Search for Scavenger

MachMan, along with the SPs and navis who followed him into the Hades Net coordinates that Cabal had given, would find that she'd left out one important detail: the coordinates were actually in the rogue net, known for having particularly dangerous viruses. Fittingly, the area was free of other visitors, but the navis might be surprised to see that there were no detectable viruses around either. A quick look around would make it apparent why: the terrain was inhospitable to the point that, if they weren't able to fly, the navis would all be in severe pain. From the ground, rising in random directions, in random lengths, with various degrees of sharpness were many giant spikes. Most were an ashy black color, but touching them would reveal it was actually a thick particle layer, like dust from charcoal, was caked over them. In a few places, the blackness had either been blown, rubbed, or scratched away, revealing lustrous red gemstones beneath. If anyone dared to put a foot on the ground, they'd find that the whole net was similarly hard.

The light coming from above was a dusky orange color, illuminating one side of each spike and silhouetting the other; each of them cast a long shadow behind it. There was very little breeze, but when it came, it was hot and full of black, cloying dust. It seemed that anyone staying here long enough would inevitably impale themselves or choke themselves to death... assuming that viruses weren't going to show up earlier and finish them off first.

Roc didn't show much of a reaction upon seeing this net; indeed, she seemed fairly at home in this sort of environment, with her affinity for fire, not to mention her attitude, which was similarly prickly and difficult. Skywriter, on the other hand, held her scarf closer to her mouth to block dust from getting in, while hovering mid-air rather than landing, to avoid the spikes. This required the use of one hand, which moved back and forth like a pendulum just beneath waist level to sustain her, palm pointed towards the ground.

It was hard to imagine anyone could visit here often, as it was a pretty big chore just visiting it once, even with the ability to fly. Thankfully, evidence of someone coming or going presented itself, standing out amongst the monotone blackness of the net. Hanging close to a sort of cavern made of locked spikes was a silver helmet, fitted with "crossbones" that were actually, on closer inspection, large knobs, spaced at even intervals around the head. Beneath that, on the closest thing this part of the net had to a floor, a black skinsuit was lying on the floor. Its texture made it look something like a hazmat suit, although the exact shape was hard to make out.

Closer inspection would reveal that the cavern was on a hillside, making it like a sloping tunnel. The inside was very dark, but just bright enough to see that a foot path had been smoothed out of the stone. It still looked a bit precarious, but luckily, the whole group would be able to fly down, so long as they had some way to light the way.

Even then, one had to question whether it was the best idea to go down there immediately. Skywriter would quickly voice as much, just as Roc was about to fly inside to retrieve her sister. "Wait! If the navi's gear is out here, then they must be coming back for it, right? We can hide nearby and watch for them. If we go down, we could be trapped or ambushed..." she pointed out. Roc didn't look like she planned to stop, but she was slowing down, waiting at the entrance of the cave and sticking her head in pensively. MachMan would have to decide whether he'd rather stake it out or if he felt comfortable heading down inside. There was no telling how far down the tunnel went, since the outside vanished into a sea of dense, blackened gemstones.

"You all stay here, then, and do whatever! I'll go find her inside," Roc responded, although that plan really wasn't much of a plan.
((From NS Camp))

The three warped in to a very unique sight, the area surrounding them was thoroughly covered in jagged, spine-like crags covered in soot and apparently encrusted with red gemstones. It seemed rather fitting for HadesNet, and the fact it was a part of the Rogue Net made it seem even more appropriate for the network's inherently more hostile environment. Mach and his SPs more or less remained perched in the air, though Vector was slightly surprised by the immediate need to remain airborne and slowed to a stop a couple feet below Mach and Aera. Mach, who had reverted to his NS_Uniform.GMO, scanned the area quickly, where Aera seemed to be a bit awestruck by the extreme design of the area.

There appeared to be an entrance to what looked like a cavern made of a densely packed 'nest' of spikes, which seemed to draw everyone's interest. Roc was unsurprisingly keen to dive in headfirst, while Skywriter also unsurprisingly showed hesitation for such a reckless move. She brought up some good points; it appeared someone had been utilizing the cavern and could be potentially ambushed or followed, and going underground was a pretty good opportunity to get trapped. However, what sealed Mach's decision to halt Roc wasn't the cavern outright, but the mask and suit. He rushed after Roc with a flap of his wings, and he called out to her.

"Hold up!" He tried to touch down near the suit and mask, and give it a closer examination while his SPs followed after him at a more leisurely pace. "Look at this, if a Navi needed this kind of protection to go down there, one would think there's some nasty, possibly toxic, stuff inside," he said as he continued to look it over, punctuating his hypothesis by glancing into the entrance in an attempt to get a better look, though the darkness possibly wouldn't reveal much. Aera brought up a counter-point as she too touched down. "Or could it be the opposite, where the Navi is inside, and out here is considered hazardous?"

Mach looked back and scanned the horizon for movement, or anything else of significance as he answered. "Maybe, or we could be entirely wrong. Every one of these missions so far have had some odd surprises, I bet there are plenty in store for us here as well." Mach took a deep breath as he mulled over the situation. He doubted the cavern would be hospitable and didn't want to risk getting the entire team ambushed, but he also doubted just waiting for someone to show up was the best idea either. He made a decision, one that involved both plans. [[i]"Alright, here's what we'll do,"[/i]] Mach started over the group's common channel. [[i]"Vector and one my decoys will scope out the cavern, to get an idea of what we're dealing with. As we establish a safe path, we can start to venture in. In the meantime, the rest of us can hunker down here in case someone approaches. Objections?"[/i]] He also wanted to possibly have Aera and Skywriter establish a reconnaissance track overhead, but the featureless black background and no clouds/dust would make them stand out at nearly any altitude. However, that meant they'd hopefully spot airborne intruders more easily. ["I don't have any better ideas right now, Mach; give it a shot,"] Mazer responded.

Vector showed his approval by touching down and squaring up on the entrance of the cavern. As he did so, a projector decoy materialized in the air beside him, and quickly projected a perfect copy of its NS-uniformed master. [[i]"Let the decoy go first, at the first sign of malfunction or damage to it, halt your progress and fall back if needed,"[/i]] The Navi warned, to which his SP simply replied [[b]"Of course."[/b]] Aera was fine with waiting it out, it was possible during their stake-out they'd find a new opportunity.

Not to make the decision in a vacuum, Mach didn't start executing the plan until Skywriter and Roc weighed in. There could be another alternative Mach and his group didn't think of, or a critical vulnerability that isn't yet known to everyone.
Roc turned to look over her shoulder, regarding both Skywriter and MachMan dubiously with a foul-tempered grimace. "Oh come on... we finally got this far and you're saying, what, to turn around? This dangerous looking cave is a great sign that we're on the right track! My sister's probably right inside there!" she complained, but crossed her winged arms and stayed at the entrance regardless.

Obviously relieved that MachMan had pulled rank to stop Roc from going in, Skywriter sighed, then released the other navi's arm... if Roc had really wanted to, though, she probably could have dragged Skywriter inside with her using her superhuman strength. She turned her head in turns between MachMan and Aera, listening to their conversation. "I'd say if the suit's out here, it's safe to say that whatever they're protecting themselves from, it must be inside the cave rather than outside, even with how upsetting the ash and stuff out here is. If it was outside, it wouldn't make sense for them to leave the suit out here and have to put it on there, rather than inside the cave. Really, it makes you wonder why they took it off at all..." she murmured, still talking through her scarf. MachMan explained a plan that would cover both bases anyways, so there was no reason for her to complain. "Sure... just, be careful, Vector..." she reminded the SP. Roc nodded along slowly as well.

With that, MachMan summoned one of his decoys, to begin the trek down into the darkness created by the cavernous web of spikes. "Be sure to turn on a light or something, or you're going to stick yourself on one of those bad boys, flight or no flight," Roc pointed out, though, presumably, generating light would be no difficult task for MachMan.

It wouldn't be necessary to address that particular worry until the decoy and Vector got a little ways in, it seemed, so they'd have a second to think about what they wanted to do. As it turned out, however, they might not have so much time after all; no sooner had the decoy taken a step into the entrance of the cavern than the spikes seemed to react, suddenly generating several additional bristles, accompanied by a noise like the earth rumbling. With no ash covering these spikes, the image was like a gleaming, red, crystalline snowflake lattice. The spikes, oddly, were angling out so as to do no more than glance the decoy, but it looked like they might be pinning it in place... though, not quite. The decoy seemed to be able to squeeze between the spikes, if MachMan wanted it wanted to, though presumably the next spikes would be more accurate. Each of the spikes had gashed a trail in a part of his armor, but none of them were actually sticking through it in a way that would hold it in place. If it either withdrew or vanished, the extra limbs would retract back inside the gems, vanishing seamlessly and leaving only red patches on the black, chalky spines where they'd stuck out. As often seemed to be the case in these antagonistic situations, someone was ready to claim the threat and introduce themselves.

