"This is so COOL!"
"Be careful, Miss Key," Mai reprimanded gently, "You need to focus on all four legs."
"I remember Mai," she said, grinning with such ferocity her face hurt, "I can see now why Widget used to love flying, this is so much fun!"
"Output is maintaining at Twenty-two percent," The AI noted to the hovering pony. Strapped over each hoof of the small khaki mare was a metallic boot of chromed steel that reached almost to her knees, and from each metal hoof sprouted a small jet of blue-white plasma. Using all four hooves like this, Clockwork Key was able to hover slowly about the lab. She had to be careful though, cables of all sorts were still connected to the faux hooves, but the AI was quick to retract any cable that seemed close to an accidental severing.
"What's the over-all energy drain?" the mare managed to ask.
"Higher then you hoped, ma'am." Mai answered, "Fifty-three percent system demand with the current configuration."
"Test the alternate configuration."
"Testing Sixty-seven percent."
Clockwork sighed audibly over the roar of her jets, "Damn, that's still way too high."
"Perhaps you should use an alternate solution, ma'am?"
"No jetpack already, that wouldn't work. Jetpacks work fine for forward motion, but have no flexibility. They cannot hover and are terrible in situations demanding high maneuverability," the mare noted as she flared her legs a bit, lowering herself closer to the ground, before the blue-white plasma jets cut out. The mare fell the last few inches with an audible "CLANG" that caused her to look surprised, then started to laugh, "Right, we'll need to use some sound dampers on these units, else we'll wake up the dead whenever I land."
"At least you know the platform boots work, ma'am," Mai pointed out.
"You're never going to let me live down the fact that I added shock absorbers in there, are you?" the mare asked as she let robotic arms remove a few key bolts and plates to allow her to step out of the boots.
"No, ma'am. Not when it's simply added as a sign of insecurity about your height," Mai noted sarcastically.
"Bah, you'll see. That extra room will come in handy."
"If you say so, ma'am."
"Well, so much for flying in for the first field drills," Clockwork sighed softly, "Guess I'll have to hoof it."
"You had best get moving, Ma'am. You do not wish to be late again."
"Right, I'll let you reattach the hooves of the suit then. Start doing some background diagnostics on the power supply, and some comparative analysis with some alternate materials. There HAS to be a way to get more juice out of that generator," Clockwork instructed, "I'm dreading the thought I may have to redesign this from the ground up."
"I think it is far too early to give up completely, ma'am."
"Maybe, but they're expecting results, and I think I've hit a wall."
"You'll figure something out, Miss Key, you always do."
"Thanks Mai," Clockwork smiled affectionately, "Do me a favor and also set up some holographic comparisons of power usage for this armour versus the Warpony armour. I might be trying to follow the design specifications a little too closely from the original."
"Will do, ma'am," the AI said, and Clockwork waved a hoof as she slipped out the door.
For once Clockwork wasn't late for a meeting of Luna's special group, even if she did get a few hard looks from the others as she trotted up. Finding the field hadn't been too hard, it was 2 floors above their sleeping quarters, and looked like a huge field for track & field type events. It had a ground courses for runners, air courses for flyers, and slalom courses scattered over the infield within the huge mile loop along the outside perimeter. Into this scene Luna trotted up and stood before the gathered individuals of her "dream team".
"Alright team, this is our first practice session, which means it will be rather basic. Not all of us are quite up to speed yet, but we'll get there," Luna said, looking over each member of the group in turn as she spoke.
"Yes Clockwork, were IS your armour?" Ultrapony asked pointedly.
"I'm still working on it. I ran into a technical glitch with the power supply," She answered, giving a sigh. She could explain what the problem was, but she doubted he would understand, or care.
"Humph," he said with a sneer, "Sounds more like a problem with the inventor." Clockwork looked down at the grass beneath her, kicking a hoof through it.
"Thank you for volunteering, Ultrapony," Luna said with a smile, "You're going to be first."
"I wouldn't have it any other way, Princess," he replied with a smile wide enough it made Clockwork's jaw hurt.
"We'll start with the basics then. How about a speed test. Word has it you managed to break the sound barrier," Luna smiled, "I'm curious if you get a Rainboom when you do it."
