so Beformicans don’t have names?” Anet asks.
<Not this one, at least. She’s a creature of few words.>
Jaina sizes up the visitor armed only with her glare. “I recognize her, too. She chased us out of a hab block right before we met you.”
<She chased you? Well I don’t blame you for running. You don’t stop and ask Them if they’re friendly.>
<Am patient hunter.> Bright Eyes was listening while she munched shroom.
<Why did you follow us here?> Pent asks her.
<Him.> She turns to face me. <What... are... you?>
No. 1054814 ID: 52800c

I mean you might as well try to explain. Not sure how bad the language barrier is in the other direction.
No. 1054815 ID: 9a2966

Alright, let's bring out the big guns and the small words. She knows the area, she's friendly, she's big and tough... so maybe she can be of assistance in your quest as well!

>what are you
Am Talzoran - tallman. Was bigger. Came from far to find past of formicans - you, and smaller ones. Why vanish in past.

Became small, by machine, mistake. Found formicans, understand why vanish - why small and secret. Found danger... but also friends. Many discoveries, amazing, scary, funny, sad - have adventure. But want get big again. Want go home.

Somewhere here: make-big machine. Find, fix, use. Then, can go home.

Hm. Wonder if Bright Eyes is smarter than she appears - she's certainly curious enough. Maybe show her some of your stuff? If she's a scavenger, she might have input on some of it. Or give it to her in exchange for help... though she most seems interested in you.

Does she enjoy stories? Maybe you could tell her some basic ones of your people.
No. 1055168 ID: a7a180
File 167546225008.png - (121.20KB , 500x500 , big_lady.png )

>bring out the big guns and small words
I explain that I am a Talzoran, not of this land. Bright Eyes nods. <Traveler… Why?>
<Came from far away to learn past. …How, um,> I look at Anet. “How do I ask if she understands what I’m saying well enough?” Anet repeats the question to Bright Eyes.
She nods back. <Juzt… speak zlow.>
“Okay, then… <Wanted to find Formicans, why gone. Became small, learned sad history.>”
Bright Eyes shrugs. <Hiztory not important. Live long, zee many things. Remember important things now, forget otherz. When no one alive who zee thing, who remember?>
<…That why we learn history, so we remember.>
Something clicks in her mind. <Ah…>
<How long do Beformicans live, anyway?> Anet asks. <Would she even have a way of tracking time?>
<...Sky voice count dayz.>
<Of course, the daily announcements,> says Pent. <The ‘sky voice’ says the date every day. Everyone would hear that.>
<Alwayz wanted to meet sky voice…>
The earliest date she can recall would put her at about 80 years old! I would have guessed her age around Anet’s, not past Elder Stone’s.

<Zzo… Where going?> She asks me.
<Going to place to get big again. Becoming small was accident.>
<Get big?> She raises one eyebrow.
<Yes. Way, way bigger.> I stand and wave up towards the ceiling, trying to get across the sheer scale I’m referring to.
She shakes her head. <Me biggezt.>
<Heh, not quite.> I chuckle at the misunderstanding, but she stands up to compare our sizes and I go quiet real fast. <Anyway… got to get big, to go home.>
<When big, not need home. Can go anywhere.>
>Tell stories
She has professed an ignorance of storytelling up until now, but if I take my time patiently communicating the details and think carefully on how to present it, I could tell her some folklore or modern tales.
(Suggest titles and Sam will share the closest analogues. He can tell one now, or wait until they rest again.)
>Show her your stuff
I rummage through my bag, looking for something interesting to pull out. She leans in, already curious. What do I show her? Maybe offer some trade?
>Suggest item(s): https://tgchan.org/wiki/A_Small_Quest/Inventory
No. 1055171 ID: 9a2966

>80 years
Fascinating. They must've been gene therapied for longevity as well. She's that old, but clearly still spry and strong.

>can go anywhere
Ah, but a home is somewhere you'd want to return to. A place where you can be with the people you like and who like you in turn. Somewhere you could have a family. Ideally, at least.

A simplified and modernized version of Gulliver's Travels might be a good fit. Or something else with a exploration theme or size shenanigans, just to make her understand what's going on with you.

>show item
The fire extinguisher maybe? Given its incredible recoil, she might be the only one here properly able to handle it and it's the sort of tool that can be used to ward off larger predators or even other big Beforemicans. Or actualy fires, you guess.

What else... uh, maybe not give her the serum accidentally! Who knows what an ancient experiment like that would do to, er, another experiment, essentially.

Wait. Where's it gooooohnoooodon'tdrinkthaaaat
No. 1055190 ID: 52800c

I'm not sure she's really conceptualizing how big the world you're from is, but it might be hard to get that concept across.

As far as showing or trading her anything goes, we don't know very much about her just yet, so it might be more fruitful to just see what catches her eye and go from there.

Something akin to the first parts of Gulliver's Travels seems like a good idea if you know something like that, yeah.
No. 1055206 ID: 3b5fba

I don't think she'll understand if you try to explain you used to be way bigger than her. It might be best best that you don't try to explain, since she might get frustrated and slap you from being unable to understand.

>show items
Don't let her or any of the other ladies drink the Serum Experiment X-0.X! It may be a failed prototype to kickstart fertility, but odds are that it'll still have some kind of effect on them and I'm pretty sure none of them would appreciate being forced into becoming fertile!
No. 1055874 ID: a7a180
File 167625383287.png - (110.29KB , 500x500 , can_we_keep_her.png )

>Show extinguisher
While I look through my bag for something of interest to the curious cavewoman, I ask Pent, “So how did that junk for food trade work between you and Bright Eyes?”
<She would usually find something shiny and ask us what it was. If we knew, we’d tell her. Most of it was good for at least spare parts. She really has an eye for the vintage stuff.>
“Maybe she’d like to see a working piece, then?” I pull out the extinguisher. “This is a cool piece of technology. A neverending fire extinguisher, very powerful - hey!” Bright Eyes grabs it out of my hands and starts turning it over.
<Neverending fire?>
“No wait, don’t- !” yells Anet.
She quickly figures out which end is the trigger and points it down the hall. PFFWOOSH! A large cloud of foam engulfs the hallway, and the recoil knocks her on her abdomen nearly a foot down the corridor! Good thing she wasn’t pointing it at herself, or the ground. A sudden chill blows down the hall as the foam evaporates, leaving behind a shimmering coat of frost. Anet tests it and finds the ground is slippery enough to form an impromptu ice rink. Bright Eyes comes back to see Anet sliding around and is confused until she’s pulled onto the ice and her feet lose their purchase. Anet invites the rest of us to join them, but given Bright Eyes’ tangle of limbs flying everywhere trying to keep her balance, it seems the rink is at capacity. The ice lasts for about a minute or so until it warms up again.

>Serum X-0.X
<Wazz fun. What elze?> She digs through my pack and finds the love potion phial.
“Hold on there, stop!” This time, she heeds the warning. “That’s a very powerful drink. It, um - it gets Formicans in the mood to lay eggs. It’s supposed to make them lay even more eggs too, but I don’t quite think they had that part figured out yet.” I turn to the others. “Nobody should accidentally drink this. The fact it’s bright pink should give that away, but I just want to be clear about the effects.”
“Yeah, this should be saved for special occasions. It’ll queen your biological clock!” says Anet.
“That was terrible,” says Jaina. “Anyway, I’m not too worried about it. Don’t see many drones out here, right? Sam not included. Even if we drank it, there’s no risk of eggnancy.”
<Ick, I don’t want to go all lovey dovey. Don’t need to tell me twice,> says Pent.
Bright Eyes scoffs. <Have no queens. Drink not affect me!> Still, she hands it back along with my bag.

