“Hey Addison, we’ve got another report of strange activity out northeast of perimeter marker 6,” you say to your partner, scanning the security alert.
“Don’t tell me it’s those red lights flashing in the sky again. I’ve investigated three instances already this week. There’s never anything to find!” she groans in exasperation.
“It’s more than just lights this time, they say a kid is missing. Somebody needs to get out there and look into it.” you reply.
“I’ll call Mahmoud, he’s already out that direction doing the maintenance on marker 7, he’ll get there the fastest.” says Addison as she turns to the communications array.
You send alerts to the other security personnel in that sector and then begin looking through the security holograms of the area. You don’t expect it to help much. This is a new colony and sector 6 is particularly rural, with few homesteaders and even fewer security holocams.
Still reviewing security ‘grams, you get a low fidelity voice call.
“Security Station 2, Officer Hamdy reporting in”, says a staticy Mahmoud, “I’ve filed my report but connectivity is terrible out here. This place is really out in the sticks!”
“We haven’t gotten it yet, can you give me the highlights?”, you ask.
A long blast of static is followed by, “-as arguing with his sister”, more static, BZZzzSHshshSquack, “claims a floating monster with a glowing red head, wearing a shiny metal dress took her.”
The static seems to clear and you respond, “I couldn’t get all of that. Heard the part about the ‘monster’. If you can give me a description of the missing child I’ll get the rest from the report when it gets here.”
“The missing child is Chloe Jensen, age 7 years, standard. Shoulder length blonde hair, brown eyes. Stands approximately 122 cm, weight approximately 22 kilos. Last seen wearing a bright blue jumper, fuzzy pink boots, and a pink pig hat. I’ve got a recent holo in my report. I’m working with the local residents to widen our search. Hamdy out.”
You update the alerts with the victim's description and begin working through the security recordings while you wait for the full report.
A week goes by and there are three more missing children. Details vary wildly, but the abductor is always described as a shiny figure with a glowing red head. While most of the witnesses seem confused, often having lost minutes or hours and presenting with signs of emotional shock, everyone agrees about those two features. And although a witness was present for every abduction, all report that they were paralyzed by the assailant and unable to intervene.
Reviewing the reports once again, you get the niggling sensation that you’re missing something important.
“Mahmoud, did your report on Chloe state that she was arguing with her older brother at the time of the abduction?”, you ask.
“Yes”, he says, quickly checking the details, “I noted that they had been fighting over who’s turn it was to play with their Jackson Grace, Para-Explorer Extraordinaire! figure.”
You turn to your partner, “Addison, what about Jamal’s abduction?”
“He was wrestling with his older brother, Ayden, preparing for his school’s big tourna–” she begins.
Mahmoud, getting excited now, jumps in, “Third victim, Olivia, was rehearsing for a play! It was a re-envisioning of Peter Pan. She was being forced to walk the plank. They were all under some sort of seeming threat at the time of their abduction.”
“What about the last one, Noah Jones?”, you ask quickly.
“We don’t have a statement from the most direct witness yet. His father, Hank Jones, is still in a coma. His mother saw the flashing lights and only saw the abductor with her son from a distance.” Addison pauses, then goes on thoughtfully, “It’s too much to ignore, but what do we do with it?”
“See how quickly you can get Officer Barrons over here. I’ve got an idea that might lure this thing out, if she’s up for it.”, you tell them.
You look Para Explorer Zelda Barrons over as she enters Security Station 2 and decide that your idea might actually work. Explorer Barrons stands just over 123 centimeters and is to all appearances a 7 or 8 year old girl. She’s actually 56, but a severe, duty related, injury necessitated a full body replacement. Unfortunately, critical energy deficits delayed re-templating and rare rejection issues prevented her from using a synthetic replacement. Looking at a choice between existence as an autonomous ego state and reliving an accelerated physical childhood in a replacement clone, she chose the latter.
You break out of your reverie to hear Addison saying, “So, you see what we’re thinking?”
“Well, it sounds like you want to take me out in the wilderness, beat me up, and use me for bait.” Zelda replies dryly.
Mahmoud quickly interjects, “It’s not lik–”
Zelda cuts him off, “Don’t worry kid, it sounds like a fun time. Who’s my date?”
Looking nervous, Mahmoud replies, “Well, I’m the largest Para member stationed here so they thought I’d seem the most threatening…”
You feel for him. Standing at over 2 meters and naturally muscular, Mahmoud tends to intimidate people who don’t know him. He’s actually a big teddy bear and hates to think he frightens anyone, but seeing him tower over Explorer Barrons you feel confident he’s the right choice.
“OK, when do we do this? I’ve been stuck on extended desk duty and I’m not getting any younger you know!” Zelda says enthusiastically in her little girl’s voice.
Knowing that the lives of three children are on the line, you get the whole operation in place in under two hours. You’ve got every discrete surveillance drone deployed and even retasked the colony’s one satellite to monitor the proceedings. Explorer Barrons has been equipped with an extremely advanced, organic, subdermal tracking device that should survive and continue to function in almost any circumstance. Since the goal is to find the children, you don’t want a large physical presence near your ambush, but you’ll be commanding an armed response team deployed as close as is practical.
Based on the previous abductions and reported sightings, you've used Para’s Advanced Mathematical Predictive Modeling (A.M.P.’M.) team to calculate the ideal place to lay your trap. Mahmoud and Zelda have taken up residence in a small maintenance cottage on a fully automated farm within the abduction zone. They’ve got food and supplies for a week, but you hope you’ll get a response long before that.