"Of course I do!" Ultrapony answered. The pegasus launched himself into the air, creating a shockwave that caused the other ponies to stagger back, and Luna to momentarily shield herself with a wing. Ultrapony climbed into the air, arrowing his body straight up towards the rising sun, before vanishing in the glare. Clockwork finally managed to see him, superimposed before the sun with his wings spread wide in a parody of the pose Princess Celestia often used at the Summer Sun Festival, before he folded them and nose dived towards the ground below.
Clockwork's eyes narrowed as she watched. Ultrapony pushed his hooves out in front of him, his body lean and angled, and his wings pumping furiously to drive himself steadily faster. Something about that teased at the edges of her mind, tugging at a new thread she couldn't quite grasp it yet.
The very air itself began to form a barrier before the pony's hooves, the barrier of sound. Ultrapony only pushed harder, and the curved barrier began to stretch, narrowing until it turned into an arrow. The hero wedged himself into that tight "V" shape as it got longer and longer, before it suddenly burst! The sky exploded with colored rings rushing away from Ultrapony, as if he were a pebble dropped into the pool of the sky. Ultrapony himself left a streak of colors in his wake, one for each of the four colors of his mane. A gasp rippled through the ponies assembled below, Clockwork included, as they witnessed their first Rainboom. The only pony immune to this was Princess Luna herself, who had personally witnessed the first pegasus to achieve this feat perform it for her so many years ago.
Ultrapony circled the field twice to bleed off his excess speed before landing almost right next to Princess Luna, his smile having returned to his face as though it never left in the first place.
"You were short by three colors," Luna stated, "Purple, Indigo, and Orange." Clockwork blinked, noticing those were colors missing from the pegasus' multi-colored mane. Ultrapony's face fell at the casual dismissal, which turned to a less then pleasant sneer as he rejoined the line.
"Thunderhooves," Luna called, "You're next."
"I do hope you had not planned to ask me to make a Rainboom as well," the large Bison joked as he came to stand before Luna, "I fear I would turn your skies brown."
"Not exactly," Luna laughed, "But I want to see exactly how you create and use thunder."
"That I can do, Princess," He stated, and turned on a hoof, staring down the empty field before him. He planted his fore-hooves widely on the ground, then suddenly reared back, arching his head up to the sky. He slammed his fore-hooves back down, but what was more apparent were the fact his horns were glowing a bright gold. His head snapped, arching his horns forward, which seemed to vibrate as sound erupted from them. True to his name it rumbled and crackled like thunder, and in an arc before the bison the ground heaved and shredded itself from the shockwave.
Clockwork narrowed her eyes at the display. She'd seen the entire thing, but only one small, seemingly insignificant, part lodged in her head next to the display from Ultrapony the golden vibrating horns. She wondered what she was piecing together, and frowned as the answer seemed to dance out of her reach for a second time.
"I am able to control it more precisely then that, Princess. However, I felt a more dramatic display was warranted," the Bison said proudly.
"Very good, Thunderhooves, thank you," Luna answered with a broad smile, "That was indeed impressive. Ironjaw, let's finish out the colts, shall we?"
"HAH! I was hoping I would be called soon!" the large metallic pony shouted happily.
"Interestingly, all three of the stallions here are very physically strong," Luna observed, "I wonder how I managed such a sexist feat? Never-mind, let's see now, what exactly do you do Ironjaw?"
"My body of metal is nigh invulnerable!" he pronounced proudly.
"Well then, I suppose I should test that claim," Luna mused, and her horn began to glow. Ironjaw noticed this, and quickly situated himself facing the Princess, flexing his knees. The first bolt from Luna's horn was as sudden as it was fast, and struck Ironjaw across the chest, causing his hooves to slip on the turf beneath him. He grunted in response but saw the next attacks coming, and turned his body slightly against each of them, deflecting them rather then taking each head on.
Clockwork's eyes narrowed again as she watched. The shifts of his hips, using the long barrel of his body to deflect shots rather then absorb them head-on, angling them off. That joined the collection of images in her mind, still disassociated, but she knew herself well enough not to dismiss them out of hand.
Ironjaw gasped when Luna's final "attack" arched out to each of his sides, multiple streaks of mystically created missiles closing like some giant bear-trap, intent on crushing him. He had no chance to move away from the octet of missiles before they struck him and obscured that part of the field in a cloud of smoke. For a moment, Clockwork wondered if he had been hurt, but his laugh bursting forth from inside the smoke told her all was fine.