>Story time
I decide to recount The Starry-Eyed Sojourn of Silas Boothby, or Boothby’s Bogus Journey as it’s sometimes shortened to. An ordinary sea snake by trade, Silas washes up after a shipwreck on strange shores inhabited by people much smaller than him. Later on, he has more adventures with people much bigger, people much smarter, scientifically at least, and talking red quadrupeds for some reason. Some believe this story tells the tale of the author’s abduction by aliens, and the biting political satire was just a coincidence. Until now, the presence of the tiny race, assumed to be Formicans, made that theory very chronologically unlikely. But now that I know there are living Formicans, could they have abducted him? And who then were the other aliens?
“...So, tiny ones try to catch him, and when they learn he friendly, decide he can stay. But, unsure how to feed him.”
<Why Boothby, the biggezt one, not juzzt eat them?>
“Because, that’s not nice! What if they think that when he meet ones much bigger than him?”
<Maybe he become zmall.>
“No, that not what- Well, maybe? How would he tell the difference… huh. I have to think on that. I’ll tell you the rest some other time.”
<Okay.> I don’t think she’s ready for the sharp commentary of the Noxious and Scythians.
Bright Eyes lingers while we pack up and redress. Her silent staring is starting to get awkward, so I deliver a formal goodbye.
“Well, it was nice talking with you, but we do have a lot of walking to do today. I hope I’ll see you around again, so I can finish that story?” The four of us start walking down the corridor. After a delay, Bright Eyes gets up and follows behind at a distance.
“So, you’re coming along too then?” Jaina asks. Bright Eyes nods.

>Bright Eyes has joined the party!
No. 1055875 ID: a7a180
File 167625384113.png - (227.52KB , 600x500 , area_discovered_abandoned_classroom.png )

The tunnel ends in a T-junction following the direction of a hallway above, according to Anet’s map. Our intended route lies on the other side of the hall, so we locate a hatch and climb back up into the normal-sized section of the Great Temple. It lives up to its name at times like this. At this scale, it feels like an endless cathedral without benches or any windows. The only light in the hallway leaks out from the door up ahead. We cross the vast, empty corridor in unnerving silence.
Inside is a familiar sight to me. An abandoned classroom is arranged like an amphitheater around a teacher’s desk. Ancient towers of textbooks dot the classroom, and a makeshift series of ramps and walkways made from rulers and strips of wood pried off the walls dot the desks that form a wide canopy high overhead. The door next to the chalkboard should lead into the laboratory wing.
“Looks like someone small has come here before,” I say.
<Xanthi…> Bright Eyes mutters.
“Who?” asks Anet.
<Thoze outzide city. Want more zpace, have lezz food.>
<Oh, so even more territorial and less friendly,> Pent remarks.
There are two paths forward: Take the walkways and stay high, or stay low to the ground and less visible. There could be trouble with the Xanthi if we stay low, but those walkways don’t look all that safe either. Perhaps we can think of another way to travel?
It’s a dumb idea, but… I’m seeing a lot of paper around. What if we use the classroom’s natural elevation to glide down there on a paper plane?
No. 1055878 ID: 8483cf

Ask Bright Eyes how we can use the Rope Dispenser to expedite travel. She's probably got ideas.
No. 1055881 ID: 15c72a

Let me guess, that "skeleton" is fake too.
Bring up your idea! It could work! Just gotta get the balance right.
No. 1056010 ID: 1d5bb3

Are you sure you can even fold the giant paper in order to make the giant paper airplane?

And wouldn't Bright Eyes' size severely throw off the balance of the paper airplane?
No. 1056111 ID: f8083d

The walkways seem more exposed, less room to hide.
But it also means less potential ambush spots.
No. 1056279 ID: a7a180
File 167653729998.png - (125.41KB , 500x500 , small_talk_the_sequel.png )

>another skeleton
Two of them? What are the odds? I should study this one too and compare my findings. And if we’re going up to see the skeleton, I figure why not tell the others about my idea? It costs nothing to ask.
“Guys? I want to check out that skeleton. I know it’s a detour, but I also have an idea that could get us across the room faster: What if we made a paper plane?”
<A what?> asks Pent.
“A… flying machine. If we take some paper from one of these old textbooks, we could fold it into a shape that will glide through the air, and we can ride it to the other side of the room. We’re small and light enough that it just might work!” I tear off a corner of a nearby page to make a demonstration.
Jaina: “Flying through the air with nowhere to hold onto and no control over the plane? Sounds incredibly unsafe.”
“We can add some safety features without making it too heavy, I hope,” I add.
Pent is intrigued. <I want to fly.>
Anet says, “I love this plan! I bet Bright Eyes can give us a big push!”
<Not zzure what puzhing, but am big.>
“So, I’m getting outvoted again. I just hope this doesn’t hurt too badly…”
We need to find some good quality paper, figure out a launch system and find a good place to launch from. We probably need some way to cushion the landing, too.
The skeleton is one of the tallest things in the room. Perhaps its skull would be wide enough to launch the plane from, or at least we could scout out the room and identify a path that avoids crashing into book towers and other desks. I should test its stability first though, I’m not sure what’s holding it together.

>Ask Bright Eyes how we can use the rope dispenser to expedite travel
“Hey Bright Eyes, you’ve used ropes before, right? Have you ever swung around from building to building?”
<Yezz. Zwing from building to building on vine. Izz fun!>
“Jaina has a vine she keeps on her hip. Do you have any tips for how we could use it to get from desk to desk quickly? Oh, ah, could you show her the ropes, Jaina?” I ask.
“Fine… I have plenty of experience with this thing myself, you know.”
“Maybe she could show you a new trick or two!”
She unclips the rope dispenser from her hip and pulls out a lead to show Bright Eyes. Bright Eyes is confused and keeps pulling the rope out into a big pile. <Long vine… Where doezz it go?> She pulls and pulls until it stops coming out.
“Well? That’s all the rope we have, now are you going to show us what to do with it?” Jaina asks, annoyed. Bright Eyes shrugs. “Well, that’s great. You’re helping me feed this back in, Sam.”
We didn’t learn any rope tricks, but Jaina does explain the dispenser to me a little. If we use too much rope without returning it after, it takes a while before it can produce more. Reeling the rope back in refills it faster, but we’ve pulled out so much that we’ll have to pace it to avoid rope burns.
The climb up to the skeleton and the fixed rate at which the rope can be retracted leaves plenty of time to make conversation. We should get to know our two new party members better - their life experiences have been very different from Anet and Jaina’s, and each other.
>Conversation topics: pick 3

>Check on Jaina’s injury
>Xanthi: what else does Bright Eyes know about them?
>Scavengers and the trading economy
>Schooling in the village: how’s that handled?
>What exactly makes Beformicans so special?
>Tell us more about your family, Pent!
>write-in: >_
No. 1056292 ID: 9681ef

I am definitely curious about what a Beformican thinks is special about Beformicans.

Asking about the economy seems like it could have some interesting answers as well, and ... sure, let's check on Jaina.
No. 1056328 ID: be210c

>pick 3 topics
Check on Jaina’s injury

Schooling in the village: how’s that handled?

