In which a plan is made and preparations begin.
After splitting from the main group, Trey messaged Luna and Cass to meet him just outside the base's perimeter. He waited for them in his human form. Luna walked over upon receiving the message. "What's up?"
Cass appeared shortly after, walking from the base as normal. If the change in dynamics that would come with Trey's leadership bothered her, there was not yet any indication. "So. What now?"
"Thanks for meeting with me." Trey turned specifically to Cass, "I know you're Muir de facto leader which is why I wanted to meet away from the group and offer you the lead on this before anything else. I do have a plan of sorts for getting the job done, if you'll permit me to take charge."
Luna turned to look at Cass. "To be fair, he hasn't lead us wrong yet. He even tried to talk me down when I tried to kill Zod."
"He put you in charge. I can roll with it." She gave him a casual shrug. "Doesn't mean you're immune to criticism, if it's needed."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, boss. So the way I see it, I can walk straight in. I might get some questions as to how I've been surviving alone, but I'll get to that in a bit. For now I'm thinking I walk in there with Luna, both posing as humans. With me so far?"
"A bit. But I'm going to need something to dull my face and hair, and a cloak to cover the armor. Don't think we can explain my current appearance away that easily."
"That's where I'm thinking Cass comes in."
"Oh, you want my expertise? Easy." Cass's response was deadpan. "Luna's a mutant freak with some weird reverse suntan thing going on."
"That's a bit... Harsh, Cass... I might have something." Luna said before going back into the base, and coming out with an armful of clothes. "Actually forgot I had these. If I wear some of the larger clothes, I can cover most of my armor."
"I don't know if that's going to cut it, really," Trey said. "What if they need us to strip?"
"If they ask us to strip, we're kinda screwed either way. I can't exactly remove my armor as easily as you."
"Pity yours actually looks the part. Might be able to get creative otherwise." Cass leaned back against the perimeter fence, pausing for a moment. "What are you thinking, Trey? How am I helping in this plan?"
"Well, don't take it the wrong way but I got some information on you from Notte and... Can you try casting a disguise on Luna? Make her more human?"
"Heh. Figures." Perhaps despite the implications, there was a hint of amusement. "Hey, Luna. Accuracy check. How's this look?" And a moment later, it wasn't Cass standing there. It was... Luna's face, her figure, though the clothes were... generic. Not quite matching anything in her wardrobe... or in what remained of Cass's, for that matter. "How's it look?" Was that Luna's voice, too? "Can't say I remember what you were wearing. Bigger things on my mind before we all got chromed up, you know?" For all the mimicry happening, the half-smirk, half-smile was clearly Cass's own.
"Wha... WHEN WERE YOU ABLE TO DO THAT?!"
Cass gave a shrug. "Bit after getting the core? Been working on this a while. Still got some kinks in it." Another little smirk. "Not the fun kind either."
"AND YOU WERE GOING TO SHARE THIS WITH US WHEN?!"
"Hey, calm down." Her appearance shifted again, back to the metal to which they had grown accustomed. "It's been a step or two above a party trick for half a year. What's there to say?" Again. A smaller woman than Luna, one she might have remembered. She'd spent a week with her. "You miss my face? So did I. And it's still just a bunch of metal underneath."
"That's great," said Trey. "What about tossing the same illusion onto Luna, though?"
LeagueofDevack: Luna pinched the bridge of her nose before calming down. "Alright, but you lose every right to act like you did after Trey showed up after this. What kind of limitations does this have?"
"...that isn't even the same thing." An annoyed sigh as she shifted again. The fake Luna again. "It's a trick, not a transformation. You walk over here, touch me, you'll feel about what I want you to feel. I do this, though," and she was... taller? Yes, a moment before, she'd been Luna, but at Cass's own height. "Try and touch my shoulder or something now and you'll just go through." Shifting again, back to her own height. Luna's face, Luna's body, Cass's size. "And you know, that just hurts. I'd started figuring this out, and for a moment, my lifelong dream was right there. Not being so god damn short."
