Some serious work
The fight at 2462 Nehalennia was finally over. Long days of undercover work crowned by an hour of insane fighting through the tunnels of the station.
Until the dark Senshis finally decided to surrender.
It had been a close thing, but the preparations of Cathy and Sierra Ford, combined with hard hitting power of the Panzerkunst Gruppe had smashed the resistance in the Asteroid station. It had be no complete success, because Naoko Sato had managed to escape during the beginning of the attack before taskforce Butterscotch had created a perimeter around the asteroid.
Naoko Sato had been intelligent enough to see the signs of the coming storm and had run early enough to get away. But the main target of the attack, Quattro Kuattro, had been caught. And together with Quattro they had caught the lab where she had been working on the mindwipe attack on the Kunstlers.
Now Quattro was being shipped away with the Nova as her VIP prison transport together with Jet and Sierra Ford on board, while Cathy, Cortana and the freed catgirls were in a larger transport ship of the Roughriders on their way to Mars. The tension of the mission was over, for the first time in days Cathy could leaned back tiredly and tried to relax.
Vivio was sitting beside her on the bench, still keeping her arm tightly around Cathy. Quattros former catgirl was still shocked about the experience waking up believing to be Cathy, being experimented on by Quattro and finally being rescued... by ‘herself’. The fact that she had been tortured by Quattro had not helped either. Whatever Vivio’s personality had been before she got to Quattro, it had been long gone before Ford and Cathy got to Nehalennia, erased over and over during the experiments of the Madgirl.
“What will happen to us when we arrive at Mars?” Vivio asked, “what will happen with me? Most of us don’t even know who they are, what to do or how to make a living. And... and its still feeling strange sitting besides you, looking at you and thinking ‘thats me’... if you know what I mean.”
Cathy put her arm around Vivio and nodded. “I can imagine that is scary... that damned Quattro was REALLY mean and creepy. But she will be gone for a really long time, we don’t have to worry about her for now. Her lab is on her way to Mars and there is no evidence that someone else had a copy of her current tech.”
The moments with Quattro together had been some of the most unpleasant moments in Cathys life. Maybe it was a blessing for Vivio that she did not remember all of her past as Quattros toy.
“But what we will do after we got to Mars...” Cathy stopped, unsure how to continue. “I have no clue. Before I joined the war against the Boskones in 2012, I shipped Dane tourists around the solar system, showing them the wonders of space... but this looks pale and dull now, I want to do something more... more interesting, more important. That’s why I joined Jet and Ford Sierra on this mission...but I have to think about something more permanent. We will find a good solution for all of us, I promise.”
Vivio looked hopeful for a moment. “Do you think we can undo what this... Quattro has done to us? I mean, its nice to remember who you are, but its very confusing. Most of the others catgirls seem to remember only a few months, none of them remembers more than a year. And none of them like the time they remember.”
Cathy sighed, it seemed Quattros ‘prevent your pet from knowing too much’ service had been used by a lot of persons on the station. “I am not sure. It might be possible, but it has never been done before. All earlier experiments concluded that the memories wiped by this horrible machines are gone. And I am not sure you really want to remember the time with Quattro. Think about the little bit you remember being in her lab... now think if you want to know more of it, weeks or even months of it.”
Vivio shivered a bit and pulled Cathy tighter towards herself. The memories of her time together with Quattro made sleeping still difficult. “Okay, I see your point...” She would have liked more memories, just not memories like this.
“Don’t look back too much... you all have been going through hell, but it is over now... look forward, there is a lot of things you can do in the future. And if you need help, I will be happy to see if I can do something” Cathy said and grinned, “as long as you don’t try to create another Cortana...”
Vivio just sighed. She did not seem to be willing to let Cathy go any times soon.
The after action debriefing of the Panzerkunst Gruppe was nearly over. The mission had been a good success and no Kunstler had been hurt badly or even had been killed. Not that most of the dark Senshis had been trained and fast enough to hit a Kunstler anyways.
“More comments ?” Jet asked the other Kunstlers.
One of the Kunstlers raised his hand. “Yes... I think the Boskones are starting to get too clever for my taste. They were always sneaky bastards among them, but at the asteroid station they had started to build armored gun turrets just beyond corners, so you cannot see them without going around. I even encountered one thick emergency bulkhead blocking my way which had a camera and a gap for shooting through.”
A few others of the Kunstlers nodded.
“In most cases we were still too fast for them to hurt us with this tactics, but if they can restrict our situational awareness and hide behind thick armored walls, we will be in trouble in coming missions” the Kunstler finished his comment to the mission.