"Welcome, intruders; perhaps I should have introduced myself earlier, and spared your heart rates the extra strain? My name is Pinpoint... But you can call be Dr. Pin, if it pleases you," a booming voice from nowhere announced, seeming to come from inside the cave. "I thought I'd caught you in my trap, but that one was just an illusion, wasn't it? Still, I believe I've gotten my point across... So to speak." The voice had a thick Electopian accent, but was otherwise well spoken and easily understood. "My Pin Field technology will skewer anyone and anything that attempts to pierce my inner sanctum... Rather, you shall be the one pierced. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see one of you foolishly try to make your way through here. It's no use, though. My Pin Field is impenetrable. There is a greater chance of a cybeast awakening beneath my lair and crushing me than there is of you all making it down here," she finished, though it seemed like more gloating was sure to come. "I'm detecting five of you out there... who wants to test me?"

Skywriter was shaking nervously, but she seemed to be thinking as well. "Hm... From the fact that she didn't know that was your decoy," she whispered, "and that she said she 'detected' a number of us... I'm guessing she's not capable of actually seeing us, visually. Still, I don't know if that helps... I don't know how any of us can make it through if she controls the spikes in that tunnel that way. Isn't it odd, though...? Why can't she control these spikes on the net that way?"

"Who cares? I've got a plan," Roc announced, pressing one fist to her considerable bosom enthusiastically. "Look, those spikes shot out at your guy and just barely missed him, right? So they're not accurate, but more importantly, they took a sec to come out. If we run through one at a time, super fast, then the spikes won't have time to stick us and we'll get through safe!"

"How do you even know there is a 'through'?" Skywriter asked, speaking quietly and wanting to discourage anyone from rushing through the tunnel. "What if it's just a dead end in there? We don't even know..."

"Huh? You really think so?" Roc asked, tilting her head and baring her fangs, while gesturing impatiently with one claw. "That Pinhead was talking about her stupid whatever like it was defending something else deeper inside. There's gotta be something in there. She wouldn't just make a big, stupid, dead-end tunnel here and monitor it for no reason," the bird navi insisted.

"You might be right... Also, I think we can additionally conclude that she can't hear us, if she didn't respond to your provocation just now," Skywriter reasoned. "Though, I can't be certain. What do you think? How ought we proceed?" she asked, turning to MachMan again.
Thankfully Roc halted her advance, allowing the group to discuss their way forward without making a potentially costly mistake out of a sense of urgency. There weren't any objections to Mach's plan, so the decoy and Vector were sent in. Skywriter showed seemingly genuine concern for the SP, something Vector couldn't ignore. "I will, Miss Skywriter" he said respectfully, and nodding back to both Skywriter and Roc before proceeding inside a few paces behind the decoy.

As soon as they entered, the path appeared to react with hostility; spines emerged from the walls and encompassed the decoy ahead, but they oddly didn't skewer the holo-projecting decoy. Instead they seemed to simply scratch against it, like a crimson briar patch. Vector wisely halted his progress, trying to focus on how the spines reacted to both his and the decoy's presence as a voice boomed from the pitch blackness deeper in the cave. "Oh look, an odd surprise. Called it, for the record," Mach quipped briefly.

The rest paused and listened to the voice, who introduced herself as "Pinpoint" and "Dr. Pin." She seemed to realize the decoy was just that, explaining the reason for her "trap" not apparently working properly. She then launched into a monologue lauding the impenetrability of the defensive system apparently of her own design. [[i]Either she's bluffing, or it's as deadly as she says, and just likes to hear herself speak/gloat. Otherwise she'd just let the "Pin Field" do all of the talking,[/i] Mach thought, trying to determine if her gloating was hollow posturing or of legitimate superiority.

Skywriter started to draw assumptions from the Navi's statements, to which Mach was prepared to respond, but Roc beat him to the punch. She proposed a blitz-like assault, to exploit the apparent delay and inaccuracies of the spikes inside the tunnel. Skywriter countered with the idea it could be a dead end, but Mach agreed with Roc's counterpoint (for once) regarding the suggested triviality of putting such high security on a tunnel with no end or significant value. With a break in the conversation, Mach weighed in his own opinions. "It sounds like "Pinpoint" determined my decoy to be just that, otherwise she would've mentioned detecting six, not just five. However, it does appear she's not exactly capable of seeing or hearing us outright."

He turned from Skywriter to Roc, and continued. "Assuming the entire area reacts the way we previously saw, dashing through would be incredibly high risk, a sharp turn could mean curtains for even the fastest of us." Aera chimed in, "I know both you and Mach are fast, but I know I wouldn't be able to keep up..." She took the bullet to bring it up that not everyone in the group is as speed-oriented. It seemed the group was at a standstill between indecision and a potentially fatally reckless charge into the unknown, but Mach tried to keep pressing forward. He commanded the decoy deeper into the cavern to further scope out the area, while he picked up the hazmat suit and attempted to put it on.

"Now this might just be a 'red herring,' but there has to be some significance to why this is here. Might as well see what it does." If the suit seemed to fit over his frame, he would've continued to don the bodysuit. If need be, he'd deactivate the NS_Uniform.GMO to remove the bulky wings from the equation, and subsequently deactivate his wing bits to ensure his body is entirely sealed. He reached to the mask and attempted to fix it to his head if the suit didn't protest, saying "Here goes nothing."

With the suit hopefully sealed, he approached the cavern entrance, and tentatively extended his left arm into the cave's jagged maw, to see if the spines reacted. Aera watched with nervous reservation, she didn't like the idea of her Navi introducing himself to what more or less acted like a mousetrap from hell.
"That's true! We're all pretty quick in the air, but we're not all MachMen... or MachLadies," Skywriter agreed with Aera, obviously in no rush to fly down through the treacherous Pin Field. There were an abundance of reasons not to test the reaction speed of the Pin Field without being ready first, so MachMan decided to do some scientific testing... and what better to wear while scientifically test than a hazmat suit? The suit did indeed fit over his frame, although it fit awkwardly, from a fashion standpoint: it seemed a little loose in some places and tight in others. Notably, it seemed like it was probably made for someone a little shorter, but beyond that, it just gave him a very frumpy and unflattering profile. It was immediately apparent he'd have to deactivate his wings to get the suit on correctly, therefore, he did. The helmet was the last piece on, hiding his entire appearance and making him look like another navi entirely... one with a sleek and sinister head, but a very unattractive body.

The suit hadn't stopped him from putting it on, but a new problem quickly became apparent: what had seemed like an odd odor coming from the suit, almost like that of chlorine, had become much more powerful once he put the helmet on. What seemed to be slightly restricted vision and air flow within the suit, alleviated only a little by opening up the helmet's bone-like valves, quickly became apparent as something much more dangerous. If he wore the helmet for a bit longer, he'd discover that he was beginning to lose consciousness due to the overwhelming scent, and furthermore, that his lack of vision was due to some sort of airborne chemical that was beginning to sting his eyes. In an odd bit of irony, it turned out that the hazmat suit must have been keeping in something harmful, not keeping it out, and until he took off the suit, he'd be exposed to something far more detrimental than the ash blowing around outside. As he extended his arm out into the cave, it became apparent the suit wasn't going to be useful for that function either; the spikes accelerated forward all the same, stopping a hair away from the fingers of the black haz-mat suit.

While Skywriter and Roc watched with blank expressions, unsure of what MachMan was going through, another peculiar development was taking place inside the darkness of the pin field... The decoy that MachMan had sent in had yet to be skewered. As he progressed further inside, the gigantic spikes continued to thrust from the wall and achieve only grazing strikes, or, at worse, pinning the encroaching intruder in place for a moment. At this point, it appeared that the pins weren't going to cost his decoy much more than a wardrobe malfunction, as having the decoy proceed meant having it shed armor as it went. Also worth noting: unless he provided a light, this decoy wasn't going to act as much of a scout, so much as just a test of the spikes. The decoy had gotten to the point where most like had been blocked out, proceeding further into pitch blackness. "What's wrong? None of you are men enough to proceed through my Pin Field? I suppose that's only logical! You'll be turned into human shishkabobs, starting with whichever foot you stick in first..." the voice of Pinpoint taunted again.

"... Actually, there's really only one man out here," Skywriter remarked distractedly. "I-I think," she added, turning to Vector with an awkward smile, as she wasn't really certain whether the SP wanted to be assigned a gender or not.
As Mach donned the suit, he first noted its ill-fitting design, and then quickly realized the suit seemed to keep the hazards in; his eyes began to feel the sting while his nose was assaulted by a strong chemical smell. He only managed to reach into the cavern, which yielded no reaction, before he quickly removed the mask, uttering a "Screw this," as he attempted to remove the suit in earnest. These events were wearing on his increasingly limited patience, causing an increased drive to act. He also expected the sudden reaction to bring questions from the group, to which he quickly explained "The thing seems to exude a noxious chemical, and obviously not suited for a male Nav- wait." Mach paused, then extended the mask to Aera. "Put it on. If it smells like bleach, take it off. I wonder if it reacts differently to males than it does to females."

Aera furrowed her brow and tentatively took the mask from Mach's extended hand. As she put the sleek mask over her head, Mach called out to his NetOp. "Mazer, upload the FlameLine to Vector. Vector, expend minimal fuel to provide a light source, then proceed into the cavern. The so-called "Pin Field" seems to be mostly bluff, let's figure out when the bluff starts to actually bite. Follow the decoy." Mazer responded with a simple ["Got it."] and was quickly focused on transferring the chip to the fractal SP, who silently acknowledged Mach's order and waited for the aforementioned chip's upload. The decoy proceeded deeper, with Vector following a few paced behind. He raised his right arm, which twisted and reformed into something like a slatted cylinder, which quickly burned like a oil-soaked torch.