"Sorry. It's just a bit of a shock to see this."
"Yeah, well, you've had your shock." She stood up and closed the gap with a single step. "Now, me? Hell, let's try sisters." She morphed again, subtly, features shifting as if into a hybrid of Luna and her own. Cass reached forward, one finger moving toward the taller woman's face, with the form she'd just discarded in mind...
...and the taller pseudo-Ferrum was suddenly 'dressed' in cloth rather than metal, flesh lacking its previous chrome luster, perhaps they actually could have passed as sisters. The ornery one and the confused one. Perhaps it was the height difference.
"Uh... Wha..." Other than those sounds, Luna was speechless.
"That's great! So Luna and I sneak in, with Cass following under while hidden and maintaining the illusion on Luna." Trey spoke again, beginning to outline his plan. "I figure once we get in and do some scouting, Cass and slip out and grab the tech - Luna will have to hide herself mostly while Cass is gone, but it shouldn't be a huge problem."
"What about the other big elephant in the room? What if they can detect Ferrum tech?"
"But the Stalker isn't Ferrum-tech. I doubt they even know it's a thing. And there's nothing to find on me."
"Not talking about the Stalker. What about my core? I don't think Cass's illusions can hide THAT."
"'dunno, I've gotten pretty good at hiding things." As if to emphasize the point, where Cass wearing something almost like Luna's face had been a moment before, there was... nothing. "I'd be more curious how they'd have managed to do it at all. Big point of it is you can't detect it, right? Bullshit built into the Ferrum themselves aside." And back again.
"They've had more or less the same access to Echelon's remaining resources here we have."
"Same access, 'cept we've had people who already have a clue what's going on." Even after Alten, they'd still had Notte. And Notte always seemed to know more than he was letting on, given how he'd been the one to reactivate the others. "Minimal risk, probably, yeah. Still, it does raise questions. Why have Luna along at all if she's only going to work with me shadowing her, the way you're thinking of it?"
"Because I'm expecting to get searched," Trey pulled his Drive out from his waistband to show the strange, palm-sized object. "I can't carry this with me, so I was hoping you'd be willing to tail and guard me while keeping an illusion on Luna. Absolute worst-case scenario and Luna gets picked out, I'll still be a regular old human who just recently met her on my travels to a safe haven."
"So basically, I'm the decoy..."
"We're actually both the decoy. Two Trojan Horses to deliver one Cassandra. If you get caught, I'll still be able to operate to some extent, and if I get caught, well, someone can protect my ass while the other gets the tech."
"You do realize how much I'll have to hold back to protect you while keeping my cover, right? Without turning that complex into a bloodbath, that is."
"... That's why Cas is protecting me," Trey laughed nervously.
"The way he's presenting it, you're probably the one losing cover first," Cass said, focusing on Luna. "At that point, it doesn't turn into a bloodbath unless they make you turn it into one. Still..." One hand to her forehead. She was the machine again, unaltered. "Man, Trey, this the riskiest gamble you could be making for this."
"Oh, I haven't even detailed the part you wont like yet."
"I know you're trying to do this without us killing people, but this is me challenging Zod levels of risk"
"Not really, I'm the only one at risk, when you really think about it." He shrugged, "life of a soldier."
A moment of silence. Had she been wearing a face, perhaps Cass would have been sighing. "...you're planning on shedding your drive for this and you haven't even gotten to the bad part? Your ideas might need some work."
"It's why I'm not the leader in the real situations, right?"
"If your ideas for combat are anything like this..." Even Luna was picking up on how big a risk this was, and as far as Cass knew, the other woman didn't even know about the kill timer separating Trey from his drive would start for him. Or their own inability to handle the thing. If just one of those wasn't a factor this plan would have been so much less risky, but... "What's the other part?"
"Well, I figure we just walk right in and we get a lot of questions, right? What if we were running from Ferrum?" He smirked, pleased with his own suggestion.
"Tell me you aren't thinking what I think you're thinking..."
"We get a lot less questioning if we're being shot at."