What exactly makes Beformicans so special?
No. 1056738 ID: a7a180
File 167703173771.png - (164.56KB , 500x500 , the_return_of_small_talk.png )

>Check on Jaina’s injury
As I help Jaina thread the rope back into its holster, I look over at Jaina and notice that she’s leaving her upper right arm out of the proceedings. Her passive frown seems a little more forced than usual. “Um, Jaina… How’s your back feeling after that fight on the trolley?”
“It’s fine. Nothing to worry about, it’s already healing over.”
“Really? Maybe I should check that for you…”
“There’s no need. It’s just a bit itchy now.” She’s surprisingly quick to brush off the suggestion this time.
Anet chastises her. “Itching could mean it’s getting infected. Let me look.”
Jaina relents, shrugging her armor off the shoulder gingerly, and it's immediately evident ‘healing over’ is too optimistic. The gash oozes a greenish fluid. It looks like she was hit hard enough to crack her exoskeleton. Her armor absorbed part of the blow when it broke, so it could have been worse. Apparently the paper they used in the village to make her vest is of thicker stock than we’d find around here.
“See, this is why we should worry about you,” says Anet. “I appreciate you not wanting us to stress over how bad it is, but don’t neglect yourself.”
“Point taken… ”
The next chance we get, she’ll patch her armor with the material we found in the labs.

>Pent and the trading economy
“You’ve mentioned trading with other families a few times, Pent. How do you all know when and where to get together and exchange goods?”
<It’s all word of mouth. The gatherings are always held on neutral ground unclaimed by anyone. The location and time is tightly guarded information, given only to trusted parties. If that info changes for any reason, a warning is left at the old place and everyone has to hash out a new agreement. Gatherings happen fairly often because we can’t carry much at once without becoming easy targets. Sometimes other scavs try and steal from these trade goods - if you’re caught doing that, you’ll be forbidden from trading forever by gatherings that know what you did. Things that usually get traded are food, raw materials, crafted stuff, sometimes rumors or even territory. People who live alone usually depend on gatherings to find a group to attach themselves to for protection, or trade salvage for food. Like Bright Eyes, sometimes this includes Them. They are harder to keep in contact with, so usually They arrive by stumbling onto the meeting place and not attacking anyone. Gatherings tend to move a few cycles afterward, just in case They get any ideas. While They’re around, however, They usually accept food in exchange for scavenging in more dangerous areas or for giving your family some extra muscle.>
“What’s the most valuable item at these gatherings?”
<Some people tend very well hidden farms that grow stuff other than the vines you see everywhere, which have a lot of useful properties but taste isn’t one. You’ll never see the seeds for sale.>

As we take the first gangway up to the seat level, the ruler flexes under my feet as I walk, which is mildly worrying. Talking helps me worry less about what’s to either side of me and focus on the path ahead.

>What exactly makes Beformicans so special?
“Bright Eyes, do you know what makes you different from someone like Pent or Jaina? Besides height?”
<Am stronger. Tougher, Live longer. Eat lezz. When hungry, eat whatever. Leaf tazte fine, Pent juzt picky eater. …Oh! Big jawz.> Bright Eyes points between her fearsome mandibles and Pent’s, lack thereof. Everyone else’s mandibles form a lower jaw that rarely opens wider than a pair of lips, unless they’re very frightened. I think my own mouth might even open wider. We can’t dislocate our jaw like some aliens assume, but galactically speaking it is very broad.
<There’s more to Them than meets the eye,> Pent observes. <They can shrug off a whole lot of pain, which is how They win in a straight fight. They also have keen senses, which makes it difficult to sneak up on one. And as a whole, you might have noticed, They are generally less friendly.>
Bright Eyes nods. <When old enough to climb, mom told me buzz off, find own leaf.>
Anet asks, “How old were you? No wonder Beformicans are so prickly, they’ve lost all sense of colony…”
<That… word you keep using, why do you keep calling them…>
<Yes, that. What does it mean?>
“I just thought it sounded cool. Besides, you didn’t have a name for them. You just keep saying Them!”
<Yes we do! Everyone knows what you mean when you say Them! They aren’t organized enough to give Themselves a name.>
“That stops making sense the second you need that word to refer to literally anything else! And Bright Eyes just said They call themselves Xanthi.”
<Not Xanthi,> Bright Eyes clarifies, pointing to herself and then the room at large. <They Xanthi.>
I cut in again. “So, are there any real downsides to all these changes done to Beformicans besides behavior? Was their… intelligence affected too? No offense, Bright Eyes.”
Pent smirks. <Underestimating Their smarts is the last mistake most scavs make.>
“They don’t get to go to school and learn from books like us,“ says Anet.
“Kind of ironic, since these guys are living in a classroom.”

>Schooling in the village
“Speaking of, what was school like in the village?”
“We have classes and teachers, just like you. Most people get eleven years of classes, then become apprentices in a trade. Scribes get five more because they have to know a lot of math, plus it’s their job to teach all the other subjects. Of course, it’s everyone’s duty to preserve knowledge, not just theirs. Our class was pretty big. We start taking classes at four and finish by fifteen. After breakfast it was lessons for the first half of the shift and chores in the second half.”
“What was your favorite class?”
“Not math,” says Jaina.
Anet exclaims, “History! It jumps around a bit, you know on account of all the missing records, but Elder Styx is the best teacher! For culture studies once, he let us watch Formican Force Five.”
“He sounds like a fun guy.”
Huh? What does Formican Force Five have to do with mushrooms?”
“Nevermind... What did you two apprentice as?”
“I apprenticed with the watchers. They’re the ones that navigate the tunnels to check on the tallmen, like what we were doing when we met you. It was kinda boring, so I started watching stuff other than tallmen. I started taking Jaina along as a partner, for safety.”
“I was training to be a smith before we started doing this. It wasn’t quite as fun,” Jaina adds.
“Elder Stone eventually approved new job titles, just for us! Jaina got to be a guard and I’m officially an explorer.”
“So, did you learn our language from the watchers?”
“A little, but most of it we learned at home from our dad. He teaches it to the watcher’s teachers.”
No. 1056739 ID: a7a180
File 167703174509.png - (133.96KB , 500x500 , just_plane_simple.png )

We’re here on the skeleton’s desk now. I use the refilled rope to swing down a level to the seat and take another sample. When I compare it to the last shard, it’s the same flaky plaster. Again, I wonder why someone would plant a fake skeleton, and more than one?
I look over the side and spot a small note that’s fallen to the floor from the skeleton’s hand on a neighboring desk. We take a quick trip down to read it:

do you like me?
[ ] no bones about it
[ ] You’re getting the cold shoulder

Looks like he’ll have to keep waiting for an answer.
Meanwhile, it’s time to get to work on folding a paper airplane. I consider everything we’ll need to do: We’ll need a big enough sheet to fold, of course. If we can get one of these books open we should be able to cut one out. We’ll need to figure out where and how to launch it, whether Bright Eyes’ push is enough or if we need more of a head start. We also have to figure out how to strap ourselves down to the airplane safely. We should be able to jury rig something for either by repurposing the junk around here. Lastly, but optionally, there’s climbing the skeleton for a higher vantage point to scout or even launch from if it’s sturdy enough.