“We raided a place with one or two mayor Madgirls, that’s unusual, maybe we should have expected security features like this. But I will talk about this with Alita and Daisuke” Jet promised, “maybe we can do something, get some additional equipment or think up a new tactic. Anything else?”
Nobody raised another point, so Jet closed the meeting and headed off to look for Daisuke. Maybe this was a good moment to talk about new equipment for the Gruppe.
Some hours later Jet headed over to the place where Cathy was currently staying with the other freed catgirls, the flight to Helium was just a short hop for her. Some people at OGJ had still hope to get some useful facts from the catgirls, but it seemed that the Boskones on this station had lots of experience with keeping important things away from their slaves... or just removing their memory often enough.
“Jet, nice to see you again... tell me, did you got rid of Quattro as planned? Or did this damned bitch made herself a problem?” Cathy said with a grin as Jet entered and some other catgirls smiled or waved. Jet had been in the first group that had stormed Nehalennia, so some of the catgirls had seen her in action... talking within the group made sure that even the rest of the group knew Jet from hearsay.
“Hi Cathy, good to see all of you alive and well. Thought it would be a good idea to see that everything is running smoothly. Yes, Quattro is in good hands, and not happy about it I think. Not that anyone is sad about his except her. But I am curious, have the other catgirls already decided if they want to move somewhere else? If not we might see that you get some more permanent places to live.”
Cathy shook her head. “No, most of them are still busy with believing that the Boskones will not come back and grab them... Vivio even wants to show them some tricks working with Handwavium and cars... most likely some tricks she remembers from being me.”
Cathy looked to the other catgirls and back to Jet. “There is something I wanted to ask you. Some of my new friends here have problems with some nasty conditioning done by Quattro in her lab. We already managed to remove some collars and other nasty stuff, but these conditioning is in the mind, not in form of equipment. I know the Nova has transported the whole lab of Quattro to Mars, maybe you could ask some people if we could get some of the catgirl specific equipment for a few careful tests?”
Jet looked worried about the request. “Cathy, you know that this equipment is very dangerous. A few tests could easily wreck havoc with the memory and personality of one of you.”
Cathy nodded. “We have talked about this the last week and we think there are still some things we could do. Maybe we could start it as a joined research project with your group working on your memory hack. Seeing if we can create a similar detection technique than you used to diagnose the memory hack. Maybe trying to identify the added trigger conditions. If we succeed we might later even have a chance to remove them. We will not just tinker around with it, we are not THAT stupid. Someone who already has been manipulated with the device might be helpful for the research.”
“I will think about it Cathy, if you and some of the other catgirls want to coordinate this with the existing team, it could become useful for all of us, that’s true” Jet promised, still feeling not sure about the idea.
“That sounds okay... but tell me, how was your part of the mission? Everyone happy with the successful run on Nehalennia?” Cathy said to change the subject quickly.
“Not completely... we did well, but the Boskones had some pretty nasty traps designed behind the corners” Jet told her. “I have been talking with Daisuke about it, he agrees we might want to get some recon drones for the Kunstlers to increase our situational awareness. But most of the drones we could buy would be too slow, too complicated or too easy to damage. Or all three of this. We are thinking about asking a group of Gearheadsto build a customized one for us.”
“Oh, that sounds fun... can we do this for you?” asked a third voice near them.
Both Cathy and Jet looked around and saw Vivio standing behind them. “Hey, its just an idea... I am pretty sure that Cathy and me could design you the drones you need, if you give us some time. And I am sure there would be some other catgirls here interested in joining us, helping us tinkering around with the stuff. Believe me Cathy, it will be much more fun than sitting around here!”
Cathy thought about it for a few moments. “We would need to rent a workshop area and some materials to start with... and of course some Handwavium. I think I got enough money for the missions we did to pay for this first things, and I think Vivio, Cortana and me could create a prototype for you quickly, especially if some of the catgirls want to help us.”
She looked to Jet. “But we need a good specification what you think should be important for the drone... and maybe if you have a preferred idea where to take the physical shape from. But most importantly we need some time. There are certainly groups of the Gearheads or other factions who would deliver you a working drone more quickly. If you can give us some time to work on the prototype, I will be happy to start right now.”
Jet smiled about the thought having a group of catgirls trying to wave a drone together. Maybe she should ask Cathy to record the waving process, that promised to be a funny thing to watch.
“I will have to talk with Daisuke and some people at OGJ about this, but its an interesting idea. I think I can get you feedback about it tomorrow, together with some guidelines what you should or should not do.”
Jet become serious again: “Just as a headstart... no AI, tough enough to survive a typical Panzerkunst Group mission, air transportable, but will be only used on the ground.”