With his closest allies tasked, Mach turned to his squadmates. "Roc, Skywriter. Comb the area in a spiral from our current location. If we're chasing a "red herring," I want to know about it immediately. Stick together, stay low, and keep us in comm range. I want any indications of that 'skull-and-crossbones' Navi reported immediately." His tone seemed more abrasive than normal, indicating the wear on his patience. He assumed the attitude would jive easily with Roc, but not so much with Skywriter. To further clarify, he warned "I expect both of you to report together as flight-mates. If you abandon your 'wingman,' I will hold you responsible for her fate. Now go."
The two other navis on MachMan's squad watching him with curiosity and confusion as he pulled back off the suit he'd just painstakingly gotten on. The two nodded along dumbly as he explained that the inside of the suit suggested some dangerous chemical, but looked surprised when he suggested Aera put it on. "I'm not sure if anyone should be wearing it if it's that bad," Skywriter suggested, turning her eyes to Aera, as if hoping she'd decline.

Aera did not decline and instead pulled on the suit herself. While the fit was better, given that it was indeed made for a woman, the features were still misshapen and unflattering. It didn't appear that the ill fit of the suit could be attributed just to gender... Whoever ordinarily wore it must have an interesting body shape. Unfortunately, while MachMan was talking to Vector, Aera would realize that the suit was no more hospitable to her than it had been to MachMan moments ago. Her nose and eyes would sting; seeing and breathing would become more difficult as well. Most likely, she'd be forced to abandon the suit in the same way that he had.

As Vector and the decoy proceeded further inside, now with the benefit of light, Vector found that the spikes were hungrily thrusting at him, seeming to slash against and through any part of him that would not actually injure him. The decoy was suffering a similar fate. Moving slowly like this didn't help, as the spikes were coming from too many directions to really avoid. On the other hand, no real damage was being done, unless they really needed their armor on the other side of the tunnel. A few spikes more and the decoy would also be risking public indecency; the things weren't above pulling at his skinsuit, and remarkably managed to do so without actually damaging his flesh.

Skywriter and Roc, still outside with the others, listened to MachMan's new instructions. Skywriter gulped, giving a quick salute, then took off into the air, holding her skirt down to her legs as she did (although her bike shorts made that less of a worry than it had been when she'd been wearing the Neo-Shogun tunic). Roc, in the mean time, clenched her teeth, crossing her arms and leaning into MachMan's personal space. "The heck did you just say? You want me to fly around in circles up there while some bastard's holding my sister at the bottom of that crap pit? No way! Get your girl to fly up their with Sky, I'm going down with you," she protested, taking the moment to fly past and in front of him. The spikes responded immediately, closing like a gate behind her, before receding back to their normal length. It would be interesting to learn if she really could beat the reaction time with her own speed...

...Vector would have that answer before MachMan did; Roc had made it through with mostly minimal damage, before nearly crashing into the broad, armor back of MachMan's SP. "Fu-!" she complained, dragging herself to a stop with her talons, before an appalling number of pins suddenly moved in on her, snatching through various spots on her red jumpsuit and dragging them in different directions, obscuring her form. If Vector didn't already more or less know what was happening, he'd probably think she'd just met a particularly gruesome fate. "Move faster!" she snapped at him. "I can't move, between my spikes and your spikes!"

"Ho ho ho! I see some of you are retreating, while others of you have decided to brave the Pin Field! What a ridiculous notion... It doesn't matter how fast you are. This is not a maze that can be navigated..." the voice of Pinpoint taunted from all around the tunnel.

MachMan's decoy made some real progress, finding that the light of a weapon was no longer necessary; he was getting closer to the end, as evidenced by a new light source. Here, a few new clues revealed themselves: several of the spikes had been broken off, uprooted, or otherwise destroyed, making it so that the further he proceeded, the less resistance he actually met. A few spikes here or there were lined with the tattered clothing or uniforms of other navis. A small handgun, remniscent of a World War 2 Mauser, was broken into a few pieces where the spikes had ambushed it. The remains were hanging from various spikes, with others pinning them in place. Among the wreckage was also a small, gold, skull-shaped emblem made of metal...

The decoy's time and proximity to its owner were both up, but Vector could go on as long as he liked. Once he emerged on the other side, Vector would find a surprisingly open and well decorated room, adorned with several lava lamps, a bedroll, some provisions on a spread blanket upon the ground, and a miniature workshop. The lights faded from red to yellow to purple, various warm colors, illuminating the room's seeming sole occupant: a blond-haired girl, about college freshman age, was tinkering at the work bench, wearing large headphones and a tye-die t-shirt that looked like it probably wasn't part of her ordinary navi suit. The shirt was torn in a few places, but not in overly bad condition... except for at the seat, where a flap had been torn away to reveal her underwear, a dark red/purple/black tie-die shade with a yellow peace symbol across the bottom. If one was into human girls, one might appreciate it, but it was likely the sight wouldn't do much for Vector. He'd probably be more curious to know who the girl was... and if, perhaps, she was this "Dr. Pin" that had previously revealed herself.

Other notable features of the room became apparent as he looked around further: the object of the girl's study appeared to be several unlodged spikes, a few which lay scattered around, and a few more which she was cultivating in a small, glass chamber. Those ones still seemed to be "alive" and responded as she dangled a handkerchief in front of them. A machine of some kind, with thin, mechanical legs like an artist's easel, sat in the corner of the room, covered by a tarp. It was difficult to make out anything about it, just looking at the tarp... Also, one of the walls was hallowed out, and inside appeared to be another tunnel... something like a wall of jello stood in the way of any who would proceed in that direction. Several data packets lay about the room as well, though there was no telling what was inside them. "Ha! Someone's gotten through... You're lucky I hadn't calibrated the Pin Field in a while! Otherwise, I assure you, you'd not have had such luck!" the voice of Pinpoint shouted again. The girl in headphones seemed to miss it entirely and went on working.

MachMan would necessarily be a little late to this gathering. Even if he proceeded through at max speed and avoided most of the pins, he'd find that he ended up stalled once he hit the spot where Roc's big body was struggling to free itself and regain speed through the Pin Field. Luckily, they wouldn't have much further to get through.
Immediately after donning the mask, Aera felt the sensations Mach warned about, then slipped the mask off her face. "Nope." she exclaimed, punctuated with a light cough as she wiped the forming tears from her now irritated eyes. Mach noted it, and decided to abandon using the suit, and tossed it to the side.

Meanwhile Vector continued, his hand-less right arm oozing flame thanks to the previously uploaded chip. However, his progress was slow and steady. The spikes were there to mar his path from every direction, but they never advanced far enough to puncture his armor.

Though Skywriter dutifully followed Mach's order and took to the sky, Roc was unsurprisingly insubordinate. She voiced her frustration then charged in. Mach looked over to Aera, to which she responded with a simple nod and took off as well. She understood the need to pair up, especially in such an inhospitable environment. As she rapidly closed in on Skywriter, Roc closed the gap so quickly she nearly ran into Vector. Roc's orders to pick up the pace weren't refused, as Vector did kick off and dash forward behind the also accelerating decoy.

As they rushed deeper into the chasm, they discovered light coming from the opposite end, and the traces of battle littering the walls amongst the spikes. It eventually led to a large, furnished cavern, in which Vector slid to a stop. The decoy fizzled out just prior to the cavern, fragmenting and disappearing, leaving the tunnel clear. Vector's eyes quickly locked on the cavern's sole occupant, but he didn't immediately produce a weapon. The girl didn't appear threatening, and the voice of "Dr. Pin" echoing through the chamber suggested she wasn't the creator of the tunnel's hazards.

Vector took the lull in the action to make a quick survey of the room, and reported back to his Navi over their comm channel. [[b]"Sire, we've passed through, there's a cavern inside, along with a program. She doesn't appear hostile."[/b]] Mach and Aera were relieved Vector was alright, and they were finally making progress. [[i]"Understood, see if she knows anything about Scavenger or the Skull Navi. We'll keep an eye out here,"[/i]] Mach responded, opting stay outside with Aera and Skywriter until needed. He too heard Dr. Pin's statement regarding the "Pin Field" and its un-calibrated state; if Vector could make it through, he could as well if the situation called for it.

Vector calmly approached the tinkering girl. He didn't say anything, as the headphones and lack of reaction to Dr. Pin's voice suggested she wouldn't hear him even if he did speak. Vector didn't want to spook the girl or cause a hostile reaction, but he also expected Roc to immediately pounce on the girl and demand information. He looked back to Roc, and raised a hand in an attempt to halt her. "Are you alright, Miss Roc? I'll try to talk to the lady, would you like to investigate the rest of the room?" If she followed his advice, he'd attempt to get within the girl's field of view to get her attention (if she didn't already notice them). If not, he'd simply follow and try to keep Roc from getting into even more trouble than necessary.