>Which task do I tackle first?
No. 1056757 ID: 15c72a

...what if there's something inside the skeleton? Maybe they're meant to be camouflage. Try looking for an opening to crawl in.
No. 1056758 ID: e5784e

Safe bondage is very important, do that first.
No. 1056997 ID: a7a180
File 167743157461.png - (136.93KB , 500x500 , the _dustbin_of_history_textbooks.png )

>Dice roll: safe bondage
H-hey, phrasing! Now’s not the time to think about getting lost in Gail’s coils and - Let’s go look for some safety equipment.
A bit of junk has accumulated between the steps in the floor and the back of the desks, so we climb back to ground level to sweep this area for useful material. It’s cool, dark and dusty down here. As we wander, I find myself wondering: Where do you find water in a classroom? What do you eat? Maybe they travel to other rooms to collect that stuff, but I have a feeling we’ll be dependent on what we packed. Luckily we have enough to last a few days, and Bright Eyes, well, she said she can go a long time without eating and she isn’t picky.
>something inside the skeleton
I still can’t puzzle out these anatomically impossible artifacts. Maybe they’re meant to draw attention to that fact? Could a closer examination reveal a hidden message, maybe a maker’s mark? The thought of a skeleton you’re supposed to smash open makes my inner archaeologist recoil. At this scale, the Formicans could hide just about anything anywhere in these bones if they’re hollow. I suppose the skull would have the most room to hide something. If I decide to climb the skeleton, I’ll take a look around in its eye sockets and see if I can’t get inside its head.
Our search leads us to a spot where someone’s been piling up lots of trash, mostly pieces of cardboard. Torn fragments of textbook covers tell us where they came from, but not why someone would destroy knowledge like this, and in such quantity. All of the pages inbetween are just gone. Other bits and pieces plucked from desk drawers or who knows where form a junkyard ripe for the picking. At the back of the pile, I spy a zipper from a pencil case protruding from under the covers. Its contents are a mystery, but if we could get at it the contents might be in prime condition still.
We haven’t seen or heard any locals yet, but rummaging through their junk is sure to make some noise. Plus, it doesn’t look too stable, especially if we start digging deeper. We have to balance our safety when flying against our safety in the immediate future. How hard should we dig for materials, and are there any specific types of items we should look for? Across time and space, the tools of the educational system don’t seem to change much.

>Get the good salvage: Going this deep has a high risk of dislodging debris.
>Settle for shallow salvage: Safe to swipe and high in quantity, but low in quality.
>Middling salvage: Lower chance of injury, but damaged goods might come with caveats.
No. 1057074 ID: 52800c

Gail's coils, huh?

Anyway, let's go for the medium option. Even with our party having expanded it's probably better to avoid anyone getting hurt. (Though if Bright-Eyes wants to go a little above and beyond to show off, well, you can't exactly stop her.)

As for specifics... any paper clips? Those seem like they could be used for any number of things, assuming at least one person in your group is strong enough to bend them.
No. 1057103 ID: 15c72a

Look for thin tape.
No. 1057121 ID: a9af05

I agree with this.
No. 1057281 ID: a7a180
File 167782861166.png - (165.01KB , 500x500 , one_ants_trash.png )

>Gail, huh?
I admit, I’ve had a crush on her for a while. She’s got a nice tail, long enough to wrap all the way around your waist normally, or coil around a limb… Maybe climbing it was a little forward of me, but it seemed safer than staying on the floor. I’ve probably blown my chances with her by disappearing so suddenly. It’s still more compelling to imagine how one-sided our tailholding would be than to contemplate how crossing this classroom would take me an entire school day.

>Middling salvage check: Success
Adhesive would be useful to keep our plane in shape, and paperclips would make a sturdy framework for building. We find a lot of them littering the pile, but the ones on the surface are already bent out of shape which would compromise their strength if reshaped. It seems that despite an abundance of metal, the Xanthi don’t use it very efficiently. We dig a little deeper down looking for unbent clips, wading through the cardboard at knee height. Bright Eyes dives in enthusiastically and finds the bulk of them. Showing off further she wades over to the pencil case to partially unzip it - and what luck, right inside was a roll of clear tape! We decide not to disturb the pile to look deeper in the case and wade out with as much supplies as we can carry.
This is a good start! The tape’s a little tricky to work with but there’s a lot to work with. My idea for the paperclips is to form some kind of roll cage we can plant on top of the plane and sit in, but the more metal we use the heavier the plane will get, and it might not glide as far. Maybe I can think of something else to do with them?

A few more tasks remain before we get building. We might want to post someone at our supply pile to watch over it while the rest of us gather more materials. Who do we leave behind and what do we take care of next?

>Assemble launcher (Get additional supplies y/n?)
No. 1057287 ID: 15c72a

Hmm... you could bend the paperclips into long arms in order to reach the wings while sitting on the plane, to steer it?
Could also attach one to rope to use it as a grapple.
No. 1057643 ID: c27a02

I'm thinking it would be best to leave behind either Pent or Bright Eyes, as they'd be the best at handling themselves alone in this environment. I'm not sure if either of them has an opinion on it, though.

Paper seems important to building a paper airplane.
No. 1057651 ID: 7550f8

>metal will make the plane heavier and it won’t glide as far
You'll also need to compensate for how heavy all of the passengers are. Which is a problem because they're all women and everyone knows that you're not supposed to ask a woman how heavy she is!

And you better not think about leaving anyone behind to try and lighten the load on the plane!
No. 1057934 ID: a7a180
File 167832124737.png - (156.99KB , 500x500 , ill_go_high_you_go_low.png )

>Bend the paperclips into arms for steering
Perhaps, but we don’t need the whole length of the steering arms to be made from heavy materials. We could use the paperclips as anchors to attach Jaina’s rope for steering.
>you need to compensate for the passengers’ weight, and you can’t ask a lady their weight!
Can’t I, though? Now I wonder if their matriarchal society possesses the same taboos with regards to women and their privacy, or even the inverted case with males… I really can’t, because I have no idea how much that would convert to anyway, especially given the fractions of mass we’re dealing with. That leads to another thought, maybe we should do some more testing of this concept before we launch ourselves into the air? Perhaps a test run is in order with a second paper plane carrying our equivalent weight in paperclips or something. We could rig up a balance scale easily from a ruler.
>paper seems important to building a paper airplane. Leave either Pent or Bright Eyes
I ask them after we finish lifting our haul up to the desktop. “Hey, do either of you mind staying here and watching the while Anet, Jaina and I go get the paper?”
<Hm? Just the two of us, by ourselves? Sure, I guess.>
Ah, Pent took it to mean both of them. I’m sure it'll be fine. Safety in numbers, right? Paper’s pretty light, so the three of us shouldn’t have any trouble carrying it back. Pent grabs a bite to eat while Bright Eyes watches us leave.
We go looking for a good source of paper where our search left off at the garbage heap. There’s a couple of loose leafs lying around, but the exposure to air has left them brittle and suspect as building material. Hopefully the pages still bound in books are doing better, but lifting the covers is not so easy, and most stacks are perilously high up.
No. 1057935 ID: a7a180
File 167832125394.png - (151.81KB , 500x500 , paper_tiger.png )

After some searching from desk to desk, we do spot an ideal book lying on the ground with its cover open. However, we’re not the first to find it. There’s a low fence around it made of jagged writing utensils, and a chapter or two has already been torn from the spine. The likely reason for both is standing in the middle of the page. It’s the first Xanthi we’ve encountered, and he looks scary. He’s carrying a pen nib on his shoulder like a giant sword and his body has the scars to show he’s no stranger to scraps. He walks in circles muttering to himself before stopping to bend and tear off a chunk of the page, which he crumples up and pops in his mouth. That explains what they eat…
“If this is his version of a mushroom field, are we basically stealing his food?” Anet wonders.
“He’s got plenty more,” says Jaina. “…I hope those are just ink stains on his sword.”

Direct confrontation seems unwise. How are just the three of us supposed to draw him away from the paper long enough to tear out a sheet and leave?
No. 1057943 ID: c27a02

Okay, this guy seems both hostile and possibly, like, crazy or something. Protecting a food source is one thing, but why is he pacing in circles?

With a party of you, Anet, and Jaina, it's probably better to be more cautious -- I don't like any of your odds if this guy decides to do more than just try to scare you off, individually or in a group. If he were just acting cautious himself, I might suggest trying to approach him slowly and carefully and see if he'd maybe be amenable to some kind of negotiation... but that seems too risky.