Cathy smiled and looked to Vivio, then back to Jet. “We will start thinking about the project... as soon as we get the okay that we can give it a shot. I will see that we get some working materials to start with.”
Cathy and Vivio had asked the other catgirls to come together and listen to Vivio’s plan. At least half of the rescued catgirls seemed to be interested
“I think we can really do this together, and it will be fun. Cathy and me can show you some tricks how to work with Handwavium and we can all talk about ideas what Jet and his friends need. And Cathy even has said she would have enough money so we can rent a small workshop to build the prototype.” Vivio had suggested.
But some of the listening catgirls were still sceptic.
“You can say so easily, you got a lot of things in your head we don’t have” one of them replied. “How can we help you with this?”
Cathy chuckled. “Yes, that’s exactly what I thought for two years when I was still down on Earth and everyone was already buzzing around in flying cars. The most important thing for working with Handwavium is getting something that roughly looks right and get a lot of inspiration. I heard a story about a group of small children waving the mockup of a Dane spaceship... it took of on its own easily after that. Normally you have to be careful with Handwavium, but we are all already biomodded, we can just tinker with it.”
“Whats about this stuff you have talked with Jet about? The tech from Quattros laboratory. Couldn't you give us a few of the same skills Vivio received from you?” another catgirl asked.
“I am sorry, but that’s not possible” Cathy said and shook her head. “Quattro did not just copied some part of my knowledge, she first wiped Vivio of everything she remembered about her former life. If someone would do this to anyone of you, it would be considered murder. The person you are at the moment would not be there anymore.”
That did shut down questions about acquiring Cathys skills quickly. As interesting as it had looked at first, none of them were looking forward to another mindwipe.
“Maybe we can make enough money from this contract to stay independent.” Vivio said smiling. “Get other project we like and continue to do fun things.”
Some of the catgirls grinned and nodded, it sounded much better than what they had expected for their own future.
“We just have to wait until we get a reply from Jet” Cathy added. “If the Kunstlers agree to this idea, we can go to work.” Cathys eyes seem to glow as she thought about all the things they could try to answer the Kunstlers challenge.
The next morning Jet came back with a good news. “It seems someone in OGJ decided he or she likes your crazy plan, so the Panzerkunst Gruppe got the resources to get our drones. With the condition that we give you a chance to built a prototype first before we go to the Gearheads.”
All the catgirls were excited about this, many had thought they would not even get a chance to implement their plan. Soon everyone was sitting around Jet while she explained what the Panzerkunst Gruppe wanted.
“First the most important thing... we don’t want an on board AI. Our missions are dangerous, we want drones that we can just replace if necessary, without worrying about a living mind inside. So the thing has the be remote controlled.
Second, it must be easy to control the drones. We don’t have time to think too much about it. So keep it simple and stupid. It should be capable of following, or moving to waypoints on it’s own.
Third, if it’s going to be dumb, it’s got to be tough. Tough enough to withstand being run over by a tank tough. Take a bullet, take a hit from a Kunstler, without even blinking.
Fourth, you are designing a drone for fighting in restricted spaces... if it can fly its nice, but that’s not mandatory. The drones need to be compact enough to be carried to the mission area.
Fifth, we are looking for both visual and audio sensors for the drone. We’re expecting something at least a match for human level senses.
And last, we want the source code to the firmware you’re running on it. We might have to modify it to match our individual gear and abilities.”
Several catgirls had created some notes for themselves and all of then nodded, going through the list of requirements again in their head. Others were whispering in small groups, asking if anyone already had an idea.
“Cortana will get us some working space and we will start looking for some inspiration. I think you will hear from us in a few days, maybe in a week” Cathy said, “I think the requirements are solid and reasonable.”
She turned to the other catgirls and grinned. “Okay my friends, lets go shopping...”
Cathy lead the group into the tourist and shopping area of Helium, leaving it to Cortana to search for some basic equipment in the Interwave. Most cats were playful animals and many Catgirls were the same when in the right mood, so she already had a plan how to start.
After raiding a number of small toy stores, the catgirl group settled in their newly rented workshop area. Cathy had called a few friends of her on Mars and had acquired a large enough amount of Handwavium for their project.
Some catgirls were surfing through youtube, looking for drones in Anime and science fiction movies. A few others were experimenting with some of the small toys, thinking about ways to make them move on their own. All seemed to have a lot of fun finally being able to play without someone else telling them what to do.
The rest of the group were sitting on a group of pillows and blankets, brainstorming what kind of shape the drone should get.