There was a moment, briefly, where Cass almost put her hand to her face again. But beneath the surface, the idea wasn't completely ridiculous. He was right, a combat scenario would substantially cut down on the initial questioning they would do. "...well, you've got the foundation of a plan, at least."
"As long as no one shoots me it should work fine. The others cause a big commotion while we sneak in, then Luna and I draw some attention once the adrenaline on them wears off and you peek around. Bullet proof."
"Not really. What if they start shooting?"
"Then we make sure one of us is between Trey and the bullets." Cass wasn't sure if this entire plan was appropriately ballsy or merely audacious, but she could see a spark of real potential. But sparks still needed tending. "What do we actually know of this place? What's the area around it like?"
"We've got nothing. You could probably sneak in and scope it out, but I feel like just walking around a little would get the job done. We just look for sick people."
"Why sick people?"
"Ferrum radiation makes people sick. They're poisoning themselves down there, being locked up with the thing."
"How quickly does it affect them?"
"Like any slow radiation poisoning. I assume I've got a day max in there before I starting keeling over with cell damage myself."
Did the radiation do that? It might explain a lot, Cass thought. The implications were pretty big. There were more immediate concerns, though. "...before we do anything else about this, we need to figure out where the place actually is and how we're handling you and the drive. If it comes to it, we'll need a space near the site itself to stash it."
"Out of the three of us, I'm the fastest, so if everything goes completely to hell, I can get Trey out of danger."
"I mean, Cass can make a tank appear around me. I'm not super worried."
"Pretty sure they have weapons that can breach a tank's armor, not to mention gases and the like. If it gets to that point, I'd rather get you out of there instead of staying and fighting. I'll take a harder mission over losing another comrade."
"Now like all great leaders before me, it's time to lead. Cass! Luna!" Trey shouted with force and authority behind his voice, turning to stare at the fading sun in the distance with hands on his hips, "... figure the rest out!" He turned and murmured to himself, "delegation is the key to leadership."
"Still as goofy as ever... So, Cass, how do we go about getting the others to go along with this insane plan?"
"Tell them they get to shoot at us. I'm sure everyone could use some live-fire stress relief somewhere it could actually matter. Bonus points for actually getting a hit." Her response was completely deadpan. "Like I said. I want to figure out what the area around the place is like before we commit anything. Trey's got a kill timer on him if we do it his way, so we need to know what we can actually do with his drive. I want some idea what we might actually have to deal with if things go wrong, because if nothing else, I don't much fancy the idea of having to shoot my way out from underground through solid rock. Nevermind you and Trey without his armor." She could do it, probably, with the force the Ferrum tech was packing, but that didn't make it a good idea.
"Wait, go back. Kill timer?! How long?"
"He tossed it out himself. Pegged it at about a day." A shrug. "Talking about the radiation when he did, so maybe he's just a special kind of fucked without his armor." She knew it was actually that Trey was that special kind of fucked, but when he'd explained the drawbacks of the G3 Core, he hadn't given an actual mechanism why it would happen. Of course, maybe it wasn't actually the radiation so much as something else. It didn't really matter in the end, though, since he'd be dead either way if he took too long.
Luna pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. "Only thing I can think of is you and Nathan investigating while cloaked before we do the mission, unless we can tap into the spy satellites that are still in orbit... Well, while we've got the beginnings of a plan, I think we need ideas from the others as well.""
"Fine, then, if you're that ready to explain it." Cass went back to leaning on the perimeter fence, and began transmitting to the others inside. [Hey, you lot. Get out here so we can explain how you're going to shoot us.]
"We're going to shoot now huh?" Carlos said as he met up with the group outside.
[Shoot you?] eter said quizically. He headed outside to meet them.
"Not anything unarmored.Except for Trey, of course."