"Nigh invulnerable," Luna agreed as the smoke cleared, "I'll have to test Ultrapony's claim of the same later. Maybe you both can make it a competition, see how many shots you can take before one of you falls or yields. For now, let's move on."
"It would be Tome's turn then," Tome stated with certainty, and the book she had hovering nearby snapped closed.
"If you insist Tome," Luna said with a thin smile, "You are supposed to be a Master of Magic..."
"That is MISTRESS of Magic, Tome is not a stallion," Tome stated proudly, as if being a stallion were somehow an insult.
" As a mage then, I'd like to see how you do. Let's see, what would make a good test?" Luna considered, before her eyes lit on the metal pony, still smoking slightly from her last assault, "Ironjaw, do be kind enough to stand still. Tome, I want to see you levitate the metal pony."
"If you insist on such a pedestrian display of Tome's powers," Tome sighed, and her horn began to glow. A matching glow surrounded Ironjaw, who looked from Princess to pony uncertainly. After several moments, however, his hooves still remained firmly planted on the ground. Tome strained with the effort, sweat starting to bead on her brow, and looking far less confident then she had mere moments ago. Her eyes narrowed as she quickly looked around, then smiled when she spotted a small gleam from Luna's horn, well hidden but unmistakable. Redoubling her focus, Tome caused a second glow to spring forth from inside the first on her horn, and Ironjaw could feel the pressure to lift him increase dramatically. This second tendril of magic reached out, and with a quick motion plucked a feather from Ultrapony's wing, earning Tome a dark look from the pegasus. The feather was hovered over to Luna's underbelly, where it began to stroke back and forth.
At first Luna ignored it, but after a several minutes of the feather's continued torment, her expression started to twist as she struggled to maintain her concentration. Finally the Princess erupted in laughter and the glow of her horn faded. Poor Ironjaw rocketed almost 30 feet into the air before Tome managed to stop his sudden assent. The unicorn slowly lowered Ironjaw back to the ground and hovered the feather over to herself, which she tucked into the brim of her conical hat, and smiled broadly to the still giggling Princess.
Clockwork's eyes narrowed as she watched. The moment of time captured with both the feather and Ironjaw controlled in the air. Tome had split her attention, doing two spells at once essentially. The puzzle was starting to form, but Clockwork wasn't seeing the solution. Not yet, but so close .
"Nicely done, Tome. Even if you pursued an unexpected avenue to conquer your challenge," Luna said, laughter still making her voice hitch. Luna spared a glance for Ironjaw as well, who seemed in the process of trying to hug and kiss the turf beneath him with a great deal of gusto.
Tome laughed haughtily, "A simple trick like that cannot fool The Great an er cannot fool Tome. When the spell is the same type, Tome can split her attention two ways. It is easier then starting a new spell, which would take longer and use more energy."
Clockwork's eyes flashed open at Tome's statement, "EUREKA!!" She cried, and dashed away in a blur, leaving a confused group of ponies in her wake.
"Please slow down, Miss Key, I am having difficulty following your logic," Mai complained.
"Just give me the holographic plan for the armour!!" Clockwork shouted, and dove across the room to the console, her hooves flying across the buttons.
"Displayed, ma'am," Mai said, and the center of the room erupted into a blue lined wireframe schematic in three dimensions, a hologram of the armour she was working on.
"Make a copy I can edit, Mai," Clockwork demanded, and the image split in two for a moment, before one vanished.
"Editable copy displayed, ma'am," Mai said. Clockwork rushed to the holographic image, her hooves stabbing at the parts in mid air, expanding and contracting images as she worked. She found the part she wanted, and grabbed it between two hooves, and literally pantomimed tossing it over her shoulder.
"You want to eliminate the power supply, ma'am?" Mai asked.
"Not just that," Clockwork stated, as she grabbed another part, throwing it over her shoulder as well, followed quickly by a third part.
"Shield system and flight control system eliminated as well, ma'am," Mai noted with a bemused sounding voice. Not wishing to distract Clockwork when she was so obviously inspired, Mai said nothing when a small figure nudged their way into the lab, simply noting it for later. The pony sat quietly in the shadows of the room to listen as Clockwork continued to work, unaware of the intrusion.
Clockwork pantomimed pushing the armour schematic aside and tapped at mid-air. A small menu appeared under her hoof, which she sorted through with quick and practiced motions, her hooves sculpting a shape in mid-air. Power lines were traced, servos added, connections sorted as she raced about on pure inspiration. Her eyes flicked back and forth as she continued to work, her hooves all but flying before she finished with the shape hovering before her.