Regardless of how the program's attention would be sought, he would still inquire "Have you seen a lady Navi with avian features in the area recently? Or a skull-themed Navi? I noticed a few skull-themed emblems and other items in the tunnel."
When Roc acted against instructions, MachMan was forced to go along with her suggestion, sending Aera up to join Skywriter on the aerial patrol. As the SP joined MachMan's squad mate in the air, it would become apparent to her that this wasn't going to be a fun assignment: there was still just enough particulate matter flurrying around to be mildly suffocating, while the sun was also worse, as it was less obscured by dark ash. Sweat shined on the bridge of Skywriter's nose and the navi clutched one hand to her scarf tentatively, as if trying to decide whether it was better to keep it on and block the ash or take it off and escape some of the heat. "No sign of other activity so far," she told Aera, keeping her unoccupied palm towards the ground in order to continue hovering.

MachMan made the wise call not to immediately follow after Roc and Vector; the bird navi had just gotten stuck in the tunnel and the same fate would await him if he'd jumped in too quickly. From the outside, he'd watch the entry way to the tunnel for now.

On the inside, Vector made it first through the tunnel and took a look around, before reporting his findings. MachMan instructed him to question the mostly harmless seeming navi to find out if she could give them any information pointing towards either of their two persons of interest. As it turned out, Vector didn't really need to worry about Roc getting the jump on the girl before he had a chance to question her; when he turned around to talk to her, he saw that several spikes were still moving around that mouth of the cave, implying that she was having a hard time worming her way through and would probably be a bit longer. "Hrrgh! I'll look around in a second, when I'm out of all of these damn spikes," she responded bitterly. One claw scraped out from behind a spike, the glove partially broken away from her human hand such that one of the large talons was hanging loose.

Vector was doing his best not to spook the tinkering girl, but something about his appearance seemed to set her off, and her first reaction upon seeing him was to nearly trip over one of the data packets on the floor while backing up. Her eyebrows arched into a wary expression for a moment and she opened her mouth to shout something, but when Vector only asked questions, she seemed to calm down. Her eyes had widened for a moment, as if she had just realized something that shed light on why he might be there or otherwise why she should play it cool. "Um, actually, that does ring a bell! The skulls, I mean," the girl answered, after clearing her throat. Her voice was very quiet, so Vector had to move close to hear her over the loud shing of spikes extending and the equally raucous swearing of Roc attempting to make her way through them. "I'm surprised you made it through that spike tunnel, but if you did, you probably heard a message from Dr. Pin, right? She wears a skull helmet... and so do her two sisters, Dr. Solvent and Dr. Nihl. They're the ones that rigged these areas with traps... To be honest, although they aren't very effective at injuring other navis, this technology is very sophisticated! I'm very interested in learning more about it, but... I think the navis have holed themselves up further down. I've actually been here about half a week now. At first they were talking pretty frequently, but once I put on my headphones and stopped responding, I think they eventually quit... Anyway, I can't actually proceed any further. The next tunnel is covered in some sort of disintegrating goo... I think it's probably best if you turn back now," she advised. "That stuff will burn anything but material it relates to 'flesh,' although only little by little. You'd need to be fast to get through and with your body like it is... I don't want to risk losing the rest of my outfit, or worse, any of my research materials, personally. Besides, these spikes are plenty to study already!"

The navi didn't seem to realize her shirt was in such a state of disrepair as it was. Or she wasn't particularly modest. Or she somehow realized Vector wasn't the type to focus on details like that. Whatever the case, she didn't make any attempt to cover the holes in her shirt, including one that exposed just a bit of the underside of her breasts, which were covered by nothing else underneath. "As for a bird navi... N-No, I don't think I've seen anything like that recently," she answered, gulping and looking to one side in a way that seemed vaguely suspicious. As if in response, Roc finally clawed her way through the mess of spikes and came barreling into the room.

The navi had lost nearly her entire skinsuit, leaving only sleeves of it across her arms , thighs, and calves, as well as her neck. She tossed aside her broken helmet and visor; only one glove, a belt, and two largely ruined boots remained from her light armor. Besides that, she wore only the feather bikini that MachMan's crew had seen earlier, composed of red and gold plumage, now with a matching bottom portion revealed as well. "I'm going to make sure Doctor Pinhead pays for that, when I get to her," Roc growled, surprisingly blushing a bit as Vector watched her. "So what? Is this the pinhead? Ha!" Vector's squad mate sneered, rubbing together the talons of her one good glove and baring her fangs.

The researcher raised both hands and moved further back, now into the corner. "W-Wait! I'm a pacifist! A-And I'm not Dr. Pin!" she protested. Interestingly, one reaction she did not have was to point out that Roc herself was a navi with avian features.
Aera soon found the airspace above to be nearly as inhospitable as the ground below, and strained to keep her eyes open amid the ash and dust swirling about. She tried to shield her mouth by pulling up the collar of her tunic, thankfully it was somewhat baggy enough to pull up over her nose, but it caused the tunic to become much tighter in front; the stretched material revealed more of her figure, mostly by neatly outlining the gap between her breasts. She quickly realized this, and tried to place her left forearm vertically over her chest to keep some semblance of decency while her left hand kept the collar over her nose and mouth.

Her eyes glanced towards Skywriter after a brief scan of the area. "Want to see if we can fly under this ash? If we climb any higher, we probably won't be able to see the ground," she suggested before looking back to the ground below in an attempt to find anything out of the ordinary. She could still manage at this altitude, but Skywriter looked even more uncomfortable than she was. If they continued, Aera would shoot a glance back down towards the entrance, hopefully with Mach still standing there, to establish her bearings; getting lost out here wasn't on her agenda.

Down in much cleaner air, and seemingly less hostile space, Vector moved closer to better hear the quiet Navi. As soon as he could hear her legibly, he bridged the audio to Mach to allow him to listen in. Mach paused as he heard the girl's voice come in through his ear pylons, reflexively looking down and to the right as he listened. The program proceeded to answer Vector's questions without much hesitation while revealing valuable information, but the girl showed some suspicious non-verbals when the topic of an avian Navi came up.

His unnervingly still gaze wavered only in response to Roc finally freeing herself from the Pin Field. He quickly noticed her armor was mostly torn away, and before he focused his gaze back on the girl he noticed a slight blush on the hot-headed Navi's face when her eyes met his. Noting it for later, he extended his left arm horizontally outwards to block Roc's aggressive advance on the Navi. However, as the Navi backed away and claimed innocence, Vector began to slowly follow. His footfalls clicked against the solid floor, and his left arm slowly lowered if Roc halted her advance. "We appreciate your cooperation; however,"

A thin cylinder of metal burst slid upwards about a foot between his neck and shoulder, and paused as his right arm reached back behind his head and grasped it like a handle. In one smooth motion, he pulled vertically as he swung his forearm up, causing a polearm-shaped weapon to emerge from his body. He smacked the base of the staff-like handle down on the ground to his right as he stopped a few feet away, leaving the weapon upright and giving the Navi a good view of the L-shaped blade affixed to its top. "I get the feeling you aren't being entirely honest, Miss..." his stern voice trailed off, indirectly asking the Navi her name.
Like Aera, Skywriter had been staying mostly silent while mid-air, both for the difficulty of speaking through cloth and for the fact that one felt as though ash was getting in their mouth regardless of the covering every time they opened it. She still managed to chuckle and give a joke when she saw the way Aera had resolved to cover her own mouth. "You look a little like MachMan when you cover your face like that," she laughed. Aera had a new suggestion as well, which Skywriter eagerly agreed to. "You're right. We really only need to monitor the area right around the tunnel anyways... The spikes obscure too much of the area for anyone to strike from further away," she pointed out, while dropping altitude a bit.

Deep inside the tunnels, where the room hidden inside was surprisingly comfortable and free of deadly spikes, Vector and Roc continued to put pressure on their new acquaintance, hoping that she would reveal more complete information. "Wait, put away your weapons! I don't like violence!" the blond girl wailed, sitting on the floor as she finished backing into the corner and ran out of space to retreat into. "My name's Peace, but..." she murmured, as if contemplating what to say next, "My name's Peace and I've seen that violent bird navi before!" she continued, pointing towards Roc in an accusatory fashion. For her part, the bird lady pointed one talon to herself with a confused expression; clearly, she did not return the sentiment. "I wish you two would leave me alone! All I'm doing down here is researching the weapons of those three doctors, to put them towards peaceful applications!"

"I don't give a damn what you're doing down here!" Roc reiterated, rubbing her partially ungloved hand through her white-and-red hair to pull the sweat from it. "What I care about is the... what was that word... avian! The avian navis you've seen!" she continued, brandishing her good claw again.

The other navi looked back defiantly and frowned. "I haven't seen another bird-like navi! I figured the blue guy was talking about you!" she defended. "I've seen lots of skull navis though! If you want them, you'll have to go through that big wall of goo there, but that's not going to be possible for the robot, there, unless he figures out some kind of trick... Or unless he can move absurdly fast-"

Roc pounded her fist against the wall, hard enough to break a large crack into it and cause the cavern roof overhead to shake ominously, dislodging a few small rocks. "The doctors or skulls or whatever are besides the point! If you don't know where a bird navi is, you don't know where my sister is, and that means you're useless to me!" she roared impatiently, standing up straight to cast a longer shadow over Peace. "You're still not being straight with us, are you?! Don't think I'll go easy on you just because you're a girl!" She reached out to yank the headphones off of the girl's ears, then tossed them aside hard enough to break them on the ground.