Nathan stepped outside. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about a plan. You can thank our fearless operational commander here for it, and your opportunity to finally shoot at the assholes you've been living with for near a year in a situation where it actually matters. Relish the chance!" Cass stood up again once they'd assembled, walking near Luna and speaking almost dramatically. "I'll be shooting back next time." She paused by the taller pseudo-Ferrum. "We've got to infiltrate a base and steal their stuff, right? Trey's got an idea for it. You three provide a live-fire distraction trying to 'kill' him and Luna. They get in, I follow along undetected, we scout, we steal the stuff, we leave, everyone's happy except the people still dying of radiation poisoning. Shit luck on their part."
"Cass won't be the only one shooting back next time, either. So no permanent damage, okay?"
"A mock battle huh? I would have rather first went there and gather intel before thinking of a plan. We still have 7 days left"
"I assume you two will play the role of human survivors seeking refuge? We'll need to make it look good, considering humans don't exactly have to means to fight us effectively." Peter said, remembering how helpless he felt before they got their first 'upgrades'.
"'Believeable', not 'unsurvivable'."
"Seems like a reasonable enough plan. Though, while you three are inside undercover, what are the rest of us going to be doing?"
"I would say 'keep up the distraction, and attack the complex', but Trey's worried about our PR for some reason..."
"I would be too, no reason to make em hate us more than they do."
"And attacking you and Trey won't do that already? Assuming they believe you're both normal humans."
"Congratulations, you've found a problem." Cass's delivery was deadpan. "Notte did say keep it smooth. Ideally, we probably don't want surprise Ferrum if it can be avoided. Any of you up for playing the part of a mutant or something?"
"Me and pete can fill that role if you'd like."
"I may have an idea for that." Peter said as he summoned his steed, resembling a steel-plated warhorse. "Voila, mutant horse."
"Afraid I don't have any means to do that, but it looks like Pete and Carlos have that covered at least."
"Peter, I thought you could make a good centaur impression." Carlos saying in a slightly disappointed tone
"How do you think? Cloaking only works in full, not partial. And I don't have control over how my steed looks, minus maybe removing his armor." Peter said to the leap of logic his teammate produced.
"You can turn into a fucking dragon, how can you not merge with your horse and make a centaur?"
[Cass, how many illusions can you produce?]
[Not a fucking clue. Doesn't work on the drones.] She gave no outward evidence of the transmission. She turned to Nathan, largely ignoring the exchange occurring between Peter and Carlos. "Worst comes to worst, Nate, you could kill something and wear it." Another deadpan comment.
"Same reason Cass can only produce weapons that she's touched, it's just a skill set. We can't all be Transforming Tom." Peter rolled his eyes.
"That's true enough. Shouldn't be too hard." Nathan pause a moment. "So, making sure we have the plan put together then, we disguise ourselves as mutants, attack Luna and Trey, and they hopefully get taken in. From there, you three investigate, and find what we need, while Carlos, Pete and I continue to fake an assualt on their base?"
"I still strongly recommend gathering some intel before deciding on doing the thing."
"No, no actual assault. Just, I don't know, lose interest? Wander off. The rest, yeah. You three provide a cover story, we sneak in, and you three wait. Probably keep an eye out and make sure nothing happens with Trey's drive, since he's leaving it behind for the ruse." There was a hint of distaste that crept into Cass's voice there, but it was subdued. "And yeah, intel's happening. It's definitely happening before we try this."
"I was suggesting Cass and Nathan investigate while cloaked, but we have no clue if they're able to track us."
"I second this, for all we know these people might have a way of figuring out who's human or not at this point." Peter said pointedly.
"Thank you, that's all I needed to hear." Carlos says, content with the plan to do the intel first.
"That's the point of the ruse, Peter. Trey can take his drive off, I can vanish completely, Luna can pass with some prep. Worst comes to worst, she's another killer robot Trey just ran across and didn't recognize."
"If need be I could try to sneak in later. Once you three know for sure whether or not you're being tracked."
"I can cloak too, if you need an extra man on the extraction shenanigans"
"No, too many people will make it harder." Peter said.
"Hard part won't be getting out," Cass said, somewhat dryly. "If something goes wrong, the hard part is getting out without a bloodbath. Just leaving is easy. More hands don't help much with that."