Are any of you faster than a Xanthi? I feel like the answer is no... my first thought would otherwise be to try and have one of you distract him, but, uh, that seems even riskier than a cautious approach...
No. 1058286 ID: a7a180
File 167859166469.png - (97.98KB , 500x500 , are_you_the_cheese_or_the_trap.png )

>Try and have one of you distract him
“What if one of us distracts him so the others can sneak up on the book?”
“Sounds like a great plan. Since this is for your idea, you do it,” says Jaina.
“What, me?!”
“Yeah, Anet and I have to do the heavy lifting.”
I did not think this through. “But - how do I get away if needed? I can’t jump super far either!”
Anet gives me a thumbs up. ”You can do it! Your sheer… greenness ought to fascinate him long enough to get away.” The Xanthi stops his pacing and turns towards our hiding spot. “Oops, I think he noticed our whispering. Better hop to it!” I get shoved into the open as the sisters duck out the other side.
“Wha - How do I -” My eyes dart around as I check my surroundings for escape routes.
Behind him there’s a shanty under the desk, where he probably lives. There’s a textbook that landed on its open side - maybe I could dart in between the pages and hide. I could try to make a break for it back to the junk pile - he seems far away, but I know they can jump this far in the blink of an eye-
It’s too late. He’s yelling something that sounds a lot like <Thief!>
What’s my distraction?!
No. 1058287 ID: 273c18

Go into the textbook, then close it on him when he chases you there.
No. 1058288 ID: 6ad04b

Telling your life's story very loudly.
No. 1058297 ID: 0e8597

Leave behind something conspicuous but ultimately of little value.

Your shirt could do, if nothing else comes to mind.
No. 1058755 ID: a7a180
File 167902375474.png - (114.27KB , 500x500 , a_real_page_turner.png )

>Tell life story
<H-hey! It’s me! Sso, um, maybe you’re wondering how I got here->
I don’t get too far into my life story before he tries to cut it short. With an angry hermit bearing down on me, I run down a side chapter of the overturned book to try and get behind at least a paper-thin barrier to his line of sight. I try and fail to remain very still. I can’t remain hidden here for very long. -Ah! I can see his sword stabbing through the page!
No. 1058756 ID: a7a180
File 167902376656.png - (163.14KB , 500x500 , sneaky_snake.png )

I get out of there as fast as I can, running away from the fenced off book, I think. I didn’t exactly have time to get my bearings. Using the few seconds’ head start the book has bought me, I shed my hoodie and hang it on some nearby junk. I really hope he takes the bait and doesn’t spot me as I duck behind a desk leg, because there aren’t many other places left I can run to…
I listen to his yell of surprise, followed by one of confusion as he discovers my deception. Realizing he’s lost the trail, he gives up and walks back to his hovel, angrily grumbling. I hope that bought them enough time to grab what we need.
I catch up with the sisters on the other side of the junkyard, with their paper prize in tow. Anet spots me catching my breath and comes over to congratulate me.
“Nice work, Sam! You had him running in circles, but somewhere more convenient for us. As a bonus, we ended up getting two sheets stuck together! We can build that test plane you wanted after all!”
I just wheeze, my heart still pounding in my chest.
“I knew you could do it!” she adds, after a moment.
“Thhhanks.” I really hope this flying plan avoids any more encounters with those guys.
>Lost: camo cloak
No. 1058757 ID: a7a180
File 167902377042.png - (162.19KB , 500x500 , ir-ration-al_behavior.png )

When we return to our desktop with the last of our supplies in tow, we walk into an awkward situation. Pent is brandishing her spear at Bright Eyes, while Bright Eyes shoots her a glare back. In her hands is a bundle wrapped in leaves.
<Give it back, now,> Pent growls.
“What’s going on here?” says Jaina.
<She went into my bags and stole my food!>
<Zzo? Am hungry.>
<So? That's stealing! How can we trust you to guard anything if you’re a thief yourself?>
<Waz told to guard paperclipz, not bagz.>
<I thought you didn’t have to eat as much!>
<That not mean never eat.>
<Well, get your own food then!>
<Pent not even like thiz ztuff...>
They’re up in arms, over food? This could be bad. I don’t know if we’ve packed enough for us and a peckish Beformican…
No. 1058758 ID: 273c18

Hey, there's food here. Grab a bit of extra paper for her to chew on.
No. 1058964 ID: aa23a8

It seems like Bright Eyes and Pent have slightly different understandings of ownership. I feel like your understanding is more likely to be in line with Pent's, which could potentially cause a problem if you try to mediate.

That said, if Beformicans can eat paper, it does seem like there's a fair amount of it which is too small to be useful for our plane plan around here.

How much food do we have at this point, anyway?
No. 1059025 ID: 368825

This is our fault, we set up expectations by giving her food from our pack. It's only fair to give Pent one too now.
No. 1059083 ID: 26f1ab

Try and calm the two down. Tell Brought Eyes she needs to ask before taking other stuff. Assure Pent you'll do your best to find her more food as you travel. It is unfortunate this misunderstanding happened, but we're all gonna work to make sure no one goes hungry this trip, okay?
No. 1059167 ID: a7a180
File 167935884375.png - (102.44KB , 500x500 , tastes_like_diet_cardboard.png )

>It seems you have slightly different understandings of ownership, which could potentially cause a problem if you try to mediate
If I don’t try and calm them both down, this problem isn’t going to go away.
“Hey! Next time, ask before taking stuff, okay?”
<Fine.> She’s still not returning the sandwich she bit.
“Pent, I’ll make it up to you this time. Here.” I give her a fried mushroom from my bag.
<You sure? We all need the supplies we brought. Especially when we don’t know when we’ll find more.>
“We're all gonna work to make sure no one goes hungry this trip, okay? Right now, there’s paper all around us.” I turn to Bright Eyes again. “We saw the Xanthi eating some, could you try that instead?”
Bright Eyes shrugs, then tucks her snack away and tries crumpling up some paper from the floor. She immediately spits it back out. <Bleck! Maybe YOU eat paper if it zzuch good idea.>
"Okay, not a food of first resort, I get it."
>How much food do we have at this point, anyway?
After stocking up at Pent’s we had enough for six, now five days of trail food, minus one leafroot sandwich. Two of those days are left over from our initial supplies. If Bright Eyes dips into that, our reserves get shorter but it’ll keep the big bug happy and more amenable to other requests. Ready access to food is a luxury she’s not used to, I suppose.
I think it would be best for everyone’s mood if we focused on our next task for now. We’re almost ready for a test flight.

>Start building the plane now: We have the parts for the plane itself, what more do you really need?
>Work on a launcher: Something more than elevation and a push to get us going. (Specify who to leave behind this time as more supplies are gathered.)
>Scout the skeleton: What’s better than elevation? A lot of elevation.
No. 1059174 ID: 26f1ab

All of those choices are tempting. If we were being hunted or on the run I'd say start the plane ASAP. But this room seems to be relatively peaceful, when you're not poaching paper.
Building the launcher is good too, especially since you actively have the time.
But curiosity is burning, i think we need to check it that giant skeleton. Why is it there? What purpose does it serve? Just a decoy incase outsiders get into this region? Is there secrets stowed within for later generations to find? Some kind of warning of an unseen danger? What do they mean? We won't know what until you investigate those fake bones, so hop to it.
No. 1059175 ID: 23ba19

I want to investigate Mr. Bones' wild ride
No. 1059379 ID: a7a180
File 167961781865.png - (90.54KB , 500x500 , them_dry_bones.png )