“We should make it a small humanoid, that sounds flexible...” “And easy to break... lots of joints that could get hurt...” “The same would be true for a walker...” “Maybe something with wheels...” “I still like the walker idea, what if the wheeled thing gets thrown over...” “I watched a video about a dane drone... with wheels higher than the body...” “Whats about a bouncing ball?” “Maybe a humanoid one made of bouncing rubber?”
During the next two days Cortana had to draw dozens of sketches for drones, but most of them got thrown away soon after. On the tables in the room were a few waved toys walking around. And on the ground they had a small mouse waiting to be chased again by a catgirl.
Cathy had introduced the group to the stress relieving effects of electrical warming blankets and everyone seemed to have a great time. The group were just discussing the advantages of wheels over legs again when a large sphere rolled over the table.
Cathy looked amused as the packaging of their last lunch rolled over the table and onto the ground. She just wanted to ask if someone was hungry again, but she watched the package roll on... towards the wall, then up the wall, then on the ceiling.
Cathy and the rest of the group looked confused to the gravity defying thing, which finally stopped somewhere on the ceiling and then to the catgirl who had rolled the object over the table.
“It works, it works, it works” Mira cried out happy, looking at the rest of the group. Her eyes were wide open and was giggling a bit.
“What the hell was this” asked Vivio, visibly puzzled. “Yes, it was the packaging of our lunch, but how did you...”
Mira chuckled, then pointed to her invention. “I... I... I got the idea from one of the toys we had... it was just a sphere with some motor so it could roll on its own... and then... and then I had this sticky chewing gum... a really sticky one... and I thought it would be cool to stick on the walls for a drone... and... and... and...”
Cathy grinned and put her hand on the catgirls shoulder. “Try to breath calmly... my friends, I think we have our first blue cat during this group!” She patted Mira on her back. “Congratulation... told you you could do it. In Fenspace, this moments of inspiration can be more important than all training and knowledge in the world. Oh, and I think you just invented the shape for our drone.”
Vivio looked surprised at Cathy: “Are you sure ?”
Cathy nodded. “Think about it... a smooth sphere, nothing to break it into two parts easily. An purely internal engine... we can make this thing into a cannon ball... one that can roll up walls and ceilings!”
Vivio began to smile and nodded too. “Yes, you are right... that could work out... we have to revise everything else, but this drone will be really fun.”
Further construction and planning of a new drone was delayed as the rest of the evening turned quickly into a small party. It wasn’t the last blue-hair day party of the group, but it set an example for the following ones.
Within the next few days the basic shape of the new drone began to take form inside Cortanas simulator. A sphere made from waved steel, thick enough to be as damage resistant as possible for its size. Eight webcams behind tiny holes filled with a transparent glue. The waved smartphone in its center which controlled the drone and added gyros, positioning system and communication. Vivios ‘liquid engine system’ and the handwavium energy cell.
Most of the parts had already been ordered at shops in Marsbase Sara, but assembling it would be not easy, there was not that much space inside left.
Many of the cats were now discussing aspects of the controlling firmware with Cortana, testing prototypes and giving feedback what parts they did or did not like. Everyone was looking forward to finish the first prototype and see it in action. That would be the fail-pass test of the whole project.
It had taken Mira some experiments to find the right mixture of chewing gums for the coating of the drone. Some of the mixtures were not sticky enough or got dirty very quickly, others proved nearly impossible to get off a wall again. Adding a DVD of the movie Alien finally solved this problem and resulted in a sticky black coating for the outer hull.
Cathy had left the group for a day to get some ‘special handwavium strains’. “Some sorts of Handwavium you better get directly from the source” she said, “we stay in contact through Cortana, I will be back tomorrow morning.”
Her flight through the inner solar system had been uneventful, but her meeting on the asteroid ship had been interesting.
“So why do you need it ?” she had been asked.
“A few friends and me are building a custom recon drone for the Panzerkunst Gruppe... first a prototype, later a whole batch of them” Cathy replied.
“PanzerKunstlers... tough people”. She could hear that her approving sound of the voice.
“Yes, and the drone needs to be as tough as them... or at least as close as possible. Normal waved steel would not be enough” she explained. “I need enough to wave at least 16 of the metal spheres I told you about.”
“Sounds like a good project... you will get the Seibertron you need” said Wave Convoy amused, “if you need more just ask at Marsbase Sara.”
Cathy starred to the living truck engine for a moment... “Oops...”
Ten days after Jet had delivered the okay for the project, all the catgirls and Cortana met with Jet, Daisuke and Alita at the Kunstlers base in Grunthal. Each of the catgirls had bought a breathing unit and heated clothing to get outside if necessary and everyone was excited about the next few hours.