"Agreed. Let's go with the KISS Philosophy on this, Carlos. Keep It Simple, Stupid. There is one other issue we're overlooking though. If we pull this off without a hitch, how do we cover our extraction? Another "mutant" assault?"
Cass gave a shrug. "Depends on how tight they're being about things. If we're lucky, we can just walk out."
"Shame it's never that easy. There should be some backup plan in order."
"Keep It Simple, Stupid" Peter thought back to the last time that phrase was uttered, it was when echelon wanted him to speed up production on his dive device and skip the safeties step. He shuddered to think what could have happened up until now had he listened to that.
"Yeah, we'll need a backup plan. Which means we'll need intel. But we've got a general plan here to start working with. Any objections to the core of it?"
"I say we stake out the complex for a day or two to get a feel for the rhythm of activity outside the complex. That can make the Mutant attack more realistic, and if there's a rhythm to it, we can use another incident to cover the extraction."
"I think Luna has the right idea there, but otherwise, the plan seems sound enough for now."
"In addition, I'm pretty sure one or more of our more tech-inclined Ferrum can hack into any orbiting satellite that has visuals on the complex and pull any images for further info on outside activity."
"So it's settled then."
"No, sounds solid as an idea. If they have sensors for ferrum, they'll definitely not be able to detect Trey at least." Peter said.
Trey finally chimmed in, "I've got a better plan!"
"Trey, you're already taking a really big risk right now. Anything more, and I might find out if a Ferrum can have a stroke."
"As the super-genius - and don't forget dashing - leader of this operation, a brilliant thought just came to me." Trey turned to point straight at Peter, "You're going to kill our friend Luna here. It's genius, really."
"And what would this accomplish?"
"Pf...Go on." Nathan says, trying hard to suppress a laugh.
"I... what? I'm definitely going to need some context here for this." Peter said, suddenly thinking the leadership role doled out to Trey had gone to his head.
"So we want it to be convincing so they aren't asking too many questions once we're in, but we also don't want a PR rep as human-killers, right? Here's the plan..." Trey crouches over and begins drawing in the dirt with a stick. "Luna and I rush towards the human settlement, with Cass cloaked and disguising Luna as a regular human. As we get closer, within range of the humans, what happens? A motherfucking mechanical dragon makes ol' Luna bite the dust." Trey began grinning as he spoke, "so the humans see one of us 'die' so now the situation is believable. Then the rest of you show up and start fighting said dragon, almost as if you're 'protecting' the remainig human as he fless. Boom, we've established the good guys and the bad guys. Nothing like a stereotype to propagate information."
"And now you're deep into hostile territory, with only Cass for backup. Who, need I remind you, has to recover the tech. So if you get into a major issue and need backup, you won't have it, and you'll have to worry about your kill switch offing you."
"They're going to be busy figuring out why the Ferrum are in-fighting and protecting humans. they won't suspect me."
"You know, that doesn't sound half bad. And if that boosts our PR, they might be persuaded to trust us in the future if need be."
"That... sounds like a plan."
"Ok fair, but how exactly do we show them we 'killed' Luna?" Peter said, finally getting on board with the new idea.
"Okay... Can we seriously change 'kill' to 'severely wound?" Luna said, getting uncomfortable with how casually they were plotting her "death".
"As long as Luna has her shield, anything you hit her with is going to sent her flying without really hurting. It's fair to assume that'll kill any human," Trey said. "Just make sure you don't paw her into a building. Because if she actually hits any structure and the structure goes down, things will be weird."
"Still, the fact of how casually you guys are talking about this is creeping me out."
"This isn't going to be anything more than spar level fighting to us, Luna. To them it'll look pretty believable." Peter said pointedly again.
"I'm also worried at the level of risk Trey is taking with this. We've already lost Stephano and we haven't seen Altaiir in months. We can't afford to lose more of us. The plan wasn't too bad when he had backup who could get him out of there quickly, but now he's removing that safety line."
"I trust Cass. She's got my back."