>skeleton time
I’d just like to get away from the tension really, and my curiosity about the skeleton has come crawling back. Jaina goes along as my climbing partner, leaving Anet and the others watching us from below.
It’s a pretty easy climb with the right tools. The torso is made of solid plates so we can basically walk right up the front. Gaps between the upper and lower torso let me shine a flashlight on the insides. The only thing I spot is the glint of a steel backbone supporting the outer shell, which confirms my artificial skeleton theory. But still, why leave fake bones around? As decoys they wouldn’t stand up to inspection for long. What kind of warning do you get across by arranging them in everyday poses, just sitting in chairs? Maybe the secret is hidden further up.
“Did you ever look around inside the skeleton near the village?” I ask Jaina.
“Once or twice, to satisfy Anet’s curiosity. There was nothing but dry bones, though.”
“Did you notice if it had a metal backbone too?”
“Never brought a light in with me, so no.”
"Darn. Do you have any theories why the ancients put these here?"
"I'm as stumped as you. Elder Styx told us as kids that ours was an alien that was trapped by the quarantine and was stuck here eating old lunches til she died, but I don't think he really believed that."
We take a short rest on the shoulder before tossing our rope up onto the skull. Getting up here was tiring enough that hauling the launch up here seems like too much trouble. There just isn’t enough space to balance the plane on and still have room to stand. At least it’s given me a clearer view of the room, one I normally would have just from walking in. I have a clear view of the chalkboard, the teacher’s desk, and the left side of the classroom. I note a hidden stack of books that we might have crashed into if we turned a corner blindly at the end of the aisle. Bulbous structures like wasp nests are visible between the gaps in desktops - the Xanthi seem to prefer the shade under these desks for living in. The most impressive of these structures is a section of the front row converted into a book fort - two books laid facedown between the desks form an arch, and some standing book covers form a solid wall.
The only openings in the skull are the usual ones, the eye sockets. As I step into the eyehole, the skull tilts, and it keeps tilting…
No. 1059396 ID: 6e7268

You should probably know that typically eye sockets in skulls do not exit directly into the brain cavity, you'd have to break past the orbit bones where the nerve and muscle fissures are.

Also you may wanna brace on something. You're going for a ride.
No. 1059421 ID: 273c18

Hmm, what if these are pilotable? Mechs that shrunken Formicians can use to interact with the normal size world?

Stay in the skull. It shouldn't detach.
No. 1059739 ID: a7a180
File 168005690681.png - (99.05KB , 500x500 , heading_down.png )

The teetering of the skull worsens. Jaina is already in the socket, crouching low with her antennae on a swivel.
”Hold. Still.”
I freeze up immediately. “I think the two of us in one eye unbalanced it, should I climb back down?”
She looks outward at the quickly sloping false horizon on the wall. “-No, it’s too late. Hold on to something, quick!”
>What if these are pilotable mechs
That would be helpful! Maybe it looks weird because its synthetic skin rotted away? I can’t see any control surfaces or runes…
>It shouldn’t detach.
It detaches.
We’re thrown up into the ceiling and back down again, bouncing off the walls even after the skull comes to rest on the floor.
No. 1059740 ID: a7a180
File 168005691828.png - (160.63KB , 500x500 , a_splitting_headache.png )

“Jaina! Sam! Are you okay?” Anet jumps down from the desk to the seat to the ground level, Pent and Bright Eyes looking on from above. I’m… dizzy, but nothing feels broken. My head is pounding, though. Jaina and I bounced off each other in the tight confines of the eye sockets, limiting our injuries.
>you'd have to break past the orbit bones
I know, and we brought the pickaxe to do just that. Luckily we don’t have to, the skull cracked open on impact. It’s completely empty inside, just a hollow plaster shell. It was only a model skeleton, after all. It probably used to hang near the front of the classroom for science lessons or the like, though the educational value is questionable.
The rest of the skeleton slumps over, like a great weight’s been lifted off its shoulders. Ah, I hope they weren’t fond of this thing… If they haven’t noticed the head is missing yet, they will soon.

>Continue with plane building
>Get some distance from the skeleton
>Other: >_
No. 1059741 ID: 273c18

Get some distance first. You just made a huge ruckus, someone will come looking regardless of their opinion on the skeleton.
No. 1059813 ID: f30c55

Better hurry up with that plane so you can get far away from here!
No. 1059972 ID: 26f1ab

Well, a learning aid is interesting, if not as interesting as a giant mech. But you did just make a heck of a racket, so as soon as you're sure you don't have a concussion you might want to start working on that paper airplane and launch device. Just in case the locals are angry you ruined their macabre landscape and stole their food to make a vehicle.
No. 1059974 ID: 273c18

I think I figured out what the big fake skeletons are. They're ART. It's the only thing that makes sense. They don't work to scare people because they'd be easily exposed as fake, and they aren't functional in any way.

Well, I guess we haven't completely investigated one. Maybe there's something hidden deeper inside it, but I doubt it.
No. 1064617 ID: a7a180
File 168514521970.png - (107.00KB , 500x500 , hold_em_and_fold_em.png )

Anyway, back to plane building! This is going to take a lot more time and pairs of hands than usual.
Shortly after beginning, Jaina decides she needs to lie down and rest, and I can’t say I blame her. She’s been getting knocked around a lot on our trip.
The first step is to draw out the lines to be folded in pencil. Anet finds a box of markers under the desk and carries some up to doodle on the paper while I plan out the folds. Then we lift the sheet up and fold it over as a team. Bright Eyes holds it in position while the rest of us press down on the paper to crease it. Once that’s finished, we start taping the plane together to retain its shape.
No. 1064618 ID: a7a180
File 168514523175.png - (142.47KB , 500x500 , flypaper_faux_pas.png )

>Item complications: tape
One of the perils of papercraft at our size pops up as Anet tries to work with the roll of tape. She’s having trouble pulling strips off in continuous, full width lines, and the slack keeps bunching up and getting stuck to itself. Then while my back is turned, she manages to trip over a strip we've laid out, falling flat on her abdomen and sliding off the edge of the desk!
“Anet!” I run over to find her dangling in midair, her back plastered to the tape. Fortunately the sticky side caught the edge of the desk as she fell.
“Sorry! Eheh… Mind giving me a hand or three?”
“...How did you even end up like that?”

We pull her up and manage to (painfully) pull most of the tape off her again. She’s still a bit sticky in places, and sometimes she has to shake a thing she’s holding loose, but Anet is otherwise fine.
The safety systems fare better, for now. Formican strength is once again key in bending the clips into long, curved bars to form a wide enough enclosure for us to sit in. We’ll install it on the actual plane later, accounting for its weight and ours on the test model by adding an equivalent number of unbent paperclips.
No. 1064619 ID: a7a180
File 168514524919.png - (99.24KB , 500x500 , build-a-plane_workshop.png )

Well, that took us nearly an hour, but we did it: one giant paper airplane! I'm no aerospace engineer, but I think I did pretty good with it. it's exciting that I’ll actually get to ride in one of these but also sort of terrifying. Hopefully this design will catch a lot of air to make up for the lack of a throwing arm.

Design a paper airplane for Sam & co to ride. They’ve got access to tape and cutting tools to reshape the paper, plus you can add decoration if desired.
No. 1064624 ID: a8591e

Well regardless of other details, add a paperclip rollcage.
No. 1064653 ID: dee951

Any access to Balsa Wood? Rubber Bands? Any of the other materials to make this more badass?
No. 1064654 ID: a7a180

That's the plan! We're going to throw it on top for the real deal.
If it can be found in a high level classroom, it can probably be justified!
No. 1064666 ID: dee951


Something like one of these?




Any of these types would work, but make sure that the group has some harness they can hook onto the leading wings! And the thing has flaps they can manipulate!