"Interesting design, ma'am," the AI noted.
"Run a compatibility test, as well as stress test. I'm not sure those wings will hold at the servo-joints," Clockwork ordered.
"It should, if you use energy panels," Mai answered, "Eighty-nine percent compatibility likely-hood. Stress test is green in all simulations, ma'am."
"We're not done yet Mai," Clockwork stated through a fierce smile, and started tracing new lines, pulling the main schematic over as she traced them through one system, then another. She quickly altered the shape of the armour in subtle ways, adding more angled surfaces as well as running more shield lines through the system.
"Wait, did you just ?"
"Yes, Mai, I did," she answered with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"To minimize shield spin-up, you made the flight panels based on the same system. Hard light flight surfaces and shields, which will reduce shield start-up time to barely a quarter of what it is now," Mai said, as if just drinking it in, "I say it too much, Miss Key, but you are brilliant. But why the alteration in the armour surface plating?"
"Deflective surfaces," Clockwork answered, her hooves still flying over the schematics, "The hard light shields rely on the surface they are covering, and angling them like that will minimize direct impacts, and instead deflect part of the blow. That will reduce the power costs of an impact."
"You seem to be abandoning the plasma jets on the hooves, ma'am."
"No, I'm not," Clockwork stated, "But I am relegating them to fine control for increased maneuverability, and of course firepower. This is a speed and agility unit, it's not designed to sit still on the battlefield."
"Why four wings then?"
Clockwork laughed, "Because we're changing the template. This flight system is going to use a nature driven design."
"Of what creature? I don't know any birds with four wings, ma'am."
"Not a bird a dragon."
"Dragons only had two wings as well, ma'am."
"Expand your search parameters."
"Miss Key, you don't mean ?"
"That's right Mai," Clockwork smiled triumphantly, "We're using a dragonfly."
Clockwork sat down hard on her flank, giving a soft groan, "Okay, it's official, I need a break."
"This is rare," Mai teased.
"That you want to take a break without me forcing you to, ma'am."
Clockwork stuck her tongue out at the AI and gave a laugh before falling onto her back, looking up at the floating schematic over her. She smiled at it happily, "I think we have a real winner with this, Mai. If the tests pan out, it might actually be more powerful then Warpony."
"Warpony was an old design, ma'am," Mai pointed out helpfully, "You admitted yourself that it was due a complete revision on multiple occasions."
Clockwork sniffled slightly and wiped her eye with a fore-leg, "I wonder what he'd think of me doing all this? I mean, he earned the spot I'm taking, I didn't. I feel like I'm just a pretender, waiting for someone bigger and meaner then me to come along."
"Your brother would be proud, Miss Key, so would your father," Mai answered softly.
"Thanks Mai. I just miss them so much," she sighed.
"By the way, ma'am, you have a guest."
Clockwork blinked and rolled over, setting her hooves on the deck but not standing up as she looked around carefully, trying to find who had intruded. It wasn't long before she spotted a figure half hidden in the shadows, a white pony it seemed to her, but he or she was well hidden.
"Who's there?" Clockwork demanded, and the figure stepped forward. She was furious at the intrusion of the unknown pony right up until Clockwork saw her face, and the anger fell away into relief.
"Hello Clockwork," the pony said softly.
"Galaxi!" she cried, and was on her hooves, rushing over to the other pony, hugging her tightly, "I didn't know if you'd ever come back."
"I couldn't stay away, I guess," she joked sheepishly.
"What happened? You're not wearing your suit!"
"I I found myself thinking about what you said," she admitted in a soft voice, "You were right, I was just hiding myself in that suit."
"Look, I stuck my hoof in my mouth before," Clockwork said softly, "I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings, I wasn't trying to."
"Can can you tell me something?"
"Be honest, what does my cutie-mark look like?" she asked softly, "Princess Luna has mentioned them, but I've never been able to see them myself "
For a long moment Clockwork was dumbfounded, then remembered their discussion before, where Galaxi stated she couldn't see colors or writing. A cutie mark might as well be written on the flank, so it made sense the mare couldn't see it for herself!