"Oh, I know you won't, don't worry," the other girl jabbed, but sunk into herself further. Something about the whole situation seemed vaguely familiar... But, at any rate, Vector would have to increase the pressure on her somehow, or otherwise accept that what she told was all she knew and instead find a way to proceed inside past the next wall. Despite Roc's words, there was a good chance that finding the skull-wearing navis would lend him new insight on to the whereabouts of Roc's sister.

Another voice spoke up now, seeming to finally understand that someone new had entered the room. "Welcome, travelers! It seems that my sister's shoddy mechanisms were no match for your speed... but what good will speed do against my Gel Wall? Hm hm hm..." a new voice spoke, adopting much the same menacing tone that the first one had. Vector might recall that, while speed was important, the more important component was to realize that the spikes refused to injure their targets and thus posed no real threat.

Another voice spoke up in the background, angry and yelling, but out of focus and thus somewhat hard to hear all of. "... Don't use me to make your trap sound better...!" was all they caught.

A momentary fight ensued before the new woman spoke up again. "My name is Solvent... You can call me Dr. Solvent, if you like. I'm sensing three intruders now, right in front of my Gel Wall... One of you has been unable to figure out how to proceed, but perhaps if all three of you put your heads together, you might come up with something? I'm dying to meet you... why, I'm so hot with anticipation that I think it's starting to ooze out of me! Uhn... ahn~" the voice squealed, sounding like she'd somehow managed to arouse herself. It was pretty clear why Peace had put on the headphones to drown out their voices, if it had been going on like this for days. "Don't you want to reach me? Don't you? That Gel Wall is like a part of me... pushing through it is the same as pushing yourself deep inside of my body~"

"I don't care about you, or your stupid Gel Wall, or your idiot pinhead sister!" Roc shouted in response. "I'm going to get through your dumb gel just like I got through that last tunnel a second ago!" The voice didn't respond, so it was clear that Dr. Solvent was no more capable of hearing them than Dr. Pin had been.
Aera smiled under the raised collar of her tunic, responding with an amused hum at Skywriter's observation. Skywriter heeded Aera's advice and moved to descend to a lower altitude, to which Aera responded "Right behind you," then quipped in her best impression of her Navi's voice "Now go." She followed off Skywriter's right side and about a body-length behind, to keep her in arms-reach as she resumed scanning the airspace and ground below.

Vector's display in aggression visibly disturbed the girl, who called herself "Peace," but she still seemed to dodge the subject of an avian Navi. Roc's growing frustration was externalized much more visibly than Vector's, who continued to glare at the girl. Machman, who was listening in on the exchange, commented [[i]"Hm, still sounds like she's hiding something."[/i]] Roc reached the same conclusion, and continued to threaten the girl, but Peace made a comment that seemed oddly out of character. This "Peace" seems to be more enigmatic than meets the eye.

Before he could put in his two cents, another voice echoed through the cavern, apparently the creator of the gel wall at the other side of the room. She sounded just as confident as her sister, and ...passionate about the situation. Mach got an earful of that as well, as the voice echoed out just as loudly as it came through the audio bridge. "Ah... hm," he muttered, looking like he was trying to formulate a meaningful response, but came up empty.

Vector surmised further threats against Peace wouldn't especially effective, plus he wasn't exactly the interrogative type. Her last comment alluded to either she didn't truly consider Roc a threat, or simply didn't focus much on self-preservation. However, she did seem to care a bit about her research... He wasn't sure if attempting to barter with the girl, trading additional samples for information, but putting her current research at risk may more quickly yield results. To test his theory, Vector turned around, and tried to grasp one of the spikes on the table, then hurl it towards the gel wall. He wanted a reaction, from the girl, the wall, or both. He watched the wall, while keeping the girl in the corner of his eye. "...Interesting. Shall I try a live sample next?" he asked as he reached towards one of the samples cultivating in the glass chamber.
Entertaining themselves in spite of the heat, Aera and Skywriter reduced their distance from the ground. It turned out there still wasn't much to see: MachMan was still busy guarding the entrance of the tunnel, but nothing new was happening there. All of the action was still on the inside...

... Or, well, "action." Right now it was still mostly threatening and posturing, rather than actual violence. Peace continued watching the two figures warily, but focused her eyes on the tiny spike that Vector had grabbed up. The spike appeared to be dead and wasn't reacting to Vector's touch. The wall remained stationary as Vector through the spike into it, but once the spike became submerged, the danger became evident... quickly, the spike completely disappeared, growing smaller and smaller until it had vanished entirely. "Oh ho ho ho! That tickles~" the voice of Dr. Solvent laughed, sounding unaffected, but also unaware of what had been done, any further than by her sense of touch. "I felt a little prick just now... Hm hm hm! A tiny prick! Certainly there's a bigger prick than that between the three of you?"

"I sensed that!" another voice spoke up, recognizable as that of Dr. Pin. "That's low! They're throwing my spikes into your Gel Wall! I told you, I don't want your trap making mine look dumb!"

"Shush!" the more relevant doctor hissed. "Ignore my sister... She's a sore loser~"

"I'd be more than happy to ignore both of you," Roc grumbled, although the two wouldn't be able to hear her, presumably. She turned her head back to Vector and smirked. "Let's see how the hippie likes it when we threaten her research!" she encouraged him, slapping him on both hands his shoulder plates, like she was about to give him a massage. The effect was bone-rattling rather than soothing.

The spikes living in containment did indeed respond to Vector's fingers, beginning to grow like a vice around the extended appendage, but only scraping them. Peace looked cross, but didn't look especially threatened... perhaps because there were plenty of other specimens waiting for her back in the tunnel, or perhaps because those weren't especially important to her research? "Bah! She's not going for it. I know what'll get her!" Roc chuckled, grabbing a data packet from the floor with her good claw and sneering.

This did draw more of a reaction from Peace. "W-Wait! All of that is important data! It's notes that pertain to converting these traps into tools that can be used for the purpose of peace!" she cried out. That didn't look like it was going to stop her at all, so Peace continued. "A-And AlchemyMan! There's data on a guy named AlchemyMan, scattered all across these caverns! I'm not really interested in it, but it's advanced stuff... b-but highly unethical... modifications to navis that splice data from one navi into another, traits that are normally difficult to transfer, like personality, special techniques, unique body features and the skill required to use them... things like that. I'll share it with- WAH!" she shouted, as Roc carelessly flung the packet she was holding into the Gel Wall, soliciting another giggle from Dr. Solvent. "I'm telling you, that stuff is important! Or, at the very least, valuable!"

"You know what's not valuable? You, when you keep on naming more idiot scientists and dumb research. I don't care about those things! I want to know what you know about my sister, the bird navi! Scavenger! Dark wings, wears a helmet similar to mine... er, the one I threw off earlier, that is... her!" Roc growled, pointing at her helmet on the floor to clue Peace in. "Hey, blue guy! Go grab that weird tarp thing in the corner and chuck it into the Gel Wall! Maybe that'll also give us an idea of just how fast something big will disintegrate."

"No, no! Don't touch that!" Peace urged Vector, stepping out of the corner and between the SP and the device in the corner. "I don't know a thing about any other bird navis, or Scavenger, or whoever she is!"
Vector's attempt to elicit a reaction from Peace didn't succeed, but it did reveal the effects of the gel wall; it made quick work of the spike, dissolving it to nothing. The obstacle aptly represented its master's name, but Peace alluded to it not affecting "flesh." That remained to be tested... Regardless, Vector forwarded his findings to MachMan as Roc nearly cleaved his shoulders off in an act of... encouragement?... then threw data about to further antagonize the Navi. [[b]"Sire, the Gel Wall appears to dissolve all that enters, but Peace suggests it only affects armor, and not a Navi's core programming. I'm unable to test that theory."[/b]]

Mach glanced about, rubbing his chin as he tried to formulate a way ahead. Roc and Vector's current actions could eventually pull the information they need from Peace, but they'd still have to get past the Gel Wall if their objective lay further within. The lack of reporting from the still orbiting Skywriter and Aera indicated there were no changes from above either. [[i]"Copy, test one of your weapons against it. We may have to press onwards, and I don't want to send you if the gel wall proves too hazardous."[/i]] Mach responded with marching orders for the SP.

Vector was about to respond before Roc called out to him, urging the SP to remove the tarp from the object on the side of the room. She still hadn't yet called him by name, but "blue guy" seemed to be a minor step up from simply "armor." From what he knew of Roc's personality, his attempts to correct her would be soundly ignored, so he chose not to protest. He moved to tarp-covered object, looking to be held up like an easel from his view, then grabbed an edge of the tarp. Not entirely expecting the object to attack and/or explode, he still remained cautious as he slowly pulled the tarp away, then examined what lay beneath.
On the outside, there was little for MachMan, Aera, and Skywriter to do but keep in communication with Vector, who was inside the area hidden deep within the tunnels. "I wonder what's going on in there..." Skywriter thought out loud, staring at the ominous, needle-covered entrance. "Vector going in there was one thing, but I can't believe Roc went inside too. I don't know if I'd have the courage to do it, regardless of what I was made out of," she commented idly. Aera could still just barely hear her, as she was speaking through her scarf.