Alternatively, rather than a rollcage, you could have an actual cabin, like this:


Though that said... you might not want a cabin hanging below it! You could have it have an enclosed fuselage, like this:


And stretch tissue paper or plastic wrap around a balsa frame, include some more sturdy reinforcements where you expect it to impact.
No. 1064707 ID: a7a180
File 168532972593.png - (33.37KB , 500x497 , sam-ple_plane.png )

Here's a sample paper airplane as a baseline design. Covered in doodles, with scotch tape seats slung behind the halves of the hull, it's enough to do the job, probably! The roll cage doesn't have to be drawn as it'll get thrown on top later.
No. 1065377 ID: a7a180
File 168627554584.png - (94.09KB , 500x500 , out_to_launch.png )

>Plane design: Defaulted…
As I was designing the plane, new ambitions kept springing to mind. Maybe I can find a rubber band to make an engine… We could chop up all these rulers to make a real airframe! Argh, but where would I find a propeller? It would take hours and hours to carve all that wood, longer than just crossing the room on foot! I elected to keep it simple, something I’d made many times before.
Using a ruler and pencil as a fulcrum I measure out the necessary ballast to represent us. There’s still plenty to spare, which when I stop and think about it means the Formicans hauled several times their weight in metal all the way from the junk pile. Their strength really is something else…
Pent is focused intently on something in the distance. I ask her, <What do you see?>
<There’s some Xanthi on shellback leaving the fort, carrying long sticks.>
I look for the book fort I saw while climbing the skeleton, down at the front of the classroom. Sure enough, the book covers acting as a gate are open and a few isopods are slowly crawling out the door. Those poles are several times the rider's height. <Should we worry?>
<No, they’re a long way off. Even if they’ve noticed us, their mounts would take a long time to get here.>
I nod and scoot out of the way as Bright Eyes pushes the plane up to the edge of the desk. It’s time for the test flight.
No. 1065378 ID: a7a180
File 168627555423.png - (112.39KB , 800x800 , first_flight.png )

Bright Eyes gives the plane a hard shove, knocking it over the edge. Its trajectory starts off in a slow dive, but it builds up speed and pulls up sharply before settling into wobbly level flight. In just a few seconds it’s across the room, drunkenly soaring past the front row of desks. It’s a success!
No. 1065379 ID: a7a180
File 168627556782.png - (113.04KB , 500x500 , hey_knock_it_off.png )

…And then it keeps going, crashing directly into the books stacked by the desk. The whole pile wobbles, knocking down gangways and the travelers climbing up them. Oops.
Well, that probably wouldn’t have happened if anyone was on board to steer it. At least we’ve proven the concept’s sound?
There’s a sound like angry chittering in the distance.
<Hey Sam… how fast can we build a second plane?>
“Um… Well, it should go faster with the practice we’ve had.”
<Can you build this one… twice as fast?>
“Umm. Maybe, why..?”
<Because those xanthi are riding this way now, and they’re not happy.>
Uh oh. It’ll be awkward to explain our ex-plane… Maybe we should cut a few corners on the next build to get it done faster. But, I wouldn't want it to crash like the first plane either!
>Practice makes perfect? (Suggest changes to improve construction time or flight performance)
>Time for plan B: >___
No. 1065386 ID: 273c18

wh... why did we not use the first one
No. 1065448 ID: af7615

Presumably so they'd know if they would die in a nosedive. Which is a surprisingly practical consideration! On the other hand, YOU'RE RIDING A PAPER AIRPLANE.
No. 1065453 ID: 38c55b

First piece of advice to work faster is not have Anet get tangled up in the tape, either she is more careful or if someone else works the tape dispenser.
Second piece of advice is if Jaina is able another set of hands helping may speed things up, even if only helping make sure take distribution goes well.
Otherwise... hopefully the practice gained building the first one does help with the second. If not you'll have to explain to some angry people why you turned a big chunk of their food and turned it into a weapon and used it to rattle their homes, knocking down walkways and sending people plummeting.
No. 1065456 ID: 273c18

ok. why did we not make two at the same time, then.

All we accomplished is giving us extra time crunch, which will result in cutting corners and having a less safe plane.

Or we could just fucking walk since the quest author didn't like the plane idea apparently.
No. 1065790 ID: a7a180
File 168670773887.png - (126.35KB , 500x500 , anet_assisted_takeoff.png )

>Why not use the first one?
I had no idea if this was going to work at all! I’ve already plummeted to the ground once today, thank you very much.
>build another, all hands on deck, and keep Anet away from the tape
Yeah, sailing over the xanthi’s heads is still our best bet. I swap places with Anet, she draws the folds while I separate out the tape. I tap Jaina to ask her to help on this one.
“Hey, Jaina. You awake?”
“Bluh…” She looks more tired than before. “Is it finished yet?”
“Well, yes and no. We’re building a new one and we could use your help on it. Many hands make light work.”
She sighs. “Alright... If I have to.”
Seeing her genuine fatigue, I start to change my mind. “You only have to help if you’re feeling up to it.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” she insists.
We repeat the process once more with feeling, saving the time we spent weighing proxies to install the roll cage over the seats.
<The xanthi are getting closer,> Pent warns. That kicks us into overdrive finishing construction.
As we’re pushing it to the edge, we see one of their colored pencil pikes peeking over the tabletop! <Bugger, they're faster than I thought! Go, go! Push!>
I have an idea to make us launch faster!" shouts Anet. “Watch your head, Bright, and hang on tight!” She aims the extinguisher to the rear and braces herself against the bars. Fwoosh! We blast off amidst the sound of angry shouting.
No. 1065791 ID: a7a180
File 168670774426.png - (113.06KB , 500x500 , ant_overboard.png )

I’m flying! Flying on a paper airplane. It’s actually happening! I don’t have much time to let it sink in though, as all of my focus is on steering us straight down the aisle. It’s not as easy as the test plane made it look - we’re moving faster, and our center of gravity is making us veer left, I fear if I pull too hard in the other direction, we could fall out of the air.
<Hhh… Zome help… up?>
Oh no, Bright Eyes is still hanging off the back! We were going too fast for her to climb into the plane. I can’t pull her up and steer at the same time, I’ve only got two arms!
>Focus on pulling Bright Eyes up (Anet will take over steering)
>Focus on steering (The others will try to hold onto Bright Eyes)
No. 1065792 ID: 8f9bc4

Steering? A paper plane?! You expect the impossible! Just save her, and pray!
No. 1065812 ID: 273c18

Switching pilots is a bad idea, and the others are stronger than you anyway! Stay in the pilot seat!
No. 1065857 ID: 9a2966

Seems logical.
No. 1065858 ID: f8083d

Explicitly tell them to grab her while you try and keep the plane as steady as possible.
No. 1065944 ID: 7d8322

>Focus on pulling Bright Eyes up (Anet will take over steering)
No. 1066265 ID: a7a180
File 168720553882.png - (99.15KB , 500x500 , like_a_glove.png )

>Focus on steering
“I can’t take my hands off the reins! Someone help her!”
“I’ve got you!” shouts Anet. “C’mon, Jaina, pull!”
“I- I can’t do it! I just can’t!”
“Hurry up, her grip’s tearing the paper!”
The sisters struggle just to hold onto Bright Eyes against the turbulence. It seems like all three are in trouble until Pent climbs over them, grabbing the spear off Jaina’s back. She holds it out to bright Eyes next to her own. <Grab on, now!>
Bright Eyes shifts her grip one hand at a time to the spear shafts, and with Pent and Anet bracing themselves against the roll cage they finally manage to pull her up. The Beformican scrambles onto the plane, tumbling over Pent.