"I'll do you one better," Clockwork said, and lightly tugged Galaxi out of the shadowy corner and into the center of the room, where the lighting was far better, "You've said before you can 'hitchhike' on someone else's sight. So ride with me, and we'll look together."
Galaxi blinked, "Y-you you would actually INVITE me to look through you?"
Clockwork smiled, "So long as you don't make me do any of those silly hypnotism tricks like you always see at the fair."
"What, no clucking like a chicken?" Galaxi grinned, and Clockwork couldn't help but admire it for a moment, the first genuine smile she remembered seeing from the mare.
"No, I'm not a chicken. Now come-on, let's see what it looks like together," she told the blind mare, and circled around her. The sensation of Galaxi 'joining' her was similar to wearing snug fitting headphones, not the least bit painful, but a noticeable pressure on the sides of her head. She paused for a moment to look over the rest of Galaxi and considered her sea-green mane, "You know, I am sure there's a barber in Canterlot somewhere who could style that up right cute for you."
"You think so?" Clockwork heard in stereo, once from Galaxi's mouth, the other in her head. It was an odd sensation, but Clockwork suspected she'd have plenty of time to get used to it in.
"Sure. In fact, that gives me an idea," she said with a sly grin.
"We'll get in trouble for playing hooky from the training field."
"I'm already in trouble for that. I've been down here half the day," Clockwork pointed out.
"As have I. The singing from your mind when you dashed off the field it was so I lack the words to describe it," Galaxi admitted.
"One thing at a time. Did Luna ever mention this star on your forehead? It's colored to match your mane."
"No! I didn't even know," the psychic mare said, pausing as she looked it over intently through Clockwork, her face twisting to an odd smile, "So that's what Princess Luna meant by telling me my horn was pointing the wrong way."
"I don't follow?"
"Princess Luna keeps telling me that I'm a unicorn with the horn facing the wrong way. I know it's a joke, but I always felt weird because I didn't understand it. Finally I kept wearing a mask just to keep her from teasing me about it," Galaxi admitted softly.
"I don't think she was teasing you. I think for her it was a term of endearment. They can get awkward sometimes."
"Did your family have one for you?"
Clockwork's expression turned melancholy as she nodded, "I was always 'Little Key' to my father. Some friends of the family, like Ironjaw, knew it and used it too. Widget wouldn't use it for whatever reason, I never asked why."
"I'm sorry, I forgot your brother "
"I'm not quite ready to deal with it yet, Galaxi."
"I'll I'll be there when you are, if you need me."
Clockwork smiled, "I'll probably take you up on that. Now for the main event ready?"
"Am I ever!"
"See, I told you no pony would stare at you out here," Clockwork told the other mare, "All you needed was a pair of heavy shades to hide your eyes, and you don't stand out all that much."
"But a lot of ponies ARE staring Clockwork," Galaxi lowered her voice shyly.
"For a different reason," Clockwork couldn't help but grin, "You're an attractive mare Galaxi, the stallions are looking."
"Not ALL of them are stallions!" she hissed, blushing furiously.
"Well, some mares are probably staring too."
"I'm teasing Galaxi, relax," Clockwork laughed and nudged her friend's shoulder lightly, "Besides, that salon did a wonderful job for both of us. I've never had a spa day before."
"I know the Princesses both make a point of getting out at least once a month to the spa, sometimes more."
"After all that pampering, I can understand why," Clockwork sighed. She'd only gotten a light trim at the salon, but had enough bits to get herself a nice pampering at the spa. Galaxi, to her surprise, had a very large number of bits she called an "allowance" from the Princess who was mentoring her. As such, Galaxi was able to get the works at both the Spa and Salon, and still had enough left over to cover dinner.
Celestia's sun dipped behind the buildings along the street, throwing shadows across the road the mares trotted along. Canterlot had such a wonderfully old-fashioned feel to it, with cobblestone streets and quaint little row-houses, and plenty of on-hoof traffic milling about. Clockwork could easily identify the old fashioned unicorn-based architecture, notable for the sweeping arches and close quarters. It gave the city a mystical feel, evoking old fashioned images of cultured and elegant mares and stallions.
"You realize we're going to be in trouble," Galaxi reminded her.
"You've told me that a half dozen times," Clockwork informed the mare with her, "And honestly, I don't care. What's Ultrapony going to do besides bluster ineffectually?"
"What did you do, anyway?"
"In the lab. What did you do to the schematics? I couldn't see it."