["And if you get in trouble while she's off getting the tech? Or if they figure out you're not exactly human?"
"He's more human than us, but not fully human, if I recall."
"I'm 100% human. you guys could all kill me with a flick, right now."
"That's what I thought."
"Trey, if you're human, then that's almost as bad if they find out you're with us. They'll more than likely see you as a traitor and simply execute you."
"I was your little prisoner. And they keep their distance, no one knows anything" Trey pointed across the yard to the base's roof, "Kit keeps the humans away. I mean, if you're really worried about them suspecting me... We can make it really convincing. It would suck, though. Personally speaking."
The others spoke. Cass didn't. Instead, listening to Trey's plan, she began considering. Might work. Luna was right about the risk, though. If she could get around that, though... a moment later, the scenario was different. There were not five Ferrum and a human standing there. It was four humans and the one human. Luna appeared human again, lacking her metallic sheen, dressed in mundane clothing. Beside her, Cass looked almost like a little sister, features halfway between her own and the taller woman's. And the fourth human... Apart from them, Nathan, visually his old self again. His old, human self. "Huh," she said absently, almost as if she was barely paying attention anymore. "I can do it."
"Uh... Cass? ...I think she just came up with a better plan."
The illusion was shattered a moment later, and Trey was again the only human there. "Fuck, that'd be a headache to keep up." A hint of annoyance in her voice.
Nathan had been startled by the change, for a moment, though it wasn't the first time something like that had happened... Usually it wasn't just an illusion, but still. "Well, that's new. How'd you figure out how to do that?"
"Eh. Probably the Stalker drive. First started figuring it out shortly after picking it up, hasn't mattered until now." Cass gave a noncommital shrug. "'course, trying that didn't leave room for thinking about much else, so it's not the best solution."
"Still, if you can do that for one or two more than just me, it can help mitigate the risk a bit. At the very least, it'll accomplish both the "kill" for convincing, and giving Trey some backup. On the other hand, we don't need your face exploding again from you overexerting yourself. Would defeat the purpose of the plan."
"It seems useful for the purpose of backup, doesn't sound like something we should rely on though."
"Yeah, it's got some holes in it. Let me just try..." Cass trailed off, vanishing from sight. A moment later, Luna and Nathan were 'human' again, the illusion restored. It lasted for several moments before fading, and Cass reappeared. "Shit, no luck. Just cloaking doesn't do a damn thing for how much focus it takes."
"Damn. It's too risky to pull it off like this, then. Still not comfortable doing this with just Trey in there with minimal backup..."
"I'll be fine. Less risky than fighting Echelon, anyways."
"I'd argue we should at least have someone near their base, within communications range, if an emergency crops up. Otherwise, this is probably our best bet."
"That'd be you then. Other than Cass, you can hide a hell of a lot easier than the rest of us." Luna looks down at her brightly-colored armor. "I can't exactly claim that."
"I wonder... Cass, come over here for a sec." After thinking about it, Carlos called to Cass.
"What are you thinking, Carlos?"
"I'll boost you up with energy, see if it changes anything. Not guaranteed something will change but it's worth a try."
"I doubt it. It's focus, not power." She turned away. "I'm a bit tired of just talking about it for now anyway. We've got a week to prep, and some recon to do. Me, I'm heading off for the latter. We want to toy around with the details of the disguises, we've got time afterward."
"Cass, mind if I tag along for the recon?"
"Knock yourselves out. Spread out, see if we can pin down where this place is better than a general area, and we can start looking for an exploitable routine." Cass began walking, a satellite cannon forming floating above her hand as she moved. It began to ascend, vanishing as it did so. "We've got comms. Stay in touch." She continued walking, vanishing herself.
"Yes, ma'am," Luna said, walking in a slightly different direction from Cass.
"Trey, something else or should we head out now?" Carlos spoke to Trey, perhaps there was something else that needed to be said before starting out.
"Well, as leader I've chosen to delegate. So that's for you guys to decide." Trey re-equipped his Drive and walked off towards the base, whistling merrily.