In the meantime, the shifting load on the plane is making it turn towards the desk again, putting us on a crash course. I turn hard to avoid it, coming close enough to the corner that I can see xanthi diving for cover. Some even jump off the sides to avoid us. I keep the plane in a hard counterclockwise spiral to bleed off altitude until we're pointed back at the door, then point the nose down. We skid gently to a stop a few feet away.
No. 1066266 ID: a7a180
File 168720554224.png - (144.36KB , 500x500 , pents_biggest_fan.png )

Everyone seems unharmed from our first flying experience - well, most of us. Anet’s looking over Jaina with concern as she sits dazed against the roll cage. I haven’t seen her this winded before. Her bandages seem okay, it doesn’t look like they’ve started bleeding again, but it might be something else.

Bright Eyes hasn’t gotten off of Pent yet, staring down at her with a mixture of awe and shock.
<Pent… zave me.>
<Yeah. What of it?>
<Thought Pent hate me. Think I zteal food.>
<That didn’t matter, in the moment. You’re part of the group still, so when you’re in trouble we help out. It’s not that hard to understand.>
Bright Eyes’ antennae rise and fall as she absorbs the meaning of this common kindness, her mandibles clacking wordlessly.
<...A thank-you would be nice.>

Well, my plan worked. We crossed the classroom in an instant, and everyone that was prepared to chase us is now on the other side of the room. We should be safe from pursuit as we move on to the domain next door.
I wonder if there’s anything I should do before we all beat a retreat from the classroom.

No. 1066267 ID: 273c18

Ask Jaina if she's alright. What happened? Did she get thrown about too much? Hmm, how do ants breathe again? Wait you can see her breathing so it's not pure exoskeletal respiration... does she have an infection? A fever?
No. 1066294 ID: adfc57

Offhandedly comment that Pent should teach her big buddy how to be good. Sure seems like they could all use lessons on the meaning of friendship. Still, wounded are the priority which right now is Jaina so bust out the bandages! Bright Eyes learning about kindness is giving me diabetes.
No. 1066356 ID: cce6c4

Seconding the idea to check on Jaina while we have a bit of downtime.

Also, hey, being pragmatic about our own abilities improved the overall team bond!
No. 1066372 ID: 15a025

Yeah! Teach everyone the magic of friendship.
No. 1066529 ID: a7a180
File 168758370341.png - (110.25KB , 500x500 , just-peachy.png )

>Comment that Pent should teach her big buddy to be good
Maybe let’s take things one step at a time? This seems like a good improvement over simply tolerating Bright Eyes' presence.
>focusing on our abilities improved the team bond
I guess it did! That’s… good.
>Teach everyone the magic of friendship!
I um, don’t feel qualified for that! Both halves of this group have known each other a lot longer than I have - Anet and Jaina as sisters, Pent and Bright Eyes as kinda-sorta-frenemies. I’m still very much the outsider in this situation. Maybe I should focus on Jaina right now.

>Ask Jaina if she’s alright
“Jaina, you doing okay? Sounded like you were having some trouble back there…”
“Not really,” she admits. “I think I’m just worn out from today.”
Uh oh. I try asking her how many fingers I’m holding up. She answers correctly, which is good, probably. Her wounded shoulder is very sore when poked, which is less good.
“Here, let me check your temperature.” I step close to hold my hand to her forehead, and she slumps against me. “Ah! Oh, your whole body is warm…”
I think she might have a fever.

Jaina needs rest, so we’ll definitely be looking for a place to hunker down. We abandon the paper plane to get chewed up by the xanthi and head for the door.
No. 1066530 ID: a7a180
File 168758370733.png - (177.22KB , 700x500 , area_discovered_the_old_lab.png )

A light breeze becomes noticeable as we near the threshold, crossing the divider from carpet to tile. This room has a sort of chemical smell, tinged faintly acrid. Not as strong as the burnt science labs we visited, but still noticeable. This seems like a smaller, hands-on classroom, with several high hexagonal tables and another teacher’s desk next to a giant Formican exoskeleton stood limply on a stand. It must be another anatomical model, one more accurate than the last two. It’s strangely comforting to know these models are a constant of classrooms across the galaxy.
Many of the cabinets lining the walls have transparent windows showcasing fancy looking scientific equipment or chemical beakers within. Stains on the shutters hint that some of these chemicals might have leaked and caused damage. That might explain why the wallpaper here is peeling - most of the temple’s inner rooms haven’t shown that kind of weathering, so far.
I look around trying to figure out the safest place to rest. The tables are too high to see what’s on top. Maybe we should climb up the furniture to get a degree of safety from whoever prowls the floor, or hide out under the desk. Or we could duck into one of the cabinets.

>Where to?
No. 1066531 ID: 273c18

Try not to be too obvious about checking out the accurate anatomical model. ...why are there classrooms here? Why were there rooms designed to be used by large Formecians in the first place?
Ughhhh is that why there are fake skeletons hanging around? This complex is part of a school, which means they have fake skeletons for science class, and someone put one in the break room as a PRANK? Why is it a school though? Did they simply reuse the building because it had enough space for the mini-city and would look mundane to intruders? In the latter case why encase the school in a reinforced shell that your archaeological team can't break through? It's so weird.

>what do?
Go in a cabinet. So long as there's no reason for anyone else to go in there, the door makes it secure. Though, you do risk opening the door and finding someone in there already, so better check carefully.
No. 1066540 ID: eb7ce4

would the skull be a safe place? I'm not sure if it's sturdy enough to hold all you guys (considering what happened last time), and the amount of effort needed to climb onto it, BUT it's got a great view of the area around you, and i think it could be easily defendable. Good for Jaina to take a rest for a little bit.
No. 1066552 ID: 9d5379

>anatomical model
Try to not be distracted by the model's thicc hips.

>where to?
I think one of the tables already has a little village on it, so let's try to avoid going up there.

I say you get on a different piece of furniture for safety.
No. 1066553 ID: 8f9bc4

The stools all appear to be torn from the center, probably to harvest the upholstery. Not a good place to avoid attention. There is less muck on the cabinets in front of you, which probably indicates an art error that it's further away from any food sources than the other places you could hide under, or climb inside. Probably will encounter fewer bugs over there. On the other hand you'll be across the room from any harvestable fungi, should you need it.

It'd be really funny if there were a tiny bug village built up on top of the table complete with adorable little bug huts, and with the devastation and destruction of what they did to the village on the other table. Too bad you can't see what's on either table from way down here!
No. 1066717 ID: a7a180
File 168790933506.png - (124.75KB , 500x500 , want_some_help_with_that.png )

>Don’t be too obvious checking out the model
I have to crane my neck quite a bit to do that, so it’d be very obvious if I did. Still, I allow myself one long gaze up at it, awestruck by the scale of a full-sized person once again. That’s a huge abdomen…
“We should duck into the cabinets to rest,” I suggest.
“What if someone’s inside them already?" Anet points out. "If we climb up to the skull, we’d get a good view of the tables and beyond. This one looks stable.”
“No thank you, I do not want to chance that again. The tables are an unknown, so let’s get on top of something else.”
”Testing… Test. What a curious dialect this is. Might I suggest the desk top for camping out?”
I look around, confused. “Who said that?”
”Up here.”
<Guys, the skeleton just talked…> Pent's looking straight up.
I look up too. The model’s eyes aren’t empty, they’re screens. And they just lit up.
No. 1066718 ID: a7a180
File 168790933906.png - (106.82KB , 500x500 , still_alive.png )

”Sorry for startling you. I’ve just been hanging around here for so long with no one worth talking to. I am J-NET. It’s nice to have new visitors for once, I’ve been terribly bored these past few millennia…

>KILLS: 30%
>ITEMS: 51%
>SECRET: 75%
No. 1066722 ID: 273c18

Oh boy finally someone who knows what really happened!
No. 1066741 ID: 5d9998

……do you know the secrets to help me grow back to normal height?
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