"Oh! Right, I forgot about that," she admitted, "It was a partial overhaul. I finally came up with a solution to the shield and power problems I was having, as well as inspiration for an alternate flight system."
"That sounds interesting," Galaxi mused.
"Not to you it doesn't," Clockwork teased, "But I do wonder can you see hard-light constructs?"
"I've never even heard of one," Galaxi admitted.
"We'll have to test that when I run the flight tests, since I created the wings from the stuff. Wings and shields, now that I think about it," she mused.
"We're here," Galaxi noted as they reached the "servant's entrance" of the palace.
"Yup, we are."
"We're expected too. Guards have orders to escort us directly to Princess Luna's office," she noted nervously, likely having caught the thought from a nearby guard.
"Well, let's see what she wants then," Clockwork answered with a mischievous grin, and flagged down a guard.
Luna was pacing the office when the mares were escorted into the room, the guards saluting smartly before they made themselves scarce. Her head snapped up when she saw them, and Clockwork recognized the mixture of anger and relief that washed over the Princess' face, she'd seen it before in her own father's face when she had wandered off too far.
"Galaxi!" Luna cried and hugged the smaller pony tightly for several moments. She then paused, and batted a hoof at one of Galaxi's new curls before looking over at Clockwork, "Girls, you've got some 'splainin' to do."
"Short version, Princess," Clockwork spoke up, "Is that I made a few hundred alterations to my armour design, and burned myself out and needed a break. Enter Galaxi, who had been listening in. I'd like to think we've effectively 'made up' for our argument the other night, and decided to play hooky and get her a nice haircut."
"And some time at the spa, unless I'm not recognizing your hooficures properly," Luna said pointedly, "So let me get this straight; You dash off the practice field without an explanation."
"Galaxi, you follow to check on her and then you both of you spend the day hiding in the Lab doing who-knows-what."
"Yes, ma'am," Galaxi answered.
"Then, instead of coming back out when you're done, you sneak out off the grounds and into Canterlot."
"Correct again, ma'am," Clockwork nodded.
"You two go to a Spa and Salon to get yourselves prettied up," Luna said, her voice growing colder.
"You are correct," Galaxi answered again.
"And now you both come sauntering back and are completely unrepentant about this act of willful disregard for my orders?" Luna finished darkly.
"Yes ma'am," Clockwork swallowed, feeling far less confident then she had mere minutes ago.
The Princess' expression was dark, anger lurking just beneath the surface, "So you flagrantly disregard my orders, the mission this special team was created for, and go spend the day playing hooky like a pair of school aged fillies. Did I forget anything?"
"N-no ma'am, that about covers it," Galaxi managed to say, looking at once scared and embarrassed.
Luna looked back and forth between the two mares, and let out a large sigh, pushing a hoof to her forehead, "You fillies will drive me back to the moon. As far as anyone outside the room will know, I chewed you both out and made it clear I won't accept these sorts of shenanigans again, am I clear?"
"Yes ma'am," the pair answered quickly.
Luna then reached out and hugged both of the mares, the Princess smiling as the tension bled away, "You're off the hook THIS time, just don't forget we're here for a real reason. I can't have you wandering off during training sessions. Still, it's nice to see you out of that bodysuit Galaxi. I can even see your stars again."
Galaxi smiled shyly, "Clockwork let me see them myself for the first time. Both the one here " and the mare touched her forehead, then she reached the same hoof back to touch her flank where a matching star formed her cutie-mark, " and here."
Hope I don't loose anypony with my technobabble in this chapter. Also this should finally put some speculation to rest as to pony's powers.
Any and all feedback is welcome and encouraged.
Spark Chapter 2
Spark Chapter 7
Spark Chapter 3
you know its a good story when you make a person want to draw fanart of your characters!
All around, it was a pretty interesting chapter.
The interactions between Key and Galaxi are pretty... interesting. Some calm and light friendly stuff happening.
Yes, word ''interesting'' used again and again... But, what can I say ? I'm interested, right now.
As for the interplay, yeah, I wante4d to develop their personalities more before I went anywhere too far. Glad you're enjoying it tho.
And don't worry, there are ways to have some action without death. I'd say more, but I don't want to give anything away (one of the hazards of keeping a backlog like I do, I keep wanting to talk about what I've already WRITTEN, not just what I've released. Heh.)
That said, I'm glad you're enjoying it so much.