Inside the cave, Peace reacted with obvious discontent, but not violence, as Vector ignored her, walked past, and examined the tarped object. "What's wrong with you?! You guys just bust into the camp I've made here and start throwing away all of my stuff? What did I do to you?!" she complained, but her tugs at Vector's arm did little to deter him, being that he was a machine and she was a girl of average strength.

Once Vector pulled the tarp away from the object in the corner, it became apparent what the hidden object had done to him to deserve rough treatment, at least. Beneath the shroud, mounted to a standing metal table, was the torso of a woman, which would be more grotesque if it weren't for the wiring and mechanical spine hanging out of the body, making it obvious that the woman must be some kind of cyborg. She was a bit harder to recognize without the shades, but her cold expression and orange hair made the half-woman easily identifiable as Cruz of the Terror Girls. What was left of her body included only the shoulders and down to the rib cage, besides the neck and head... it was covered in a tattered blue bodysuit. The exposed eyes, one steely blue and the other a gray, undetailed sphere of metal with a black camera lens at its center, moved to focus on Vector.

At the revelation, Peace finally backed away from Vector and raised her hands. "We're not armed... We're just here researching, like I said," the girl reiterated.

"We? How many of you are there? Got any more robots you haven't told us about yet?" Roc asked, approaching Peace again with such speed that it begged the question of why she hadn't simply checked the tarp in the corner herself. She pinned the smaller girl against the wall with her ungloved hand, while menacing with the clawed one.

Peace lowered her eyebrows and gulped, but still managed to look critical of her captor. "Don't you remember? There's three of us..." she grumbled, apparently done lying. "Well, four if you count TerrorMan, but I'm still preparing TerrorMan Mk. III..."

"Huh? You're one of the Terror Girls? Ha! I thought you were chumps, but I didn't realize you were hippies too," Roc taunted, slipping her clawed hand down to play with the hem of Peace's tie-dye shirt. "Now I like you even less than I did before. I guess that explains why you're trying to get in contact with those three pinhead sisters?"

"Sure... Think of all of the peaceful resolutions that could be obtained if we had access to needles that can distinguish 'living organisms'! Even the gel wall, while dangerous to creatures like your ally here, could be invaluable with the proper applications. These could be the ultimate weapons to end all weapons, just like the Terror Girls have always dreamed of," Peace explained, but Roc looked thoroughly uninterested. "... Load managed to get through the Gel Wall... We haven't contacted her since then." Presumably, that was the missing third Terror Girl, the one that had used a guided missile launcher back on the ship.

"Oh! So it is possible to get through and you just weren't telling us? Ha!" Roc laughed. "If she's 100% metal just like your friend here and she got through, then my buddy here ought to be fine! We'll be sure to say 'hi' to your friend when we meet her two on one!"

"T-That's just it! I don't know if Load's fine or not! She's got a communicator built into her temple that she has to tap to activate, but she hasn't spoken to us at all... She's..." Peace murmured, looking at the ground with a guilty expression. "She might be..."

"Save it! I don't really care if she's croaked or not. But what you're basically saying is that doesn't help us know whether we can go through the wall or not," Roc groaned, backing off to clutch her non-clawed hand to her forehead and push her hair away from it. "Dammit, you hippie... Are you still hiding anything about my sister?"

"No! I was hiding the fact that I was a Terror Girl, that's all," Peace griped back. "Because you Neo-Shoguns are a bunch of violent savages who can't agree with peaceful disarmament when it's raining out of the sky on you! The last thing I wanted was for you to know who we were..."

"Yeah. Honestly, now that I know, I'm half considering chucking ol' Head-and-Torso into the wall regardless," Roc guffawed, but Peace grabbed her arms again and shook her, despite the size and strength difference.

"You can't! She's all inorganic material... If she goes through there, she won't be able to regenerate!" the blond girl pleaded, but Roc threw her off, muttering something about how it was just a joke. "Well, it wasn't a funny one... Anyway, I can say one thing for sure: you can't make it through," she continued, pointing at Vector. "... And you are too single-minded to know what to do without guidance even if you do make it through," she finished, pointing at Roc, which solicited an angry glare. "So... maybe we need to cooperate? I've been coming up with a way to try to get through the wall..."

"Forget it!" Roc instantly shut down the idea. "Whatever it is, it's no good. We don't need to owe the hippie and her legion of mecha-hippies any favors. All we need to do is get MachMan and the girls in here, then they can make it through. That'll be all the people and brainpower we need to get through whatever the last trap is... Cause you just know there's one more trap. Just call him down here."

"I'm trembling with anticipation... I can see all three of you out there, just waiting with each other... Are you all going to come through at once this time?" Dr. Solvent taunted them from all around. "You'll be surprised! I can easily handle all three of you... and once I get started, I continue to completion~"
Aera strained to hear her "wing girl" due to her speaking through her scarf, but managed to get the jist of her commentary. "Truth be told, I'm glad I wasn't sent down there first either." she replied before relaying their lack of findings to her Navi. [[i]"Still nothing, Mach."[/i]]

Mach looked around and made an audible exhale before responding, having made a decision to cancel the overhead coverage. [[i]"Copy, report back here, no need to have you all orbit forever."[/i]] Aera heard the message then reached out to gently tug on Skywriter's sleeve to get her attention. Upon doing so, she tilted her head back to the entrance, saying "Let's head back, we're meeting back up with Mach." before she banked and peeled away towards Mach's location.

Down in the cavern, Vector sought to remove the tarp regardless of Peace's protests. He pulled the tarp away, revealing a shockingly unexpected sight. Though the lack of glasses was a key difference, thanks to the pre-mission images from the bomber sortie, he instantly recognized the torso belonging to that of Cruz, one of the Terror Girls. A tanto-style dagger shot from his left palm like a switchblade, which he pointed threateningly towards Cruz's face, while his right arm swung the polearm down and pointed it directly at Peace. It finally started to click, but he wasn't entirely sure. His glowing crimson glare was about to be accompanied by a stern demand for an explanation, but Roc had already begun to interrogate Peace regarding their newest discovery.

It didn't take long for Peace to spill the beans regarding her role as the Terror Girls' leader, and though they didn't appear to abandon their goal to make weapons for their "peacekeeping" role. Mach, still patched in to the audio channel, had a surprisingly muted reaction. "I guess I should've expected this by now," he muttered, resigning to the string of improbable coincidences that seemed to weave these missions together. After a moment of recomposing, he gave marching orders to his SP. [[i]"Destroy them if they attempt to threaten you, otherwise push them for information. I bet Roc is still fuming and wanting to push on, and I'm starting to agree with her."[/i]]

Vector received the message and slowly began to "sheathe" his blade, which more or less sank back into his arm more like a stinger than a hidden knife. He and Cruz's unnervingly mechanical stares continued to meet even as he moved away, she reportedly hid a missile in her torso before, so he wouldn't yet rule her out as a threat. Roc continued to threaten, including tossing what was left of Cruz into the wall, much to Peace's protest. Roc persisted, and scoffed at Peace's claim to be figuring a way through the gel wall. Cluing in on this, Vector pressed a different direction than his comrade. [[b]"Explain your findings."[/b]] His demeanor was still admittedly gruff, but he felt he had shown restraint to the girl once before, and didn't feel a strong desire to prove it to her once again.

Aera touched down to the sight of Mach standing with his hands on his hips, looking at the jagged maw of the cave's entrance. "Something wrong?" she asked, approaching with a look of concern on her face. Mach glanced at Aera before focusing back on the spines lining the walls of the tunnel. "Not really, though it appears the Terror Girls have set up camp inside. "Research" so they claim." Aera looked down at the tunnel with an expression similar to her Navi's as she incredulously replied "No way." "Wish I was joking, I truly am. They don't seem to be a threat; Load is MIA, assumed destroyed by the corrosive "Gel Wall," and a third is apparently injured and entirely non-organic. I'm guessing it's Cruz." Aera ran her hand over the side of her head, sliding the wind-blown bangs over her ear as she sighed, "Her again..."

Mach looked back, then up to the air above, seemingly tracing a path with his eyes as he formulated a plan. [[i]"Was it pretty much a straight shot into the cavern?"[/i]] he asked of his SP. Vector promptly replied [[b]"No sir, though it was disorienting, there were significant turns and elevation changes."[/b]] Mach's brow furrowed as he grumbled to himself before shooting a message to Mazer. [[i]"Looks like I can't dash in, think I'd be able to teleport to the objective?"[/i]] ((Leaving that answer up to Mod))
Skywriter took to the floor of the net, along with Aera, once MachMan summoned them back down. There, MachMan made a shocking revelation about the inhabitants of the cave. "Wow... Kind of makes you wonder if they're connected to that skull-helmet suit out here, doesn't it? After all, I think their insignia is a skull," she added. "Have you asked them about it?" she continued, crossing her arms behind her back and trying hard not to gawk at the tunnel of spikes that she or the others might be forced to navigate soon.