They had arrived in a chartered flying bus and had brought a small freight box with them, which was now standing on the table of the meeting room. On the side of box there was a large sticker with the words ‘Catgirl Industries’.
“Thank you for inviting us here for our presentation”, Cathy announced with a smile, “this is our first product presentation, so that’s something special for all of us. If this works out, we want to stay together and work on other things, but the first project is always something different.”
Daisuke walked around the box and chuckled. “Catgirl Industries?” he asked.
Vivio grinned. “Oh, we had to decide on a company name yesterday evening and all of us liked the sound of the name. At least after we promised Cortana she would not haveto change to a catgirl avatar.”
Jet nodded with a smile. “Fair... lets get to business. What do you have to show us...”
Cathy and two other catgirls opened the large box. In the center on a small pedestal was a smooth black sphere sphere of maybe 20 cm diameter.
Jet looked suspiciously to the completely featureless sphere. “Is that it ?”
She put her hand on the sphere and lifted it up. Jet estimated the weight of the thing was definitely more than 100 kg. “Heavy.” she said with a nod.
“Yes, that’s it.” Cathy acknowledged. “We talked a lot about different shapes, but this was the most solid one have been coming up with. Its a solid two centimeter shell of waved steel, without moving parts. The interior is completely filled with a shock absorbing material to make it as tough as we could make it.”
Jet nodded and turned it hand to drop the sphere on the ground, but it stuck to his hand.
“And sticky... you said no moving parts? Do we need to roll it around?” she asked and shook her hand, but the sphere stayed attached to it.
“Yes... and no...” Vivio continued to explain... “it contains three circular pipes filled with a magnetic liquid that is pushed around by electromagnets. Eight cameras and microphones for full 360 degree stabilized sensor field and complete set of wireless options from the Android phone we used.”
Vivio got out a small piece of paper and handed it over to Jet. “That’s the current code for the Wifi. It can provide a virtual reality compatible graphics and sound interface, fully independent from the drones movement, just try it out... oh, the sticky part allows it to run on most walls and ceilings. We tested it up to a speed of 100 km/h.”
Jet grinned and logged into the drone. A moment later the sphere rolled of his hand and fell to the ground with a loud ‘CLANG’. Jet made to drone to roll around in the room, then it climbed a wall and headed back to the group on the ceiling.
“Whats about damage... if someone shoot at it for example?” asked Alita.
Cathy grinned. “Anything below a coilgun should not scratch it at all. Hit it dead center with a medium sized one and you might damage it fatally... hit it off center and you might just get a ricochet.”
Daisuke was scratching his head. “How do we reprogram or recharge it? I don’t see any sockets.”
“You can reprogram it with the wireless interface, most likely with Wifi or Bluetooth.” Cathy answered. “It has its own internal energy cell, so it slowly recharges itself. If you need to recharge it faster, just rotate it back and forth quickly, the engine will be used as a generator.”
“Good... lets move to the physical tests” Alita said with a wicked grin.
One hour later the prototype had been finally wrecked and a lot of the catgirls looked sad and even scared.
The prototype had survived a game of football between two teams of Kunstlers, had been used as a sport utility for a shot put challenge a few dozen times and had been shot with a number of weapons.
The end of the drone started when Alita hit it hard with her fist directly on the top. It had made quite a hole in the ground, but the drone got a major dent too and did not move that smoothly anymore. A few minutes later suddenly got warm on the outside and stopped reacting to any radio communication.
“I fear you wrecked the internals hard enough that it got a short-circuit, I don’t think we can repair it here.” Cathy admitted quietly. “I am sorry if it wasn’t tough enough.”
Jet laughed. “That was fun... I want more of them.”
Cathy blinked and the rest of the catgirls seemed to be surprised too. “You want ? Even if you wrecked it within less than one hour?”
Jet nodded. “You cannot find the limits of your equipment without passing them and wreck it.” She looked to Alita and Daisuke.
Alita and Daisuke just nodded back.
“Let us get back to the office, we can set up to contract there...” Alita said.
The celebration about their first acquired contract had taken the whole evening and the following weeks had been hard work for all of the catgirls, but finally the last of the ordered drones for the Panzer Kunst Gruppe was finished and they all stared at the huge amount of money they got for their contract.
And started planning what to do with it.
“We need our own place... something no one can take away from us” Mira had suggested and everyone had agreed to her. Some of them suggested getting a room in Marsbase Sara or in Helium, but Cathy had a different idea.
“You should have seen the large base Wave Convoy was flying around in. I want something like this too, a base somewhere between the stars where we can work and live, that we can built like we want it. Maybe not an hollowed out asteroid, they look boring... but I might have an idea.”