Despite being a gentle giant, Mahmoud does a commendable job of roleplaying an abusive guardian. You know it hurts him as he makes cutting comments and threatens Zelda with violence, but he doesn’t let it show. For her part, Zelda is a veteran of Para operations, and while this may be more unusual than some, she plays her role like a professional.
As the sun falls on the second day of the stakeout you begin to fear your plan is a failure. You know that the children have been gone a long time now and their odds of survival are going from bad to worse. There haven’t been any other abductions, but that’s of little comfort knowing that there are four children, lost and afraid, and no reason to think there won’t be more taken later.
You key your transmitter and call the decoys, “If we don’t get a response tomorrow we’re going to have to change something up.”
“No!”, Mahmoud subvocalizes, “Zelda says we just need to turn it up a notch. Don’t pull us out yet.”
“We’ve got this.” Zelda concurs.
Turning words to action, Zelda drops the tool kit she’s carrying and spills expensive gear across the rugged ground. Mahmoud stares at her for a moment and then unleashes a torrent of verbal abuse, ending in a slap to the face that sends Zelda tumbling back, sobbing.
You yank your earpiece from your head as it blasts out a violent burst of static- BZZzzSHshshSquack! The rest of your team is reeling, and shaking their heads in pain as well. Most of your monitoring hardware is lit up with error indicators or has simply failed, but you can see flashes of red light beyond the trees in the direction of the farm.
Rushing to your trap, you find Mahmoud, comatose but alive. There is no sign of Zelda nor the kidnapper. Reluctantly, you leave him to the medics and check Zelda’s tracker.
You breathe a sigh of relief when you see that it’s giving a strong signal, reporting that she’s already over two kilometers away, just entering the foothills north of the settlement. You gather your team and hurry in pursuit.
After tense minutes, skimming the treetops in a grav car, and then making the final approach on foot, you follow Zelda’s tracker to a small cave. Just as you signal your team to move in, a figure emerges from the cave mouth. You finally get a look at your quarry. It’s some sort of robotic entity of a retro design, with a glowing, red, head-like globe under a transparent protective helmet.
Before you can register much more, it lets loose with another blast of static - BZZzzSHshshSquack! - followed immediately by bursts of red energy, flashing from where its eyes should be. Your team falling around you, you bring your plasma pistol up to fire. At the last moment a blue and pink blur flashes from the cave mouth to block your shot.
“Please! Don’t hurt her!”, the small figure of Chloe cries.
Do you :
A: Shoot the dangerous robot before it can take you out too. It’s much larger than Chloe and it’s hovering above her, it should be an easy shot, you just hope your pistol is powerful enough to do the job.
B: Retreat and take cover. You can’t risk injuring the children but you aren’t going to let yourself be disarmed. The backup security teams you left to defend the rest of the settlement will be here in minutes.
C: Drop your weapon and pretend to surrender. As soon as Chloe is clear of the robot call in a precision shot from the satellite you have on stand by. It’s risky, but you aren’t confident you have enough firepower to stop the robot on your own.
D: Maybe this can end peacefully. Drop your weapon and try to negotiate. The primary problem you see with this plan is the robot’s speed. If it drops you it could take the kids and disappear before backup arrives.
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[Para Initiative PHX Service Note: When asked to review this historic mission report, 9 out of 10 trainees liked seeking a peaceful resolution. 2 of 10 trainees thought retreating and taking cover would be a fine option. No significant support was present for immediate violent resolution by gun or satellite.]
As soon as you ordered the few standing members of your response team to stand down and dropped your own weapon, the robot ceased its (her?) attack. Several tense moments followed as Chloe struggled to translate the negotiations between your team and the robot. Fortunately, Zelda soon emerged from the cave looking shaky but in good health, and was able to take over as interpreter. Though communications remained difficult, a successful detente was eventually secured and all the children were returned unharmed.
Your theory that the robot was in some way programmed to protect children was only partially correct. The robot’s makers had designed her to act as a non-lethal guardian for all members of their species, regardless of age. They communicated using something that could best be modeled as a form of telepathy. She was able to receive the distraught emotions of some children, and she identified them as being in need of her protection.
Later research determined that axon myelination inhibits this form of telepathic communication by insulating the brain from the external signals used to carry the robot’s messages. Once a child has reached 9-10 years old their brain development is sufficient to entirely block these signals. Using this information, Initiative engineers were able to create a wearable translator that allows for slow but clear communication.
Once communication was fully established, operatives specializing in first contact took over the case. During their interviews it was learned that the robot, or Nanny as she now prefers to be called, is the only remnant of a previous attempt to colonize this planet. Her makers were afflicted by some pathogen to which they were particularly susceptible and perished over 1000 standard years ago. With Nanny’s help our archeologists are researching what remains of the facilities built by the previous colony.
All the children have returned home and are no worse off for the experience. Sadly, it was learned that Hank Jones was verbally and physically violent toward Noah Jones and Nanny intervened to protect Noah. Fortunately, modern medical treatments and therapy have become very effective at addressing mental health issues of this sort, and the prognosis is a full mental and emotional recovery for both family members.
[SHK-E Assessment: There was a moderate risk to SAFETY taken by disarming and seeking peace, but it brought some warmth to the HEARTs of the children and Nanny. The ability of the Initiative to gain KNOWLEDGE about the ancient society here was enhanced by forging a link with its last remnant.
SAFETY: Very Poor
KNOWLEDGE: Very Good
Para Initiative Reputations: Interventionist
Para Initiative Inventory:
Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People