MachMan had no intentions of navigating said tunnel if he didn't have to. That said, evaluating his ability to teleport revealed that he could use that feature to jump past the danger of the Pin Field... but probably no further than that. Getting past the Gel Wall would mean knowing how deep it was, where it twisted and turned, and so forth. Without an agent on the other side of the wall, he had no way to pinpoint the right coordinates to teleport past it.

Inside, the leader of the Terror Girls allowed the bitterness and hatred she felt towards the Neo-Shogun Empire to display on her face; the threats of Roc and demands of Vector weren't helping to mend any bridges. "Bundling up will work... It doesn't really matter what you cover yourself with, as long as it's thick. You can even sneak 'weapons' through that way, if they're bundled tight enough. I tested with some of Load's bedding earlier... unfortunately, that was only after she went through herself," she explained. "But I had to withdraw before I got too far in. You'll need either armor, or a lot of cloth, or really just a lack of modesty... Though, I can't say for sure that physical items are all that fizzle out in the Gel Wall. I haven't been able to test chip functionality or anything but... Given that Dr. Nihl is the one that we stole most of the engineering for those green bombs from... I'd say it's a safe bet that either she uses it or her sister does," Peace further revealed. "At any rate, so long as you aren't made of machinery like... well, I guess maybe you are? So you probably shouldn't try to go through, even bundled up. It'd be really dangerous," she reassured Vector. "But the bird lady should go through fine."

"The name's Roc!" Roc complained, although she was hardly in a position to judge anyone for forgetting names. "I can tear enemies apart even if all of my clothes and weapons burn up! So I'm going on through," she announced, although short-term memory ought to remind her that even physical strength had failed most Neo-Shogun officers after the green bombs had hit them. Vector would either need to hold her back or find something really persuasive to say if he was going to stop her from marching through the goop now.

"Wait, there's more info!" Peace shouted. "I've also confirmed that it's all one straight shot to the end, although I can't tell how long it is. I took multiple photos of the transparent, shimmering screen at the front and compiled the pictures to put together a full image... It shows another room on the other side. I'm guessing the distance isn't as great as the Pin Field either."

"So you're saying it's easy? Then what the heck are we waiting for?" Roc laughed, picking up her pace on the collision course for the liquid wall.

"Hurry!" Dr. Solvent's voice begged the three, sounding needy and perhaps sensing that Roc was about to try to bulldoze through.
"Good catch." Mach replied in response to Skywriter's inquiry, then quickly issued orders to his SP over comms. [[i]"Vector, inquire about the suit we encountered at the entrance."[/i]]

Upon receiving the message, Vector dutifully relayed "We found a suit of some sort at the tunnel entrance. Would it be of use for the traps ahead? It looked to be mostly ineffective against the pin field." Once Peace had the chance to answer after explaining her experimentation with the Gel wall, said answer would be the determinate of whether or not Mach would grab the suit and mask or not. Mazer's voice came in through his ear pylons, giving favorable news ["You should be able to teleport without issue, just use Vector's location as a destination reference, just don't teleport directly over his position."] "Got it," Mach replied simply before he promptly disappeared in a flash of cyan light, teleporting down to the cavern a few feet from Vector's position.

Vector gave Mach an evaluative glance upon his arrival, then turned back to Peace if everything seemed to be in order. Mach heard the details of Peace's revelations regarding the Gel Wall, primarily the strategy of "bundling up" in an attempt to temporarily stave off the corrosion of vital data. He shot Peace a glance, sizing her up for a brief moment, then didn't pay her much mind; if she were a threat Roc and/or Vector would've handled her long ago. If he was prompted to bring the suit along, he would've placed the mask on the table supporting Cruz's torso, and non-nonchalantly draped the black bodysuit over the android like a coat rack. He stopped in front of the gel wall, indirectly blocking Roc's path. Vector followed closely behind, ready to snare the Navi if she tried to shove her way through.

Peace's last tidbit of information seemed to be useful; it was a straight shot, and didn't seem to be as long as the pin field. Mach had encountered gel programs before, but there was one thing he'd always liked to try against it. He looked over his shoulder towards Roc, "Hold up, I think I have a solution," he advised before he shifted his focus to his NetOp. "Mazer, requesting a Blizzard and a DashAttack chip, please."

Mazer squinted slightly as he peered through the screen. He didn't protest, but he couldn't help but inquire as he thumbed through his chip inventory. ["What's your plan? Try to flash-freeze and smash through?"] With a muted click, the first chip slotted into the PET. "Exactly," Mach replied after taking a step back, and looking down at his now frost-covered right hand. As he flexed his fingers, bits of ice and frost snapped and fell away. He drew his hand back momentarily, then punched forward with an open palm, causing a roaring gale mixed with freezing liquid to burst forth from his hand. He tried to have the freezing cone cover the majority of the gel wall's face, but close enough to try to deep-freeze a significant depth into the wall. His wings unfolded and began to glow brighter than normal thanks to the second chip's upload, and remained poised at the ready while the blizzard still surged from his hand.

As soon as the freezing storm began to wane, Mach hopped a significant distance backward, to give him some room to accelerate. He didn't expect the gel to become completely frozen, but if anything he hoped it would buy him and his decency a few precious seconds. He quickly took off like a shot, in case the Gel proved to thaw quickly, and drove shoulder-first into the wall hopefully behind a protective veil of pressurized air that simply didn't have enough time to move out of the way. Theoretically it would take mere moments for Mach to measure the success of his strategy, hopefully it didn't involve splattering himself against the deceptively solid wall, or bounce off like winged golf ball. If his progress proved to be much slower than anticipated, but he was far enough along to get a good perception of the other side, he'd attempt to teleport again into whatever room lay on the other side with the added benefit of a disorienting shockwave against any foes in close proximity.

If Mach managed to punch through, or get close enough to successfully bypass with a Blitz Assault, he'd quickly survey the surroundings. If the area proved hostile, his shields would raise and his twin beam cannon would materialize and quickly prime up with a barely audible whine and an ominous cyan glow.

Now left alone with Skywriter at the pin field entrance, Aera put her hands on her hips and audibly exhaled, unintentionally imitating her Navi's own actions moments ago. "Well, guess that leaves just us. Want to try braving the Pin Field? I think we might be able to manage with some creative chip useage..." she began but trailed off as she looked down the jagged maw of the tunnel, doubting her own suggestion. She then looked back to Skywriter with an awkward smile, "...or we can just hang out here, haha..."
Skywriter smiled, happy to finally be of some use. Back inside the tunnel, however, it became questionable just how useful the suggestion would be. Peace raised her eyebrows, looking confused at the revelation. "There was a suit out there? That doesn't make any sense... I'm pretty sure the three sisters have been inside the inner chambers of this tunnel ever since we arrived, so it can't be one of theirs. But who would have just dropped it outside? It could only have been someone who came after we were here... but then, where did they go? They'd either have had to go in another direction or jack out... I haven't seen anyone come through here, or heard anyone get injured in the pin field... I'm not actually sure it's capable of injuring anyone, unless they tripped themselves up or twisted to try to get around something. Do you have any more details about the suit? I might be able to figure out what it's used for," she offered. To that end, MachMan would probably decide it was best to bring the suit to her for closer study.

Whether MachMan recognized the leader of the Terror Girls in her present state or not, she seemed to recognize him, and regarded him coldly. Cruz did as well (she didn't seem to have another expression), but whatever face she was making was soon veiled by the suit that MachMan threw over her. This solicited a snorting laugh from Roc, but an angry, shivering glare from Peace. "You Neo-Shogun scum... This is how you treat a disabled combatant...!" she murmured, looking like she wanted to protest further, but knowing that she had no weapons or resources to back it up. MachMan wasn't paying much attention to either her nor the now-hidden android navi, instead focusing on getting past the wall in front of them.

"Ho ho ho... Another guest, here to challenge the might of my wall! Or are you going to stand just outside of it, like your cowardly friends? A woman like me isn't fond of indecisive men, you know? It feels like you're all giving me the cold shoulder... S-Speaking of cold... What are you doing?" the voice around them questioned, still laughing but seeming mildly unsure. "Oh... Oh, wait! I said that's part of me! Don't-!" the voice urged MachMan, but he was already charging through. The attack proved to be profoundly effective; the gel wall froze with the first attack, then shattered into pieces with the second. "OOOOOOOOOOWOH! BLOODY ****KING SON OF A MOTHER-" the voice began to shout in a state of disarray, losing all of its suave sexiness in a single instant, before it either cut its microphone or someone else did.

Finally, MachMan penetrated into the next room, allowing the others to walk through the shattered remains of the Gel Wall. The only damage he'd taken was a few small burns across whichever part of his armor was extended out towards the wall. The crystals of ice melting around still seemed to act like dissolving acid to 'non-organic' matter, but at a much slower rate. The next room was not decorated, differentiating it from the last one they'd gone through. The size was about the same, but it was sparse and empty, except for two things. The first was a tan navi, recognizable as Load, dressed in a the burned remains of a green tank top, which hung to cover just an immodestly small portion of her over-sized breasts. The definition of her abs was on full display, going down to a tight pair of black brief shorts. They seemed free of burns and the reason was obvious; the tattered remains of her baggy jeans lay in one corner. Her black combat boots sat with them, and instead, Load wore only black, short stockings. Even with all of these features, one other piece missing from her person remained the most obvious: her arms lay in the pile as well whittled down into skeletal stumps with wires and scrap hanging from them. What took their place were only a series of pegs sticking from metal plates on each side of her torsos, making it clear she was a double amputee. "You all," she remarked in a non-committal way, not showing the same look of hatred that Peace had upon recognizing them. Perhaps that was just her character? Her matted, sweaty purple hair covered one eye; she'd probably like to get it out of the way, but that was difficult for her without the use of her ordinary prosthetic arms.

The other noteworthy part of the room was the next gate, visible on its other side. A grid of fiery beams criss-crossed the tunnels, making only a tiny hiss of noise rather than the bellowing roar that it seemed they should be making. The room on the other side was dark, but noteworthy in one respect: MachMan and the others could actually hear the voice coming from behind it, along with a delayed feedback coming from the speakers. Moreover, they could hear the muffled curses of the navi who they'd just smashed a portion of the body of. This implied that the three sisters were probably just behind the next trap. "Visitors... I applaud your courage in coming this far. My name is Dr. Nihl... I am the eldest of the three sisters you've met so far. I will not compare my traps to theirs, because there is no comparison. The Pin Field had its holes and was limited by its trepidation, its promise not to harm. The Gel Wall was simply destroyed and could not pose a threat to your physical body regardless. My trap is much worse... it will destroy your body, easily. It will destroy anything it touches. It is a trap truly worthy of my name... because it leaves nothing. Because there is no passing it. Because there is no worrying about passing it, because it is simply impossible to do so."

Load shook her head. "You can get through... I already heard them discuss it, when they got bored," she murmured, turning her head to Peace, who now approached.

"Load! You're alive!" Peace exclaimed, running over to hug her half-naked friend.

"Yes," the other woman remarked, smiling slightly. "It's a trick," Load continued. "Keep listening..."

"The only way to get through is to empty your mind! Embrace true nihilism, as I have! You must abandon all thoughts of purpose... all thoughts of self... your thinking, your memories, your consciousness, your feelings, your relationships. Abandon them all!" the voice boomed. It would be pretty dramatic, if it wasn't apparent that the girls were all just in the next room over and that their natural voices were not nearly so loud. "Your material desires and material items as well... You must be naked as the day we're born and entirely unarmed. Only then can you proceed through..."

"That's the lie. It's actually the opposite... The fire intensifies the more you think about nothing," she murmured. "But the more you're thinking and feeling, the more the fire refuses to respond. It's kind of like... I think the only way it's like that is to trick people."

Peace looked dumbfounded. "Really? Why would she make a device like that? I thought Dr. Nihl was a pacifist, like us, too? Would she really make a tool to destroy like that and then try to trick people into killing themselves?" she murmured.

Load shrugged. "Yes," she answered. "I don't know why. But I stood in front of the fire a while to test that."

The leader nodded, but gave her friend a shrewd look, squinting her eyes. She discretely turned her eyes to MachMan and his allies, then tilted her chin up, awaiting a discrete answer.

Discretion wasn't one of Load's finer points. "Huh? No... I'm not trying to trick them," Load responded, tilting her head slightly. "That's really how it works."

"O-Oh! Good! We need to work together on this, after all!" Peace laughed, averting her eyes from the others. "N-Now... you're probably thinking right now, 'why don't I just teleport past to the other side?' The truth is, these are technological geniuses we're dealing with here. They've probably prepared for that possibility and will be ready to attack you if you go in alone. The best idea is if we can beat this trap and all go through," she tried to convince MachMan. "When we all approach them together, they'll have no choice but to answer all of our questions! You can ask them about the navi you're looking for and I can ask them to um... compare notes with me... on some of their technology," Peace murmured, not wanting to say that she hoped to actually take all of their devices wholesale for her own use.

"Not one of you is ready to embrace true nihilism and make your mind a vacant receptacle, to receive the knowledge that I may grant on the other side... but all is not lost. Who will be the first among you to try? Perhaps from the futile deaths of those before you, each of you will come closer to the true answer..." Dr. Nihl taunted, either unaware that Load had just given away her secret or not caring.

MachMan would need to decide the right way to proceed and might also want to think about what to do with the suit he'd brought, be that giving it to Peace to investigate or something else.


Outside, Skywriter turned to Aera with an alarmed, but still smiling, expression. "W-Well, I don't have a lot of chips... But I really hate sitting outside and doing nothing! If there's a way to get in there and join the others, I'm all for it," she confirmed, nodding eagerly. "I don't want to be the only person on the team that's not contributing..."

She crossed her arms beneath her chest and stared down at the tunnel, gulping quietly. "All I've got is cannon, rageclaw, airshot, and the new chips I bought after the last few missions... two heatshots, a flameline, and a dash attack chip. Can we do anything with those?" she asked, looking doubtful. "O-Or... Maybe we should just go in like they did. They all made it through, after all," she resolved, reaching out a cautious glove, but retracting it before the spikes could even try to react.
Much to his surprise, his strategy produced resoundingly positive results, leaving the gel wall in ruin. Upon reaching the room, his wings splayed outwards as far as the room allowed them to extend, and angled vertically to act as a massive airbrake to have Mach slide to an abrupt stop. Unsurprisingly the Navi's violent entrance caused a major mood shift from Dr. Solvent. He got yet another earful of her cries, now more of intense pain, before the audio was cut.

As his wings folded back down against his back, he was able to better evaluate himself and the room. All he suffered were some cosmetic burns, and the only noteworthy features of the room were what appeared to be the final trap, and the previously MIA member of the Terror Girls. Due to Load's muted reaction and disarmed status, Mach's reaction was equally mild. "Load, I presume? We're not here to fight, not against you anyway," Mach stated calmly as he made eye contact with the injured Navi, then approached what was hopefully the final gate. This one sported an array of dangerous-looking beams, arranged in a scattered, almost random way. However, that left no sizeable gaps to pass through.

Vector passed the veiled bust of Cruz and approached the ruined Gel wall, avoiding any of the shattered pieces littering the floor, and peered inside to see Mach walking about on the other side. "Looks clear, Miss Roc," he advised before silently rising from the floor and flew through the tunnel, careful not to touch any of the remnants on the walls or floor before touching down on the other side. He stopped near MachMan, and gave Load a precautionary glance as they all heard a new, third voice. Of note, they could clearly hear her voice on the other side of the tunnel even without the speaker system; they were close. However, it sounded like Nihl's trap was significantly more dangerous than the previous two, according to her. Load, on the other hand, apparently knew it was a bluff.

This caught Mach's attention, so he listened carefully as she explained. She claimed simply doing the opposite of Nihl's instructions more-or-less nullified the trap, and alleged to have tested and proved her theory. Amusingly enough, both Peace and Mach reacted to this information with scrutiny, then suspected the Navi of fabrication in an attempt to trick the group of NS programs. Load flatly denied any deception on her part, in a way that appeared pretty sincere. Peace then made her suggestion on how to proceed, attempting to promote togetherness amongst the two groups. Mach crossed his arms as she explained.

Peace didn't sound as forthright or as trusting as her disarmed comrade, leaving Mach anything but convinced. "Or, my group goes through and we get the information we need, and you all stick right here. I'd tend to your comrades; if the "Doctors" are in for a fight, I don't think any of you would be able to do much in your current state," he said bluntly, turning some of Peace's reasoning back against her. Granting little time for the girl to respond, he looked back to the field and addressed the group. "So you're saying we just pass through with active thoughts, those beams are harmless? If that's the case, I'll test your claim. Roc, Vector, hold back until I give you two the green light. Mazer, could you send me the ElecAura chip, just in case?"

["Right, on the way,"] Mazer replied before pulling the requested chip from his magazine and slotted it through. As soon as it was uploaded, Mach found himself wreathed in a ghostly yellow flame, which occasionally snapped and crackled with thin electrical discharges. It was his first time utilizing this chip, and so far it seemed fairly impressive. He calmly approached the gate, and slowly exhaled. He started to think about what had transpired up to this point, the myriad of missions all for the goal of trying to locate Roc's sister. They've encountered an impressive number of unique situations and programs, many new with a few familiar faces sprinkled in. He also went over the mistakes they made, the blunders and missteps. The expression on his face became more and more stern, showing some of his frustration. "Let's get this over with..." he grumbled before dashed in, not entirely sure what'll happen next.


Aera too didn't like being so separated from the action and her Navi, but trying to brave the pin field wasn't a very palatable idea either... However, Skywriter seemed to be willing to risk it, even without using chips. "True, guess we could. I can try using my repulsion shield and go through first. I'll try to go quickly and not stop, so hopefully we don't stall and get snared." She looked back at Skywriter as a nearly transparent orange globe of energy materialized over her body. "Ready?" she asked.

Once Skywriter gave an affirmative, Aera looked into the tunnel, then with a somewhat worried look on her face she began to run towards the entrance. Just prior to entering, she kicked off and allowed her small wings to keep her suspended in the air. Hopefully being airborne would prevent her from tripping and falling, which would potentially block Skywriter's path. She tried to speed quickly through, using a ring of electrical bolts around her metal vambraces to light the way.